Sunday, December 30, 2007

Home appreciation

Russell sat at the breakfast table munching banana bread and reading the Sunday Times.

I was treated to a view of the headline in the business section, one of those gloom-and-doom predictions about "home appreciation." The writer was predicting a slow year ahead, with home prices up for grabs.

"Home appreciation," I mused aloud. "Appreciating the comforts of our homes would be much more pleasant."

And I've been thinking about that off and on all day.

How blessed I am to have a warm and cosy home, the perfume of vegetable soup simmering atop the stove and a party in the works for tomorrow night. All the home comforts I treasure so. I could feel myself slipping into the nesting mode. Again.

So you can see how I couldn't resist the opportunity to make a batch of homemade marshmallows to float atop those dark chocolate cocoas we've been drinking for breakfast and midnight snacks lately.

Here's the recipe, in case you want to rejoice in domestic bliss for yourself. It's surprisingly failproof and easy, courtesy of

Homemade Marshmallows

Servings: Makes about 96 marshmallows.

about 1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites*
1 teaspoon vanilla

*if egg safety is a problem in your area, substitute powdered egg whites reconstituted according to manufacturer's instructions
Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners' sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners― sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

In Sharyn's studio...

If you were a little mouse in the corner, as my grandma used to say, you could find me burning the midnight oil in the studio these last few months! I even worked part of Christmas, can you believe that?

Well, it's true, and at moments like these I am so glad for an adorable and cosy workspace. A new friend I met through Victoria has asked if I'd post a few studio photos, and since I'm so wrapped in comforts here, I am glad to oblige.

I can't believe I'm showing you my oh-so-messy main work table. Notice the lamp overhead? It's the trumpet from an old victrola! My friend Tom, who owns the Brass Lamp in Snohomish, Washington, made all my light fixtures, and they are all sweetly funky. I feel I need another one! There is an old funnel made into another hanging lamp, and it still smells ever so faintly of machine oil, since it was used for tractor maintenance for many a year.

The shelves are a rotating seasonal display, and I change the delights there on a whim! You might find a wren's nest or some blooming violets or my grandma's old vase with some roses plucked from the doorway. Heirloom roses decorate the trellis just outside the front door, but of course they are sound asleep now.

And if you think the work surface is a mess now, just wait until this afternoon, when I need to make three Halloween hats for a new line of giftware coming out next year from Demdaco. Oh my, the snippets of ribbon and clouds of mica glitter! The bits of cut paper and tiny rivers of glue...

When my messiness overflows, the top of the big black filing cabinet is a great spot to catch the flotsam & jetsam. You'll usually find something drying on the big workspace by the door. If you walk through the door to the second room of the studio, you'll see the printing area, and the big old door that now serves as another work table.

The studio sits in the middle of the garden, which is oh-so-grand all summer long, with the foxgloves nodding by the windows and rose petals raining down over the front door. We nibble on raspberries between the house and the studio and munch a cherry or two from the tree just beside the french doors in back.

But for now, it's wintertime and we may see snow drifting gracefully past the window and settling gently on the sleeping perennials. Birds peck away at the suet feeders and my dear puppy snores at my feet.

Time for me to be up and doing Easter art for fabric, and then moving along to those Halloween hats. The studio is cosy in winter, and I am the busy bee.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas treasure

My name is Sharyn Sowell and I am a very proud mama.

Beside the tree is my very favorite Christmas treasure, a common sheet of paper worth a fortune to me. If my house was burning down it's one of the things I'd save first. I'm a mom, after all, and this was Brian's letter to Santa written in his inimitable childish scrawl.

"Dear Santa," he wrote, "I hope you will come to my house."

He wrote it when he was adorably five, a mug of cocoa at his elbow, tongue sticking out slightly with the effort of getting it just right.

Fast forward... The son who wrote that note is in college now, and his brother just graduated. I could burst my buttons with love and pride.

It's Christmas, and I am aware once again how amazingly sweet it is to be a mom and to share the wonder and delight of children,whether little ones or those grown tall, and Santa and mugs of cocoa by the Christmas tree.

My name is Sharyn Sowell but I love it when I hear those familiar voices shout my other name. "Hey, Mom! Merry Christmas!"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Light your heart for Christmas

Have you decorated and baked, shopped and wrapped, tucked things under the tree and still have a list longer than Santa's? That would just about describe me! And I've got a deadline calendar that makes me panic every time I even dare to peek at it.

But I've been thinking lately about a simple truth: even if I got it all done early, even if I did everything perfectly (which, of course, I can't) and even if I exceeded all expectations, it wouldn't really matter.

Because the important thing, the real thing, the deepest truth at the root of Christmas is this: that we light our hearts before we set a match to that first candle, that we ornament our conversation with kind words. That we give ourselves as the first, best gift, even if it's the only one.

I'm making my lists and checking them twice, making sure my own heart is the my sincerest gift this season, and it's remarkably freeing. The lights are lovely but a beautiful heart matters even more.

Merry me! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Penny comes home

They say hearts fly home at Christmas and I for one believe it.

Life doesn't guarantee happily-ever-after storybook magic but sometimes that's what you get, and when it happens at Christmastime it's particularly wonderful.

My daughter Jessamyn and I lost our hearts yesterday to a sweet-faced stray walking through the door of a pet store crammed with shoppers and rawhide bones, leashes and fishbowls.

And an hour later, we'd adopted a yellow lab with soft brown eyes and a dear pink nose. From the moment she stepped over the threshold Penny was at home. Now snoozing on a lap by the fireside, you can see it's Christmas and Penny's come home for good.

Jimmy Stewart was right, it's definitely a wonderful life, and never more than at Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I'm dreaming...

Yesterday was so festive! We decorated the tree and went through the ornament boxes one by one. Ever the sentimental mother, my favorites are the ratty ones the boys made with their grubby little hands... the windmill with its paper blades tipped to the right, the snowman whose cotton balls were glued on with more enthusiasm than strictly necessary, the angel fabricated from a paper plate that has seen brighter days. Priceless.

Best of all is the note to Santa, pencilled on a piece of parchment.

Dear Santa
Please cum to my hous.

I would not take a million dollars for it.

After the decorations were in place I tore myself away from the crackling fire and Steve Tyrell crooning out Christmas favorites. Caesar, the beloved beagle and I went running along the river bank. Snow kissed our faces and the wind refreshed us... there is nothing sweeter than those dear doggie smiles and the knowledge that when you return you'll be greeted with all the joys of Christmas and a pot of hot chili simmering on the back burner.

I'm dreaming of a family Christmas and wishing you joy in full measure, just as we have here in our own quiet but busy corner.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Nature decorates for the season

I've been digging through the Christmas decoration boxes, revelling in the colors and the memories... the Scandinavian candelabra and that bent-up old windmill ornament Brian made in kindergarten... vintage glass balls and the Nativity I inherited last year. Each one precious. I love decorating for Christmas!

And I'm not the only one who loves bringing out the goodies. On my daily run, I was captivated by the decorations as big as all outdoors.

Branches coated with silvery frost. Farmhouses and barns and the brilliant snowy glacier atop Mount Baker. Scarlet berries and glossy leaves. Horses fairly dancing across the meadow, and me with a pocketful of carrots. The spiky sculpture of dried roadside weeds (were they this elegant last summer when the blooms were waving in the wind?)

From my heart and home to yours, I am wishing you moments of gratitude and beauty and quiet times of refreshment and inspiration during this most special of all seasons.

Christmas blessings inside and out!