Thursday, October 31, 2013

good samhain

As the trick-or-treaters march through the neighbourhood, filling the air with the sound of their excitement and happy chatter, in another quiet room the candles burn. Happy Halloween and Good Samhain to all of you out there. And here's to absent friends.

Monday, October 28, 2013

project 52:5

last week I was peeling carrots for dinner on card-making day. Postcard of my hands at work: woodburned birch, with washes of acrylic.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

handmade holidays 2013: fruitcakes

Last month, I started my fruitcakes - a bit later than I'd intended, actually; I should have started them as soon as the temps started to dip. Oh well. They're ageing now in our back room - a utility room/add-on to the house that we rent which is not insulated (and which stays nice and cold all through the winter).
I use this recipe from epicurious, but with a few changes to make the cake a bit more traditional (by which I mean, more like medieval European recipes).

For one thing, I don't use glaceed fruit - the recipe doesn't need the extra sugar, and dried fruit is fine.  Here's the mix I use in my fruitcakes (it's also a bit more than the recipe calls for): 2.5 cups chopped medjool dates (fresh, not dried), dried apricots and dried figs*; 1 16-oz bag of yellow raisins; 1 16-oz bag of dried tart Montmorency cherries; 1 cup of Thompson raisins; and approximately 1 cup of finely chopped pickled citron. This year, because I grew and candied angelica stems, I substituted approximately 1/4 cup of chopped candied angelica for the citron. Next year I hope to increase the angelica content even further, as I love this flavor.
[*That's 2.5 cups TOTAL of dates/apricots/figs - not 2.5 cups EACH. You can adjust the mix according to your preference.]
I combine all of my dried and fresh (the dates!) fruits in a large bowl and pour approximately 1 cup of liqueur over them - whatever alcohol I plan to use to infuse ("feed") the cakes during the ageing process. This year I used a mixture of brandy and homemade elderflower liqueur from this summer. Then I cover the fruit and let it stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least a week. If the alcohol is entirely absorbed by the fruit (it usually is), I add more and continue the ageing process.
Then I bake the cakes. There are a few other substitutions that I make to the epicurious recipe:
  • Since my fruit usually absorbs all the alcohol during the initial soak, I add another 1/2 cup of brandy to the egg/butter/sugar mixture in the recipe (there is no alcohol to drain off the fruit).
  • Since I'm using more fruit than originally called for (and since I've made it a bit wetter by soaking it in alcohol for a week in advance), I usually have to use  between 1/3 and 1/2 c. flour to coat all the fruit before adding it to the batter. I also do NOT pat the fruit dry. That would remove the alcohol - which seems decidedly counter-productive.
  • I didn't take the 1/3 - 1/2 c. of flour "out" of the 1 1/2 c. flour in the batter recipe. I just put the full 1 1/2 c. of flour into the batter (so, I'm making a bit more cake here).
  • I use 1 c. of almond flour instead of toasting and grinding blanched almonds myself. I probably end up with a bit more flour than I would if I had used whole almonds and toasted and ground them myself. That's okay - again, I'm making a little more cake than the original recipe calls for.
  • Last but not least, I prepare 8 mini loaf pans (greasing, laying waxed paper in the bottom, and greasing the paper) instead of one big pan. This way, I get 8 small cakes, which are easier for giving. The expense of brandy and fruit that goes into this cake means that it costs almost $50, all told, to make and age this cake; I'd much rather be able to spread the wealth around, rather than only have one really expensive cake to cut into and share.


Here they are going into the oven; after they're done baking, I let them cool for 30 minutes before removing them from the pan (per the instructions), then I let them cool completely before wrapping them in plastic wrap for the night (this keeps moisture in the cake). The next day, I unwrap the plastic, wrap the cakes in two layers of cheesecloth, and pour a half-shot of brandy over them. I wrap the wet, cheesecloth-wrapped cake in a layer of plastic wrap (to keep the moisture in) and then place them in a plastic tub. This tub has a loosely fitting lid that keeps insects out, but doesn't fit so tightly that the cakes develop mold. I pack all 8 cakes into this box and place it in a corner at the back of my back utility room closest to the door (the coldest part of the room).

From now until yuletide, I'll feed the cakes once a week: to feed them, I unwrap the plastic wrap, carefully pour a full shot of brandy over each cake, and then re-wrap in plastic and return them to their cold storage. When the bottoms of the cakes start to feel a little soggy or damp, I'll flip them so that the liquid runs back through the cake to the top for a week. The cakes must not be allowed to dry out - and they need to stay cool! After about three months, the cake is ready: it tastes strongly of brandy and plums; it's very delicious, but best to enjoy when you won't have to drive anywhere!

Monday, October 21, 2013

project 52:4

do you have a favorite song for autumn? I always always always listen to Nick Drake's Time of No Reply in September.

Friday, October 18, 2013

harvest 2013: quince jam

back when we made that weekend escape to Index, and I picked all that quince, I had no idea how much time I'd spend peeling, coring, and cooking it down. Okay, maybe I had some idea. But I was so excited about free quince that I accepted the challenge.

I didn't grow up eating quince, so it's still kind of a new flavor for me - and Cass, too. The last time I cooked quince, we tried it poached in a lemony white wine syrup. We hated it. Threw it out. Didn't help that I hadn't cooked it long enough.

This time, I tried something different; when talking about quince one day with some Arab friends, they burst into exclamations. For one thing, my friends didn't know what the English word for the fruit was (and since I've encountered relatively few people who even know what it is, I can understand why they hadn't yet had the opportunity to learn this word). My friends were also excited to share memories of quince slices in syrup, made with rosewater and cardamom. So, when I came across Izita's recipe for quince preserves on Tumeric and Saffron, her Persian cooking blog, I figured, fair enough, let's do this.

Since I wasn't sure of the variety of my quince, and therefor couldn't predict whether they'd hold up to cooking in syrup, I just cooked my quince wedges down in water and lemon juice until they were softened, then blended them into a thick puree in the food processor. I returned them to the pan and started adding sugar, rosewater, and cardamom to taste - a little bit at a time at first, but then I got more and more adventurous as my confidence grew.

The end result is a thick jam, almost a paste. The rosewater and cardamom give it just the right oomph, bringing out the beautiful pineapple-like floral quality of the quince itself. I gave Cass a spoonful right out of the pan and he raised his eyebrows in approval. Though it's still a new flavor to us both, this time we won't be throwing it out. I have a few ideas about how I'll use this. My grandmother used to make a pineapple cream cheese pie; it was a 30s-era recipe with a tangy pineapple base layered under a mix of cream cheese and milk and eggs. I used to request it every year in lieu of a birthday cake. I think the quince will lend itself well to something similar, paired with creamy or custardy layers. It might also be really good flavouring to add to a panna cotta, now that I think of it. I'd also like to give this quince curd brulee tart recipe from British Larder a go, and if I find I still have a lot left over, I might pour some into an oiled or parchment-lined pan and dry it in the oven for a day or two, and see if I can't produce something like membrillo at the end. Lots of options! I'll be sure to share the successes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

wiksten tank

I've been meaning to try out Jenny Gordy's sewing patterns for a while now; I finally got around to buying her downloadable .pdf pattern for the Wiksten tank a couple weeks ago and thought I'd try it out in this knit fabric first. It's a nice organic bamboo rayon that I dyed orange (the bias trim is 100% cotton interlock knit, dyed in the same dye bath). I did make some slight adjustments to the pattern - as it looked a little oversized to me in the photo, I created some shaping through the waist by nipping the pattern in from the medium (my size) to the xsmall just below the bust and then gently curving the seam back out to the medium at the hip.. The fit is perfect: a little slouchy, but not quite so shapeless (though I suspect the silky, lightweight jersey helps there). If I have enough fabric, I'm going to try cutting one out of some remnants of chartreuse coloured silk charmeuse I have in my stash - and cutting it on the bias, so it will drape nicely. I'll report back, if I do try it and if it works!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

an autumn kind of mood

a week or two ago, I was out on a walk and noticed a weird straggly hawthorn (are there prone/creeping hawthorns out there? Must be!) growing along/over a robust clump of juniper. The waxy blue juniper berries, alongside those bright orange haws stuck in my mind ... and I resolved that one of these days I'd go back to this patch (which is growing outside a fence, on public land, alongside a busy road) and clip a few branches and make a wreath.

I kept promising myself I'd go and do it - soon, soon - until today, when I dropped all my plans and spent an hour taking the walk and putting this together. I just couldn't stop thinking about those colours.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Project 52:3

a little contrasting imagery and materials: a little gesso blocks out the silhouette of evergreens, which are actually made from a mosaic of 1/2-inch squares of [deciduous] autumn leaves.

Friday, October 11, 2013

DIY Pearl Embellished Strand

Above is De Petra's "Pearl Embellished Strand," which was selling for $378 at Anthropologie. It's sold out now. But you could always make your own - for about $30. I spent a bit more, but that was because I bought a whole string of pearls instead of just buying 15 or 16 individual pearls - both because it's a better price, generally, to do so, and because I came across a string of cheaply-marked freshwater pearls at the bead store.
In this necklace, the pearls are strung on beading thread (or silk, if you're feeling fancy). Bits of mauve-grey thread (probably silk) are twisted around this thread (the one on which the pearls are strung) two or three times, and then the ends are tied in a square knot. Then one or two clear glass beads are slipped onto the ends of each of this accent-thread, followed by a brass crimp bead which is crimped to keep the accent thread from unraveling (and to keep that clear glass seed bead secure. Wash, rinse, repeat - between each of the pearls. The heavy brass beads are probably from Africa - if you've got a local bead shop that imports African brass beads, you should be able to find similar beads (same goes for those rough-hewn, heavy brass rings/rounds). If you're in Seattle, Beadworld has these items. I used deerskin lace (1/4" wide) for the basic stringing material, because it's lighter weight and easier to work through those brass beads - but you could also use cowhide, and save a few pennies.
Admittedly, the ends are way longer on my necklace than the original. It would be easy to just slide those three metal beads on each end up a few inches, re-knot, and cut off the excess, but for right now, I'm leaving the ends long. I like the way it looks. This was a fun project, totally the kind of thing that can be made in an afternoon craft session.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Project 52:2

I was going to make quince jam last week. Instead, I spent the whole day carving a lino block of the quince, with a mason jar standing behind them. I still haven't finished - the jam, I mean. Oops! Maybe today?

Monday, October 7, 2013

make do: a little dye to the rescue

A week ago, I hand-washed this "vintage cotton tank" by J. Crew with a green sweater. The dye ran from the sweater, and though I pulled the tank from the dye bath immediately and rinsed it, it had the faintest of green splotches on it (that I did not discover for a few days).

I was so disappointed! I love this tank; it fits like a dream. I thought I might as well try dyeing the dank to salvage it. I soaked it in leftover soda ash solution for a couple hours, then squeezed the soda ash out.
I lay the tank down in my bathtub and smoothed it flat. I folded it in half lengthwise, so that the side seams were touching. Then I folded it in half lengthwise again, folding the side seams back over towards the center fold. I then accordion folded this long strip of tank top in triangles. When I was done, I placed the stacked triangle in the old casserole dish I've used for dyeing silk scarves. I poured green dye along the three edges and let it stand for four hours before rinsing.

The end result is this great line pattern that wraps all the way around. It's pretty cool - and while it's not quite as business-appropriate as the original tank may have been, I'm happy to have salvaged it for any kind of wear.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

a new experiment in practice: project 52

I have an older brother who just celebrated a birthday last week. I've spent the month of September casting about for a good, original present - something that wouldn't take up unnecessary space in his NY apartment, something that would be personal, something that he would enjoy.

I settled on postcards. I would send him a homemade postcard once a week for this whole year. I'll document it here, though I'm going to post them about a week behind, so that he gets to enjoy having the first view.

So here's Project 52: 1. Woodburned birch postcard with acrylic. Dying Queen Anne's lace at the end of summer, set against a hillside in one of my favorite Seattle parks.