Friday, September 27, 2013

Fairies Welcome

Fairies flit through English and Irish culture, and people really believe in them. Not long ago, a road building project in Ireland was diverted slightly to avoid a well-known fairy glen!

Want to attract fairies to your house? Try a fairy door made from scrap wood pieces and vintage findings. Hang or lean one against a wall and see what happens. Something magical, I bet!

(Created for Hidden House Artists' Gift Sale in Portland, Oregon November 22-24, 2013.)

Place them this way: 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thanks for the inspiration, nature!

As the long, cold Winter slowly gives way to the burst of a hopeful Spring, a woman's attention may be turning to......
Elvis at the waterfall by
 ......the beauty of nature! Nice looking men don't hurt either.....but let's get back to topic. 

Hey! How did that get there....oh well.....he can stay.

Hopeful Spring brings us back outside and into sweet nature. Nature can be so inspiring, and it is the one thing I go back to over and over for artistic inspiration. Nature is just so.....natural!

Here's how the diversity of nature can translate into artistic creations. 
Vintage cigar box embellished roses mountain landscape postcard
Vintage cigar box embellished
with roses from aVelvetLeaf

Vintage nature assemblage deer wall hanging
Nature assemblage with deer by aVelvetLeaf

Vintage owl nature assemblage framed wall hanging
Owl on branch nature assemblage by aVelvetLeaf

Bird nest assemblage architectural finding wall hanging
Bird nest assemblage by aVelvetLeaf

Vintage tan gloves mid length hand painted pine branches
Vintage gloves with hand painted pine needles by aVelvetLeaf

Vintage train case strange creatures swamp
Vintage train case with swamp life collage by aVelvetLeaf

Metal box black embellished seascape postcard blackbird
Seascape collage on metal box by aVelvetLeaf

Vintage cigar box woodland embellished rabbits bird postcard
Vintage cigar box embellished with rabbit postcard by aVelvetLeaf

Faux leather box brown embellished ceramic lion figurine
Faux leather box with vintage lion by aVelvetLeaf

Vintage cigar box embellished strange sea ocean life black
Vintage cigar box embellished with sea life by aVelvetLeaf
Vintage white gloves mid length hand painted woodgrain
Vintage gloves with hand painted
faux woodgrain by aVelvetLeaf


Vintage bird figurine upcycled assemblage cameo
Flying bird nature assemblage by aVelvetLeaf

Happy Spring everyone! 

It's coming......really.....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Creating Mischief on St. Patrick's Day

My American family loves to celebrate our Irish roots. That means many things, including a nightly cocktail hour passed down for many generations (my grandfather made bathtub gin during Prohibition to tide them over during that difficult period).
Vintage shot glasses from aVelvetLeaf
We have corned beef and cabbage regularly for dinner, not just on St. Patrick's Day. Easy, cheap and delicious! (Although I have to admit, it does taste better than it looks, even with a food stylist....)

Corned Beef and Cabbage photo by
However, on St. Patrick's Day and on Halloween night, we like to serve mashed potatoes or colcannon with our corned beef instead of whole boiled potatoes so we can hide little fortune-telling charms in the mash.  

As I've blogged about before, it’s an old Irish Halloween tradition to bake a Halloween cake called a barmbrack that has charms hidden in it to tell guests’ fortunes. As Episcopalians we also put charms in a King's cake on Epiphany and often had these charms in birthday cakes when I was little. Our tradition could have stemmed from any of those things.

The charms are a baby, a ring, a coin and a thimble.

The traditional meaning of the charms was this:

Thimble:  This person will remain single.
Ring:       This person will get married.
Baby:      This person will have a child.
Coin:       This person will become wealthy. 

As some of these old meanings may venture into political incorrectness, you may want to "update" the charm meanings these ways:

Thimble:  This person will keep a good house.
       This person will be a hard worker.
               This person will have a happy home.
Ring:       This person will be happy in love.
               This person will find romance soon.
       This person will have a good love life.
Baby:       This person will have a happy family.
               This person will have a big family.
               This person will love children.
Coin:        This person will make lots of money.
               This person will be a generous person.
               This person will have a good job. 

Be careful not to break a tooth!

[See instructions to put together your own fortune telling charm set at the bottom of this blog.]

Another fun thing our family did is to have the naughty leprechaun of the house make a visit on St. Patrick's eve. Every year my kids set little traps to catch our leprechaun or would write him notes asking him questions or making requests. I kept a few of them.
Vintage leprechaun figurine from aVelvetLeaf
One year, they wrote this:

Dear Mr. Leprachuan- 
     If you could leave us a clover or your hat or something, that would be great, but don't mess up our house you green leprachuan. Also, are you the same leprachuan? What is your name? Love, K & W
Our Leprechaun left them this:

 Dear O'K and O'W-
      You two always want something from me! I don't give out my stuff- I steal things from you! Have you been missing anything? 
      I do have to admit that this year you have been doing a great job keeping your rooms really messy for me. If your darn parents would quit interfering, they would be wonderful places to grow mold and other nasty green things. Keep it up! 
    You should know that my name is Sean O'Malley O'Sullivan McGillacutty Shannon O'Flynn. I am your leprechaun. I was your parents leprechaun, I was your grandparent's leprechaun and their parents' leprechaun.  You will NEVER get rid of me, and you'd better learn my name!
    For your goody, look in the biggest green plant in your house. I left something unhealthy with lots of sugar in it there for you. Keep up the good work with all the horrible messes you make. It just makes me laugh! I messed up your house to set a good example for you.
                             Love, Sean, your leprechaun

When the kids would get up in the morning, our chairs and tables would have been overturned, the traps would be smashed, and there would be a box of little powdered sugar donuts left in the green plant. Oh, the magic of childhood!

To make your own fortune telling charm set, plan a trip to the craft store (don't forget your coupons!)

  • In the baby shower section, buy a package of little plastic baby charms.
  • In the wedding shower section, buy a package of metal or plastic ring favors. 
  • In the sewing notion section, buy a set (if possible) of inexpensive thimbles.
  • From your coin purse, choose a new-looking quarter.
Put the quarter into a little pan of boiling water, and leave it in there for 10 minutes or so. Remove the coin and let it cool on a paper towel. 

You can use the charms over and over, or if you have sets, you can allow guests to keep their charm. If you use the charms more than once, be sure to follow the boiling instructions to sanitize them. Plastic charms can be placed in the boiled water with the burner off. Be sure your hands are clean when handling sterilized charms.

When serving food with charms hidden in it, always warn guests to chew carefully or search their food with their fork or spoon before eating to avoid biting into a charm. We don't want a lawsuit on your hands...

To put into a cake:
   For a homemade cake, wrap charms in small packets made of aluminum foil or just use as is. After the cake is cooled and before frosting it, use a butter knife to carefully cut a slit in the side of the cake and slip each foil charm packet in in various places, then frost the cake. For a purchased bakery cake, do the same as above right through the frosting, then repair the frosting with a wet butter knife. 

To put in mashed potatoes:
    On Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day, make mashed potatoes with or without cooked cabbage. Right before serving, stir sterilized charms (without foil packets) into potatoes.
Erin go Bragh, and slainte!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter dinner party in a tiny house

My husband and I decided to have a Swedish dinner party. No, Sweden is not known for its food.....
No, this was not on our menu!
.....but we were having 10 people for dinner in February in our very small house, and we needed to think outside the box. We usually entertain in the summer and early fall so we can have people outside in our large back yard. In order to have people for dinner this time of year, we had to get creative. 

I adore the Portland Swedish restaurant Broder so we decided to give the cuisine of Sweden and a northern European theme a try, and ask our guests to arrive bundled up for the weather and dress in layers for cocktails outside and dinner inside.

I don't have a fancy dining room table. We set up an old paint-spattered gate leg table and a card table in our living room.

I borrowed an antique white tablecloth that used to be large enough for a huge table in the olden days, and it covered most of both tables. I covered one end with a green tablecloth from Target under the white one to cover the table legs to the ground. Making sure your tablecloth is that long on all sides gives your table a more elegant look.

For a centepiece, down the middle of the table I lined up a variety of woodland-themed decorations such as icy clear candlesticks with white candles (also borrowed), white mums in a short, clear vase, white tea lights in clear candle holders, some hollowed out tree branches with white tea lights made by a friend, and some little terracotta pots holding pine cones and moss. (see below on how to make). I had a vintage wooden mushroom my grandmother had painted, and I included that too. With white linen napkins and the blackberry plates I started collecting when I was young, it set a pretty table. Only I (and now  you) knew what lay beneath! 

To make the little pine cone pots, buy some tiny terracotta pots, and either paint them with watered down gold craft paint or leave them natural. Wedge a piece of floral foam tightly into pot. Find some tall pine cones, and either leave plain or stick some pearl stick pins into the cone. Glue the cone onto the floral foam with lots of hot glue from a glue gun. Find some moss outside or buy at the craft store, and glue that around the pine cone to cover the floral foam.
I covered the seat of our black metal folding chairs with four fake fur blankets I have, adding to the Swedish look. We had a fire in the fireplace and luckily our decor including Bill's antler collection and some bare branches added to the Northern vibe. We have an old piece of whitewashed weathered wood hung on our fireplace. 
Our front porch had white fairy lights on a shrub, leading to our walkway lined with white bags with snowflakes cut out in each one. We put white tea lights in short clear jars and set those inside and lit them. In our two urns, we planted white pansies and stuck some pussy willow branches into the dirt- only $10 at New Seasons, a Portland natural grocery store chain.

 To make the white paper bag candle holders, buy some white paper lunch or gift bags. Put the bag flat on a piece of heavy cardboard, and cut flower or snowflake shapes through all the layers with a sharp exact-o type knife. Open up and set a recycled glass jam jar in it with a white tealight. Use a long-necked lighter to light right before your party starts.

On our back patio we set up a bar under our canvas gazebo, covering an outdoor table and a small folding table with tablecloths and setting up some glasses, wine opener, clear glass bowl for ice (borrowed), and some simple cocktail makings including simple syrup and lime twists. 

I have two matching vintage tin pans that we filled with ice to keep the white wine, champagne and mixers cold. We offered lemon-lime club soda and fancy tonic water to mix with Absolut Vodka and Akvavit, very strange herb-flavored vodka-like liquor. Beware......

A few days before the party, we froze our vodka and Akvavit  in ice blocks with little white flowers, lemon and orange wedges and sprigs of rosemary like this:

For more detailed instructions for iced vodka from Martha Stewart, click here
 We made Swedish 60 cocktails with sparkling Cava, with the recipe from the Washington Post here.

We had some pickled vegetables in clear jars for appetizers. We laid a fire in our portable outdoor fireplace and turned on our outdoor heater. We set candles all over the space in various black and clear candle holders. 

Our luck held out and it didn't rain, but instead was a cold, clear night with an almost full moon!

It helped that everyone who came brought one course, with us providing the main dish.

We started out with the Swedish 60 cocktails (I thought they were awful, everyone else loved them!) with a wonderful shrimp on toast appetizer a guest brought. 

We moved into the living room to sit at the table to dine on the next course, salmon and potato soup, beet and green apple salad, Swedish caraway bread and a small glass of hard apple cider, the entire course provided by a guest. 

The main course was Swedish meatballs- not your Ikea type, but large, caraway and dill infused, served with lingonberry preserves and capers on noodles. We had delicious pickled beets and cabbage with it, also made by a guest.

Dessert was a meringue and pound cake layered confection with creme fraiche and fresh strawberries, created by a guest as well. Amazing!

We ended the evening with a nightcap outside under the almost-full moon by a roaring fire. 

What a fun evening! As one guest said of the experience, "Thank you all for such a wonderful eve!!! The food was fabulous... The ambiance was magical!!!!"

Just watch out for that wicked Akvavit will kick your a**! Skol.....


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