Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lemon Sunshine Cookies

Do you remember when I said that "sunshine in a bowl" was going to be the theme for me until the snow melts?  I wasn't kidding.  In fact, I've expanded my theme to include sunshine in a glass, sunshine on a plate, and sunshine in a jar.  As long as that sunshine ends up in my belly, I'm happy.

These butter cookies definitely fit the theme, plus they are a breeze to make with ingredients many folks are likely to have on hand.  Make them when you're craving shortbread with a little twist.  Mr. Magpie and I have been dipping them in our tea and coffee all week.

Lemon Sunshine Cookies

Yield: Approximately 30 cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg.
  4. Add lemon zest and lemon juice.
  5. Gradually mix in the flour until well incorporated.
  6. Roll dough into one-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Using the back of a fork, mark the cookies in a crosshatch pattern.
  8. Bake for fifteen minutes (I turn them once midway through the baking time) until the bottoms are just beginning to turn golden brown.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar (I use a small sieve to do this).
  10. Optional: I love really lemony cookies, so I sometimes sprinkle a little more lemon juice over the top before step 11.
  11. Allow to cool, then, if you like, dust with powdered sugar one more time.
  12. Store in a cookie tin or other airtight container.
These really couldn't be faster to make, and you can freeze them as well, so you'll always have some around for tea time!

P.S. I wouldn't be opposed to dipping one half of each cookie in dark chocolate.  Just sayin'. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Hope and the Garden

Happy March, my friends!  For all my moaning about this winter (it turns out this has been the coldest February on record in Portland, Maine, and among the snowiest winters), I do love the light in March.  It gives me hope, and hope makes me dream about my garden.

I have ordered my flower seeds from Johnny's, as I plan to grow a cutting garden in one of the raised beds this year.  It will have as many zinnias as I can fit in shades of salmon pink, raspberry, and charteuse, as well as cosmos, nigellas, and so many other beauties. 

Right now, those beds are so deeply buried that they don't even make mounds in the snow, but I know they are there, waiting.  And the roses and lavender and black-eyed Susans in the perennial beds are, too.  

And then there are the hydrangeas.  I have lots and lots of them all around the gardens, and I cut loads of blooms to dry for the winter.  They keep me going until the first crocuses and snowdrops appear where I planted them in the grass.  Most years those early bulbs begin to bloom in mid to late March here in coastal Maine, but I think it will be April this year.  Spring will be short, but with all this snow, the ground will be wet, too, which means it will likely be lush.

I've got lots of veggies in mind.  I always grow tomatoes, lettuces, runner beans, radishes, peas, and lots of herbs.  This year I think I'm going to grow potatoes, too.  Let me know what else you think I should try.  What have you had good luck growing?

I'm thinking of you all and wondering how you're faring.  For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who are at the tail end of winter, have you started planning your gardening season yet?  I'd love to hear what you'll be planting.  I'm also curious about when the growing season actually begins for you.  I think here in Maine we're kind of towards the extreme end of things in that our winters are long and very cold and our growing season is very short.  I'm always amazed by how much we actually get to grow in about half a year's time!  And, yes, for those who have asked me in past posts or on Instagram, yes, I would LOVE to have a greenhouse.  Maybe some year soon I'll have one.  Anything to give me more time with the plants. 

In the meantime, I'm loving the sunlight and the little spark of hope it lights in me for another season of green.

xo Gigi

P.S. Last week The Magpie's Fancy passed its 6-year mark.  I can hardly believe I've been blogging here for all these years.  Thank you for making it such a joy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Think Spring

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and that soothing rays of sunlight are shining down upon you. Our reality here in Maine right now is the picture above.  And more snow is headed our way tonight.  

I say, screw reality.  

I'm about ready for mojitos, crocuses, open-toed shoes (or just shoes of any kind that are not fleece-lined, waterproofed, and lug-soled) and the sight of green, green grass.  Since I can't have any of those, I'm indulging in retail therapy and food therapy both, and I don't feel the least bit guilty. If you feel like indulging along with me, click on the links in the captions to visit the sites where I found these lovely images.   

Isn't it time for some flowers and bunnies, and maybe a recipe involving eggs and lemons and fresh herbs?  

Tulip Magnolia Branches and Hungarian Storage Jars from Terrain

Little Hopper Taper Holder from Anthropologie

Bunny Cupcake Stand from Pottery Barn

Bluebird Eau de Parfum from Olivine Atelier

Okay, so the perfume is maybe more summer than spring, but as we hit record-breaking cold temperatures here in Maine this week, I think a little summer would be perfect about now, too.

Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Eggs from Smitten Kitchen

I'm going to make this recipe tomorrow for dinner.  Tonight I'm making blood orange and fennel salad. The theme for me until the snow melts is sunshine in a bowl.

Sending love your way . . .

xo Gigi

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beautiful, Delicious, and Funny Things

Hello, my chickadees!  I'm not gonna lie.  This winter is turning out to be one for the books.  Any of you who live here in the Northeastern corner of the US know exactly what I'm talking about.  This photo is one I took of the banks of the Fore River on a day when the temperatures were below zero degrees Fahrenheit and we had fifty mph wind gusts.  I processed the shot after the fact to make it feel more like a painting than a photo, but the blustery snow was very real.  Today, Mr. Magpie is down at his job in Lowell, Massachusetts, a place which currently bears the dubious honor of being the snowiest city in America, with 111" so far this year.  Here in Portland we're expecting a few more inches tonight.  I think we could deal with the snowbanks over our heads if it weren't for the bitter cold.  

For kicks, you can compare this photo of our house with the one a couple of posts ago.  We've had more snow since this shot, but we've raked as much of it as possible off the roof and broken as many of the icicle-daggers as we could.  When I look back over my gardening calendar of the last two years, I realize that we had our first crocuses in the back yard by mid March both years.  I highly doubt that will be the case this year, a fact which, if I were a pessimist, would make me very bitter, indeed.  Instead, I've decided to look on the bright side.  All this snow means my perennials are under a thick blanket of warm insulation during all this cold weather, so even my roses and lavender should be fine when spring finally does arrive in July.  Just kidding.  June.  It will be here in June.

Our backyard during a storm

As usual when the weather is this intense and we're all feeling a little stir crazy, I've been seeking inspiration everywhere I can.  I thought I'd share with you a few recent glimmers of beauty, inspiration, and/or joy.  My brother Mark once posed the following questions to me about the things we encounter in life: "Is it beautiful?  Is it delicious?  Does it make me laugh?" he asked.  He then went on to say that  if it doesn't meet one or more of those three criteria, he didn't want or need it.  Mark is one of the smartest and funniest people I know, and I've used his three questions many times since to help myself decide about making purchases, selecting films to watch, books to read, or even to make bigger life choices.  Somehow, many choices do boil down to these categories for me, especially since I think beauty can be found in a well-told story, a smart turn of phrase, a kind gesture, or the accomplishment of even the smallest of goals. 

So, in true magpie fashion, I offer this list, in no particular order, of a few beautiful, delicious, and funny things:

~ This story told by Bill Murray about Gilda Radner.
~ This recipe for Dorie Greenspan's chocolate World Peace Cookies 
~ This bike trainer, which I truly believe is the only thing that is keeping Mr. Magpie and me at all fit or at all sane this winter--and sanity is a very beautiful thing, indeed . . . as are muscles.  :)
~ This baking show, which satisfies my love of baking, my Anglophile tendencies, and, since its a competition, is the closest thing to watching sports on TV that I will ever willingly do.  In fact, I don't have TV.  I watch this on my MacBook.  I also watch The Great Allotment Challenge on YouTube, for all of the above reasons except baking.  Just replace that with gardening, and there you have it. 
~This mystery show.  More Anglophile tendencies catered to quite happily.  Plus mysteries to solve--yes!  Plus there's Robson Green and James Norton to watch.  A beautiful addiction.
~This book by Nancy Marie Brown about a Viking woman who sailed off the edge of the known world five hundred years before Columbus.  Fascinating and well written. 

And finally, just thought I'd add the latest issue of Artful Blogging to the list.  I have a little bit of writing and a photo featured in the Blogging Buzz section this time around, but I'd say take a peek for all the other gorgeous inspiration inside.  

I hope you are faring well, my friends.  As always, you can find me on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as those other crazy social media platforms listed along the right side of the blog.  Just click on the icons to pop over for a visit.  I'm now on Twitter, too, so if you are as well, please be sure to connect with me.  I love staying in touch with you.    

Monday, February 9, 2015

Still Life and Valentine Inspiration

Seventy inches of snow have fallen so far this winter, and more is on the way.  Outside, the feeders and platforms in our yard are crowded with guests.  Inside, everyone seems ready for a respite from the storms.  I've been shooting still life photos like crazy, getting the most that I can from the stark and evocative winter light.  

In the late afternoon, I'm loving the light coming through the southwest windows of the living room.  In the above shot, I'm looking down on a bouquet of wax flowers (Trader Joe's for $2.99, thank you very much).  In the background is the very chippy, distressed top of my favorite little antique cupboard.  This shot has been processed A LOT, with many layers of textures, etc. 

The walls in our living room are painted in Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue, which I know is a trendy color these days, and I think the reason why is because while it is blue, it functions much like a neutral. It has a good bit of green and grey in it, and it shifts all day long, never staying any one color.  It reminds me of sea glass most days, and it also makes a pretty wonderful backdrop for many colors, especially golds, browns, ivories, and burgundy reds.

Another favorite still life spot is beside the window in my study, which is a rather dark, northeast facing room.  This makes the quality of light that streams in perfect for darker, contemplative shots. That's where I took the pear still lifes a few weeks ago, and it's where I got the shots above and below.  The hydrangea above is on my very beat up wooden floor.  I've removed a lot of the saturation out of this shot to let the eye focus more on the light and shadow.  This is the same dried hydrangea that you see in the shot against the Palladian Blue wall, but here, I think it takes on a decidedly more moody quality.

The shot above was also taken in my study.  I've included a picture of the setting below, so you can get a sense of how I work.  I've set up a vintage, handmade boat-shaped box as a kind of makeshift shadow box for creating vignettes to shoot.  If I lean it on a table against the closed bathroom door (don't worry, there's another bathroom downstairs!) I get great light coming in from the side, and I really love side-lit still lifes.  Open, the box gives me a great dark back drop.  Closed, I get a chippy white and dreamy backdrop, complete with cracks and nail holes.  Love.  

I started this blog six years ago this month (I can hardly believe it's been that long), and I named it The Magpie's Fancy because I am an avid collector of bits and pieces of things that shine, either literally or figuratively--or both.  In fact, purely by coincidence (truly--I just realized it as I was typing this), the little map pins that are in the bottle photo above are the very same pins that appear in the very first post I ever published.  Still life photography is one of my favorite ways to put my collecting habit to good use.

I hope you are well, chickadees!  I've got loads to share, including this here little bit of Valentine inspiration from Terrain.  More soon!  xo Gigi

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Storm Watch(es) . . . and Catching Up with You

Before the big snows came.
Like so many others, we've been hunkering down, stocking up, and shoveling out an awful lot over the past week.  More snow is on the way Monday, which is fine by us.  We'll put another log on the fire. 

I grabbed the above shot out my study window during the "Great Blizzard of 2015."  We only received about 22 inches--much less than some folks south of us.  Then a second, smaller storm blew in on Friday.  I think we're up to about 30 inches, which translates into snowbanks up to my shoulders.  This time Monday they will be well above my head! 

I took a break from shoveling on Monday to take a few quickies of the garden with my iPhone.  I especially love the bits of sprigs and twigs that seem so delicate, yet don't break, even under two or three feet of snow.

Mr. Magpie shared a fantastic piece with me from the Boston Globe about "Snow Removal Types."  It had us giggling, as we know people who fit nearly every category of snow shoveler listed here.  Mr. M. is definitely "The Incrementalist," so, during a heavy storm, we tend to head out every two to three hours to do another pass over the drive and walkway.  At the time I shot this photo, at least 12 inches had already fallen.  Notice the nearly clear front porch?  That's the work of the Incrementalist.  ;)   

Maybe the best part about the snow has been that we've been able to get out to do some incredible snowshoeing.  The days in between storms have boasted gloriously blue skies like the one above, and very little wind.

We watched a documentary the other night about some folks who walked the John Muir Trail in California.  Sprinkled throughout the film are quotes from the man himself, and one in particular that I had forgotten about (although how I do not know) struck a chord with me: "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."  

Trudging out onto the salt marshes of Maine Audubon at Gilsland Farm, those words echoed in my mind.  Across the Presumpscot River estuary, cars rushed along 295; overhead, the vapor trails of planes crisscrossed the sky; at the edges of the preserve, smoke billowed from the chimneys of the large show homes wealthy folks have built for the glorious views.  None of it stopped us from seeing eyelet-lace rabbit trails in the snow . . . or Eastern bluebirds in the trees that bordered the meadows . . . or the glowing white underside of a gull against the blue as it flew above us.  The human world is so loud and harsh and destructive so much of the time.  I'm grateful for every bit of nature we still have, and I hold onto each piece as tightly as I can.

So, more snow is on the way, which will mean more wintry shots from me, I'm sure.  For those of you shoveling your way through January, February, and March, I hope you're staying as warm and safe as possible, and I also hope that you're getting a chance every day to enjoy a little of the beauty of winter, too.  xo Gigi

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Scout and the Meaning of Life

January is a philosophical month for Miss Scout.  

The inhospitable weather has us all cooped up more than usual.  Well, Dill and Scout are indoor sorts of folks, so they're always in the house, but come spring, they do love to laze on their porch with a warm breeze blowing in through the screens, gently ruffling the fur on their bellies.  Scoutie spent this afternoon in the living room, lying in a feeble beam of January sunshine, dreaming of that first April day when we'll throw open the windows to let in the scents of grass and mud and of all the beasties who live outdoors.  

I won't lie.  She's a practical girl at heart.  Hunting is her favorite sport, so it's just as well for all the mice and squirrels and chipmunks and birds that she never leaves her porch.  

Since she's relegated to killing nothing more an occasional spider or whatever crawly things live in the corners of the cellar, she has to find other, more creative, ways to pass the time.  Thus, in addition to dreaming, she has taken up philosophizing.  

Scout eschews ethics, as she most certainly fits Stephen King's categorization of cats as "those amoral gunslingers of the animal world."  Instead, she focuses her very considerable attention (never try to beat her in a staring contest) on matters of ontology.  I hear her sighing often as she ponders the meaning of life.

Tell me, Dill, why are we here?
What's it all for?
What is the purpose of life?

I'm not as sophisticated or deep a thinker as Miss Scout, but at this point, as far as I can tell, she has reached three essential conclusions:

Why are we here?  Treats.
What's it all for?  Cuddles.
What is the purpose of life?  Naps.

Some would say, "Yes, but that doesn't get to the very essence of ontology, Miss Scout.  You aren't asking the most fundamental question: What is existence?  In other words, What does it mean for a being to be?

To such questions, Scout responds by rolling on her back, squinting her eyes, and giving the most inscrutable of smiles.

Such is the mystery of life Scout.

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