Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Memories and a Giveaway

We are very excited this week - we've just begun our sixth year in business, our second year of blogging and written our one thousandth invoice!  We feel the need to celebrate, so we are giving a Christmas gift - a collection of our products!  To enter, just leave a comment on this post, telling us a favorite Christmas memory - we'll randomly choose a winner next week.

Last year, at Christmas time, we asked our readers to share some of their favorite Christmas memories, and here's what you said:

Margaret said...

One of our holiday traditions is to drive north and cut down our own Christmas tree every year. We usually go between the beginning of December and the 12th or so. As we drive up, we count the number of Christmas trees we see tied to the tops of other cars. The first years we went it was always over one hundred. Nowadays it's usually no more than 50 -- a sign of how things have changed since our kids were small. Somehow we've usually been lucky enough to have snow on the ground to make it feel Christmasy.

We always try to find a very tall tree since our living room has a cathedral ceiling. One year we couldn't find a tall tree at our usual farm so we ventured to a new place and found an immense tree. It was fantastic! So we cut it down and lugged it to the car. But this place only had twine to tie the tree to the car and this tree was enormous! 

We tied the tree on, but it was draping over the sides of the car and generally showing off its girth. We were a bit nervous it would go flying off the car. We drove cautiously home, and on the way, everyone who passed us (we drove fairly slowly) would point at us, smiling, or honk their horns in approval. Some actually stuck their cell phones out the window to take a picture of the car with the enormous tree tied to its roof. We were laughing at the spectacle.

We got home and dragged the tree inside, only to discover that the tree took up about half the living room, it was so wide! Yes, it was tall, but the width had been overlooked! All that season when the tree was up, visitors would come in the house and get a good chuckle as they commented on what a lovely -- and huge -- tree we'd gotten that year. 

From that year, we've since restrained ourselves in terms of the size of the tree. Now when we look at trees, we know that we'll never be able to find that super tall tree that is also skinny enough to fit comfortably in our living room. We settle for a decently tall tree, still taller than most get, but not so tall that its girth will cause problems. lol!

Note that none of these pictures is actually of Margaret's tree - they're just for fun!

barbara r-g said...

my favorite Christmas memory is when i lived in Atwater,CA. i was in the 3rd grade and i remember each year my grandparents from Penns. would send a package of goodies. i recieved the best present ever that year a pair of Hush Puppies shoes, something i had never heard of but loved them instantly. we usually got one pair of shoes a year so these were extra special. simple yet a lasting memory.

Boyz Mom said...

Christmas is such a magical time of year. Every year! I have so many fun things (traditions) that we do, I hate to have to pick just one. So I won't. As a child, my parents shared the Nativity story from each of the 4 gospels each Sunday until Christmas Eve when we went to church and heard the Luke version again. 

Jay Tamboli

We lit purple candles, then one pink candle and we knew Christmas would be the next day. I continue this tradition, and added the narration of hearttouching (read wrenching) stories from our book of 25 stories that teach the deeper meaning of Christmas. We read from this book each night of December. The stockings are hung and we eat fudge, which used to be made by Grandma EVERY year. Now we have her recipes and continue that scruptious tradition. Photo sessions in front of the tree are mandatory (even for boyz that don't smile) and we sometimes bribe them. Gingerbread, crafting, and gift wrapping are all funfilled. But I truly think my boys favorite is the eggnog. We toast to begin the Christmas season, we toast to end the season, and we toast many days in between. Dad toasts with root beer, but hey, he comes up with the sweetest, funniest, most touching thoughts to toast so we give him an eggnog pass:-)

I hope each of you have a beautiful Christmas and a great New Year!!!

We hope so, too, Boyz Mom!

Becky says:

One of my favorite customs of Christmas is "Mistletoe".  When I was little, I remember thinking how romantic mistletoe was and dreaming of one day being kissed under the mistletoe. You would kind of saunter around under the mistletoe as a teenager wondering if anyone would notice, when certain people were around. Usually it wasn't noticed and you would some how have to bring it to the attention of that someone you were hoping to take notice! My mom and dad usually bought a little package of mistletoe and hung it in the entrance of wherever we were living,  many times a duplex or apartment or such when I was young and we were traveling and then our home when I was older. Always we would have mistletoe.  

When they were teenagers, one of my aunt's boyfriends went out in the woods and collected mistletoe to sell during the holidays. It grew in the tops of some of the oak trees around the area. Nowadays you don't see mistletoe in the stores anymore, with their  beautiful waxy green leaves and tiny white berries tied up in red ribbons. 

This year while shopping I spotted an Old World Christmas ornament of blown glass that is mistletoe, complete with red ribbon. So I have bought that to hang under my entry light. You will find me nonchalantly cruising that area, seeing if anyone notices! 

But where did this tradition begin? I had never looked it up before, so curiosity got me to googling and looking in my holiday books. My Twelve Days of Christmas Tea book talks about many of the Christmas customs and where they began. In this book , they claim it started as a Scandinavian custom, but I also see other sources say it's from Greece.  The Twelve Days states that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe began with a mythical Scandinavian goddess named Frigga.  According to the story, Frigga's son, Balder was shot with an arrow of mistletoe. Hearing about her son's fate, Frigga cried tears that became the white berries on the plant.  Meanwhile, her loyal friends were able to save Balder's life.  That day, Frigga declared that mistletoe would never again be used to harm people. It would instead become a symbol of love and forgiveness and people who passed under it were required to kiss each other. 

Romans believe mistletoe was a symbol of peace and goodwill. Our modern custom that an unmarried woman passing under the mistletoe will be kissed by her future husband evolved from this tale.  In Yorkshire, a sprig fed to the first cow was supposed to bring good health to the entire herd. 

In England the "kissing ball" is still widely celebrated.  It is as important as the Christmas tree to their holiday decorating.  I think we all need to be sure to bring this custom back into fashion and make sure to have your mistletoe hanging high in your entry, bringing love, peace and harmony to all who enter your home.  Plus a little romance never hurt either! Ok, off to pace under my mistletoe and hope for a smooch from my very special significant other Mr. Wong! 

Every Christmas morning we make a special breakfast at our house.  We change it up every year, but this one will come around many times in the future -the
Cranberry Upside Down Coffee Cake I found in the Jackson Hole A La Carte Cookbook that another stitcher made me aware of.  So many of the recipes in this book are yummy it has become a favorite go-to book on my shelf.  You can google the book title to see if they are still available. 

Cranberry Upside Down Coffee Cake 
2 cups cranberries fresh or frozen 
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts 
1/2 cup sugar 

1 cup flour 
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup butter, melted 
1/4 cup vegetable oil 
1/8 tsp. salt 
2 eggs, beaten to blend 

They serve it with whipped cream, but I prefer it alone 

1. preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cranberries in the bottom of a well buttered 9" pie plate. Sprinkle with nuts and then sugar and set aside. 

2. Gently stir together the cake ingredients until blended. Pour evenly over cranberry mixture and spread gently.  Bake in the center of oven about 45 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out just clean.  Let cool on rack 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake. Invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm with whipped cream if desired. 

After I shared this recipe with her a few years ago,  another friend brought me a lovely Christmas tree pan that is perfect for this recipe and makes it look so festive on the breakfast buffet. But don't just save this for breakfast, it's good for tea time, or anytime a special dessert is needed. 

After reading this, Julie thinks it should be served, not with whipped cream, but hard sauce!  Hard sauce is very easy to make - beat together 1/2 cup of butter just on the cool side of room temperature, with 1/2 cup of icing sugar.  When smooth, add in brandy, or rum or whatever liquor you like for flavoring, a little at a time (about 2 tbsp is plenty).  Keep in fridge and serve on hot pie or Christmas pudding, or a delectable item like this cake!

We wish you all the best of holidays and look forward to sharing more with you all in the coming New Year! 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shortbread - A Christmas Tradition

I love shortbread - have been making it from the same recipe since I was a child, though I have added lavender in recent years, something my 10-year-old self couldn't have imagined! But it's a great addition. Recently,  I got curious about the history of shortbread and found some interesting things.  As you probably already knew, shortbread has Scottish origins.  What you might not have known is that it evolved from a medieval kind of biscuit which was twice-baked and sweetened. Butter has always been an important ingredient, so the name "shortbread" comes from "shortening".   Butter was expensive, so this delicious treat was usually only made for special occasions, like Christmas!

Some people associate it's invention with Mary Queen of Scots, who loved the sweet treat, while others say it's been around since as early as 1100!  The traditional round cut into triangles were called Petticoat Tails, because their shape looked like the triangles of fabric used to make petticoats during the time of Elizabeth I.  Mary enjoyed shortbread flavored with caraway seeds.  Shortbread was also formed into small Rounds, like the cookies we enjoy today, or Fingers - a large rectangular piece cut into small slices.  However you shape your shortbread, you're sure to like some of these recipes I've found.

My recipe came from one of my Mom's old cookbooks, which is about 75 years old now (How can that be?)  My mother always made them at Christmas, and then later, so did I.  


1 cup butter (2 1/4-lb sticks) at room temp.
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup icing sugar                 
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

Sift the dry ingredients together four times.  (I know, I know - but it's what makes the cookies melt in your mouth.  Buy a battery-operated sifter like I did!)  Mix in the butter with your hands (the heat from your hands melts the butter and makes the batter hold together better than if you mix with a spoon.)  Roll into walnut sized balls and place on shiny, ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten with a fork or cookie press dipped in flour.  (You can crowd them on the cookie sheet - they don't spread).  

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes, or until they're as golden brown as you like them. 
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.  Can easily be doubled.

To make the Lavender Shortbread, just crumble in a small handful of cooking-grade lavender (I buy mine at Whole Foods) before you start mixing in the butter.

To make Chocolate Shortbread, substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the flour.  For some reason, to me, the chocolate shortbread should be spread out and cut into fingers, but that's just my personal bias.

Here are some cool recipes I found online:

The delicious aroma of Christmas baking makes the whole house smell wonderful!  Make sure you bake plenty!  They'll disappear fast!

Happy Holidays

Julie and Becky 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Tis the Season

We haven't any snow (and don't want any, thank-you) but it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here... In the Company of Friends is really proud to have been chosen by the Swan Sampler Guild to produce a special edition "toy box" for their members.  This fun set was a fund-raiser for the guild (of which we are happy members), and when the box was announced for sale it sold out in a number of hours!  It was a lot of work, and so much fun - it took up the bulk of the fall for us at work, and we are so happy to report that all the boxes were sent out last week in time for Swans to give themselves an early Christmas present!  Phew!  We felt a little like we were in Santa's workshop for awhile, and it's always a pleasure to send out a product with so much love in the design and execution...

The Swan Box was similar to this, though it was an exclusive design just for them.

We felt like celebrating when we were done, so off we went on our annual tea party!  Once again, we went to The Secret Garden in Sumner, WA.  They do a Victorian Christmas Tea we love in a gorgeous setting! 

While in Sumner, of course, we did a little shopping, and Becky found me a glass frog that I've been looking for for quite awhile.  We'd seen the idea online before, and it's just the perfect thing for holding a display of embroidery scissors.  These glass frogs can be found at antiques stores quite reasonably.

Now we have a little time to work on some of our last-minute gifts and a few projects we've been putting off.  Here's a few of mine.  This one was done for an ornament exchange at a local guild.  Easy as can be - I just glued buttons to a papier-mache ball that I'd painted gold.  Add a bow, and done!  (of course, the hard part was FINDING my button stash - that took days, but I now have a reorganized craft closet!

Another very quick idea for a stitching friend could be a Christmassy beaded fob for a pair of Santa Scissors.

Last but not least - yesterday, I made up my acorn pin cushion.  It turned out really cute, didn't it?

This is a double-cap.  And here's a quick tutorial on how I did it.  Naturally, the first thing you need is acorn caps - we picked some up on our recent Connecticut trip.  We scoured the grounds under some oak trees ...

I had two double caps, but one broke apart.  I figure that's what glue is for.

First, gather all your materials together - wool roving, glue, acorn caps, felting needle, sponge and glue.  

I use a three-pronged felting needle because, well, because I'm lazy - it goes three times faster - but a single needle is fine.  A felting needle has tiny barbs along the shaft, and is super-sharp.  You have to be very careful not to stick yourself! 
Be sure to use a sponge or piece of foam under your wool to protect your table top.  It's also a good idea to have a piece of cardboard or self-healing mat under the foam or sponge.  

Take a small piece of wool and roll it into the approximate shape you want, place it on the foam and plunge your needle into it over and over.
Move your wool around and keep shaping and re-shaping as you work.  The more you move it and shape it, the more uniform the shape will be and the more control you will have.  This takes time - don't worry if it doesn't seem to be working.  In fact, after a little while, try to pull it apart and you'll see that it is definitely working.  

After I was almost finished, I decided I'd prefer some of the darker wool on the outside, so I just added it at the end and felted again..

It's finished whenever you are satisfied with the shape and density.  

I did the second one just the same, but it was smaller, so went a lot faster.  

Then I added some glue inside the caps and placed the felted acorn as I wanted it.  

Then I wedged the acorns between some items so that the felt was pushed against the glue and waited overnight for it to dry.

And this is the result!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season no matter how you celebrate!  

Becky and Julie

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Beautiful Day in Connecticut!

Of course, we had many beautiful days in Connecticut, but the day we spent at the Lyman Allyn and Florence Griswold Museums was sunny and pretty as a picture!  So we took a few...  As you can see above the drive from Hartford to New London was lovely and we got our eyes full of the changing colors.

Once we arrived at the Lyman Allyn, we spent a few minutes appreciating the beautiful setting.
We picked up some acorn caps with the idea of making tiny pincushions... we'll show you how, soon.

Once inside, we were amazed at the array and the quality of the needlework we were shown.  So many incredible pieces, and our guide, Carolyn, was genuinely pleased to learn what she could from us, as we talked about the needlework, the stitches, and how it fit into what we'd been seeing during the week...

Becky and I were especially excited to see a sampler by Harriet Almy with some similarities to Becky's Sarah Almy sampler which has featured most of our Quaker motifs on our products!

Sarah's signature in 1817

Harriet's in 1822

House on Sarah's sampler

Harriet's House

And both chose verses with a similar theme.  This is Sarah's:

Diligence, industry, and 
Proper improvement of time,
are material duties of the 
young.  No trees bear fruit in autumn, unless they blossom 
in the spring. To the end that 
our age may be profitable and 
laden with fruit, let us all en
deavour that our youth may 
be studious, and flowered with 
the blossoms of learning and 

Harriet's is different, but the message is the same:

Observe the ant for she instructs the man
And preaches labour gathering all she can.
Then brings it to increase her heap at home
Against the winter which she knows will come
And when that comes she creeps abroad no more
But lies at home and feasts upon her store.

But there were many samplers and examples of needlework to be examined - some very closely indeed....

And who could resist this Adam and Eve?  We're not sure whether it's cellophane or clouds that are enveloping the sinning couple and an unhappy bunny on the left, or if we should be checking the basement for pods...  It's amazing to us to see some of the choices made a couple of hundred years ago and these make each piece unique and charming.  I think those are the first buttonhole wheel apples I've seen... aren't they beautiful?

Here a young man shoots his arrow toward a bird in the tree beside him.

All these beautiful samplers made us hungry!  We headed out to Old Lyme for the Morning Glory Restaurant - so pretty, and those are real morning glories, blooming in late October!

Nothing would do but we take some pictures of course - here are Barbara, Beth and Julie with Lynne Anderson, who was able to join us for the day.  Becky took the picture

And Lynne took this one:

After lunch we went in search of the Florence Griswold Museum, or the "Flo Grizz" as it was referred to by a member of the Connecticut Historical Society's staff...  We had a wonderful time there - the exhibit  "With Needle and Brush Schoolgirl Embroidery from the Connecticut River Valley" is amazing - curated by experts Carol and Stephen Huber, the show features pieces that have gone through their shop at some time or another, so each piece is one they are intimately familiar with.  The pieces are exquisite and we urge you to visit this wonderful exhibit before it closes January 30th.  If you can't make the trip, visit the Florence Griswold site to play with their interactive online exhibit.  We don't know if this will stay up after the close of the exhibit, so don't wait to go and "play".

Florence Griswold was an art patron who opened her home to artists to give them a place to work surrounded by beauty and tranquility.  To honor this contribution, each fall, the museum hosts different artists who make scarecrows for the grounds - this year, they honored a great artist from the past.  Some were easy to figure out:

And some were less so:

But we all agreed the grounds were absolutely inspiring!  Here's a view from beside the sleeping fellow above.

In fact, it inspired me to play with the photo editing program to make it more like a painting that one of the artists might have done:
Oh - Okay - back to work!  We had a lovely day, and rolled home to Hartford tired but happy!  Til next time...

Julie and Becky

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