Moving On Up!

Hello dear friends, family, and readers, wherever you are!

I wanted to let you know that I’m changing the address of my little blog ever so slightly. It’s a move that’ll be easy for you to remember, because it’s not changing much. I’m moving to a self-hosted blog, which will give me a lot more control over my site and many more options. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but, you know, there’s always a learning curve associated with change and I have basically been avoiding that. No more!

The new address will be: www.karlahess.com. Easy, peasy. Just my name and .com.

It will take me a little time to iron out some obvious kinks and make the site pretty, so please bear with me. In the meantime, would you be so kind as to visit this new site (in progress) and subscribe to my blog via email at this NEW address? You can also connect with me on Twitter @mskarlahess.

I don’t want to lose touch with a single one of you, so please stick with me, OK?

More to come soon!

Best wishes,

-Karla

Tiny Cherry and Almond Tea Cakes

“Mom is a sucker for gingham.” 

I overheard my four-year-old say these words to her sister the other day. They were talking about me, having a little conversation about a dress I recently purchased for the four-year-old which is made from chambray gingham. It’s funny and weird when I hear them use phrases they could only have picked up from me, such as “…a sucker for…” Well, sometimes it’s funny. Other times, it’s incriminating and I hang my head in shame. 🙂

I am, indeed, a sucker for gingham.

I’m also a sucker for Martha Stewart baking cookbooks. I bought all these at Half Price Books. This makes me feel a little better about the fact that the minute I see one, I know I’m going to purchase it. I have four, currently. Just looking through them is a nice little pick-me-up.

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I am also a sucker for any combination of fruit and pastry, so Martha doesn’t have to work very hard to get me to try her recipes.

I had cherries in my refrigerator, and we had friends coming over this morning for a playdate. So, last night I made these adorable Tiny Cherry Almond Tea Cakes from the Cupcakes book.

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They turned out so cute. You bake them in mini-muffin pans, which allows just enough space for a tablespoon of batter and one whole unpitted cherry with the stem on. The batter is made from flour, ground almonds, sugar, browned butter and brandy. Martha, of course, has to call for at least one fussy ingredient–in this case, kirsch, which is a cherry brandy. I just used plain ole brandy because I couldn’t justify purchasing a bottle of kirsch for mini muffins. I may be a sucker, but I am frugal. Besides, I’m pregnant, so I couldn’t very well put a dent in the bottle once opened. My tea cakes still turned out delightful. Here is the recipe:

TINY CHERRY AND ALMOND TEA CAKES

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for tins

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for tins

1 cup unblanched almonds (5 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon coarse salt

5 large egg whites

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kirsch (or just use regular brandy)

30 sweet cherries

Instructions

▪Preheat oven to 400. Butter and flour a mini muffin tin. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant. Skim foam, remove from heat.

▪In a food processor, finely grind almonds and transfer to bowl; whisk in flour, sugar and salt. Add egg whites, stir to combine. Stir in brandy. Pour in browned butter, and stir to combine. Let batter rest 20 minutes.

▪Fill each prepared cup with 1 tablespoon batter. Push a cherry into batter of each cup, keeping stem end up. With a small spoon, smooth batter over cherries to cover.

▪Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer tin to wire rack and cool 10 minutes. Run an offset spatula or knife around edges to loosen; turn out cakes onto rack to cool completely.

***

For a printable version of the recipe, click here.

These are so darling, I could see making them for a tea party, shower, or a special brunch. My only hesitation: since the cherries are left unpitted, guests do need a head’s up so they don’t crack a tooth. Some will feel awkward about removing the pits. If you are more skilled than I, you could attempt to remove the pits while leaving the stems intact.

Or, you could keep it simple and just eat these tea cakes with your inner circle of trust. People who won’t care if you awkwardly remove a cherry pit from your mouth.  I told my daughters and their friends that they could take their cakes outside and afterwards, have a cherry pit spitting contest if they wanted. That’s not very ladylike, and I’m thinking Martha Stewart wouldn’t approve of that at all. What can I say? Could be fun. I am a sucker for fun.

What are you a sucker for?

-Karla

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all about snakes

Below is a link to a post I wrote for Fort Worth Moms Blog about snakes in North Texas. It sounds like a most unpleasant topic, but I actually enjoyed researching and writing this post. I talked to naturalists at River Legacy Park and the Fort Worth Nature Center, who gave me great information. I learned it’s not at all like it is in the movies. I’ve learned to identify the venomous types that are common in our area, how to prevent encounters with snakes and what to do in case of a strike.

http://fortworth.citymomsblog.com/2015/06/05/snakes-in-north-texas-the-low-down/

Writing this post brought back a memory from a long time ago. I was probably in junior high. Mom and I drove home from who knows where and parked our van (not a minivan, but a van) in the circular driveway. Our white stucco house was located on the edge of town in Deming, New Mexico. An expanse of desert fanned out behind our home. Walking up to the front door, we spotted a huge rattlesnake stretched across the porch.

Stay where you are, Mom told me. She went directly to the shed, grabbed a hoe, and before I really even knew what was happening, she chopped off the snake’s head.

Needless to say, I was floored. Impressed. Grateful. Growing up, there was really nothing in the world I felt my mom couldn’t do, and this was just another example.

Would I do the same thing? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the situation. I’m glad I have options, and I talk about those in the post. But I can’t help but smile, remembering my brave, decisive mama.

I hope you enjoy reading it–even if it’s with one eye open–and that you’ll share it with your neighbors.

Have a great weekend!

-Karla

Artistic Pursuits curriculum: why I like it

My oldest is really into art. I love that, and I’m doing my best to encourage it, despite the fact that my own art skills plateaued at the 3rd grade level. “O.” has taken a couple classes, and gets art in her homeschool program during the “school” year. I tell myself and her, we’ll work on art more at home! I’m full of good intentions, but…we never get around to it. The girls make random things all the time, but we don’t work on it like I’d hoped.

I want to do more with this, but I don’t wish to drive all over the metroplex and spend tons of money in the process. I started looking at homeschool art curriculum—there are several out there. One called Artistic Pursuits caught my eye.

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At last month’s homeschool convention in Arlington, the best presentation I attended was by one of the developers of this curriculum, Daniel Ellis. I’ve thrown away my notes; however, I’m going to try to capture the gist of it as well as my faulty memory can.

He talked about creativity in a general sense, and how it applies to the visual arts. Creativity, he said, is generating a new solution to a problem. I liked this definition, because it was so general and could be applied to many different situations. What we really want to see in the visual arts, he said, is the unique perspective of the artist. An important part of developing creativity is learning to tune into our unique personal responses to what we experience: what we see, touch, taste, smell, hear. Then, incorporate those responses into our “solution” of the artistic project at hand.

Everyone talks about creativity and we often assume that children are naturals at it. Often, kids are given advice to just “draw what’s inside your head!” The problem with that, he said, is that children don’t have enough visual material to work from yet. First, they need to cultivate observation. They need to spend time—lots of time—really seeing things. Then, importantly, they need plenty of practice attempting to do something with the information they’ve taken in.  In other words, creating.

When kids want to create something, they want to do so right now. If they have to wait for you to shop for supplies or drag them from the top shelf of the hall closet, frustration sets in; the urge passes and withers. Ellis recommends keeping a varied stock of art supplies that are available for kids to reach and work with at whim. Regular practice builds “fluency” in visual creativity. Plenty of observation and practice plus ongoing education in the technical aspects is the basis of a visual arts education. Kids who don’t have the freedom to practice in this way early often need lots of time to “catch up” later.

We had a fair amount of art supplies at my house, but they were scattered. Some were upstairs, some downstairs. Inspired by this presentation, I bought this cute rolling cart from IKEA to corral at least some of the kids’ supplies.

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I love it. They can wheel it around wherever they are. I’d like to get another so they each have one. I also bought a cart to corral my supplies, including those which would would do a serious number to the house if the four-year-old got liberal with them.

My kids have such a strong urge to draw, cut, paint, etc. I lost that urge a long time ago. I don’t remember drawing much as a child. I did write in journals. I learned to play two instruments; I loved to sing. I still like to two-step and salsa dance. But, I don’t doodle. I break into a cold sweat playing Pictionary.

I liked hearing Ellis’ thoughts on art education for a couple of reasons. He talked about the importance of observation for building a sort of “visual compost heap” for the brain. I would think that would be similar for those who spend time observing and experimenting with dance, music, or drama.

I saw similarities between the art education process and writing. When you read a lot it generally enhances your ability to write, because you naturally absorb, over time, a rich vocabulary, the cadence and possibilities of language—all of which become choices for you to draw upon when composing. In a language-rich environment, similar benefits play out in a person’s speech.

I liked the thought of slowing down and carefully observing. That is rare these days. The disappearing images on screens and social media don’t count.

The Artistic Pursuits curriculum is based on the ideas he discussed, and it looks great. It spans preschool through high school. It incorporates art history, appreciation, and techniques while letting kids engage the creative process using fairly mouthwatering materials and tools. Each lesson includes information about a general aspect of art, a short picture study of famous paintings, followed by practice they can basically do on their own. Kids observe objects, scenes and photos in their environment, and often spend time outdoors to complete projects.

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I decided to purchase the K-3 level curriculum, as a middle ground for my two girls. At this level, kids try out a variety of different materials. That’s by design, as kids this age are still very tactile. Just in our first book, they get to use drawing pencils, drawing paper, soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolor crayons, watercolor brush, watercolor paper, construction paper, tissue paper, and clay. There are three books in this level. As the curriculum progresses, the skills are more technical, and they use less variety of materials. The reason: each material presents new information to the student. To learn both new techniques and new materials at once could be overwhelming.

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We used watercolor crayons in our first project, to draw a scene in our backyard. We’ve only done one lesson, but the kids loved it. Heck, I loved it. This is so much fun! I kept saying. They—who make things all the time— looked at me, looked surprised, looked at each other, and carried on.

I really don’t wish to brag, so I’ve decided not to post my project here. 🙂 But guess who displayed her picture on the refrigerator? Me, me, me. It might not be better than a third grader’s, but it still makes me happy.

This summer, we’re adding ART to our mix of swimming, decluttering, popsicle making and reading. One of my fellow contributors at Fort Worth Moms Blog recently published this guide to summer art enrichment in Fort Worth. We plan to check out a few of those good ideas, too. I’m sure the kids will enjoy, and I will enjoy rediscovering my inner child. 

-Karla

Ancho Chile Hot Fudge Sauce

This past week, my first post for Fort Worth Moms Blog was published. I think I’m really going to enjoy contributing to the FW Moms Blog. I would love it if you read my post and shared your thoughts!

In it, I write about how in order for kids to learn to enjoy hot, spicy foods, they need to 1) have consistent exposure to heat and bold flavor and 2) see others consuming spicy food. They don’t need to be aware they’re eating spicy food. I mean, sometimes, it’s perfectly obvious. Other times, if the heat is subtle, maybe it’ll go unnoticed?

That’s exactly what happened with my kids last night, and it made me smile. I made Lisa Fain’s recipe for Ancho Chile Hot Fudge, from her enjoyable The Homesick Texan Cookbook. I really made the fudge for my husband and I to eat with Mexican Coffee Ice Cream. We shared that treat during a few peaceful kid-free hours. What a treat! (The sweets and the hours.)

Ancho Chile Hot Fudge I karlahess.wordpress.com

Our kids came home starving, however. Apparently, their dinner had consisted of nachos with particularly terrible cheese sauce. We felt bad for them, so we offered them ice cream with our spicy fudge sauce. Don’t tell them it has chile in it! We agreed. If we’d told them, they would have protested. Maybe.

They gobbled every last drop, with no complaints. And then, my husband went and told them our secret. 

Girls, did you like the hot fudge? 

Yeah! 

Did you taste anything different in it? 

No, not really…why? 

It had chile in it! 

Whaaaaat? Hmmmm. Well, I only like chile in fudge sauce. 

Worked like a charm! Here is the recipe:

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Ancho Chile Fudge Sauce

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

2.5 cups granulated sugar

1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

flaked sea salt, such as Malden, to taste

Instructions: melt the butter and chocolate in top of a double boiler. Stir in sugar and evaporated milk. Cook until sugar is melted and sauce is smooth. Stir in vanilla, ancho chile powder, and salt to taste. Serve over ice cream.

Note: it is a lot of sugar. I think you could cut that back a bit, and still have a nice sauce. Enjoy!

-Karla

meet my new daughters: Olivia and Anna

Friends, you might have noticed that I have a couple new children. Daughters! Their names are Olivia and Anna.

Olivia is 8, and Anna is 4. They really are a lot like my “old” children. In fact, they are my “old” children.

I have decided to use pseudonyms for my kids in all the online writing that I do from this point on. Better late than never. I do this out of respect for their privacy. If and when I do write about them, I will do everything I can to treat them with absolute integrity. My family means the world to me, and their boundaries are of utmost importance. I want to take little steps to make sure I protect them as I continue to engage in the creative, expressive process I enjoy.

They were involved in the name-picking. 🙂

I wanted to clear that up for those of you who have been reading this little blog for a while. (Who might have been scratching your heads!)

Thanks!

-Karla

This is sew cool!

Good afternoon, friends!

See this lovely sewing machine? It’s mine! I WON it. Fun, huh?

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For a couple years now, I have perused a booth called The Sewing Basket at the big annual homeschool convention in Arlington. It is always eye-catching, with an impressive array of sewing books and accessories, many of which are geared towards children learning to sew. This year, The Sewing Basket gave away a Brother CS-6000i machine. I entered to win, because as you may know, I am motivated to learn to sew lately. So, how cool is it that the big winner is yours truly?

I purchased a darling sewing machine for my oldest last Christmas. I’ve done a few projects on it, and I really like her machine. I like it so much that at one point, I asked, “Olivia, do you think you and Mom could just, well, share this machine?” She hesitated, shifted her weight, cleared her throat, looked forlorn and then practically rolled her eyes as she said “OK, sure, Mom.”

Ha! OK, then. Well, I can understand. It was her gift after all, and a cute one at that. She’d rather I have my own machine. I would, too. Now, I do.

The giveaway included a two-hour class to orient me to my new machine. When the owner, Lou Ann, learned both my daughter and I are learning to sew, she offered to let us attend the class together. We took the class today and it was such an enjoyable experience! Lou Ann was great. She was warm, personable, patient, and did an impressive job of covering a lot of info while multitasking between my daughter and I. We even completed a quick project: this little holder for a pack of tissues.

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The Sewing Basket offers classes during the school year, for kids and adults. The kids classes run 6 weeks at a time, and they make useful and adorable projects, including clothes for 18-inch dolls. We’ll be taking a class in the fall, and would love to have friends join us. Let’s talk about that. Classes are located in North Arlington. Check out The Sewing Basket website for more details.

I’ve had my sewing fix for the day; however, we’ll be back at it soon so we don’t lose our new skills.

-Karla