Peters Valley School of Craft with Jo Campbell-Amsler

Last year I discovered that Jo Campbell-Amsler of Willow Ridge Basketry, was going to be teaching at the Peters Valley School of Craft, right here in New Jersey. 

I signed up right away, and for about a year I hassled the poor admissions lady to make sure it was going to run.  I pushed this class on every message board and facebook group that would listen.  Finally after months of worry, it turns out that we had a class of 5 that would run.

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I've never been to Peters Valley before but from what I could see online it looked very similar to the Folk School.  There were a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences.  You can't really walk anywhere and the studios are a mile down a bumpy dirt road.  The housing is a little more "rustic" but if I were to visit again I'd stay on the campus.  Despite all the driving, it had the same amazing feel as the folk school.  It is just so inspiring to be around so many artists and artisans.

There was even a small auction, and I came home with a few extra goodies!  

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I can't get over how much I learn on this 5 day course with Jo.  She showed us everything you need to make rib or frame baskets and then some.  One of the very different things about Jo is that she uses all freshly cut willow instead of the dried stuff.

It is a slightly different feel and look when you work with fresh willow.  The colors are so vibrant, and it has a slight "crackly" feel sometimes.  I can't say I'd ever work with fresh stuff again because I'm so used to the dried, but it was fun to work with.   

The very first project that we all worked on was a tension tray (pictured below). Then we went on to the gypsy melon basket (pictured above). This was our real first experience with putting in ribs and shaping.  

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By the third day I was onto the next thing, which started with learning how to shape rims.  I had grabbed a rim but then noticed another one that was similar to the shape of her tote basket.  I asked if I could make one of those and she said yes!

The fourth basket I made in the class was the small coin purse that needed two "D" shaped rims. Jo took the time to explain every aspect of each basket, and we got to practice the techniques that were needed to accomplish it.  

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At the end of the 5 days Jo also showed us some fun things like how to make willow beads, or how to make cordage out of iris leaves.  It was these last little instructions that really showed what a great teacher Jo is.   I just kept thinking to myself, "this is the most I've ever learned in 5 days."  I was so happy with what I got to accomplish, but the level of skill and tutorial that I got was invaluable. 

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At the Branch Ranch with Mel Bastier

At the end of July I finally had the opportunity to travel up to Warkworth to the Branch Ranch for willow basket classes. 

Jackie and Jill are the owners of a beautiful farm where they grow the most gorgeous willow I have ever seen. They hold their own basket making workshops, but this particular time they were hosting a basket maker from the UK.

Melanie Bastier is a basket maker and willow artist.  Her handle and site is "Out to Learn Willow." And I have been following her on instagram for quite a long time now. When I discovered that Jackie and Jill would be running classes with Mel, I jumped at the chance. Within an hour of posting the classes were almost all full.  I was lucky enough to get into the Irish Skib and Cyntell classes.  

This would be my first time to their Ranch for classes and the journey was a little longer then when I visit Lene at Lakeshore Willows, but I was up for the trip. Seven and a half hours and I landed in the most beautiful place I've ever seen; rolling hills of farmland and woods. 

The first day class was the Irish Skib, which is a basket I've been wanting to learn for a very long time. The holes in the center were supposedly for straining the water from potatoes. I was extremely happy with how it came out, and I accomplished my largest border to date without a single kink!!!!    

I still can't get over the colors! They are still almost as vibrant as the day I made it. Just goes to show how Jackie and Jill have perfected the art of growing and soaking their willow.  

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Mel showing us how to split fresh willow to make the ribs for the Cyntell. 

The second two days were devoted to the Cyntell or Welsh Shopper basket.  This was my first time attempting a real rib or frame basket.

Mel took the time to prepare the handles, rims and most of the ribs. Once she showed us the process of making all these items we all realized what a monumental task this basket really is, and we were thankful to only be putting it together.  

But what a beauty I must say! This basket is precise and perfectly crafted to look amazing. The work on the handle was probably the most fun. I got to try and use a cleave, which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Then each strip needed to be shaved down to a very thin thickness. 

Overall I'm not sure if this is a basket I'd ever make again just because I would need to have someone make me forms for the handles, ribs and rim. But thanks to Mel, I have the instructions so if I ever wanted to, I could make it.

I included a few pictures of the beautiful home I stayed at.  I booked it through Airbnb, and I got to meet a very lovely lady who was so warm and inviting. Her home was something out of a dream.  A big old farm house.  The first night she lit a fire, and I slept with the windows open. One window overlooked her gorgeous garden and the surrounding farmland. The other was a slider that opened to a private back deck. Every night a band practiced their music in her barn.  I could hear their songs drifting into the room each night as I fell asleep.   

Lizzy is the hostess, but she is also the owner of a cafe in town.  "Our Lucky Stars Cafe" where I stopped to get some coffee before I made my way home. One hundred times better then Tim Hortons, that's for sure.    

I'm so thankful to her for making my stay so easy and comfortable. I will definitely want to stay there the next time I'm up at the Branch Ranch!  I'm crossing my fingers that they will be able to convince a few more basket makers from the UK to visit and hold workshops. 

Playing with Ideas

I'm only a few days away from two of my biggest willow learning experiences this summer.  I'm back to Canada to work for three days, then smushing in a little vacation and back to willow for another five days here in New Jersey.  These classes are with teachers I have never met or worked with before so I'm very excited and grateful for these opportunities. 

I thought I should take the time to document some of my recent works because they each had a great element of success in one form or another.  

The first basket I played with used some of my willow bark.  It really doesn't take much more then one roll to come up with something amazing.  The picture below doesn't show the spiral base, which I thought worked perfectly.   I even added a small filler of my bulrush cordage at the top, which I am in love with.   

When I was working on the small bark basket I was thinking about a few different pieces I had seen that used bark as weavers in a regular basket.  I was very interested in trying out the zigzag weave with the bark, and I thought it worked out perfectly.  I can see using this technique to add interest in a larger basket one day. 

I like working on a smaller scale to test my ideas because the baskets work up fast and I don't waste much of a a material that I don't have direct access to.  Every time I make a basket with willow or willow bark, I feel like I'm using up a precious commodity.  It's not far from the truth, but I know eventually I will have to start selling some of my pieces.  It is so very hard to give up any of my willow work, just because I have such limited supplies at this point.  I know it is only a matter of time and patience until I can fix that fact.

Another project I tested out was one for a willow tray.  I love the multiple layers of rows.  It is a technique that I was never taught and I found instructions for in a German basket book.  The pictures helped a little, but I'm not sure I worked the technique correctly.  But it still came out alright and looked great, I thought at least!

This little tray is actually quite sweet, and would probably be great just for a small cupa and some cookies.  A "Fika Tray" we can call it. 

Lastly, a few weeks back I tried another rib or frame style basket, which worked well enough, but wasn't one of my best.

I was so happy to find out that in about two weeks, I will be able to work with Jo Campbell-Amsler for five days, learning the basics of willow rib style basketry.  I know I am probably not working the correct technique, so I am looking forward to learning it.

Still....put a few freshly laid eggs in it, and it couldn't look any better!  

I know I really should be sharing more on this blog, and maybe in the coming months I will.  This September I will be starting up some new teaching opportunities, and hopefully spending lots of time creating and working on new baskets.  

I have to keep reminding myself that in the time span that I started making baskets, I really have come a long way.  I remember finding a book on willow basket making and thinking to myself, "there is no way I'll be able to ever be able to do stuff like this" And yet here I am!!!  One of my next goals is to travel internationally (besides Canada) to meet and work with more basket makers.  Every summer holds new opportunites just waiting to be explored.  

Fitching with Steen H. Madsen

This June I visited Lakeshore willows a second time.  I had the honor of meeting and working with Steen Madsen, a basket maker and internationally renowned expert in primitive crafts.  Steen lives in Denmark, but was visiting Lene to run a four day workshop.  Unfortunately I could only make two of the four days, but in that short amount of time I learned more than I ever have before making baskets. 

When Steen teaches, he allows his students to pick what they would like to work on.  Most of the people choose to work on square baskets, but I went for something a little different.  I have always admired a very open weave basket that I now have come to learn, may have originated in Scotland.  The basket called a "Cran" was used in weighing and carrying herring.  The baskets had to be very precise because they were used as the measurement of the herring, and how a fisherman would get paid.  For my purposes I wasn't there to learn the exact historical measurements, but rather the technique called "fitching"   

I figured it would be toward my advantage to work on something with a round base, because that's what I've had the most experience with.  Much to my surprise, I learned in much greater detail the process of working a round base then I ever have before. 

Steen was wonderful for explaining exactly why certain things are done.  Basketry is one of the oldest crafts known to man and over the years "Rules of Thumb" have been developed.  This was the first time those rules were ever explained to me, and most of the other students in the class as well. Steen was very good at explaining each step and entertained us all with sweet singing of Danish songs that were made to remember the basic rules.   

I also learn new little details like this little "staple" pictured above.  It was a technique used to end the bottom row of waling before you added stakes and fitched the sides.  Again this was an instance where Steen explained two different ways to complete a task.  Both ways being new to me.  

Needless to say I was in basket making heaven.  In only two days I felt way more confident in my skills then ever before.  I'm just sad that I had to miss the last two days.  But I know I will make every attempt to work with Steen again, even if that means traveling to Denmark ;)   

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This small basket was my first "practice" basket for the fitching.  Now it has been designated as my new basket making "tool box" - it fits all my tools perfectly.  

It was also a great chance to practice another roped handle, which I was very pleased with how it turned out.  

Introduction to Willow Bark with Lene Rasmussen

Arn't last minute decisions always the best ones!?

Especially when they involve working with willow in Canada!!!!

A few weeks ago I saw a post on a facebook group call "All About Willow."  Lene was showing pictures from three days when she had a few friends to her farm to strip willow bark.  I have known that there are basket makers who like to use bark, but I never really looked into it - Until I saw her pictures.  And my mind ran crazy once I learned that this process can really only be accomplished in the spring and early summer when the sap is rising through the trees.  Spring is apparently bark stripping season!  And this three day course offered the perfect opportunity for me to learn all about the process, and bring home supplies.  

It looked like so much fun that I contacted Lene and asked if I could come help.  It was sort of a crazy whirlwind trying to get everything coordinated because I am heading back to her farm in Canada in a few days for a class with a very famous basket maker.  So it all worked out for better or worse and I hopped in the car and made the 7 hour drive to Lakeshore Willows.

On day one we didn't waste anytime.  Lene explained the process for removing the outer bark on the willow and we got right to work.  There was a bit of a learning curve and most of us working quickly learned that our hands were in for a workout. 

By lunch on the first day I had collected a good pile of bark and that's when I knew that I'd be going home with a really awesome amount of willow by the end of the three days.

The deal with Lene was that for every coil of bark that I stripped for her, I got to keep one myself. So that was the major incentive for everyone to work as diligently as they could.  The pile of stripped willow outside of the barn grew bigger and bigger every hour.  

On the third day we got to use the willow we stripped.  It was the first time I've ever used bark and the process was really interesting.  The bark didn't need to soak very long, and after a few minutes it was smooth and leathery.  We used a leather cutter to make the strips and then we used things like waxed linen, dried iris, and small strips of bark to weave with.

The weaving was very similar to the work I have done with reed but again working with the willow was a million times better.  This workshop really solidified my desire to use natural materials in my future work. 

Below is a picture of the back of my car all loaded up with my half of my stash.  All this willow bark will be put to good use over the next few months.

Willow Baskets with Bonnie Gale

Two weeks ago, I traveled back down to North Carolina to spend a week at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  I spent a whole week making baskets with Bonnie Gale, a traditional willow basket maker and living willow artist. 

I was so excited to get down to the school for a second time.  This year I was lucky to have the most amazing roommate, who was so inspirational and uplifting.   We got to spend our time in the Rock House (pictured below) which had the best front porch, and was very close to the school's main buildings. 

This year I felt like my minutes were all counted for, but I still had time to walk around the property in the evenings.  The gardens and fields all bursting with golden colors, and the hundreds of birds busy with activity.   

So each day we worked for about 6+ hours.  This year I chose to work on oval baskets.  I've had my eye on a few since last year and I was so excited to get working learning something brand new.  Below is the base to my backpack.  I was nervous working with the bigger willow because last time my hands were killing me by the end of the week.  This year I was pleasantly surprised at the ease I had handling this bigger material.  

A returning class mate worked on this basket too and we both worked tirelessly for about 2 and a half days to get them completed.  All that work, but I think we were the talk of the school by the end of it! 

The second basket I worked on was a classic French Crocane or oval arm basket.  This basket was quite the challenge because it was the first time I worked with Buff Willow and it required a close attention to detail.  

Turns out that I loved working with the Buff and the whole baskets was a great learning experience.  I even bough a few pounds of the buff willow to bring home with me.  

The one thing I have left to do is rework the handle on this basket. The first one I put on didn't have enough turns or rods.  I also think I will do a much better job roping the buff willow now that I've had some practice. 

Last but not least, this beauty (pictured below) wasn't fully made this week.  I actually spent two days with Bonnie in the fall making most of what she calls the "Monster Garden Basket."  It is actually a pattern that was originally designed by a very famous basket maker named, Alastair Heseltine.  I wasn't able to complete the basket because of time constraints, but I knew I would be seeing her again. The only things that I needed to do to get this basket done was add the handle and the feet.

I am so happy with how it came out! 

Unfortunately it turns out that this was the last time that Bonnie will be teaching at John C. Campbell, but I know it won't be the last time I see her.  She teaches all over the country at different conventions, so I know I'll be seeing her somewhere else in the future.

There are so many basket classes at the school that I am very interested in taking, so next year I'll be on the look out to learn something brand new.  And maybe I'll even convince someone to travel with me!

Leftover Fun - "Frank"

With all of the classes that I sign up to take in willow baskets, it's still not enough for me. Most people that work with willow, have access to grown their own.  This is eventually my goal, but in the meantime I purchase willow from a few different places, and I look at it as my opportunity for practice and little experiments.  Normally I just grab a bundle of whatever looks good and soak it up for the correct amount time (sometimes a bit over) and I just attempt something.

The Handle and rim of the rib basket (above) were actually made from a wild rose plant that I found in the woods near where I live.  Late in the fall I was getting antsy to experiment with making handles, and it's to my understanding (could be totally wrong here), that fresh willow is made into hoops and handles, then dried.  So I decided to try the process with my found rose branches.  I had been letting them dry for a few months when I finally figured, why not give it a try now.  I was super happy with the results.

Then I made up two of these little willow nests for my sisters wedding.  She is getting married in the forest in upstate NY this summer and she wants her ring bearers to be holding these little nests as they walk up the isle with the rings.  I was totally excited with how beautiful they came out.  Once we get closer to the wedding, I plan on visiting a spot I know grows the most beautiful moss to line the bottoms.

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Lastly, I wasn't sure what I was going to accomplish when I started this basket.  I was at the end of my bundle supplies and figured I could possibly make a small tray.  I started with a round base and then this just sort of happened.  I can't get over how cute it looks with eggs in it.  

So for future reference this bundle of willow came from Howard the Basket Farmer. It was labeled "Frank" and the color is a beautiful combination of Green-Black-Dark Brown-Light Yellow

Howard is my main supplier of willow.  He is in the USA and he ships in very large boxes, that I normally have him fill to capacity.

And I'm writing all this in hopes that in a few more years I'll be sitting on my own willow farm, scrolling back into my archives saying, "Oh look at when I had to purchase dried willow" ;) 

DREAM BIG MY FRIENDS - ALWAYS!!!

Willow Baskets in Canada

Shortly after my first willow basket class in NC, I was lucky enough to get a spot in a class with Lene of Lakeshore Willows.  So far I have visited her in Canada, twice.  The first time was for a round basket class, and the second I spent two days learning brand new techniques with her and another amazing basket maker named, Anna Mette.   I have been extremely lucky to meet and learn with these two ladies.  I sincerely hope that each year I can return for more classes and continue to improve my skills with willow.  

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I can't say this was my first time in Canada, but it was my first time really getting to experience it. Years ago I traveled to Vancouver to get on a cruise to Alaska, but that wasn't anything like my experience in Ontario.  I drove through New York State, past the border over the Peace Bridge, and into a place very different then I was expecting.  

Lene lives very close to Lake Erie.  A short drive down the road brings you right to the shores of the lake.  One day I took a short walk, and saw the most beautiful pieces of driftwood all over the rocky shoreline.  I grabbed a few and hid them in the back of my car.  It was to my greatest delight to discover that the basket we were making could include a handle of our choosing.  I was excited to use one of the pieces I found, which just made this basket even more memorable to me.

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I have been constantly amazed at the amount of time that has to go into a willow basket.  After a few years of working with only reeds, I had grown accustomed to a quick turn around time.  I can make a reed basket in two hours, but willow baskets can take up to two days! Wow! 

But every time I work with willow, I fall in love all over again.  It really is the most gorgeous medium to work with.  You can feel the life of the plant as you work it into shape.  It bends and moves in the most remarkable way.  One of the awesome things about working with Lene, is that she grows many varieties of willow on her farm.  The colors that you see on the baskets are all natural.   

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Below is a small look at of some of Lene's willow beds.  Willow for baskets are planted in rows like a crop would be.  Every winter the rods are cut down and sorted by length.  This truly was an amazing thing to see.  I can honestly say that after visiting Lene and seeing how possible it would be to grow willow for basket making, my mind was definitely racing.  It only compounded my interested and excitement about learning as much as I can and finding a place to start growing my own.

Below are the two baskets I made during my second trip to Lene's Farm.  She hosted another basket maker from Denmark named, Anna Mette.  Her work is beyond gorgeous, and she is a extremely talented artist and photographer.   

The two days that I got to spend with Anna Mette we were also working on round baskets.  The first one I made was with an Irish weave and the second one was a rope coil.  These new techniques allowed me to work within the round types to enforce the skills I had learned previously.   It was an amazing opportunity to meet and work with Anna Mette, and I hope to take classes with her again.    

Overall I'm so happy to have found Lene at Lakeshore Willows.  And I'm even more excited to learn that there is a growing community of willow basket makers not far from me at all.  Lene holds many classes throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of many more learning opportunities in the future.

My second trip to Canada I also got to do a little sight seeing.  I finally got to see Niagara Falls.  It was a beautiful day and I'm glad I took the time to explore a little more.

This summer coming up I'm happy to say that I'll be back to Lene's again to work with yet another basket maker named, Steen Madsen.  And a second trip to a different willow farm in Canada is also set for later this summer, and I'll be sure to write about that as well!

My Introduction to Willow

As I think about how much I have learned in a year, I was compelled to write the story of how my journey into willow baskets started.  I just recently paid my bill in full to visit again this May, and I am giddy just thinking about another great adventure to this beautiful place in the world. 

Almost a year ago I had discovered a school called the John C. Campbell Folk School.  I was signed up for a white oak basketry class, but as I was searching through their catalog I noticed a class in willow baskets.  I singed up only to discover the class was full, but they asked if I would like to be placed on a waiting list, and I said most definitely.  

Only two months before the classes started I received the phone call I was hoping I would get.  A spot opened up, and I immediately canceled the white oak class and made the arrangements for a week of willow. 

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I can still remember my excitement.  I had discovered that baskets were still being made out of willow but never believed I would ever find someone teaching it.  Now that I know how few and far between these classes are in America, I am forever grateful for the luck I had.  

The trip to the school was oddly enough the very first time I had ever traveled alone.  A fourteen hour car drive was exhilarating, fun and monumentally freeing for me at that particular point in my life.   

The class was being run by Bonnie Gale.  I had found her website through my research, but it always seemed impossible that I would ever get to meet her.  Now I can say without a doubt the connection we have made is one that has made a very big impact on my life.  

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The school is remarkably beautiful as you can see, and I can not say enough to the spirit of everyone who makes this place unlike any other.  The atmosphere is one of love, learning and understanding.  Almost everyone I met was a beginner in the craft they were learning.  And what an array of work being done that week.  

I wish I could take a number of different classes here, but for now, willow is my way.

We started our week with learning the Early American Lunch Basket.  A pattern by Bonnie.  The rest of the week we were allowed to work on our choice.  I decided to go with a Bushel Basket and a Polish Bread Basket.   

At one point in the class I remember Bonnie saying that "the willow will speak to some of us." And that it did!  The intoxicating smell and feel of willow is unlike anything I had ever encountered.   Along with Bonnie's bright personality and humor it was a hysterical delight every class.  

Every time I smell soaked willow I am immediately transported back to this time in my history, and I can't help but smile.  I am beyond excited to get back down to the school this coming May for another week with Bonnie.  

St. Patrick's Day Soda Bread

My maternal side is Irish, therefore soda bread is kinda in my blood.  Although the soda bread here in America that we pass off as "Irish" is really not all that authentic.  Honestly what part of St. Patrick's Day is really? 

Still, we love to eat it and I love to bake it once a year.  Simple recipe, but worlds better then any store bought kind.  Those dry flat loaves are a piss poor example of what a true soda bread can really be.   So I felt ever so inclined to share this recipe here (not that I think anyone will find it, but you never know).  

I actually used to write a food blog, and I miss the ability to pull my recipes up online.  So I'm making a small attempt at placing a few more recipes on this site for my own purposes really!

I'm not going to concern myself with stories, and proper grammar (not that I really did before). And absolutely no pressure to post.  I'm far to busy making baskets ;)

Speaking of baskets though; the gorgeous trivet this bread is sitting on is made by the extremely talented Katherine Lewis of Dunbar Gardens.   Wish I could purchase more of her work, or take a class with her.  

Maybe one day I will be so lucky!  

St. Patrick's Day Soda Bread

 

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

¼ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar

4 tablespoons butter

1 egg, slightly whisked

1 ¼ cups buttermilk

2 cups raisins, boiled slightly to soften

 

Preheat oven to 400F.  

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Cut the 4 tablespoons of butter into the flour mixture with your fingers.  Make a well in the center and add the egg, buttermilk and raisins.  Stir together with a fork until just combined.  Turn out on the counter and kneed just enough to bring dough together.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 40-45 minutes or until golden brown.  

Once out of the oven brush extra melted butter on top of the bread and sprinkle on some extra sugar.  

Note:  You can divide the dough into two loaves and bake together at the same temp and time.   

Swedish Pepparkakor Cookies

This is one of those recipes that I use so much, I had to post it here.  

Swedish Pepparkakor Cookies

1 cup butter

3 cups flour + extra for rolling

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 ½ cups sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon water

 

Soften butter.  In a stand mixer, put butter and sugar.  Beat until combined.  Add egg, maple syrup, and water to the mixture and beat until fluffy.  Add the baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves and beat until combined.  Add flour and beat until dough comes together.  Gather dough into one large bowl, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or until the dough is easy enough to handle. 

Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough as thin as possible and cut into desired shapes.  Put cookies on ungreased sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Watch carefully because they will burn quickly. Once they are done baking, let them cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!

Banana Bread

I started using this recipe about a year ago.  A picture saved on my phone was my only reference to the recipe.  For months I have been telling myself that I need to write it down here, so I don't have to go searching for that picture every time.

A year later, and now I know it by heart, but here it is nonetheless...

Banana Bread

½ cup butter, melted

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 medium ripe bananas, mashed

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup *chopped pecans, walnuts or black walnuts

 

Preheat oven to 350F

In a large bowl mash the 3 medium ripe bananas.  Add the melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla and stir to combine.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  In a separate bowl combine the flour, banking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the batter folding it in gently.  *Optional:  Fold in nuts.   Transfer batter to greased loaf pan (sprinkle nuts on top if you like).  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  

Swedish Cardamom Bread (Pulla)

One of my favorite breads to make at Easter time!

 

Swedish Cardamom Bread (Pulla)

1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
1 1/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 egg lightly beaten

In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the butter in the milk until melted. Let the mixture cool until 115F. Add the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl with dough hook add flour, sugar, salt and cardamom. Gradually pour in the yeast mixture on a low setting. Mix until the dough comes together, about 10 minutes. If it sticks to the side of the bowl add small amounts of flour a little at a time.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a well greased bowl, cover with a clean dishtowl and set aside in a warm place for three hours, or until the dough increases in size by 1/3.

Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts depending on the braid you want to make. Braid the dough, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cover with a dish towl for 1 more hour.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 350F. Brush loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar (regular or pearl sugar). Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Good Salt

I'm not exactly a fan of Rachel Ray. 

Years ago I ordered her magazine, a few lime green utensils and one of my favorite kitchen items, my scrap bowl.  But the recipes in the magazine. Meh. They never really interested me. Her recipes are too easy, to processed.  In a pinch they are great I'd imagine.  But really, NOT for me. I'm a Martha girl, all the way (Although I'd stay away from the majority of her recipes too - Trust me).

There was however one recipe I had to try and it turned out to be absolutely amazing. Caramelized Matzo crackers with peanut butter and chocolate, all topped with chunky bits of salt.  You really can't go wrong.  

Brittle is one of those things; is it a candy?  Either way it's impressive.  It's Rachel Ray easy. And it's frickin delicious.  

Don't worry about fancy ingredients....good-ole Skippy peanut butter is best.   The one thing you'll want to splurge on is the salt.  GOOD SALT.  French gray, Himalayan or my favorite in this instance: Maldon! Chunky little pyramids that crunch in between your teeth, exploding all that salty-goodness.  All chocolate and peanut butter deserves Maldon.  Find it. Buy it. Put it on this brittle. And thank me in the back of your mind while you're in heaven.     

Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Brittle

4 unsalted Matzo crackers
2 sticks (8oz) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 oz chocolate chips
1 cup creamy peanut butter
Coarse Salt (the good stuff)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, making sure to cover the bottom and sides completely. Place a single layer of matzo crackers on the sheet. Break the pices of matzo to cover the bottom of the pan completely. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and stop stiring. Allow the mixture to boil, undisterbed until it reaches 255F on a candy thermometer, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool for 1 minute, then add the vanilla and stir to combine. Quickly pour the hot mixture over the matzo and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Bake this for 8 minutes in the oven.

Remove the brittle from the oven and sprinkle it with the chocolate chips. Bake again for 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, and using the spatula spread the chocolate evenly around. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan melt the peanut butter until smooth. Pour the peanut butter over the chocolate and using the spatula swirl the chocolate and peanut butter together. Sprinkle on the salt.

Let the brittle cool for one hour on the counter, then transfer to the freezer for another 2 hours. Break it into pieces and serve.

*I like to store the brittle in the refrigerator

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My cookie friend

Our old kitchen was attached to our living room by a single entrance way, with a perfect cutout for spying. A dream for a mother with two toddlers.

Our new kitchen, is separated from the kids play room.  A newly discovered dream, because toddlers tend to turn into independent kindergarteners, much to our happy disappointment. 

But it also means I have a little friend who likes to sneak around corners, and peek into large stainless steal bowls.  A bear or two in tow, and a desire for anything of the cookie variety.   

I've been holding onto this recipe for years.  Pulled from a magazine, lovingly chosen and placed in my care by a family member.  At least from what I remember.  The pages are discolored.  The title "Made with Love (and a Lot of Butter)."  

The recipe is for mandel kakor.  A type of Swedish almond biscotti with the traditional pearl sugar.  Grab the good butter for this one.  I always have my stash of Bobolink butter just for special cookies like these.   They also take a HUGE amount of almond extract, but don't worry it is not overpowering.  So stock up on the extract, or run to the store real quick. Because these cookies are definitely worth having alongside your morning cuppa, or in my case, a goats milk cappuccino.

Mandel Kakor (Swedish Almond Butter Cookies)

recipe found in a old article from Relish magazine

1 cup (8oz) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 oz almond extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
Swedish Pearl Sugar*

Preheat oven to 350F

Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl with paddle attachment. Beat until light. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Beat well. Add almond extract and heavy cream and continue to mix until the dough comes together.

Transfer dough to counter top and work it into one large ball. Cut into 4 pices and shape each into a 4 inch flat disk. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Place dough rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, and sprink on the pearl sugar. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slighly. Decrease oven temp to 300F.

Cut each round into 10 slices, then cut each slice in half. Separate slightly and return to the oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes. Makes about 70 cookies.