I thought I would start sharing some images from my sketchbook. Lately, I’ve been painting a lot of fun little images based on nature. I love adding a touch of whimsy when I can. I spend a lot of time going on hikes, and it brings me so much joy to tap into my imagination while doing something I love. I painted the little bear for my niece and the deer was for a friend.
I started taking art lessons when I was twelve. I had the most wonderful teacher, an artist named Gail Dyess. When I was still a kid, I told her I wanted to learn how to do illustrations and character drawings. She didn’t assume I was too young to learn–she taught me how to do it. Mrs. Dyess started teaching me watercolor lessons in eighth grade. I continued classes with her until I was 18 and then I studied art in college. But after I graduated, I got busy with life and stopped painting and drawing.
Last year, I decided I needed a new creative outlet. I have cherished memories of my Mamaw’s beautifully decorated cakes, so I took a few months of cake decorating classes myself. I had a great time, but I felt like I didn’t enjoy making gum paste flowers or fondant figures like I thought I would. Then…my friend Indira sent me a video on cake painting. By that time, I had already pinned a few painted cakes on Pinterest. I was intrigued. One afternoon this summer, I decided to give it a try, and I was hooked! It was just like painting with watercolors. It took me right back to those classes with Mrs. Dyess and the excitement of a fun art project.
My friend Carie asked me to bring a painted cake to the Denver Woman’s Press Club holiday party on Monday. I chose the illustrations of E.H. Shephard from the classic Winnie the Pooh stories as inspiration and created a storybook cake. I freehand painted the images on fondant with food coloring. It was my first finished cake. Words cannot explain how nervous I felt about it, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. And I’m so grateful I have such supportive friends!!
I wanted to share a fun Easter project with you. I decided to try a fancy version of Easter eggs this year. I painted them with craft paint in some of my favorite colors. It took a couple of coats to get the eggs covered. I then brushed on some clear glue and sprinkled craft glitter on top. I’m excited about the way they turned out, and I’m looking forward to an egg hunt with a little bling. If you decide to try this at home, make sure to use high quality glitter that has a fine texture. You get a better coat that way. Do you have a favorite egg craft?
Colorado Gives Day, presented by Community First Foundation and First Bank, allows our state to demonstrate support for nonprofit organizations each winter. Last year, the event raised $15.7 million dollars. Through Colorado Gives Day, you can donate directly to the valuable work that the Denver Botanic Gardens is doing in our community. These funds help fuel education, research, and conservation programs. The natural beauty at the Denver Botanic Gardens means something different to each person who visits–the video above highlights this fact in a moving call to action. Click here to find out how your donation (of any size) can help make a difference for Denver. To read more about using the gardens as an educational resource, read our post here.
On Tuesday, we shared a recipe for Braised Turkey Leg by Gabe Godell, chef de cuisine at The Kitchen Denver (click here to read the post). Today, Chef Godell offers a delicious side that will make your family dinner feel like a feast. The best way to describe this recipe for Roasted Winter Squash and Apples is that it tastes just like Thanksgiving. The aroma of fried sage and roasted hazelnuts blankets a warm dish of acorn squash and apples tossed in honey and butter. Shallots play up the savory profile of the dish, while cider vinegar adds a bright note. It’s perfectly lovely at the same time that it is easy to prepare. This one-pot side calls for two six-inch cazuela baking dishes, but Chef Godell claims that any small ovenproof dish will work well.
4 cups acorn squash, cut into large dice
2 cups granny smith apples, cut into extra large dice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
5 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
10 sage leaves, fried
3 medium shallots, sliced
2 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
Start by lightly pan frying sage leaves in olive oil on medium heat in a small sauté pan. Once moisture is released, pull out and drain on paper towels.
Melt butter in a small sauté or sauce pan until just starting to bubble. Sauté sliced shallot for 1 minute. Toss in sage and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add in honey, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Use this mixture to coat squash and apples and bake in a small ovenproof baking dish at 350 deg for 20 minutes. Check doneness on squash and apples. Put mixture in serving dish and top with toasted hazelnuts and fried sage leaves.
The traditional dessert on our Thanksgiving menus is one that often fills novice bakers with a sense of fear. We have all toiled in the kitchen for hours only to end up with a pie crust that was shrinking, burned, soggy, or gummy. If you have ever baked a pie with an overly browned crust and a fruit filling that was not even cooked through, you are not alone. The Humble Pie Store owner Tamara Brink serves an average of 1,000 to 1,500 pies per week at her hip Denver bakery. She is here today to offer her expert advice on the art of making pies. And if you are looking for a unique recipe, check out our post on Brink’s Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Pie here.
Don’t Obsess About The Butter Temperature
The traditional wisdom on pie crusts is that butter needs to be about as cold as possible. Brink says that in her experience butter temperature is not the most crucial factor. She claims, “I don’t think it’s necessary for your butter to be super cold. Typically, we cut the butter into dime-sized chunks and then cut that with the flour. Blend those two together before you add any liquid.”
Add Liquids Slowly
If you are using a food processor to prepare your pie crust, Brink suggests that slowing the speed as you add your liquids helps distribute them more evenly throughout the dough. “Put it on slow and then slowly pour the liquid in,” she advises.
Brink explains, “The less water you add, the more flaky your crust is going to be, but you have to add water to make it pliable. So what we do is use half water and half vodka. It’s great because it’s more pliable and of course the vodka evaporates when you bake it so it’s super flaky.”
Also Use Plastic Wrap
Anyone who has ever made a pie knows that the ideal dough is still crumbly when you remove it from the food processor. Traditionally, you sprinkle flour on your work surface and form the dough into a ball before rolling it out–a process that requires even more flour. Especially for those baking in Colorado, all of that extra flour can really dry out your crust. Brink’s advice? Use plastic wrap, not flour. “We just take plastic wrap and put the dough in between two sheets. Roll out the pie crust in between the plastic. The plastic wrap makes it completely stick together, so you don’t have to use flour and it’s not drying it out.”
Butter or Shortening?
Brink uses both. The butter for flavor and the shortening for a flaky texture. She also uses butter-flavored shortening. It’s a great way to sneak some flavor into an ingredient that really has none on its own.
How To Avoid A Shrinking Crust
If your pie requires pre-baking in the oven, Brink suggests that aluminum foil can help you fight shrinkage. “Press aluminum foil into it. Bake it, and after about 15 minutes take the aluminum foil off so it will brown. That way the sides don’t slip down.” Brink says it is important to press the foil firmly around the sides of the crust so they are completely covered.
Many fruit-filled pies end up with overcooked crusts. Brink says this is all a matter of oven temperature. Start with the particular texture and size of fruit that you want for your pie. So, if you love soft fillings but want big slices of fruit, you will have to lower your oven temp. “You can have your fruit any size you want. You just have to adjust your temperature and baking time accordingly. So if you have big chunks, you’re going to want your temperature lower and to bake it for a really long time. If I have big chunks in my pie, I bake it at an hour and a half to two hours but at about 200 hundred degrees. I don’t like to have a lot of crunch to my fruit. So if you have slivers or sliced fruit, I would say to do it at 300 degrees for about an hour.”
Oven Temperature Is Not Set In Stone
When baking, it’s usually best to follow a recipe to the letter, but this may not be true for oven temperatures. In our previous post with Cake Crumbs Bakery (you can read it here), we learned that perfect cupcakes are all about watching your oven. It turns out that the same thing is true for pies. “We have to assess pies halfway through baking,” Brink explains. If your crust is browning too much, turn down the oven temperature.
The Best Way to Reheat A Pie
Brink suggests warming a pie in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Microwaves can make your crust soggy and lead to uneven heating. A warm oven works best.
Make Breakfast While You Make Your Thanksgiving Dinner
Most pie recipes, like Brink’s Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Pie, only use half of the pie crust dough. She claims this provides an excellent opportunity to prepare an easy breakfast dish. Her advice: “Quiche is so easy. It’s a light breakfast. You can bake your quiche in the oven at the same time your turkey is baking. Just reheat it in the oven.” You can even use some of the savory ingredients from your Thanksgiving meal, like asparagus or potatoes, in your favorite quiche filling.
You may recall that my first post was about repurposing old books. If you have a book that contains beautiful pages, like an old atlas, creating your own envelopes is easy. Paired with a simple set of cards these envelopes are perfect for a pop of color on your desk or a unique holiday gift.
I sometimes use craft paper to make my own cards, but really it’s easier to buy blank stationery sets at your local craft store. You can print an initial on the card and then use the envelope that comes with it as a template for your own. And that’s my biggest tip for this project: use a store-bought envelope as a guide when you are cutting the map paper. It’s fast, simple and saves you a ton of time–especially if you have cards to match.
The envelopes in these images were cut from a 1970s subway guide to London. The pages have great lines and color and are a little bit of a departure from the aqua blues and pinks of a more traditional atlas. Here’s how I made them:
Select a store-bought envelope that will fit onto your map paper when it is open–this can be tricky because envelopes are sometimes larger than they seem when you unfold them completely.
Cut your map paper out of the book. Flatten the envelope and tape it to the surface of the map.
Trace the shape of the envelope with a fine-tipped pen–pencils are so light that the lines are too hard to see on map paper.
Cut out your envelopes and glue the tabs together with an archival glue stick.
The Mordecai Children’s Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is a 3-acre interactive learning space. It is a place of great natural beauty, with alpine plants, a pond, stream, grasslands,and a view of the Rockies, but it is first and foremost a place of imagination. On a typical day you will find toddlers running down the path in fairy costumes and kids moving small logs to create fortresses. The energy of kids who are actively learning at the garden is palpable. For Denver-area readers, the Botanic Gardens offer regular programming to teach children, including Seedlings Classes, Homeschool Days, and Family Fun Nights, among others. Today, Children’s Program Manager, Claudia Kiesenhofer draws from the many techniques that she uses at the garden to give us some advice on teaching kids through nature.
Bring the Outdoors into Your Routine
We all know that kids these days are glued to TV screens and iPads, so Kiesenhofer’s first bit of wisdom is simple: “The best advice that I can give is to first of all bring them to nature. Get them outside. Ideally, you have a garden; if not, maybe there is a park close by where you can get them out and get them in nature.”
Help Them Connect to Nature
At the Mordecai Children’s Garden, you will find written prompts posted throughout. Plant beds feature small signs asking kids about textures and shapes. These tools help kids learn about the outdoors but they also get them engaged with their environment. Kiesenhofer claims you can use a similar technique at home. “I think kids are not really used to just playing on their own, so they might need a few questions, like What can you find here? or Which shapes and colors do you see? For little kids, ask them to find a leaf that is bigger than their hand for instance. It allows them to be aware of what’s around them. Or if they are older, you can ask them about a specific plant to find, so they connect with it.”
Engage the Senses
Kiesenhofer claims, “Involving your senses is definitely important for smaller kids. For example, in fall use a pumpkin. Ask the kids to touch it, feel it, smell it. Let them manipulate the material in different ways. A pumpkin looks very different on the inside than it does on the outside and it smells very different. Ask them what they can do with a pumpkin. Let them taste something made of it, draw a picture of it. Use all of the different creative ways to express themselves and use all of their senses because then they really experience what they are learning. I think that’s very important.”
Provide Unstructured Playtime
Kids at the Mordecai Children’s Garden often appear to be in their own worlds. There is a stage for impromptu performances, complete with costumes, and numerous other vehicles for learning and imagination. Kiesenhofer says that this free-spirited play is actually essential for learning. “I think one of the wonderful things we offer in our garden is unstructured playtime. And many parents are very good at that. Maybe the kids need a little bit of input in the beginning, like What can you find here? What can you do here? Is there anything you want to build? Is there an interesting animal you want to be? And then give them some time to actually explore. Have them feel and touch plants out of their own interests and motivations. I think it’s very rare in our children’s lives that they actually have the time to figure out what they want to do. Unstructured time is very rare for kids, and it’s important that they have time to really learn through things. A great deal of learning comes through play.”
Use Tasks to Hold Their Attention
Anyone who has ever taken a class of students outside knows that it’s easy for them to get distracted. Kiesenhofer has some advice for keeping kids focused in nature. “I think it’s good to let them fulfill a few tasks. Set some very basic rules. When we have kids here we give them journals and with the journals they can do activities at different stations. It’s a more unguided experience but they know they need to fill their journals out. So it’s learning through doing. That is something that helps them focus and as a leader you can always refer to that to focus them back on the task.”
Provide Prompts for Imagination
Employees at the Mordecai Children’s Garden station logs, stuffed animals, and other toys throughout the environment. This allows children to tap into their imagination and make things as they play. Kiesenhofer explains, “What we offer here is very simple. There are not any explanations on how to use the materials. They are just there. And if children have the chance to be in these situations they become very creative.”