Monday, January 21, 2013

winter brights

I don't think there's any chance of us getting any real snow this year ... it still hasn't happened, nothing more than a dusting last month. But this last week we were enclosed in fog all week. It was pretty lovely - and we finally got back up above freezing, which *is* nice. And it hasn't been raining - which is a nice break; it'll start again soon enough, this week.
Still, it's cold and damp, and I've been trying to keep things bright and exciting in the kitchen to cheer us through the end of winter. I made a fresh batch of preserved lemons using the same recipe from last year (though I included a chili in the jars this time!) at the start of January and they're almost ready to use - just in time, too, as we've been devouring the last jar left from last year.  We have been buying baby broccoli and tossing it with  bit of walnut oil and a couple tablespoons of chopped preserved lemon and roasting it in a 350 or 400 degree oven until it's just crisp-tender. I top it with a yogurt sauce made with nonfat greek yogurt, a bit of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and chopped fresh dill (and mint, if I have it on hand). It's delicious - Cass picked out another three bunches of baby broccoli just for this week!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

cherries in winter

I purchased some cherries at the store the other day. I meant to pickle them, actually; I'd had this recipe for pickled cherries since September that I wanted to try, but (alas!) I'd missed the last of our local cherries for the year. Every week I checked ... every week, nothing.
Until January. When the cherries are in season in Argentina.
Does it feel a little wrong to be eating so out of season? Yeah. But it's also incredibly luxurious, isn't it?
And don't you know it, once I had those cherries, I couldn't find my recipe - or a cherry pitting tool, anywhere! - to save my life. Couldn't let those little pretties go to waste, though. So I cooked them with a bit of water and a couple of old vanilla beans until they'd started to break down. I ran the mix through my food mill (bad idea: the pits would pop out, covered in juice, and basically became little clothes-staining missiles) and then put it through a strainer. I cooked the mash and juice down with some lemon juice and a bit of sugar (not too much!) and a  HUGE overdose of pectin to make a fruit paste like a membrillo (though I only had about 2 or 3 cups of fruit/juice mix, I used an entire packet of Pomona's Universal Pectin - just the pectin, not the activating agent). Membrillo, a Spanish quince paste, achieves its thick, jello-like consistency from the high pectin content in quince; you just keep cooking those suckers until they are paste! So, same idea here - I just had to introduce the pectin into the equation.
I sealed it in jars and processed them. I love that it can be popped out of the jar entire, or cut into little cubes that hold their shape. It's not so good for spreading, though. I plan to pair this with blue cheese and crackers for nibbles to pair with cocktails before dinner parties, but I'll probably have to actually cut the stuff into tiny squares beforehand. That's okay, though; I think it's kind of fun!
And since it softens up when it's warmed, I might actually surprise Cass one morning by baking it into layers of filo or puff pastry as a kind of strudel. Cherry flavour is his FAVORITE, and with the inclusion of the vanilla bean, this came out tasting rather like a cherry strudel filling.

Friday, January 4, 2013

handmade holidays: DIY moon phases scarf

whew! This was another time-consuming one! But I think all the effort was worth it! Want to see more?
Let's start with the inspiration (above). This is the Moon Phases Scarf by Leah, Rachel and Julia. It's 100% silk chiffon, it's a luxurious 36" X 89" and it's GORGEOUS, isn't it? Well, unfortunately for me, it's also $185 (ouch!).
So. What's a girl to do? DIY! I think I'm going to have to make one of these for myself as well, to justify the expense of the materials/tools I needed to make the first one. This isn't a super-affordable DIY if you've never done it before.
You 'll need:
silk scarf (mine is a simple 35" square habotai scarf from Jacquard - $16 at Artist and Craftsman, in Seattle)
some kind of frame to hold it taut (I used the cheap framing bars available at art supply stores to build one's own painting canvases and a few carpet tacks that I had on hand - still, this was $20).
applicator bottle with fine metal tip for applying the gutta/resist (I used a 0.5 oz jacquard bottle and separate metal tip - .5 mm size - that I found at Artist & Craftsman in Seattle)
a paint brush
a pencil
silk pins
This takes a while to do - you'll need five or six evenings to do it all. 
We're going to use the Serti technique. Here's how:

First you have to prepare your scarf for dyeing. This means washing it in warm water with soap (and/or Synthrapol) to remove any coatings or finishes that might prevent it from soaking up dye. Rinse, then hang to dry (I hung it over my shower bar so I could shake out the wrinkles - you want the scarf to hang as smoothly as possible). Before the scarf has dried completely, take it down and iron it. Any wrinkles that you iron into the damp scarf (or that you don't iron OUT before it dries) become permanent - so be mindful! A lightweight scarf like this dries very quickly - within an hour, I was ironing it.
While the scarf dried, I started making a template with my design. I made a grid of rectangles, about 2.25 inches high and 2.5 inches wide (because I wanted to have space between the full moons). Then I lightly drew a circle in each rectangle (so I would have a guideline to shape my moon in each phase). Looking at the original, I roughly copied the pattern of waxing/waning crescents, gibbous moons, half moonds, and full moons. I actually made a mistake and had a one extra phase in my pattern - no problem! I just made up a shape to fill each row in that column, and I think it's fine.
Once you finish drawing your template in pencil, go back over the shapes in permanent marker. This makes it easy to see the shape through the silk, as you'll have to transfer this template to the silk by tracing.
The tracing took forever. I aligned my scarf over my template and pinned the scarf (with silk pins) to the template into my carpet beneath, to keep the scarf and template from sliding. You have to pin here and there throughout to keep the scarf smooth and flat. You trace the shapes of your template with pencil, but be careful not to snag the silk as you go! It takes a light hand!
Once your pencil shapes are traced, you need to construct a frame that can hold your silk taut. Dharma has instructions and ideas. I recommend using silk clips instead of safety pins when you affix your scarf to your frame, as well: you want to put as few holes as possible in the silk, it's quite delicate.
With your scarf taut (ish) on the frame, and your frame propped above the ground (I put an upside-down drinking glass under each of the four corners of my frame), fill your applicator bottle with the gutta/resist. With the point of the applicator tip pressed lightly to the fabric, trace your shapes. There must be no breaks or gaps in the line or the pigment dye will flow into the moon! You want to be sure that the gutta seeps all the way through to the other side of the silk, or else the dye can also flow under it and create problems. I've read that this is only a problem with thicker fabrics - my lightweight habotai scarf didn't give me any trouble! It took me two days to finish tracing all the moons - and my hands are still cramping up. You can easily spread this task across several evenings; just let the gutta dry before tucking the frame away (I leaned mine against a wall in the office) for the night. If you're in a rush, you can actually use a blow dryer to help dry and set the resist quickly.
 Now it's time to paint! I mean dye! I mean, pigment dye! This Dharma Trading Co pigment dye is nice for several reasons: one, it's non-toxic. Two, after you heat-set it, you can WASH the scarf in the future. Three, it doesn't require steaming or chemical fixatives to set. Dharma has information about how to steam a scarf, but the whole setup seemed like more work and more trouble than I was willing to put up with (also, Dharma recommends that newbies try heat-set paints and the pigment dyes first before committing to steam or chemical fixatives). Finally, I'd read that even the water-based guttas can turn oddly sticky and messy when steamed, and that they can't necessarily be used with a chemical fixative (since that would dissolve the gutta before setting the dye, I imagine!). So Dharma's pigment dye really seemed to be the only way to go. The upside is, it's quite easy to work with, and clean up.
SO! You shake up the pigment dye (it's a liquid, but it separates a bit so you do need to shake it), dilute with 2-4 parts water to 1 part dye. I did 2 parts water to 1 part dye because black (red, too) are notoriously difficult shades to attain.
Set up a plastic dropcloth (I used a couple of trash bags) under your frame, put on your painting clothes, and paint that dye onto the scarf! Be careful not to get it into the moons - I made a few mistakes, and I had a breach at one corner of one of my moons, where a little black dye got into the shape - ah well, such is the nature of hand-made, right?
The pigment dye has to dry for at least 24 hours before you heat set it. Let the scarf lay flat until dry to the touch, then it can be stored vertically on the frame again.
Heat setting just means ironing every part of the scarf for 30 seconds each on the silk setting. I actually used two press cloths (flour sack towels): one to cover my ironing board, and one to cover the scarf while I ironed it (and protect my iron), and set my iron up to the cotton setting (but DRY - NO STEAM!). After heat-setting, wash the scarf in warm water with a little ecover and/or Synthrapol. I rinsed mine a couple times until the water was basically clear. Then hang to dry - and just as before, shake out the wrinkles and press the scarf when it is still a bit damp.

And voila! I think it turned out pretty darn good! All in all, an expensive project, but only about a third the cost of the original. And I still have my frame, clips, brush, and enough resist and dye leftover to make another one (several, actually) and the cost-per-each really goes down if I make some more. (plus, WOW - I really want one for myself!)

I'm thinking about maybe getting some delicate silk tassels and sewing them along the edges at intervals; I got a silk scarf in Paris this summer that is about the same size, and the tassels totally MAKE the scarf. But then again, this one is going to a friend with a rather more minimalist sense of fashion, so I'm going to have to think about it for a while before deciding.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

handmade holidays: pearly posts

Drat! Meant to post this before the new year and have it count towards 2012! (My goal is always to average one post weekly, or 52 per year; 2012 was a low point for me, obviously - 45? dang. That's what writing a dissertation gets you.)

So these are for a friend who always seems to be wearing her post earrings. I hope they aren't too big or dramatic to preclude from everyday wear. They're made of freshwater pearl (the white and peacock-iridescent dark grey), carnelian (the touch of orange) and amazonite (the blue green). Here's hoping she likes them!