from author, Amy Overley Rizzo

the queen of hearts

Queen of hearts 01

The Queen of Hearts,                                                                     The King of Hearts
She made some tarts,                                                                     Called for the tarts
All on a summer’s day;                                                                    And beat the Knave full sore;
The Knave of Hearts,                                                                      The Knave of Hearts
He stole the tarts                                                                            Brought back the tarts
And took them clean away.                                                               And vowed he’d steal no more.


Despite my peaceful tendencies, I have to admit that I'm with the King. If that Knave stole my tarts, I'd have to beat his butt too.


Queen of hearts

It's a well documented fact here on this blog that I am a hot mess whenever I tackle pie dough. My bestest friend, Bun, told me to try Fannie Farmer's pie crust, that it was a consistent performer for her. Of course I would take her advice. She's only won, like, a hundred apple pie contests. (baking, not eating.)

I made strawberry jam tarts, also from Fannie Farmer. They were amazing! Although the topping separated a little bit, I was extremely pleased with the pie dough. It was easy, and it turned out a beautiful, flaky crust. 

I'd be happy to post the recipes if you like. Just let me know in the comments.


stitching for skulls

Doesn't seem my usual style, does it? Hey, we've all got a dark side.


Skull flower whl

I was one of a hundred artists invited to participate in an exhibition as part of Skull Appreciation Day in Richmond, VA on Saturday, June 4. We were given an unpainted paper mache skull as a base, and our imaginations did the rest.

Noah Scalin is the creator of the Skull a Day blog (and book) and the author of 365: Make Something Every Day Challenge workbook. The man is seriously busy being creative.

As you all know, I have tons of quilt pieces from my Grammy and two Great-Grandmothers but I'm not a quilter. Yet. I say that but by the time I actually get around to it, I may be old and living in a condo with a herd of cats. I figured the fabric pieces might be perfect for the skull project, and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to sew flowers.


Skull flower 01


Images of Georgia O'Keeffe's work got stuck in my brain. I loved her juxtaposition of bones and flowers, and with that in mind as inspiration, I began sewing.


Skull flower 02

I broke just about every sewing rule while doing it too. I left threads hanging and showed every stitch and knot. The messy chaos of it reminded me of pulling clover from the flower bed. The roots go everywhere. The plant may look small at the surface, but there's a forest of roots beneath it.


Skull flower 03


Thoughts of my grandmothers stayed with me as well. Quilt pieces are like small snips of time, remnants of a shirt or dress or coat from long ago. There are memories attached to each, and it felt like I was working with their past lives as I stitched the fabric together. I wished the grandmothers were with me to tell me their stories and to laugh about where their quilt pieces ended up. (After the initial surprise wore off.)


Skull flower 04


Nonna dress face

Little Bear is a two-year-old of definite opinions. See that expression? She has decided that she doesn't like having her picture taken. Nor does she like to wear pants.


One fine spring morning not so long ago, I pulled out a pair of pink pants from the Pants Party Days that are now about an inch to short (although I ignore that and pretend that they're toddler capris) and proceeded to go about getting Little Bear into them. She promptly burst into mad tears and wailed, "ME NO LIKE!" As if I were trying to squeeze her into a mohair bodysuit, not a pair of soft, cotton pants that she's worn a bazillion times before.

"What would you like to wear?" I asked.

"Pretty dress," she sobbed and covered her face with her hands.

I trudged back to the closet, rolling my eyes where she couldn't see them and pulled out a dress. "This one?" I asked.

"No. Red one," she said between the cracks in her fingers.

My loud sigh coincided with her dramatic sniffle, but I produced the desired togs and we went on with our day. I thought the incident was a fluke, but I fear it's now a full-blown stage. And I've been so busy with writing and preparing my submission for Skull Appreciation Day (more about that in the next day or so) that sewing for Little Bear has fallen by the wayside. For the time being we rotate the same dresses (sometimes twice depending on how bad the blueberry stains show up) every week. This morning I saw a spot of dried porridge on the dress of the day but just turned it to the back. She'll never know the jumper's on backwards.

Check out one of Little Bear's favorite dresses:

Nonna dress full


My mom made this for me back in the day, and it fits Little Bear perfectly. She wore it to church on Sunday even though she dripped maple syrup on the skirt. (By the way, an extra thanks to the man behind us who permitted Little Bear to take his hymnal for her horses to read.)

I think the embroidered flowers are my favorite part:


Nonna dress close


And lest you think Little Bear changed her mind about the photo shoot…

P.S. She practices that face in the bathroom mirror. (I wish I were kidding.)


Nonna dress full grumpy

what wednesday looks like

Wednesday looks like

Wednesday looks like 02

Wednesday looks like 03

Wednesday looks like 04

Wednesday looks like 05

Wednesday looks like 06

Wednesday looks like 07

Wednesday looks like 08

strawberry and I hit a snag in our romance

Strawberry love

Yes, I'm speaking to you, Strawberry. I've held an enduring and passionate love for you since I was little and the anticipation of spring and your arrival at the farmer's market was what got me through the cold, kale filled months of winter. But we need to talk about your recent bad behavior.

This isn't an "it's not you, it's me" break-up conversation. No, the blame rests entirely upon your petite leafy noggin. I slaved in a hot kitchen for hours (hours, do you hear me?!) crushing you into jam and boiling you with sugar into a delicious gooey mess only to have you insist on remaining runny. Well, I canned your unrepentant red ass anyway and a dozen jars of strawberry syrup now line my shelves. (which will taste divine poured over pancakes and ice cream–but that's not the point!)

But I didn't lose faith in our long-standing relationship. Oh no! I persevered and set aside only the ripest, most beautifully perfect of you for a whole-berry pie that I intended to serve our weekend guest with a scoop of voluptuous Grater's ice cream. Did you cooperate? Did you sit there properly, looking gorgeous and tasty and magnificent? You turned to mush, damn your seeds, and sulked in a puddle of glaze until The Husband acquiesced to my pleas and finished you off.


Strawberry love pie piece


So I'm going to take a vacation from you, Strawberry dear. I'm going to ignore your calls and concentrate on some "me time." At least until Thursday and my weekly trip to the farmer's market. You have until then to get your act together.


Strawberry love pie whole

the long soak or whitening vintage linens

Long soak spoon

Being a self-proclaimed bad housekeeper means that I'm usually scouring the internet to find answers for my various domestic quandaries. Margo at Thrift at Home and Heather at Home-Ec 101 are my usual stops so I rarely ever have a good tip of my own to pass along. Until today.

(horns trumpet)

Honestly, I didn't come up with it. This tip comes from my pal Alex. During the day he works at a law firm and at night he's using his genius to remove stains from fabric, and in particular, vintage linens. He's a magician, I tell you, and has generously offered his laundry skills more times than I can count. I've sent him all sorts of old tablecloths and napkins with stains that occurred years before I was born, and he has managed to restore the fabric to its former state of white snowiness and removed almost every yellowed spot. (He considers it a personal affront when he can't make an item pristine.) But now we live too far away for Alex to help, and I had to ask him to reveal the source of his secret cleaning powers.

The answer was surprisingly simple: time and oxygenated detergent.

Long soak tub


It's all very simple. First I make sure the item has been through the wash and dried to remove any day-to-day food or dirt. I fill our beverage tub (it was given to me as a hostess gift to use for chilling beverages but it gets more use as a linen soaker) with eight quarts of hot water to start and add a scoop of oxygenated detergent according to their measuring guidelines. Stir gently to dissolve the detergent. I then drop in the tablecloth, napkins, etc. and add more hot water so that it's mostly covered. Using a wooden spoon, I poke the cloth around to ensure that it's saturated, and I let it sit. For a full 48 hours.

Alex stressed that time was the most important part of the equation. In his words, "forget about it." The older the stain the longer it needs to soak. I usually stir the contents once a day except that Little Bear loves to help. She pokes at it with immense enthusiasm, sending water splashing all over the bathroom. 

Long soak AG


After 48 or so hours, I set the washer on delicate and rinse the linens. Most times I make it a double-rinse to get out all the detergent. Then I hang it up to line dry. (According to Heather, over-drying weakens fibers. Not to mention your burgeoning energy footprint.)

I've done this with three tablecloths since our move, and every single one looks good as new. Well, as new as any vintage linens look. If you give Alex's method a try, let me know how it turns out for you.

Happy soaking!


Long soak AG 02

an imperfect cake

Cake with jam

It took me a long time to get this picture, mostly because I kept trying for a "perfect" shot. The truth was that this cake was imperfect all the way around from its uneven layers to the over-whipped whipped cream and sporadic jam smears. The point of my baking endeavor was to make something new and spectacular looking in honor of my mum's visit. Mission accomplished despite the fact that it lacked all of Martha's precision. Yes, this was a Martha Stewart recipe.

You can see the entire recipe in all its perfect glory here. It's also featured in the latest issue of Martha Living as part of their Once Upon a Baby Shower. 

The good news about the cake was that it tasted very, very good. The cake was spongy and absorbed the jam but not enough that it became soggy. The subtle spices of the cake were only enhanced by the tart-sweetness of the blackberry jam, and the marscarpone-whipped cream icing was a revelation. Who knew that marscarpone was excellent in icing? Anyone?

Of course, I learned several valuable cake lessons. Next time I will allow the marscarpone to warm slightly on the counter before trying to whip it into submission. I'll also pay closer attention to whipping the cream instead of trying to multi-task (uh, trying to keep Little Bear from sticking her entire hand into the jam jar) and allowing it to get halfway to being butter.

Nor will I question Martha's (or her minion's) measurement of jam. It looked excessive when spread on the cake layers, but the extra was absorbed and the deep purple gooeyness that dribbled down the sides was lovely to watch.

And lastly, I won't freeze the layers before cutting them in half. This was a huge DUH! on my part. Chilling the cake layers made icing a breeze, but I didn't consider having to cut them in that state. I actually wished for a chainsaw at the time, and as I rassled the layers I had bagel flashbacks. (A time when I sliced through my finger with the serrated knife.) Ok, I've actually had that bagel slicing problem several times, to the point where The Husband will only buy my bagels pre-sliced.

The best part of having cake was serving and eating it, of course. I sat the cake on the buffet during dinner, and the dog spent a long time gazing at it. Which I took to mean that it was a damn fine cake, flaws and all. Sorry, no scraps for you, dude.

Jam 075


I hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day and is recovering nicely. I needed an entire day just to get over my mother leaving. (sob!)


Lilies best

a small space of tranquility

This week has been spent readying for out-of-town guests, and one more room has been (mostly) unpacked and organized. We also experienced several days of cooler temperatures (in the 70's) and bright sunshine. All of which combined to make working in the guest room a lovely experience. I had the fleeting thought that the bed looked like the perfect place to take a long nap. (That was before Little Bear began bouncing on it.)

Guest room 102


When I glanced outside, however, I saw this and all my good feelings flew out the window. Quite literally.


Guest room squirrel

Guest room squirrel 2

I loathe squirrels, and our enmity has existed ever since they chewed their way through our soffit to make a nest out of a box of books in our attic. Feeder raiding aside, they have done nothing but proved themselves diabolically destructive furry rodents. Please don't forward me pictures of squirrels being raised by mother dogs or tigers or whatever with the phrase why can't we just get along? at the bottom. I warn you, the message will fall upon deaf ears…or eyes…or whatever the case may be. In my opinion, the only good squirrel is a dead one. Which is why I've requested a pellet gun for Mother's Day this year. Or a sling shot. I'll happily accept either one.

The Husband worries that I've become unnaturally obsessed with warding off unwanted feeder raiders. Admittedly I'll dash out the back door in mid-sentence regardless of any chores or meal preparations to chase off a squirrel or grackle. Yes, grackles are discouraged as well. In my defense, the birding book told me to. I realize that I must appear mildly mental about the entire thing, but really, that cheeky squirrel is entirely too brazen to be tolerated. Some afternoons he lies on the railing of the deck on his stomach with his four paws dangling down, as if chowing down on sunflower seeds is so exhausting. I'm sure he thinks I should bustle out there with a cold drink and a parasol. Instead, I fling pine cones at him.

The good news is that Brown Thrasher and Mr. Cardinal aren't intimidated. And that lifts my spirits.

Guest room brown thrasher 2

Guest room cardinal