Saturday, December 27, 2008

Handmade Holiday #11: hey, there are still parties...

a little late posting this one! These also went out in some of my final round of presents/care packages. Honestly, I can only give you the roughest estimate of a recipe, as this was mostly done off the cuff, with an open issue of Martha Stewart for suggestions/reference points.

In a single layer on a baking sheet, toast 1-2 cups nuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-10 min, or until fragrant. I used up all of the nuts we had in the cupboard: peanuts, walnuts, and cashews. Pecans would be particularly lovely in this mix.

While they're baking, mix about 1/2 c. sugar (I used demerara), 1-2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp nutmeg together in a bowl. Set aside.

Cover another baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper and set aside.

Let the nuts cool while you get the sauce together: in a smallish saucepan (mine was only 1 quart), mix about 1- 1 1/2 c. maple syrup (I used grade B), a generous splash (approx 2 Tbl) brandy, about the same amount (or maybe a touch less) of good vanilla extract, and 1 Tbl of butter. Cook, whisking, over medium heat until reduced by half.

Pour your nuts, and some cranberries (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 c?) into the pan with the reduced syrup. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost gone; the nuts will have a bit of a coating.

Once done, add the sugar mixture to the pan. Toss quickly to coat the nuts evenly, then pour nuts and cranberries in a single layer on prepared parchment-lined pan and allow to cool for several hours.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Handmade Holiday #10: Sweet Treats III - Salted Chocolate Caramels Return

Everyone's favorite treat from last year made a reappearance this year, in a full-batch instead of a half-batch. That link will take you to last year's incarnation, including a link to the original epicurious recipe and my changes.

This year's batch didn't come together quite so smoothly, but the recipe is even better than I thought: having failed to firm up properly last night, I put the caramel-goop BACK INTO THE PAN this morning and cooked them AGAIN. And now they're firm, chewy, even better than last year's, which were just a little stiff to bite into. Amazing. So, here are this year's variations:

for 10.5 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, we used one 4.5 oz milk chocolate ghiradelli bars, one 4.5 oz dark chocolate ghiradelli bar, plus approz 1 oz of a remaining bittersweet ghiradelli bar and 1.5 oz actual bittersweet baking chocolate. Basically, a mishmash of what we had on hand (yay!).

For the 2 c. of cream, I mixed 1 c. Horizon Organic heavy whipping cream with 1 c. milk.

I used dark corn syrup and only cooked the sugar/water mass for about 6-7 minutes, per last time.

I only used 2 Tbl of butter instead of 3.

When the chocolate and cream were added to the sugar mass, I originally cooked it to just 220. This proved to be too low, and in the morning (after it had sat in the fridge all night in its pan, salted and everythig), I dumped the whole thing (including the butter and salt, which normally are added after cooking) into a pan and cooked to 230. Perfection. I started cutting a bit later, about the 1 hour mark. It was soft at first, but was quite firm by the time I'd finished, so I think it was the right time to cut.

These lack the pretty dusting of salt of their forbears, but have all the same great flavour. They're still a bit greasy and I've patted them lightly with a paper towel to help remove extra oil beading up on them. I'll wrap them in little squares of parchment today and then off they go!

And since it looks like a real winter wonderland outside, here's a peep of what's going on in the window behind those cooling caramels; gorgeous, no?

Handmade Holiday #9: Project Alabama Reverse-Applique Tee

Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book is just fantastic; I was so very excited to learn to do her reverse applique stitch technique last year and I've used it over and over again.

Here's a new example: a rubric for my friend Clareann, whose name is so frequently misspelled. Now, all you have to know is the shape of Co. Clare, Ireland (from whence her family hails), and you can read the tee: it's kind of like a nerdy joke and a super secret code all in one. =)

just for perspective: made on a lightweight summer tee from the Gap, in purple with dark-teal printing, green stitching thread, and orange backing.

Handmade Holiday #8: Personalized Pottery

Remember the anemone platter? Well, here's the accompanying piece: a serving bowl. Both are Noritake Japanese china; from the imprint on the bottom, it seems they date from the late 40s. They have a lovely silver/platinum edge and are bright, clean white. Both pieces have been coloured, but unfortunately, those photos are safely locked away on a computer with a broken visual card; in other words, completely inaccessible. Oh well!

Drawing a fairy wren on an irregular/oval concave surface wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. It required some shifting and stretching of various parts of the design to look right - this was my fourth attempt! At least I discovered that the paint in the porcelaine pens can be removed, with relative ease in fact, with a slightly damp Q-tip. I went through many, erasing and starting over again and again. It was worth it, though. I can't wait to show him to you in colour: the top of their heads are a blue-turquoise!

After applying the paint, the piece has to sit and dry for 24 hours. Then it is baked in the oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes - I put mine in and then turn the oven on, so that they warm up with it, and that way I avoid risking cracks or damage to the ceramic from the sudden heat. When it stops preheating, I turn the timer on for 30 min, and after it's done, I just turn the oven off and open the door, and let the piece gradually cool down. Afterward, the painted pieces are safe to eat off of, and I believe they're dishwasher safe, as well - though after all that work, I stick to gentle handwashing for things like this.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Handmade Holiday #7: Cardamon Cookies

as promised (sorry, a bit delayed - I've been distracted by the SNOW here in Seattle), the new cardamon cookie recipe:

12 Tbl butter (slightly softened, not quite room temp)
1/3 c. sugar
1-2 Tbl cardamon
2-3 Tbl marzipan (almond paste)
1 egg
1-2 Tbl. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

cream marzipan, butter, and sugar together. This process will be easier if you rather mash the marzipan between your fingers a bit first. Using rather cold/not-quite-room-temp butter will also make this process easier. Add cardamon and blend to combine.

Add egg and vanilla (again, I highly recommend a potent Mexican vanilla - and again, check label for "no coumarin" before using) and beat to combine.

Add flour, blend until just thoroughly mixed. Roll into a ball, flatten slightly into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. (The marzipan is going to change the composition of this dough; it will take longer to stiffen in the fridge, it will be stickier when you roll it and thus require a good dusting of flour not only on the rolling pin but on the top of the dough, and will rather quickly become soft and irritating to roll/punch; I recommend that, if at all possible, after rolling once, you re-refrigerate until firm again.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

On a well-floured board, using a floured rolling pin, roll dough out to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Cut out with cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 min or until just beginning to turn golden at edges.

Cool on rack, enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Handmade Holiday #6: Cozy Knits

I actually don't know how to knit; this is crochet.

All the cool kids seem to be sporting cowls lately, have you noticed? They're everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, many quite large. Simple enough to put together, really, just a knit (or crocheted) tube, really, with many potential variations. This one has a full twist in it. For gifting purposes, I've pinned the twist flat with a safety-pin-brooch that I'm including, just to keep it under control and make it look more presentable.

A bad case of incandescent lighting here, as the clouds are back today, but you get the picture. Whipped up quick and loose on a 50 mm needle with a single skein of fluffy yarn.

Handmade Holiday #5: Sweet Treats

there's a reason plates of homemade cookies are passed around at this time of year; they're tasty! It might not be groundbreaking, but it always seems welcome. I've been doing a little experimenting with my favorite cookie recipe, and I have two new versions to share with you - how about a little lime and lavendar or cardamon and almonds to get your holiday started?

first off, a few things from the local co-op to round out the basics in my pantry...

And then on to cookies!

Lime and Lavendar Stars:

12 Tbl butter, softened
1/4 c. sugar
grated zest of 2 limes
1 1/2 T. lavendar buds (a good use for those dried summer herbs!)
1 egg
1-2 T. vanilla (use good Mexican vanilla if you can find it; but make sure the label says "no coumarin")
2 1/4 c. flour

extra sugar, or demerara sugar, if possible

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add zest and lavendar, blend to combine. Pour in vanilla and add egg, beat until just combined. Add flour and blend. Gather dough into a ball. Flatten slightly into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, until firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Unwrap dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured roller. Cut into shapes, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. How thick to roll them? That's really up to you; I probably roll mine to 1/4th to 1/8th of an inch thick. Thicker cookies take a little longer to bake and their centers are ever so slightly al dente after baking. So, make them thinner if you like a really crisp cookie.

Sprinkle sugar over the tops of the cookies. These cookies aren't really sweet, so the sugar is a nice addition. I invested in some demerara sugar finally, and I am so glad - mostly because I get to use the leftover sugar in my coffee and tea and it is SO good!

Bake cookies about 10-15 min (mine actually take about 17 min), until edges are just starting to turn a faint brown. Cool on a rack, and enjoy!

next up: cardamon and almond cookies, inspired by a delicious Swedish sweet bread that I tried last week.

Handmade Holiday #4: leather jewelry

I made this one for myself. Here's the inspiration, a clipping from Lucky Magazine:

(note the price?)
here's mine:

I need some better findings (clasp), but the leather looks good. I cut long, 2-inch-wide strips of leather from a cheap leather coat I sourced at a thrift shop last summer. I folded the strip in half lengthwise, and tucked the edges in. I stitched very close to the edge so that it would appear neat, and there wouldn't be big flapping edges sticking out from the tube. In order to keep the leather from sticking to my sewing machine, I actually sewed it onto paper, then quickly immersed it in hot water in my sink and tore the paper away. I had to pick out some of the bits while drying the tubes (with a towel, quickly, and stretching them so that the leather wouldn't become stiff). Then I used a metal skewer and stuffed the tubes with bits of cotton/wool batting that I had hanging around. I hand-sewed the edges closed around large jump rings, and attached findings. Ta-da!

I actually made the tubes too long; I think I'll make a bracelet with the leftovers.

Overall cost: leather jacket = $10 (plus tax), and I've used bits of it for four projects now. I used maybe $1 worth of batting, at most. Needle and thread = neglible cost, and all told, these recycled findings probably cost me a dollar or two to begin with.

Handmade Holiday #3: Summer's Bounty

(capturing some pale winter afternoon sunlight for you)

This one takes some planning. If you have herb bushes, you know that sometimes, some varieties can get a little aggressive and threaten to take over your garden. That's peppermint and rosemary for me. So, when you prune those babies back, rinse the branches in clean water to remove any grit, grime, bugs, what have you, pat dry, and place in a brown paper bag. Don't pack them in; there needs to be room for air flow. Hang or place these in a dry and moderately cool location, preferably away from sunlight. In a few weeks, the herbs will have dried and you can remove the needles/leaves, crush, and place in jars to send to friends.

Handmade Holiday #2:

the inspiration:
you could buy it if you're feeling flush ($138)
I'm not. So, I made:

from two colours of (brown) leather thong, the edge of a lapel of a leather jacket (black), goose feathers, beads, some pearls and turquoise. And maybe 7-10 hours of stitching, fidgeting, and (I'll admit) a bit of swearing. I didn't put it on elastic, and I didn't give it ties. Instead, I worked bobby pins through the leather braid (that is the base of it all - everything is stitched on/to/through the braid, and I put a drop of tacky glue on the back where feathers poke through, to help secure/anchor them) so that it could be a little more adjustable - just pin it where you want it in your hair!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ruining the Surprise: Ideas for Handmade Holidays

I've decided to post holiday projects early. One of the things I love about the blogosphere is the sharing of ideas and inspiration, and so I've decided that rather than keeping these ideas to myself, I'd prefer to post in advance of the upcoming holidays, in case this sparks inspiration for others making gifts this year. What with the economy tanking, it seems more important than ever to consider how we use our incomes. Plus, there's just something about handmade, you know?

Idea #1: print a shirt for someone!

For the record, this is not a surprise present. My brother gave me a gift cert. to Utrecht for my birthday last year and I finally used it this summer to buy a screen printing kit. I'd already scanned one of my bf's matchbooks with one of his favorite architects on the front, and enlarged and printed it, but he didn't know it at the time. However, the minute I bought that kit, he asked (in September, mind you!), "Oh! Is this so you can print me a new Aalto shirt?" (His current one, purchased at a museum in Sweden, is on its last legs). The man is psychic, what can I say? So I begrudgingly said, "YES. Merry Christmas." There's just no point in keeping it from him. Besides, this way, I got to have him help me pick the T shirt colours.

So I'm using screen filler to create a negative of this pattern. If you don't have a screen printing kit or $50 to drop at Utrecht, you could create a stencil with freezer paper from the butcher and stencil a shirt instead. My screen is actually dry, so maybe we'll print these things tonight.

Monday, December 1, 2008

take one dose of creativity and call me in the morning

normally I don't post my remix stuff here, but since today's outfit featured some tiny projects from this weekend, I thought I'd share. I was really hesitant to take time out from my work and make anything this weekend, but I have just been planning and planning and planning, and so I did do a few small things. I think it really helped me to stay on track, stay focused, and get over my cold sooner - I really do! It felt VERY luxurious to actually take a few hours for making, and it was the most comforting activity to be engaged in, especially as I'm nearing the breakdown-point with end-of-quarter stress.

But enough about that. The details: I've been craving a black maxi skirt in a bad way since October, but I hadn't been able to find one. Of course, now I'm stalking one on ebay that I *really* want, but in the meantime, I snagged this one for cheap. Only, it wasn't long enough. So I bought a half-yard of a nice bamboo knit, cut the elastic waistband off, and made a 9" knit waistband for the skirt. It's not perfect, as I don't have a serger and was forced to rely on my machine's stretch stitch, but it's good enough to wear out.

Second project is the tie-dyed tee. I wanted this to be more grey and storm-cloud-esque, so next time, a bit less navy in my dye mix. Cass and I were going to make goofy pirate T-shirts for the release of the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we never really got around to it. So I had this cheap, $5 tee from a teenybopper shop on State St. in Santa Barbara hanging around for ...what, more than a year? It was an obvious first choice for a dyeing experiment. I have to say, I'm really happy with Procion dyes, and how easy the soda-ash soak was to work with. I am DEFINITELY going to do this again; and I have pearl gray dye to use that might give me the cloudy look I want.

I wish J. Crew still had some of those painter's tees (in my size AND on sale, of course); I feel like those would be really excellent to play with. Then again, how many tie-dye tees does a girl need? I don't exactly live in Eugene anymore.

Last but not least, I thought I'd share this crazy skirt that I won in a "best offer" (I bid less than half the asking price, wahoo!) on ebay. It's a vintage Ellen Tracey - cool, no? The outer skirt is a lightweight wool crepe, and it has a yellow cotton calico lining. I don't know, it's SO loud and out there, but it has this fun "folk" vibe that I really loved in so many of the collections this fall, and I think it should be really warm, so I am risking it. We'll see if I can handle this much colour and pattern when I see it in person.
alright, back to the books. Hopefully have another finished project to show you soon!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

fancy dinner

so last weekend (before Thanksgiving weekend), we thought our friend L. was going to be coming to dinner and bringing a friend, but we were wrong. Instead, we finally figured out what everyone had been saying at about 7pm, when suddenly we realized we had a feast for four and no dinner guests.

E to the rescue! Thank heavens she had been shirking plans, on account of being sick and not wanting to go out; a quiet evening in, doing that thing we always seem to do (dinner + TV or movie) was really nice. It's been a while.

So we had a salad with warm walnut-encrusted goat cheese balls, venison marinated in akvavit and crushed juniper berries, served with a cranberry-fruit chutney and venison gravy (above), and chantrelle and hazelnut risotto (also above; extra tasty as I did not have white cooking wine on hand and substituted leftover locally-made hard cider). We popped open a Negrette from Kenneth Volk, and finished off with dessert:

Steamed persimmon pudding, with persimmon slices and lightly whipped cream (sweetened with golden syrup). As this was my first steamed pudding, I let it boil extra long, but it still was a little underdone, but still tasty. Clearly, I have not yet mastered the English art of boiling food. I'll get there. ("please, don't," joked my fella.)

Nothing like familiar friends, a couple episodes of House and a feast on a wintry night. E said she was particularly excited to finally partake of one of the photographed blog-meals.


I can show you some of what I was working on at the end of summer. With the economy tanking, I've been trying to reassure myself that family and friends might actually enjoy (even, want?) a more personal gift from me this year, particularly as they mostly seem to have everything they NEED, per se, and so what do you end up getting people, other than just more STUFF? So here we go:

This little kitsune (Japanese fox spirit) is the newest addition to the menagerie I've been making for E. I only gave it five tails, so that it would be easier to keep in line. Designed/drafted/made by me, from recycled fulled wool double knit fabric (the salmon), leftover corduroy (ivory) from former projects, and scrap leather and buttons taken from a sweater before it was recycled into cleaning rags (eyes and nose).

The black paws, white tail tips, and fluffy ears and chest are needle-felted wool fiber over the body of the kitsune. Oh, and so's this feature, which I had to add for cuteness:

After taking these photos, I made a little greek fisherman's sweater out of a navy sweater of mine that Boyfriend washed (!!!) and completely shrank/fulled. Don't have pics of that, though.

the holidays are off to a bright start at chez pacific rain! How about you? What are you doing, making this year? Anyone else sick of stores and hunting and only ever turning up something mass-produced for the most important people in our lives?

Monday, November 17, 2008


been pretty quiet around here lately; school has got me hopping and I hardly have time to do laundry, much less cook, craft, do anything exciting. Gave one of my handmade gifts away last week, so I'll post those pics in a few days when I can grab a moment.

In the meantime, it seems the nantes carrots might not need to overwinter after all. Delicious, sweet, and a little musky soil-flavour. This seems like some kind of metaphor for life right now: there's a lot going on just under the surface of this silence. Hopefully, the product at the end of the quarter will be as sweet as these fresh little things.

Friday, September 26, 2008

no, really. They ARE good.

of course, slathering anything in a bunch of butter and maple syrup AND chestnuts helps.

We had salmon last night, paired with a mess o' brussel sprouts. We freely adapted from a recipe in Field of Greens, the Greens Restaurant's second cookbook, that was recommended for holiday meals. (holiday food? In September? Well ... let's just say that sunny SB wasn't exactly conducive to a holiday mood for me, and I'm getting a bit of my own back by starting EARLY this year. Plus, brr! It's cold here and reacclimation is hard!)

We chopped a small yellow onion and sauteed it in 1 Tbl of olive oil over medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until it was softened. Meanwhile, I cut the ends off of the brussel sprouts (I'm not sure how many - maybe about a pound? They came in those little net bags, premeasured - on sale for 99 cents at Whole Foods last Saturday!) and sliced them, about 3-4 slices per brussel sprout. I added these to the pan with the onions, breaking them up and sauteeing them for another 10-15 min, stirring occasionally, until parts of them were starting to brown.

While that cooked, I took 3-4 Tbl of butter and softened it a bit in the microwave, then added 2-3 Tbl of grade A maple syrup and whisked it together into a maple butter.

Once the brussel sprouts had begun to brown, I added about 3 Tbl. of chestnut puree to the pan along with the butter, turning off the burner. (My chestnut puree had vanilla and sugars added, as it it's a little early for jarred chestnuts, and this was all I could find.) With a wooden spoon, I broke up the puree and mixed it evenly throughout, and voila!

I'm sure this is not the healthy way to eat your veggies, but it sure did taste good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

playing around

more fun in the kitchen, and success! - a tart. This thing is so good, we could sell it on the street. It was really rewarding to make this this morning; I've had so much reading lately that I feel like my creative urges are just screaming for satisfaction. Even a little bit of culinary experimentation seemed to satisfy them for today.

crust is 1 1/4 c. flour, 3/4 c. cornmeal, and 3 Tbl. sugar, with 10 Tbl butter cut into it, a little salt, and ice-cold water to hold together. I put it in the shell, pricked it, weighted it, and baked at 400 for 15 min with the weights, then 8 min without.

fruit: about 12 figs (stems cut off) and a half-pint of blueberries. I sauteed 1 Tbl butter in a saute pan, threw in the fruit and about 1 Tbl. sugar and stirred it up, reduced heat to low. I added about 1/2 c. brandy and simmered it for another minute before increasing the heat to high (to keep the fruit from releasing their juices and cooking down too far). Once it had thickened and most of teh juices had congealed, I turned the heat off.

I placed the figs in the crust, then poured over a sweet potato custard. Custard was made of 1 medium sweet potato (skin removed and flesh crushed with a fork), about 1/2- 3/4 c. half n half, 1 egg, 1/4 c. sugar, and 1 Tbl Mexican vanilla (all blended together on high for a minute or two).

I used two spoons to lightly scatter the blueberries and congealed fruit juices over the top of the custard. Then back into the oven (at 350 this time) for 35 min.

Chill, eat. yum.

Friday, September 12, 2008

too late!

thank you so much, you two who commented and shared your opinions on the "to colour or not to colour" question. Unfortunately, before I heard from you, I heard from the fella, who said "colour it!" ... he later admitted that he wanted me to colour it because I hadn't employed proper and consistent line weights (!!), so he didn't like the black and white version.

This is why I got out of stage design, things like this drove me insane (that and I think lefties really ought not to draft by hand, it's such a horrible exercise in heartbreaking smudges). Darned snobby architects, holding everyone to their style and standards.

So I don't know. He likes the nubbly blending of greens. What do you think? Have I utterly ruined it, or is it alright this way?

but this one he likes. I did it while I was waiting for him to get ready to go somewhere. I think to get the celery root, actually. =) I always make little pledges to get back into drawing, and then fall by the wayside. Maybe I'll have another go at it this fall, see if I can't try and get a few quick sketches in every week. I'm thinking maybe of plants in the garden.

ps. there's another piece accompanying the anemone platter, but since I decided to gift the two pieces, I'll have to show you later. All I will say for now is that it is really difficult to draw on a concave surface - both control of the paint pen, and the necessary warping of an image so it looks right to the eye. I had no idea! I did four drafts before I finally managed something I liked and have gone through about 50 Q-tips rubbing off my mistakes. I think I'll stick to flat surfaces from now on.

experimenting with scraps

We didn't plan to do a lot of cooking this week, owing to my being sick, so we've been living mostly on boxed Trader Joe's soup, salad, juice, tea, and a few vegetables that I picked up so that there'd be some nutrients in all this.

By Wed I was getting creative, and by Thurs, I was running on scraps. Still, sometimes experimenting with the leftovers has positive results. The remoulade (foreground) was planned - no way I just keep ripe pears and celery root on hand. It's a pretty easy side dish, particularly if you're lazy about the julienning, like I am, and you get someone else to make the sauce, which is basically a flavourful, homemade mayonnaise/aioli (an egg yolk, some mustard, a splash of vinegar and a half cup of olive oil and whisk whisk whisk!).

The scraps come in with the gnocchi (and while, yes, I do sometimes make my own gnocchi, this is the pre-packaged stuff that Trader Joe's sells for $1.49). A firm believer that some slow-sauteed caramellized onions is the basis of many tasty things, I cut an onion in thin crescents, and caramellized them over low heat in olive oil. I chopped some fresh sage leaves from the garden and threw them in as the onions finished. Then I added a leftover baked garnet yam, skin removed, and flesh cut into chunks, three figs (sliced thin to spread them further) and a handful of baby spinach leaves (the last of a pre-packaged bag). I sauteed to wilt the spinach and warm the figs and yam through. Meanwhile, we cooked the gnocchi, drained it, and tossed it with a little olive oil, then added the veggies and tossed all together. I topped mine with some crumbled Mt. Vikos Manouri Manaki, a light and salty sheep-and-goat's-milk cheese. Cass went for parmesan - I'm sure either would be grand.

We paired it with the remoulade, some leftover salad greens tossed with leftover homemade vinagrette, and a glass of syrah. Not too shabby for scraps - even Cass, who was very dubious about all this, especially when he saw me putting the figs in, said it was tasty. We might even make it again, on purpose this time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

all the cool kids are doin' it!

Have you signed up for Sal's Shoe Swap 2008 yet? Why not? C'mon, it's a social and sartorial experiment! You only have 'til Friday - chop chop!

a tutorial, of sorts

I kind of have a thing for hats, did you know? But when we moved into our new, smaller apartment, I needed to find a place to put them. No room for hatboxes here!

I decided to go with a wall-mounted hatrack, but to buy one with nice round supports (instead of hooks, which can poke a weird shape into your hat) cost more than I wanted to pay. So I rigged up my own. Here's how:

Regular old run-of-the mill cast iron garden hooks, yep, for hanging planters. I picked up five of these at a summer clearance for a couple bucks each. I hung them over my dresser, in a spot where my hats would be protected from exposure to direct sunlight and from the dry heat from the vent.

I traced around a latte bowl to create five circles of fabric. I measured five rectangles by wrapping my fabric around the bowl, marking where the ends met, and adding about an inch for seams. These sewed up in just a few minutes - no need to finish the bottom hems, just tuck them under about 1/2 - 1" in the next step. (fabric from IKEA)

This is a good use for leftover polyfill! Be sure and pack these suckers tight, or they won't keep their shape, and then what's the point?

I used embroidery thread to cinch the bottom - just a quick running stitch all around, with long ends left hanging. This will hold that folded edge under, giving you a nice finished edge on your hat rack.

Work that sucker over your hook, so that it's not going to shift, and then cinch tight and tie a knot with the long ends of the thread. It might be helpful to have another set of hands for this part.

Trim your long thread ends, and voila! A nice cushioned hatrack, to support your collection without damaging it, without breaking the bank!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

spreading the b'love

better late than never, eh?

The fabulous Sal over at Already Pretty showed me some blove about two weeks ago, and I had been meaning and meaning to do my part and pass it on, but you know - back pain and now a cold/fluish something-er-other have really cramped my style of late. However, a recent visit from an old friend prompted the pop quiz, "five blogs you check every day, go!" and I answered without hesitation, fully conscious that I was, at that moment, composing this post.

I've linked Sal above, as a sneaky way to get an extra blog in there. I'll avoid redundancy here, but trust me, she makes the short list. If you haven't checked her out, you should.

and now to share s'more b'love (too many apostrophes?) The rules state that I have to pass this gold card of joy along to 5 blogging buddies, including one new one. Here are my picks, with some rhapsodizing, because these women are just so cool!:

Posie Gets Cozy - this is a no-brainer. Alicia Paulson is magic. She got me hooked on blogs, actually. Two years ago, I had a sinus infection and was bed-ridden for days with a high fever, feeling miserable for myself. That is, until I stumbled upon Posie somehow. It was wintertime and Posie was all candy-coloured Christmas. I spent hours alternately sleeping and poring through her archives. It was delightful, and oh-so-comforting. Alicia's voice is always warm, human, immediate, connected. She'll make you laugh and cry. She's loads of talent, and a healthy dose of reality, and it's no wonder she's hundreds of loyal readers. She's my daily dose of cheer, and on those hard days that we all have, I sometimes ration my Posie reading, saving it 'til lunchtime of afternoon, where it's that boost that puts a smile back on my face and carries me through the rest of the day.

Inside a Black Apple - I'm afraid these will all be of the "no-brainer" category. The charming Emily Martin is an incredibly talented and popular artist who runs an Etsy shop of the same title. She posts almost every day with new art, new crafts, new images of her beautiful home, and I absolutely love her aesthetic. She's currently working on a new series, called "Ordinary Forest."

Wiksten - Jenny Gordy's that effortlessly chic and cool girl that I always (still!) wanted to be. In addition to being a striking beauty herself (she was kind enough to let me paint her this summer from one of her self-portraits), her blog reveals a deeply sensitive and thoughtful nature that is disarmingly sweet. Her aesthetic is clean, but beautiful - very Scandinavian, to my eyes. She's busy cranking out her breathtaking collections (*sigh* unfortunately, a few years from affordable for my grad-student-budget), so she's not a daily poster, but I always check - just in case.

{frolic!} - Chelsea's blog is one of two I frequent for a treasure trove of inspiration. She generates a wealth of enchanting articles, photos, and ideas every week. I always tell myself I have to ration, only look at one a day, but I can't help it. When her new round of posts are up, I gorge myself on delight and then am left waiting until next time. Everything is light, and beautiful, and wonderful here - her blog is aptly titled. I particularly love all her links to Cookie Magazine's incredible ideas for (stunningly photographed) children's birthday parties. Late-20s, Schmate-20s, I want one of those fairy birthday parties, dang it.

and finally, a newbie: I was jonesin' for some more blog-reading while coughing and miserable on Friday, so I was surfing other people's blogrolls (is there an etiquette on this?). I went from wiksten to A History of Architecture (another favorite. I almost put Erica in as my "newbie" but I knew that would be cheating, because I've been reading her blog and drooling enviously over her wardrobe for months), and from there to Copycat. Fashion inspiration abounds, and the minute I publish this (oh, okay, and notify everyone that I've nominated them), I'm going back to her page to read about this darling braided hairstyle. I have a very Heidi-esque dress that is screaming for some braids like that. =)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

a hot breakfast for a cold morning

I love fall. I particularly love the beginning of fall: the romance of the leaves starting to change colour, wearing sweaters and boots and tights, the way the air is sharp and clear and even a little smokey with the cold. I love the way the sunlight turns kind of silver in the afternoons, and the spicy smell of leaves and fallen apples starting to decay.

We have a cold front from Alaska visiting Seattle this weekend, and last night (and this morning) were supposed to be the low point: snow levels falling to 4,000 ft., temps dipping into the 30s and 40s overnight. Expecting the house to be on the chilly side this am, I got up at six to bake us up a warm, cozy breakfast. I'd really hoped to have a friend over to sit, drink cocoa and eat all this, listen to cozy CD's like Yo-Yo Ma and spend some time crafting together, but it didn't happen. Maybe another time?

Baked apples are a no-brainer, but these muffins are something really special. I really think Donna Hay needs a fan club and that I need to be in it. Here's the recipe with my alterations - to decrease fat content and to deal with the fact that passionfruit are hard to come by these days.

Blueberry and Passionfruit Muffins:

parchment paper and kitchen twine
1.75 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c. sugar
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c. non-fat plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
4 tbl. (1/2 stick) softened butter
grated zest and juice of one medium lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 5-oz. container passionfruit paste*
1 - 1.5 c. blueberries

*I found a little 5 oz plastic tub of this by 34 Degrees foods at my local Whole Foods. It was stocked over the Olive Bar, by the specialty cheeses. Look for quince paste and date breads and other frilly cheese accompaniments, and you'll probably find it!

Tying parchment wrappers from heck: this is the hardest part, so sit down and get comfortable, you'll be at this for a few minutes at least. You need 8 4-oz. ramekins, a roll of parchment, some twine, and I used my rotary cutter (for quilting) and Salem rule (if you're not familiar, it's like a big, wide, ruler with a grid). My roll of parchment is the small one, about 12" wide or so. Cut eight 3" wide strips of parchment.

Before you try to roll it, take a look at the strip. It will probably be slightly convex (one side curves up). Make this side the inside of your roll, and your parchment will actually stand up better, as it'll be kind of curving against itself. Roll the parchment so you have a 3" tall cylinder that just fits inside your ramekin (I actually used my ramekins to hold the parchment up while I tied them in there). Wrap your twine around the parchment and tie it firmly. I tied mine in front and back so I could kind of cinch it closed.

Once you've got those all together, set the ramekins with their parchment sleeves on a baking sheet and get down to the (much easier) business of muffin mixing:

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder) in a large bowl with a fork until evenly combined.

In a smaller bowl, mash up your quince paste until fairly smooth. Add yogurt, lemon zest and juice, egg and butter, and mix thoroughly.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Fold in approximately 1 c. blueberries, reserving a few extras. Drop dough by spoonfuls (carefully! See how some of mine ended up crooked? Getting the dough in evenly/centered is important!) into parchment rolls until each one is about 3/4 full. Press remaining blueberries gently into the dough on the top of each muffin (because the fruit on the top is always the best, in my opinion!), and bake until tester placed in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Mine took about 50-60 min, but I think my oven might run on the cool side.

Seriously, folks. They are SO good.
Now. Who wants to be my crafting friend and come over for early mornings of food, drink, and some kind of drawing/sewing/collage/beadwork/what-have-you? I'm in the market for a crafty buddy. Is there a craigslist forum for this?

Friday, August 29, 2008

productivity flags, continues

Things are moving a bit more slowly (and messily!) around here than I'd like, as I've hurt my back again. I finally caved and called the chiropractor yesterday, after gasping and yelping in pain most of Wed. It's still pretty bad - every sneeze or cough that I feel coming has me grasping for something to brace against. Chiropractor says it's probably already begun to heal itself, but I'm to take it easy all weekend.

Anyways, I'd give all the details, but I don't want to. I'd much rather ask for you to share your opinions on this:

I started drawing on this platter a few days ago, but I haven't decided if this is it, or if I should do more. I was thinking I might do a little bit more - a vignette, if you will - kind of kitty-corner on the opposite side/curve of the platter. What do you think? A little more? All the way around? Leave as is?

I don't know what I'll do with it when it's done. It might end up being a yuletide gift for a friend, or praps I'll shove it in the cupboard. Should I colour it all in, do you think? I kind of like the black and white, but I'm not certain that I wouldn't like it better with a bit of green. Thoughts?

Here's another glimpse of what's been going on around here - I bought (and broke, darn it!) my first two felting needles and some black and white roving today. Until I ran out of the proper tools, I was happily trimming this little one out with some tufty shading. Now I'm trying to figure out eye placement (no, this is not some form of stuffed-animal torture). I can't wait to show you when it's all done, I think this one may get a cape or a vest - some sort of clothing. Of course, the finished pics are going into the yule file for now...expect to see it again in a few months!

Monday, August 25, 2008

grey day

a nice grey day today, pouring rain and thunder and everything! I was whining this morning that I wanted it to rain today. It's nice to get one's way, isn't it? =) Fall is my favorite season and I am impatient to Get Things Started with the sweaters and the tights and everything? Oh yes, I am ready.

I am also waiting (and waiting and waiting...) for my porcelaine ceramic paint pens (yes, PENS!) to arrive - I even found a couple of nice noritake Japanese china pieces to experiment on. My excitement has been somewhat quashed by the lack of drawing-on-china today, which I really really really really really wanted to do (really).

But on the upside, Cass and I had leftovers for lunch, which gives me the opportunity to make up somewhat for the lack of proper pictures from last night. We reheated the few bites of corn that were left, but we didn't dare heat (and thereby toughen) the hanger steak, which was smothered in the remaining shallots. Some TJ's tomato and roasted red pepper soup to round it out, and we're off to the races!

Only, that was hours ago. And it's not quite dinner time. And I'm hungry again. Must go nose around the kitchen ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008



It started as a simple attempt to beat the doldrums: let's have friends for dinner. It got us up, out of bed, cleaning the house, and cooking food that was interesting on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Perfect. We'd worried about having too little food for what grew to dinner for five, but it worked out pretty well - I, for one, am stuffed.

I didn't take pictures during because we had Cass' classmates over and they are unaware of my strange, blogging habits and I didn't want to weird them out (unlike my friends, who give me tomatoes with the agreement that I will photograph what I do with them and put them on the blog - love you guys!!).

Do you want to know what we had? We started with a bottle of Hitching Post Highliner, with bread and olive oil with salt and fresh tarragon, and a little bowl of those aforementioned tomatoes seasoned only with salt and pepper. We had salad: greens topped with roasted fennel, tomatoes and onions, with a garlic-balsamic vinagrette and kalamata olives. We had hanger steak in a shallot and red wine sauce with classic, twice-fried pommes frites and a sort of creamless creamed corn with tarragon. After the entree, we sipped cognac au chocolat (think I nailed it this time), then I made a pot of chai tea with World Spice's sweet chai spice blend and their northwest afternoon lapsang tea, and ate black-pepper-and-cinnamon biscotti I'd baked.


now it's nearly 9, we've only washed a few dishes (eh, we'll do the rest in a flash tomorrow am). It was dark by 8:15 (oh, how the seasons are changing) and just these two little candles are illuminating the front room. With the cool air filtering in from the many open windows (we heated up the place plenty with all that cooking), it feels like autumn, and I am dreaming of more downpours, more warm cozy evenings, more hearty meals shared.

thanks for coming, friends! You really made our weekend.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

tasty experiment

do a google search for "cognac au chocolat" and most of your hits will be blissful raves of local restaurant Cremant. I'd heard about it via the blogosphere and been itching to go for months. My parents insisted that we have at least one special dinner out and I made reservations here. We had foie gras, jacques st. coquille, hanger steak with pommes frites, even one of their eponymous sparkling wines.

For dessert, I serendipitously chose the cognac au chocolat, a sort of smooth, melted-pudding drink of the two titular ingredients and - the waitress said - condensed milk. I spent tonight dabbling over the double boiler with sweetened condensed milk, dark chocolate, and a bottle of cognac. I ended up adding regular milk to the mixture to leaven the consistency, but still used too much cognac (not that Cass and I really minded as we sipped out on the patio tonight - mmmmm).

We are having friends for dinner tomorrow, so I'm going to give it another try, this time with a 50/50 milk and condensed milk and a blend of dark and milk chocolate. I'll report back if/when I think I've got a suitable interpretation figured out. Until then, I'll just have to keep my nose to the culinary grindstone. (Who says work ethic is dead?)


after a very pleasant visit with my parents (I even managed to sleep on the airbed for four nights without serious back pain!), which included very successful shopping trips for Mom AND for me (a j.crew blazer and a pair of paper-bag-waist jeans from anthro on killer sale), I haven't done much this week. I think I'm a little down, missing them, and also feeling like everything I was working toward (preparing the house for my parents to see and be proud of) is kind of over. I think I just want school to start now, and I don't know what to do with myself in the meantime ... despite the obvious options of finishing those projects I haven't yet finished!

I think radishes might be even better instant-gratification-in-the-garden than growing peas. Scarcely a month from sowing to harvest. I took a bunch of these over to a friend's house this am and just left them on her porch. A lot of them are still small, but it seems every day there's at least another pair (or two) of round red shoulders ready to come out. Man, they grow fast!

I mentioned that I finished those pillows. Here's what they look like together, in daylight. I think over Christmas break I'd really like to do a little bolster pillow for the couch, maybe in teal velvet, and beaded or something? Hm.

If you haven't heard of Donna Hay, I highly recommend her cookbooks. This dinner during my parents' visit came together in a flash. You'll recognize the goat cheese and beets from my previous post. The pasta is simply topped with steamed asparagus and a brown butter that takes all of 4-6 min on the stove. It's so good that Cass insisted we make it again this week. All three recipes are from the garden lunch (I paraphrase, probably incorrectly) section of Ms. Hay's Entertaining cookbook. Don't let the title fool you - though entirely suitable for guests, Hay's recipes are simple (most have around 6-8 ingredients) and quick (a good many take less than 30 min to whip up) and thus equally suited to a rushed midweek dinner. I think I may have to look into buying all of her cookbooks at some point, hm.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


making yogurt cheese in the fridge from goat's milk yogurt, some chili pepper and lemon thyme.

finished the bathroom, finally. Pale green, olive green, dark olive. It's all about green in there.

roasted three colours of beets and got them in a sort of sweet pickle marinade for tomorrow, when we'll eat them with that yogurt cheese and some asparagus and pasta in brown butter for dinner. I also got the fruit and syrup prepared for some cherry cordials, and plan to put a summer pudding in to mold in the morning.

I remember a time when being up on summer evenings, taking pictures at 1am, did not involve pickled beets. Or a productive day did not mean we managed to haul patio furniture.

Mom and Dad, I think we're just about ready for you. See you tomorrow!

oh yeah, and I finished those pillow covers. A better shot tomorrow (erm, later today) when we have that wonderful thing called daylight going on.