Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial ||


When my husband and I were first married, I began collecting the recipes I used most often in a steno pad. Unbeknownst to me, I was commonplacing.

Commonplacing is the act of writing down favorite passages (or in my case recipes) in a book. The choices we make about what to enter in our book tell us a lot about who we were at the time of the entry. For instance, when I look back to the entries I made at the beginning of my Commonplace Cookbook, almost all of the dishes have meat or dairy in them while the latter sections do not. Beans and lentils are completely absent for the first quarter but then, over time, come to dominate the main dish entries. t

Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

My little book is about full so as I get another steno pad ready to go, I thought I would right up a mini tutorial on how to start this practice.

Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

First off, your notebook selection is key! This is a book that you will (hopefully) be writing in and using for years to come so make sure you select something with a line height you prefer and will lay flat when open. I love steno pads because of their top binding and sturdy cardboard back. (I take out the binding and flip the cover around because I don't usually like the color of the covers.)

Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Second, do yourself a favor and make a table of contents log.  I didn't do this for mine and have spent so much time flipping around for recipes that I knew were in there!

Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial || Rachel Loewens Fine Art


Third, start adding recipes! Food blogs and recipe books from the library are my two favorite sources.  Like most people, I tweak recipes to fit my family's preferences and to accommodate what I can readily find at the grocery store. By cooking something multiple times before entering it into my book, I can better ensure that I am recording a more accurate version  of my cooking method.



Cookbooks from the library go through an additional step because I only have them for a short while. I start by making a list of all the recipes I think I will actually cook in another steno pad. I used to just use scrap paper for this but switched to a notebook because sometimes I would lose my list! Also, unless we are on a school break there is no way I will have the time to try to cook each recipe I wrote down, so when I’m in a cooking lull I sometimes flip through this book to see what cookbooks really inspired me and will check them out again.

Commonplacing Cookbooks || a mini tutorial || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Hope this inspires you to start commonplacing your recipes too! Feel free to tag me on IG (@rachelloewen) with your books!

Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition

(this post contains affiliate links)

Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

I love making gingerbread houses! Each year I try to learn a new technique, and this year I made my own Necco wafers using this tutorial and this decorating tip from Wilton to cut out two different sizes. 

I had this plan to make multiple colors but quickly realized once I got going that it was best to just keep it simple for my first attempt. I did add a little more water that the recipe called for to give myself more leeway to work and was fine with the additional drying time. 

Home made Necco Wafers || Rachel Loewens

I really like the famous White House Gingerbread Recipe but found it a bit too dry for a Nebraska winter climate. Plus, I really didn't need the rise the baking soda gave it so here is my slightly modified version (one batch will make three of these A-frames):

Rachel Loewens's Version of white house gingerbread

  • 2 C granulated Sugar
  • 1 C plus 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 C solid shortening
  • 3 T molasses
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ t salt
  • 3-4 T water
  • 6 C flour
  • 1 T ginger
  • 1 T cinnamon

1. Cream together shortening and sugars in a large stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, salt, water, ginger, and cinnamon. Add the flour, one cup at a time. Mix until just incorporated. The dough will become very stiff, and will fill the entire bowl so don't attempt to double this recipe!

2. Roll dough to a  1/14” thickness between two sheets of cling film. Use a rolling pin with adjustable rings on the end to ensure even thickness. Trace around stencils (my preferred pattern here) with dull side of a knife and gently move pieces to parchment-lined cookie sheet. 

3. Bake at 375 degrees for between 12 and 15 minutes. For construction purposes, over-baked is better than under. 

Rolling out gingerbread dough between cling film || Rachel Loewens
Trimming the edges of the gingerbread pieces || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Gingerbread house pieces || Rachel Loewens

4. Remove pieces from oven  trim the ends using a serrated knife or pizza cutter (and feed to any hovering family members). This will ensure significantly better assembly. Let the cookie pieces cool completely before assembly. I prefer to wait overnight to allow them to fully dry out. Do not stack the elements higher than three piece once when cool and not at all while warm. 

5. Assemble the house using royal icing with Wilton Meringue Powder (tutorial here ).

Gingerbread house baking notes : 2017 edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Gingerbread house baking notes || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

I've got a pretty good at assembling the houses, but one area where I still have loads of room for improvement is my decorative icing work. I would love to find a really great YouTube channel to follow so if you know of one, please leave me a note in the comments.


Happy Christmas Baking!

Gingerbread house baking notes: 2017 Edition || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

What makes an ordinary week

(for further context, see last week's post Ordinary Time in My Studio

Lesson plan for history: To experience a “taste” of what life was like as a monk, prepare a typical “monk’s meal” for supper one night. You might like to pretend that it is Christmas, so you can have some butter on your bread!
Pretty Pavlova || What makes an ordinary week || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Me: "Since we are learning about Monks, we are going to make a bread like the kind they would have eaten. "
AJ: "Can't I make Mary Berry's Pavlova instead?"
Me: "I'm not sure we have enough eggs... "
AJ: " We only need six!" (proceeds to recite rest of recipe and directions)

Yeah, she won. 


This month, we are still figuring out what an ordinary week for us will look like this year. I was given some very wise counsel that co-teachers (homeschool moms) usually doesn't get their routine down until October so I know we have a few more weeks to get our stride. I'm still participating in the #PCJ30in30 Challenge on Instagram and am loving the process of observing one memory or moment of each day in a painting. 

Chilly Sunday || #PCJ30in30 || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Pretty Pavlova || #PCJ30in30 || 8x8" acrylic on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Sometimes I know what I want to capture within the first few hours of the day, other times it takes until dinnertime. Either way, this practice is helping me focus on what little thing sets each day apart from the next (a tall order for someone who is big-picture minded).

Raining sunshine || #PCJ30in30 || 6x8" || acrylics + paint pen on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens
Turning season sunset || #PCJ30in30 || 8x8" || acrylic paint on watercolor paper || Rachel Loewens

To stay up to date on this challenge follow me on Instagram

Ordinary time in my studio

Ordinary time in my studio || Rachel Loewens

I just finished the book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren, and it was really amazing. One of the moms at my daughter's school gave this whole presentation on establishing rhythms of liturgy in everyday life, and I felt like it brought deeper meaning to some of the practices my family tries to observe. Something that was new to me was this idea of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time takes place two times a year, generally January-February and then again June-November (more info here and here).


The word "ordinary" is referring to both a counting of days (ordinal) and to a simpler season between times of the year filled with extraordinary amounts of celebration. The second meaning is what I'm taking comfort in right now. My summer was just so full of good, fun things that I feel like I'm trying to catch up with just ordinary time at home and in my studio. 

Road trip across Nebraska || Rachel Loewens Fine Art


The #PCJ30in30 challenge on Instagram by Amira Rahim is really helping me to get back in the swing of ordinary life practices. I'm aiming to have each piece tell something about the day that it was created: the weather, an experience, a memory with my family. 

Pulling and printing with ornamental grass || Ordinary Time in my studio || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Raining sunshine || Ordinary Time in my studio || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

To stay up to date with this challenge, you can find me over on Instagram as RachelLoewens!

30 days, 30 pieces of art

We survived our first week of school, and I forgot just how much I love our fall routine. Drop off, errands, and the afternoon to spend working on projects before pick up or lesson time, symposium with all the kids, lunch and the conclusion of lessons before nap/ dinner prep time. Dividing our time between at home lesson days and at school lesson days keeps things from feeling monotonous. 

30 days, 30 days of art || Rachel Loewens || Fine Art || Omaha, NE

Now that we are getting back into our groove, I've been itching for a bit of accountability with my studio time. Another mom at my daughter's school is doing a #100childhoodstoriesproject on Instagram (go check out Oana Befort's AMAZING work) which got me thinking about trying to do a smaller daily challenge to reestablish my art practice. That's when I heard about the #PCJ30in30 challenge Amira Rahim is hosting during the month of September. Thirty days sounds just about right!

I am really good at coming up with grand plans for things but often get stuck in the first few days of a new venture. Making a mini "look book" of colors, marks, and shape inspiration to get things going often helps me start a new collection so I'm going to try the same with this challenge. 

30 days, 30 days of art || Rachel Loewens || Fine Art || Omaha, NE


Follow me along HERE to see my (hopefully) daily posts beginning September 1!

Back to school and back to normal life

this post contains affiliate links

Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

This was a stand out summer in the Loewens Family in both good and hard things. My arthritis wasn’t much of a factor for any of our activities, and my kids had tons of fun at swim lessons. I took on a major freelance project that ate up most of my creative time and proved to be very taxing emotionally and spiritually. The scope of the project meant that I knew it would be very hard going into it but knowing something will probably true and living it can be very different things. I’ve got at least 5 more months of work still left to do, but it will not be as high up on my priority list now that we are starting lessons up again. 

I am so looking forward to getting back to our normal rhythms of life!! These past two weeks have been filled with teacher training (we homeschool part time), reading some great books that have helped me focus again on what I want our lives to look like, and hours in the studio making collages and prints. I’m also stocking up on essential oils to help combat all the germs we will again be exposed at school. Ah, life of a mom!

Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art
Back to school, back to normal || blog post || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Monday we are heading out to Broken Bow for one last adventure before the first day of school. Nebraska is fortunate to be right along the path of the solar eclipse so we are making a day trip for the event. Fingers crossed that the clouds stay away!


The return of Sun printing

The Return of Sun Printing || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Alas, I am not yet back to 100% but am doing well enough to work in my garden and outdoor studio (my back porch)  a little bit.  A few years back my husband and I transplanted some ornament grass from my mom's garden to ours because we thought it would add some nice height to our perennial bed. At the time, we did not realize how much more sunshine our garden received so the grass grew more like a weed and began choking out other flowers. Not good!

The Return of Sun Printing || Rachel Loewens Fine Art


So this year we've decided to get rid of it once and for all! So far, only one shovel has been completely broken and another is not in the best shape. My husband had to use a crow bar and hammer to get one of the clumps out, and I am continuing to work on the last two. At this rate, it might be July before we're done but it will be so nice to have that off of the checklist!

With all this unwanted plant life piling up on my porch, I find myself again making sun prints with these cast off bits. Kinda like my Winter Garden series but still a bit different. 

There is just such a creative freedom that comes when you don't view your supplies as precious, and there is nothing less precious than weeds or, in this case, clumps of grass destined to go in the yard waste bin. 

The Return of Sun Printing || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

The Return of Sun Printing || Rachel Loewens Fine Art

Cyanotype closeup || Rachel Loewens Fine Art || Omaha, NE
Cyanotype closeup || Rachel Loewens Fine Art || Omaha, NE
“Before you dismiss any gift as worthless, look again because it may just contain hidden treasure.”  ― Rejoice Denhere, Trash to Treasure

Hostess gift guide: summer 2017

this post contains affiliate links

We got some much-needed rain this week here in Omaha and along with the precipitation came the humidity......and a flare up for me. Bleh!

Sunshine and rain || weather in Omaha || Rachel Loewens

(yes, it was sunny during this tornado-producing storm)

So instead of making with my own hands, I've been window shopping handmade goods on Etsy with the excuse that I need to purchase a few hostess gifts for some upcoming summer parties. I'm sure some of you are in the same boat as me with invites to BBQ's and The Fourth being just around the corner so I've picked ten of my favorites to share with you!

10 Hostess gifts under $10 || Rachel Loewens