Sunday, February 26, 2012

Engaging with creative spirits

Chocolate chic bowl from SquareCircleWorks

I don't often write about baskets, even though baskets are always on my mind.  I dream of color combinations, patterns, textures, and shapes.  I muse on what would give a basket that little pop - a button, a bead, a bit of ribbon.  Of course, going from my dream world to reality is a challenge.  So many other things need to be done!

How do we get from the dream to the reality?
What motivates and inspires us to move from the wondering to the doing?

We engage with those creative spirits that surround us!

Etsy is the perfect place for engaging with artists and crafters.  We can browse among their shops and witness creativity unfolding.  We can build treasuries to celebrate the unique expressions we discover.  We can read blogs and learn what creative people are thinking.

Here are several basket and bag makers who motivate me.  With their permission, I am sharing some of their work.

Sally - an innovative fiber artist from Arcadia, Michigan - makes baskets and totes.  I particularly love her tote bags made from marine rope.  They are sturdy and stylish, and always have a little embellishment to give an extra zip.

Coiled marine rope tote from SallyManke

Blue coiled rope tote from SallyManke

Diane - from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - makes coiled baskets in all shapes and sizes.  She has a special gift for adding pleasing details - flat and round handles, buttons, tassels, and swirls.

Fabric coiled basket in greens/blues/red from DMcGettigan

Extra-large fabric coiled basket from DMcGettigan

Jennie is from Manassas, Virginia.  I love how she has applied the crochet technique to basket and bowl making.  She often uses upcycled materials in her work.

Upcycled sheet bowl by sosorosey

Nested cotton string utility bowls by sosorosey

Flavia is a transplanted Italian living in Mooresville, North Carolina.  Her baskets sing!  She uses recycled materials - mostly paper - to coil fantastic creations.  The process is time-consuming, but the result is spectacular.

GOING IN CIRCLES coiled paper basket from Artesa

ABI - Coiled medium size basket from Artesa

Nancy, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, is experimenting with shapes, textures, and colors.  Her pieces are unique, and I can't wait to see how her works evolves.

City night from BluKangarooCreations

Sundried tomatoes from BluKangarooCreations

I am curious.  Where do you find your inspiration?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beer and Swiss Cheese Bread

Beer and swiss cheese bread

It's cold in Europe this winter, and all I can think about is baking.  What is more satisfying and nurturing to the soul than baking bread?

This week I am sharing a recipe made with beer and cheese.  Okay.  I know what you are thinking.  Why would I waste a good bottle of beer on making bread?  I hear ya.  However, you have to think of the outcome - a delicious yeasty earthy bread!  And the cheese, well who doesn't love cheese with their beer?  You can use any semi-hard cheese for this recipe, but personally, I think swiss is the best.  (By the way, here in Europe, we call it Emmentaler cheese.)

This is a hearty bread - on the heavy side - which means it goes great with soup!

Here's the recipe...


1 cup of beer plus one tbsp (flat and at room temperature)
3/4 cup swiss cheese
3 cups white flour
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup whole brown cane sugar (or regular brown sugar)
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast


If you have an electric mixer with a paddle attachment or a bread machine, just throw your ingredients together – keeping in mind your machine’s instructions – and let the machine do the kneading.

Keep in mind that this dough will be quite crumbly at the the beginning.  You - or your machine - will have to use an extra bit of force at first.  (I notice that my machine really has to work this dough.)

If you prefer hand kneading, see my note on hand kneading in my Best Ever Polenta Pumpkin Seed Bread Recipe.

When kneading is done, let the dough rise for about 45 min. or until it has doubled in size.  (This is a slow-riser so be patient.)

Once the dough has doubled, pour it out onto a floured board or countertop.  Knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes, and then shape into a round loaf.  Place the round loaf in a round baking pan.

I use cornmeal on my Polish baking dish.
This prevents sticking and adds crunch.

Let the dough rise again until doubled in size.  (I use a damp cloth to cover the dough while it is rising.)

Scoring the loaf:

Once the dough has doubled in size (for the second time) using a sharp knife, score the loaf.  This helps in the release of steam during baking (and it looks lovely!)  I created a tic tac toe design on my loaf.

Tic tac toe!


Bake your loaf for about 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 390 Fahrenheit (about 200 C).  After 15 minutes, turn your oven down to 350 (about 180 C) and bake for another 15 minutes.  (That makes 30 minutes in all.)

Immediately remove from the baking pan to the cooling rack.  Let cool before slicing.

Cooling...  Oh yum!

The aroma of this bread is wonderful - cheesy and delicious!

See the little bits of cheese?

Once you discover this recipe, you will find yourself making it again and again.

What do you think?  Do you want to give it a try?