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The return of the rabbit

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Three springtime's ago I did quite a lot of needle felting, during the last trimester of my daughter's pregnancy and for a while after my granddaughter was born.  Needle felting at that time was a substitute creative release for me, because I was on hiatus from oil painting for a bit at the time. I am a professional writer and fine artist by trade, but there are many crafts I have enjoyed over the course of my lifetime, beginning with learning to knit and crochet when I was a little kid.   I was recalling the other day how much my mother inspired me to be creative with various projects she did with my brothers, my sister, and me.  We made Christmas ornaments, Christmas stockings, holiday candles, many Easter Eggs, birthday favors, doll clothes, embroidery ... you get the idea. My mother was and is a very fine seamstress.  In fact, her work was so fine she was able to take in projects to sew for a local business called The Button Shop.  She sewed all of my sister's and my dresses, even our winter coats.  Growing up on a farm in post-depression era North Carolina she learned to be both creative and frugal in sewing her own dresses as she grew up.  She passed those skills along to my sister and I when we were teenagers, and we both sewed quite a bit when we were younger--my sister much  more so than I did. My mother had a wonderful sewing table that my father made for her.  It was quite large (from what I recall), with plenty of room to handle the fabric of large projects without a problem.  She still has the same Singer sewing machine she used throughout my childhood to sew so, so many dresses and other beautiful projects. Though I loved all of the clothes she ever made for me, there was this one corduroy jumper I felt particularly delighted with.  The fabric was a fine wale corduroy in white with little red flowers printed on it.  Each flower had a little brown stem and a couple of tiny green leaves.  She made a puffy sleeve red shirt to go under the jumper and boy did I feel special wearing that pretty little outfit. Another favorite was this thing called a grasshopper, a two-flap skirt with sewn on shorts underneath it.  That was pretty awesome and I remember feeling like a little rebel because I knew I was really wearing shorts, even though to the world I appeared to be wearing a skirt. There was this other little seersucker two-piece top and shorts outfit she made for me when I was in first grade.  One of my most vivid, fun filled childhood memories is of the last day of school that year.  I was so excited because the last day of school would be a half-day which seemed totally wonderful and magical in my mind at the time.  I wanted the day to go as quickly as possible so I could reach the magical half-day point that much faster and be released back into the wild for summer vacation.  In order to speed things along I slept in my little seersucker outfit the night before.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to wear my clothes to bed so that I could just get up and run right out the door to head off to school. What I remember most vividly about that last day of school was running free and light from our house to school in my wrinkled clothes (from sleeping in them the night before) with the sunshine on my face and arms making my skin pleasantly tight in the summer heat.  I heard someone's Dad mowing a lawn somewhere along the way and smelled a wonderful freshly-cut lawn smell (which always smelled to me like watermelon).  It was a joyous run toward the magical half-day of school, on my road to a summer of liberty and freedom.  And, it all started with my perception of that little seersucker outfit as a summer delight.  Thank you, Mom. :) The needle felted rabbit you see at the top of this posts is one of my latest needle felted designs.  He is about 7" tall when sitting, but from the tip of his toes to the tip of his ears he is about 10" tall.  I loved making a piece of needle felted fabric which I then designed and made his little jacket from.  He is a bit too delicate to give to a toddler, so for the time being he is going to live in my studio, watching over me while I paint watercolors and oils of swans, turtles, fishing herons, and other scenes I photographed along our river last summer. I find myself looking over at him from time to time, smiling at my little buddy. Now that he is finished, I will make several others of a similar design and technique -- a family of rabbits -- and photograph each step along the way so that I can write some very detailed instruction manuals.  Needle felting is so enjoyable as a craft and can be done very crudely or to very fine results, but no matter what level you take a project to, it will have an inherent beauty that all needle felted works seem to be naturally endowed with.  That is what I would like to pass along to my readers and friends, the joy of creating sculptures in needle felting. They needle felting courses will not be ready for this Easter and bunny season, because these things do take time. But they should be ready in pleny of time for you to get a head start and really learn what you are doing and get one or more bunnies ready for next year's holiday. Another creation I would like to share with you today is my altered version of a German Stollen.  Normally a Christmas bread, I decided to make my own version of Stollen to take to our Palm Sunday brunch at church last weekend.  It is a beautiful yeast bread that is worth the effort required to bring it to life. Back in California I would buy a traditional Christmas Stollen at Trader's Joe's every Christmas for the kids and I to enjoy.   Of course, we don't have Trader Joe's anywhere near where I live now, so I had to resort to making my own this past Christmas.  I began with a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking, but altered it to suit my own tastes and baking preferences. First of all, I chose not to use candied fruits, called for in the recipe.  Instead, I used golden raisins, dried cranberries and chopped dried figs. The recipe also called for a lemon glaze but I basted my bread with melted butter before and right after baking, followed with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. The recipe makes two large, beautiful loaves ... and now I would like to share the recipe with you in case you would like to make it this holiday weekend. Firefly's Altered Stollen 6 to 8 cups bread flour 1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees 2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp) 1/2 lb. golden raisin 1/2 lb. pecan pieces 1/2 cup dried cranberries 1/2 cup chopped dried figs (optional) 1 1/2 cups butter (softened) 3/4 cups sugar 3 eggs (room temperature) 3/4 tsp salt 1 tsp lemon rind (freshly grated or dried) 1/2 melted butter 2 cups powdered sugar In a good sized bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1 1/2 cups of water; whisk until blended. Let stand 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour; whisk until mixed well. Cover and place in a warm place until foamy (about 1 hour). [This is called sponge, by the way.] In a separate bowl, mix together raisins, pecans, cranberries and figs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over this mixture and toss so that all of the pieces are covered with flour. In large mixing bowl, beat the 1 1/2 cups of softened butter until light and creamy. Add 3/4 cups sugar and continue beating then add the eggs, one at a time. Next, add the salt and grated lemon rind. After this is all mixed well, take the sponge you made earlier and add that into the mix and keep mixing. If you have a dough hook on your mixer, change to that at this point. If you don't have a dough hook, you might want to change to mixing by hand sometime soon, when you think the load might be too much for your mixer. Anyway, start adding the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until you have a nice smooth dough that is elastic. It should not be sticky to the touch, but it does need to be soft so you don't want to add too much flour. The thing is with yeast bread (if you don't already know this) you don't add an exact amount of flour when you are mixing it. You just add some of the total called for, a bit at a time, until you get to the right consistency and then you stop. That is why the recipe calls for "6 to 8 cups flour". So, watch that you don't make your dough stiff and dry, but also don't leave it wet and sticky. Now, cover the dough and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour so it can double in bulk. After it is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and gradually knead the fruit, nut, and flour mixture into it. It will be hard to knead all of that stuff in, but just keep folding the dough over the fruit and nuts and kneading and kneading and after a while you will have it all mixed in pretty well. There will still be fruit and nut pieces sticking out all over the dough, but but is okay as long as it is mixed pretty evenly into the dough. Divide your dough in half. Roll each half out to a rectangle that is about 10" x 15". Roll this up staring with the 10" side. Place the rolled up bread onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and baste it with some of the melted butter -- just enough to make sure there is melted butter on the entire surface, but don't try to drench it. Repeat this process with the other half of your dough (on a separate cookie sheet). Let the rolled up, basted dough rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Thump the bread with your finger before you take it out of the oven to make sure it makes a sort of a hollow sound (kind of like thumping a watermelon to see if it is ripe). If it doesn't sound hollow, you should bake it a little bit longer. When you take it out of the oven, baste it right away with more melted butter, again covering the entire surface. You can use more than the 1/2 cup melted butter I specified in the recipe for the basting part if you want -- it just depends on how rich you want to make it. I only make this at Christmas and Easter because it is pretty rich and I don't like to feed rich food to my family very often. After basting the loaf, sprinkle it generously with lots and lots of powdered sugar. It is okay if it is piled up real high. Let the bread cool completely; I left mine stand overnight if I finish it late in the day or in the evening. If you are not going to serve it right away, or if you have to take it somewhere, wrap it up very tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the powdered sugar down against the bread. When you are ready to serve it, you can sprinkle a little bit more powdered sugar on top to freshen it up. Cut in 1/2" slices to serve. This bread is wonderful day old (or older) with a cup of coffee for breakfast. I suppose this is the end of today's post, I hope you have enjoyed it. If you haven't checked in with my son's Etsy shop lately, have a look and see what he has going on that is new. Many people have been loving his Typography Maps, you might enjoy them as well. And of course, he is always coming up with new subway signs and bus scroll prints. Hope you have a beautiful holiday weekend! Best, ~firefly


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