Saturday, December 20, 2014

handmade holidays 2014: crushed pyrite

As soon as I saw the etsy listing for a bag of crushed pyrite, I knew I had to have it! I wanted to play with it and see what I could come up with! I still have more to play with, too. So who knows what else I'll put together. But these earrings were made for a friend whose pinterest feed this autumn included some sparkly druzy earrings. I know that pyrite isn't druzy, but it's got a similar effect: nubby nuggets of sparkling stone, different bits catching the light at different angles. These are mounted on brass bases with gold-plated ear wires. I really love the look and the way the ring of brass around the outside of this blank provides a kind of frame, neatening up the jumble of crushed pyrite in the middle. Hm ... I think it's likely I'll wind up making a pair for myself, too!

handmade holiday 2014: green garnets and copper

Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted. Cass and I came down with a really bad headcold that kind of wiped us out from Thanksgiving until just recently. That woodland birthday party? Cancelled. I have a few more bits and bobs from it to share. Actually, we were able to freeze a lot of the things I made for it. So we'll have a ridiculously fancy post-holiday game day feast in a week. That'll be fun.

But in the meantime, I've been loading up with freelance work and job interviews, so much so that  holiday presents have kind of fallen by the wayside. Many things will be late this year! But for now, at least, I have a few things done - and a friend's recent post  on her own blog has been great motivation to get back in the saddle.

So, without further ado, let's begin the parade of handmade gifts for this year (mixed with the remnants of my birthday-party-that-wasn't). I made this pair of copper earrings with green garnets for a dear friend with a maybe slightly more minimalist and edgy/cool sense of fashion, but similar color preferences. So, I confess, I made the earrings I would love to wear. =) She slipped them on tonight as we worked in the kitchen to make (and then eat!) a fancy dinner together and I loved the way they echoed her long, elegant neck!

Friday, November 21, 2014

woodland birthday: pfeffernusse mushrooms

How cute are these? While the do look remarkably like little cremini mushrooms, these are pfeffernusse ("peppernuts"),  a spicy, peppery gingerbread. I have eighteen of these little guys to scatter around my woodland birthday table - and later this weekend, I'm going to attempt making a meringue version, as well!

My original inspiration for the pfeffernusse mushrooms was this post from Twigg Studio - but when I tried her recipe, I found it has a few crucial errors. As a second attempt, I tried this recipe from Bake Street, which is in Spanish (thank you, seven years of Spanish study!), and it totally worked. So, here I'll provide my own riff on this recipe. I should tell you; I like my pfeffernusse spicy - zingy! I like the tang and the burn of black pepper when paired with sweet spices. So feel free to adjust the spice volume down a bit, if you like something milder.

Pfeffernusse Mushrooms

3 large eggs
1 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. almond flour
2 heaping/mounded Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 heaping/mounded teaspoons ground ginger
2 heaping/mounted teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 c. finely chopped candied orange peel


In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, almond flour, cocoa powder, spices, and orange peel. Set aside.

*NOTE: I ran out of orange peel when the first recipe I tried failed. I substituted glaceed kumquats I'd made earlier this year when I made this recipe. I chopped them fine. They were a bit sticky, so I mixed up the flours, cocoa and spices, then added the sticky bits of  orange peel and tossed them in the flour, then worked each little sticky bit apart from its companions, coating them in the flour/spice mixture with my fingers to keep them from sticking back together. And it worked just fine. So feel like you can experiment a bit here. And if you don't like citrus, you could substitute finely chopped candied ginger ... or drop this from the recipe altogether.

In a metal bowl, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk together. Set over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the eggs have thickened. Both Twigg Studios and Bake Street suggested this would only take a few minutes; I left mine on the stove for 12 minutes (which is actually pretty standard for making a lemon curd, too).

After 12 minutes, remove the bowl from heat and continue whisking the mixture hard for two more minutes.

Combine the egg mixture and flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined - about 3 minutes on low speed (1) on a stand mixer. The dough will be very sticky.

Shape the dough into a tube, wrap in plastic cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Bake Street suggested that leaving it overnight would make it easier to work; I tried this, but I found my dough was dry and crumbly and hard to work, so next time I will only leave it for two hours.

After your dough has firmed, it's time to shape it. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheets with parchment (do not oil or grease your sheets or the paper!).

Divide your dough into two halves. Working with the first half, form 18-20 balls.Flatten these balls slightly on the baking sheet to create mushroom caps. Use the other half to roll out trunks (one for each mushroom cap). Tap each end slightly to flatten so that your mushrooms will be able to stand up after you bake them. If you are having trouble with the dough sticking to your hands, gently dampen your hands (but be careful not to handle the dough with dripping-wet hands, as too much water will start to dissolve the dough and then you'll REALLY have a mess on your hands - ask me how I know!)

Place trunks and caps on the parchment and bake. Bake trunks for 15 minutes and caps for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely on a rack.


After the mushroom pieces had cooled, I placed my cooling rack on my baking sheet (the same one I'd used to bake the mushroom pieces, and I left the parchment down). I place all of the mushroom pieces on the rack. I mixed up a glaze using approx 1 c. powdered sugar and just enough water (add it 1 tsp at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition) to make a creamy glaze. I used a small silicone pastry brush to brush glaze all over each cap and around the sides (but not on the top or bottom) of each trunk. I set the pieces on the rack to drip-dry.

But before they were fully dry, I sprinkled a bit of dry powdered sugar and dry unsweetened cocoa powder over  and around the glazed mushroom caps and trunks. Then I let them dry. Once they were dry, I patted the sugar/cocoa in and around the caps and trunks to remove any excess powder.


An hour or two later, when I knew the caps were fully cured, I flipped them over. I melted 1 oz of chocolate (sweetened, but you could use baking chocolate if you want) in the double boiler. I spooned a little bit (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) onto the base of each mushroom cap and smoothed it around with the back of the spoon. I let it cool and harden just until it looked satiny (not shiny), and then I dragged a toothpick through the chocolate to draw the gills.

I left them for two more hours to set.


Finally, I put the mushrooms together. This part was tricky, I have to admit. I mixed up more glaze (powdered sugar and water), but this time I made sure the glaze was as thick as sweetened condensed milk. I dipped one end of my mushroom trunks into the glaze, made sure each had a good dollop on top of the trunk, and then pressed the trunk into the center of the mushroom cap. I found it was easier to make them upside down like this; some of the caps were balanced on the drying rack; others I balanced on a hot pad...whatever it took.

Don't work too fast as you put them together. Hold the two pieces together for at least a minute before gently releasing pressure. Some of the trunks will slip and slide off or fall over, and you'll have to do it again. You've just got to keep at it; you've got to get them to stand on their own (or propped against boxes of salt or jars of jam) while the sugar dries and hardens the trunks in place - then you're all set (so this is why it helps if the top of your mushroom cap is a little flat, not too pointy!). And in the end, I managed to get all of them together and standing, their little trunks in the air, overnight.

 And this is how they looked the next morning, when I gathered them all together on a plate. I'm delighted; they really do look like a little plate of mushrooms!

And here they are in my hands. They're quite large, really, aren't they?

Now, final points: these things are rock hard after the first day. The trick with pfeffernusse is that you should make it in advance. It will be rock hard for at least a day. Stored in an airtight container, it will gradually absorb moisture and become a more tender cookie. These cookies can be stored (again, in an airtight container) for a month before serving - which is also rather convenient: you can make these guys well in advance of your party and then just pull them out and wow all your guests at your event.

I hope you try making these and that you enjoy them!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

woodland birthday: moss

For years, I've wanted to throw a party with a woodland theme or woodland aesthetic. This year, I decided, I'd finally do it - for my birthday. There aren't any woodland-themed party activities; really, this is just about setting a pretty table of pretty bites for an afternoon of games and maybe a holiday movie, after a midday ice skating session.

Click here to see the wedding idea from Amy Wallen photography that is my table inspiration for this party. I went to the florist today to order three "pink mink" protea for the floral arrangement. I think the other bits and pieces - the eucalyptus, the limonium, the roses, even the ranunculus - shouldn't be too hard to find at my local grocery stores.

But you'll see there's a lot of moss there in that picture. And I thought that moss would be nice to tuck around platters and serving dishes on a table full of appetizers, to give a woodsy feel. And  since I live in the Pacific Northwest, with the shade of a grove of doug firs guaranteeing a regular crop of moss in the backyard, it was a simple matter of going out and harvesting clumps of moss and cleaning it (this did, however, take me an entire afternoon and evening), and then preserving it, to have a good amount of moss for my table (not quite as much as I'd like, but that's okay - I'm just being forced to practice moderation here... or heck, maybe I'll just go dig some more!)

I found the instructions for preserving moss at The Art of Doing Stuff. Basically, the moss is cleaned, allowed to dry, and then soaked in a mixture of vegetable glycerine and denatured alcohol (two parts glycerine are mixed with 1 part alcohol) for 10 minutes, then drained for 10 minutes, then left on paper towels to dry for a few days.

Above, the moss is clean and dry. Below is the preserved moss. What's nice about this (as contrasted with just drying moss) is that it stays nice and green, and it's pliable. Also, any little clumps of dirt that were stuck in the moss through the preserving process are just falling out as the moss dries, which is pretty cool. The downside, however, is that it kind of stinks like green, wet seaweed in our kitchen! I might transfer all of it outside tomorrow to air and see if that helps!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

a personal touch

Okay, these have been opened, so I can post them now. My dad has started using handkerchiefs regularly lately, or so my mom told me when we chatted about "what to do for Dad's birthday?" last month. But you know, handkerchiefs you can buy at a store these days are pretty flimsy, made of cotton so thin as to be transparent. The nice thing about making handkerchiefs is the opportunity to indulge in quality materials and traditional (and time-consuming) construction - and starting in advance meant that I could still give a nice gift even though money's tight. These are made of hanky-weight linen. They look a little thin and crisp right now, but once the fabric has been through the washer and dryer, they'll fluff up and the texture will be a bit rougher and thicker. I made a 1/4" hem all around (really, a 1/8" hem, rolled twice), and hand-stitched the blind hems. Then I monogrammed them, in two different styles: one a little fancier, and one a bit more casual.

And that's it! I hope he likes them; I hope whenever he's got a cut or a runny nose, he enjoys pulling out and using these workhorses that his daughter made and embroidered for him. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

At last!

Summer's Queen (Portrait of Shannon O). Oilbar and graphite on canvas. 18X24. 2014.

Finally finished this commissioned portrait that I've been working on all summer. As it was a gift (and a surprise) for the subject's husband, I couldn't post any updates about this anywhere until after I'd sold it and left a few days for the gift to be given. So, here it is! As there won't be any prints made of this commissioned portrait, I don't have professional photos, just this one above - snapped rather late in the day, as you can tell by the shadows - and the one below, which is slightly better, but a bit gray (owing to being taken on a dark October morning before I sold the painting to my patron). Still, I think this queen of summer shines: 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

months and years: Rabbit in the Moon quilt

a couple of months ago, I was approached about designing a table runner. Above is a sketch that was rejected. Even though it wasn't my client's taste, I liked it.

I liked it a lot. I wasn't going to let it go.

So instead, I added a gibbous moon to the mix and shuffled the moon phases around and made a quilt out of it. Or rather, I'm making it into a quilt, for the Months and Years shop. It's 36 inches wide and maybe 42 inches long - more on the measurements when it's all done. It's made of cotton canvas and two silk fabrics: the lighter colored one is a crosshatched medium-weight 100% silk suiting fabric in ivory and gold. The dark navy is silk dupioni (which I also used for the backing). The cotton canvas is the "sky" behind the moon phases. I treated the canvas with cyanoprint (sun print) dye and then scattered small branches and leaves from my garden over it and let the light develop. I overdyed this with a weak solution of purple and seafoam and spritzes of a saturated solution of warm black and navy. So, between the speckles and washes of purpley-blue-green, you can find outlines of cedar fronds and rose leaves on the sky.

I haven't quite figured out how I want to do the outline of the rabbit in the moon; for now, it's sketched in with running stitches. I think I'll couch a heavier thread so it shows up a bit better - for now, I'm just not quilting around it, so that I can still pull the layers apart and work on the rabbit without quilting it to the quilt back before I'm ready. There's a little flower quilted into the rabbits hip there, that you can just make out. I might do more of this on the rabbit...haven't decided yet. So many decisions!

What do you think I ought to do with that rabbit? Heavy thread, couched on? Embroidered leaf stitches? Or do you like it that the rabbit is so light and barely-visible like this? I'd love to hear your two cents!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

a day off

Last week, in the face of some very obvious physical manifestations of stress, I took a "day off." I didn't work on professional development stuff. I didn't apply for jobs. I didn't fuss with emails or spend the day online.

Instead, I took a walk in the park in the morning sunshine. I picked up pretty leaves, and dipped them in wax, using this tutorial from Martha Stewart. I  tied them up with thread to a piece of driftwood and hung them where they would flutter and be pretty and generally get in everyone's way as they walked into the kitchen. 

I  also made some salt scrub for the shower. I had all the ingredients - salt, glycerin, essential oils - on hand, so I quickly mixed this up and now I'm happily scrubbing away. I love salt scrubs. They're great exfoliators; this oil-free recipe from ModernSauce is the one I use. There's a great little shop for glycerin, oils, wax, salts, and other ingredients for making homemade bath products in Seattle, called Zenith (it's on Roosevelt, a couple blocks south of NE 65th St). I have salt from the dead sea in these; the crystals are slightly larger and more rounded/less sharp when you scrub with it. It's like washing with tiny pebbles! I scent mine with some essential oil from the bay tree (laurel nobilis) because I love the herbal, slightly masculine notes of that scent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

project 52: finale

Well. Time flies. I haven't posted. What's been happening? I proofread a couple of books for an employer (one rush job that put me in a frenzy). I'm working on some "homework" (professional development) assignments from different mentors in two completely different fields (since I don't know where things are going these days, I'm just trying to keep the balls in the air for every potential lead ... it's a lot of work. I got sick last week and I still feel tired - though maybe some of that is the weather changing). I'm finishing an article that still makes me balk - I need to keep pushing through on this, though, so I don't lose the habits of being a writer. I designed and made a quilt top for a baby quilt for the shop and I'm doing some hand-quilting on it - more on that soon; there, at least, I feel like I'm making steady progress.

But where does all the time go, really? I feel like it's slipping through my fingers lately. Time to get back on top of it and do a better job of keeping this place up.

Today, I want to share the end of project 52; finished over two weeks ago! Here are the last three cards, with prints available for two (I think I need one of the Raven, Lightbringer cards).

watercolor and acrylic on paper

September has always been one of my favorite months. Indian Summer is truly gorgeous, exquisite, nostalgia-inducing here in the Northwest - the blackberries get sweeter and sweeter, things are a little dusty, night starts to fall earlier, and if the storms don't come to early, we enjoy a beautiful show of color as the leaves change. I was thinking about looking up through those leaves to a pale summery sky as I painted this one. Cass said it reminded him of Dr. Seuss, and proclaimed it a very happy card.

watercolor and  calligraphy ink on paper

And here is one of my most favorite cards. The Haida people of Alaska have a story about Raven as a a bringer of light, so, as we turn to the dark side of the year, I thought Raven, Lightbringer would be a good companion with which to close this project. The circle around the little ball of light (and the white rays) echo the circle round the sun (and the pattern of its rays) from the midsommar postcard, postcard 39. And I'm always so obsessed with stargazing and hunting comets through the winter. Last year I got up one morning at 3am when temps were in the teens (incredibly cold for this part of the country), bundled up in extra socks and my husband's massive down jacket, and walked to the park to hunt for a comet - I didn't get to see it, but I did get to see some GREAT constellations. 

ink and nailpolish on paper

And finally, with little fanfare, we close with  a simple flourish of  marbleized paper and "fin."

And ... that's it. A whole year, in postcards. This was a great project. It got me to explore some new media, and I've learned some things about this format, too. It certainly was no small birthday gift, but I enjoyed this year. Last Sunday, I was suddenly a little sad - I was out on a walk with Cass and admiring some pretty rosehips and thought about asking him if I could borrow his phone and take a picture of them to use as a model, but I stopped myself: no more postcards to make, after all. Hm. Maybe there will be more cards in my future again soon. Maybe. =) Thanks so much for following along with this project for the past year; I hope you've enjoyed seeing this unfold here!

And now ... let's talk fruitcake. This week.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

project 52:49

cyanoprint dye and plants on paper

I finally got my hands on some cyanoprint (sunprint) dye - Jacquard has been making their Solarfast product for I-don't-know-how-long, but I knew when I saw it a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to try playing with it. It's a little rough on the paper, because you have to wash it out for 10 minutes - see all the tears? I had to glue this postcard to another one to reinforce it before I mailed it. Hm.

I got the idea for this project when I stumbled across artist Jill DeHaan's experiments with plant matter and cyanoprint paper, and knew I wanted to try something similar, so postcard 49 is a monogram, the first letter of my brother's (and my) last name. I wanted to capture some of the last of the summer sunshine!

(While it's still sunny in Seattle, the sun has dropped just below the tops of the trees in the doug fir grove that stands just south of our backyard - so now in the middle of the day, we are in shade instead of sun, and things feel a *lot* cooler around here.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

italian renaissance

Growing up, Italian food was, like, the height of seductive cuisine in my world. In any TV show, people who were dating, people who were celebrating anniversaries, people who received promotions ... went to an Italian restaurant. Same with movies. As far as I knew, there was nothing more romantic or intimate or special than an Italian restaurant. Maybe French - but in films and on TV, the French restaurant was a place for experts; you had to speak the names with a French accent, and the waiters were always intimidatingly superior (pace francophiles, I'm talking about a child's impressions of pop culture 25 years ago here). People were obsessed with balsamic vinegar and arugula, every fancy cook with a cable cooking show would whip out that pasta machine and I'd feel a sense of awe and desire - heck, even as small child, one of my favorite toys was that play-doh expresser toy. Man, I loved that thing! 

These days, though, you don't see a lot of hype about Italian cooking. It's everywhere, it's comforting ... probably fewer people have the time for the intensive prep work of making things from scratch. The exciting new areas of cuisine lately seem to be other Mediterranean cultures - and points east. Freekeh. Quince. Preserved lemons.

I've been wondering if it's about time for Italian food to make a comeback as a trend.

Certainly, in my own kitchen, I've been making more pasta and pizza this summer than in many summers I can remember - and yes, entirely from scratch. We even have the fancy pasta machine now, but I don't seem to have the strength to change the settings on the thickness so I only ever use it if Cass is here to help me. Most of the time, I roll my pasta by hand, with a simple, solid wood, French-style tapered rolling pin that I bought at the hardware store for six or seven dollars (seriously, sometimes the simple, basic model is the best - I love the control the taper gives me, letting me pivot the pressure and work one bit of dough or crust at a time).

Tonight, it's fava bean agnolotti with a rich, creamy curry emulsion from The French Laundry cookbook. You can click the link to go to the recipe - it's on epicurious! The guys at my favorite produce stand down at the Public Market (aka Pike Place Market) had fava beans last week and I was terribly excited to see them. "Probably the last of the season for us," they told me, and admitted that the beans were a little past their prime - and should be cooked 1-2 minutes longer than normal. Since these are probably my last taste of favas until next spring, I wanted to find a nice way to showcase their flavor; and grinding them into a pasty filling also seemed a good way to deal with the potential issue of woodiness of overripe beans. I had fun folding the pasta into a new shape (for me), and breaking out my new fluted pastry wheel to make those pretty pinked edges (another one of those cheap, hard-working basic tools, we bought the fluted wheel at Mrs. Cook's for less than $8) that are so classic.

Sometimes, it's just so satisfying to stop what you're doing and spend a whole afternoon kneading eggs into flour, rolling out dough, and carefully forming perfect bites for a special dinner. And to boot, while I was waiting for the dough to rest, I squeezed in a good research session - the limited time was just the motivation I needed to overcome some procrastination/intimidation that's totally been holding me back on putting a grant proposal together. I guess even the quiet ritual of making pasta is a comforting influence, for me!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

project 52: 48 & 47, respectively

nail polish, spray paint, pressed garden flowers on paper

well, things have been a little quiet around here, haven't they? I've been really trying to crank out a few projects I swore I'd have done before summer was out. I just finished the second dress for the Months and Years shop yesterday. I know, I know, I said the shop would be up in August, didn't I? Well, now it looks like it'll be up for the winter holidays, instead. Just as well; I'd rather push the date back than skimp on the quality or ideas I have for the garments. But wow, it has been such a busy summer .

And as project 52 winds down, I'm excited to have more time back to myself - though I might keep making cards of some sort, periodically. I have a feeling I'm going to miss this bit of structure and challenge that I have given this year.

Above, coming full circle: you might recall that the third (I think/) project 52 postcard was made of a collage of 1/2" squares cut out of autumn leaves. And here are some of the flowers of my late  summer garden, pressed since July, and sent off last week.

nail polish, spray paint, acrylic, ink on paper

And catching up, here's the card from two weeks ago, inspired by a news item I'd heard on the radio about a new comet passing by us (I think it was a new one, anyway?), that scientists are going to study with a probe. Of course, the comet moves to quickly and the probe doesn't move quickly at all, so the solution was to latch the probe onto the comet and send it hurtling off into space with it, using  - of all things - a harpoon. I loved this image, kind of like the probe is Ahab and the comet is a white whale. I love that we transpose marine terminology to air and space travel ... there's something so charmingly nostalgic about it, that we get to use the same words our forebears used, to describe new forms of exploration long after the globe had been circumnavigated and mapped.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

project 52:46

ink and colored pencil on paper
It's late August and things are starting to wind down. Or so it feels in the garden. Plants seed and fade, but the sedums are still (always) going strong, their little chewy, succulent leaves tipped in cheery red. My neighbour gave me these plants a year or two ago, just little slips of things that were encroaching on her patio, outshoots she was going to compost - if I didn't want them.

For years, I've dreamed of one day having one of those big iron balls for the garden, of lining its outer edges with coir or landscape fabric, filling it with rich soil, and sticking a wild array of succulents all over it, so that they gradually grow together and coat the outside: a hanging ball of succulents. Someday, somewhere.

So I eagerly potted up those little guys when my neighbour offered them to me; from such small beginnings, a grand succulent ball! (one day!) Or perhaps I'll cave and make a half-succulent ball a whole lot sooner; I have a nice, heavy hanging pot (a half-globe), and I'm wondering if, when the nasturtiums that have been so weakly hanging on all summer finally crisp and wither away, I could pick little holes in the coir lining and start tucking these guys in all over it. Goodness knows, they're getting packed enough in the pots, the tight quarters twisting and perverting the neat geometry of their perfect little whorls.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

foraged 2014: huckleberries

As the summer berry picking season winds down, there are a few treats still in store: we've been picking huckleberries.

For some reason, I was so excited about the huckleberries this year that I kind of froze; I couldn't actually decide what to do with them. So, I put three jars up in a kind of sweet pickle, and then I made some eight or nine half-pint jars of barely-cooked jam. More like a preserve; in fact, I hadn't originally planned to add any pectin or anything at all, but the berries started producing masses of juice as they cooked (even the slightest bit), that I figured I'd better thicken it up a little. So I added some pectin and sugar - not much, though - and stopped cooking it while the berries were still intact. That way, I figured, some of these jars could be scooped into a pie shell, or folded into hand pies, smoothed over a tart or just ... 

over a toasted, buttered English muffin. For breakfast. Every day since last week. Yum!

Monday, August 18, 2014

summer in a glass

Got some things a'brewing in my kitchen - literally! This tall drink of beautiful is a riff on the cider recipe in Yvette Van Boven's Home Made Winter cookbook. The original, which is brewed in a bucket at room temp for 8 days, then aged in the fridge to build up bubbles, uses 6 1/2 pounds of grated apples, water, sugar, and spices. For this batch, I used 6 pounds of apples and 1/2 pounds of red and white currants, generously given to me by a friend who is blessed with some seriously heavy-yielding currant bushes in her garden (are we jealous yet?). Seeing as Van Boven says it's okay to just grind up the entire apple - seeds, stems, cores and all - and seeing as the mixture is later strained - twice! - I actually just put the bunches of currants (with their stems) through the food processor when I grated the apples, and figured I could strain out any organic bits later.

Now, a confession: the color wasn't quite this brilliant watermelon-hue on its own. As I'd just been reading an article about how the appearance of food really does affect our perception of it, I took my cider (which was naturally just a slightly-rosy amber color) and stirred in about 1 teaspoon of beet powder. That's right: dried, powdered beets. One teaspoon turned four liters of cider this gorgeous color, and didn't add even the faintest whiff of earthiness to the flavor.

These bottles have been ageing for a month or so in the fridge; they should be drunk by mid-September, though I'm thinking of holding on to them just a week longer and doing some kind of to-do to celebrate the equinox with friends - and this bright, crisp, berried taste of summer.

Currently, the bucket's host to the early stages of our next cider - apple-blackberry! I won't bother trying to adjust the color on that one; it's already a gorgeous deep purple.

Monday, August 11, 2014

project 52:45

ink, acrylic, paper collage on paper

More studies, more experiments, more practice, more discoveries - all for a future painting that I haven't even begun to sketch yet.  This time, I'm testing ideas for a background, with Wallace Stevens on the brain. Specifically, Sunday Morning, a poem with special resonance for both me and the subject of my painting. In the fourth section of the poem, Stevens writes:

But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

It's that last bit, the idea of "June and evening, tipped/ By the consummation of the swallow's wings," that I have on the brain. The water's a reference to another repeating phrase in the poem. I think I've discovered (or re-discovered, or remembered) during the course of Project 52 how very much I like illustrating, creating images to pair with words - by which I mean words that have already been written, not the words on the back of the cards, of course. It's a good thing to know about myself. And besides that bit of self-knowledge, these studies are particularly useful. I definitely figured a few bits of the final painting out in the course of making this card!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

a shifting sense

Lately, it seems, I've got autumn on the brain. Seattle's basking in the heat of August - the most reliably warm and dry month of the year - but I find my nose picking up the scent, here and there, of ripe decay, the richness of fruit melting into soil, and I can feel myself on the alert for the spicy incense of rotten leaves and the first hints of smoke from nighttime fires.

I've a few kitchen projects going on today, and they're all rather nice, little, simple things, the kind of things that require more sitting time than working time - and which make a girl feel rather accomplished at the expense of a minimum of effort. Nice, that. First, I'm experimenting with a new bitters (for drinks), using rowan berries (the very ones pictured above) as a bittering agent - it was a bit of a lightbulb moment a few weeks ago, when I was thinking about the intractable bitterness of these berries. If they turn out well, I'll recount the whole process on the blog later. For now, here's a pretty picture of rowan, in my harvesting basket, in a lucky photo that looks rather lovely and picturesque. And autumnal!

And below, those bounteous late-summer beauties: dahlias. My mother-in-law sent us home from the mountains yesterday with three cut-off plastic milk jugs, each stuffed full of dahlias. I made three arrangements for our house, and two big ones (in quart-size mason jars) for my neighbours. I snuck out of the house in my nightgown, a towel still wrapped around my wet hair, and left the jars on their porches, a sweet surprise for this morning. I've since added a brilliant, hottest-pink spidery dahlia from my own garden to the arrangement on the right, tucked just above the ginormous dinner-plate one. I love all their orange, coral, and purple brilliance. So happy, so carefree, so saturated with color.

A new postcard to show you tomorrow; I'm off to attend my haul of huckleberries, picked by the side of a mountain lake yesterday. Ah, perhaps it's not so autumnal, not yet. Just me, as ever, leaning into this, my favorite time of year, that shifting late-summer/early-autumn.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

project 52:44

acrylic and ink on paper
prints available here
Okay, I love this one. Yep. My friends Ibti and Jacinthe and I did a photo session for my next portrait for the Hedgehog Feminist series. I wanted to start experimenting with some of my ideas for that painting, and the postcards are a great place to test ideas and try things out. Yes, that's an ouroborus in an infinity shape around her eyes. That is the crucial element in this one, that I was testing out. I love love love how bold and starry-eyed she is. It makes me smile just to look at; this is SO Jessie. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

project 52:42 and 43 (back from hiatus)

acrylic wash over woodburned birch
prints available here

Well, well. How've you been? Things have been a little quiet around here, eh? I got my first proofreading job (for a publishing house) a week and a half ago, and promptly dropped everything to devote to freelancing. I'm still catching up, and have to get another two cards posted sometime this week to stay on schedule.

I really like the one above, the plump shapes of sulpice tomatoes, ripening one at a time on the vine. We haven't eaten this whole bunch yet, but we will, by the end of the week. The garden is getting so out of my control lately; I should probably take a day tomorrow and just paint and garden and try to get back on top of it - and don't even get me started on the lawn. I mowed the front a while ago, but left the back for Cass - with the result that it still hasn't been done. Uf. For some reason, this summer, I just can't seem to keep up. So busy. (Maybe this project has something to do with it! And the clothes for Months and Years - I'm making good progress there, more to show soon!)

acrylic and spraypaint on paper

While I prefer the tomatoes, this project is definitely about pushing myself to produce something every week - even when I'm not sure what. And sometimes, that means I dabble and experiment and play. I made this rose stencil (not sure if you can make it out so well, with all the various washes and such here?) to do some Alabama-Chanin-style reverse-applique patching on a quilt that is falling to pieces. I'll post pictures of that project, too, when it's finished. I spraypainted the rose on first, in black, and later stenciled it again, in a translucent glaze of pthalo green paint and acrylic medium. There are several brilliant washes - pink, orange, yellow, going on here, too. Busy, busy. Not my usual style, but the energetic colors are interesting to me, and  it's always good to try something new!

Monday, July 14, 2014

week of jam, day five: alpine blackberry, two ways

Ah, alpine blackberries. So tiny, so sweet, so floral, so much harder to pick than those Himalayan monsters that run rampant everywhere in the northwest (I like those, too, though; those are the ones I grew up eating, and they will always be a quintessential flavor of summer, for me). They're ripening early this year, too; normally we don't pick them until August, but we went up to Index two weekends ago to pick the thimbleberries and found ripe blackberries (and huckleberries - also ahead of schedule!) and picked a couple pints. I made two kinds of blackberry jam: a plain one (with just a little dash of rosewater at the end, to play up the floral notes in the berries), and then blackberry-sage. I used to love blackberry-sage tea as a younger adult. I haven't had any in years, but I still think of the flavor combo fondly. So, I packed up a few jars of the blackberry jam and set them in the canner to process and then went out to the garden and picked some fresh sage, washed and chopped it, and stirred it into the remaining jam in the pot. This decision meant I had to run my hot water canner for an extra 10 minutes (on an 85-degree day, ugh!), but I think it was worth it. Now we have his-n-hers blackberry jam for late autumn - I always like to eat this in November! =)

And yes, I did get up at 6:15am on a Saturday morning to water the garden and take pictures of jam in early morning sunlight! I've been sleeping so little lately, it's kind of awful. I'm getting bags under my eyes from it - but it's so hot at night and so bright so early in the morning that I just can't get a good rest. I seem to wake up at 3am every night now, too. Sometimes I go drink a glass of water, sometimes I get up and go to the bathroom, sometimes I just pet the cat (who, for some reason, hasn't let the heat dissuade her from sneaking into bed sometime in the wee hours of morning and snuggling up into my hip ... I'm kind of glad of it, actually; knowing that we're reaching the end-of-life for her means I want every last little furry snuggle that I can get).

(Here she is enjoying the handwoven, 100% wool rug I picked up at a charity event and cleaned ... clearly, just so she could play with/on it. It's her favorite place to sleep, chase her tail, roll and loll, and of course...those fringes are fun to attack!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

week of jam, day four: blackcap raspberry

I just realized I hadn't posted yet. Seattle's experiencing a real heatwave right now and I am feeling the effects - lethargy, crabbiness, man! I do not like it when the temps are over 80 degrees! And yes, I know, I know: 80 degrees? That's ridiculous! It's so much hotter everywhere else in the world! But here's the thing: do you know what the standing record is for number of days (continuous) with temperatures over 80 degrees in Seattle? Fifteen. Fifteen is the RECORD. It just doesn't get that hot here - and after living more than a decade of my life in this city, I'm glad that it doesn't.

Incidentally, the meteorologists are saying we might be starting a hot streak to break that record right now. We're already at day six. Ugh. As the temps rise, I'm glad I finished making jam earlier this week (oh yes, I still have MORE to share with you), and won't have to fire up the stove and heat the canner anytime soon. Which brings us to today's batch o' jam: blackcap raspberries. We've been growing these berries for a couple of years now, and they are finally starting to settle in and really take off, which is exciting! Blackcaps are native to the northeastern United States, and the nice thing about them is that they can grow and fruit in part-shade. We have a lot of shade in our back garden, so it's exciting to see these guys thriving and their fruit harvest starting to really amp up, despite the lack of light. (But oh, that shady back yard is SO NICE in this heat. Yes, at this time of year, every year, I am thankful for the grove of doug fir that blocks the sun to the south, and the hemlock and stand of cedar which block the sun to the west. I don't have nearly the garden I'd like to have at this house because of  all the shade, but it is ever-so-nice in the summer - and lovely to look at any time of year, of course). Of course, unfortunately for me, one very round, very fluffy squirrel, has also discovered the blackcaps. Every morning, I have to chase him out of the thicket, the little rascal. Stop eating my raspberries!!

But back to the jam. (Sorry - the heat-addled brain is so easily distracted!) So, what do blackcaps taste like? Kind of like a mild raspberry, and kind of floral - in fact, I added a little rosewater to the mix when I made this jam, to play up that quality.

I've got a few more to share with you - I'll try and remember tomorrow, but the thermostat is going up to 90 (wah!), so I might be busy wilting!!

wait, that's not jam! (project 52:41)

oilbar and pencil on paper

We interrupt this week of jam for a project 52 post. Don't worry, the week of jam will return later this afternoon. YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH JAM THERE STILL IS - I did three more batches ( albeit tiny ones) yesterday. I thought I might even have another to do today, but a fat little squirrel has discovered my blackcaps, and I suspect that when I go out to pick the last of the fruit, I'm going to find a lot of empty vines.

I'm working on a very flowery summery portrait commission right now, and last week's postcard caught me with flowers on the brain; just a little silhouette of some apple blossoms. Soft, smudgy, out-of-focus stuff is difficult for me, with my penchant for prescision, so exercises in approximation (like this one) are always good practice. Nothing much else to say here, just a quick smudgy card that took ages and ages to dry, and which uses one of my favorite colors right now - that brilliant bold pink! (It's "permanent rose.") I love it! I'm trying to figure out if there's a way I can work some slim touches of it into the hair on this portrait...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

a summer libation (hold the booze)

Oh man. It's a hot summer night and I want something cool and interesting to drink. Something that comes over ice. Something that involves bitters, or maybe an herbal-infused simple syrup ... but then, it's so hot out and I've been feeling kind of on the verge of dehydration all day from the heat, you know? And I just know that if I have any alcohol at all tonight, it's going to leave me feeling fuzzy and limp, and I might even wake up with a tinge of a hangover - yuck, no thank you!

So, I give you: the Virgin Dark & Stormy. It's easy as pie to whip up: in a glass with three or four ice cubes, combine one bottle of strong ginger ale (I like Reed's Extra Ginger Brew), the juice of one lime, and - here's the neat part - about 1 Tablespoon of molasses, to simulate that deep sugarcane sweetness of rum. I recommend starting with less molasses (closer to 1/2 Tbl) and working up to 1 Tbl or more, adjusting the flavor to your taste.

When I'm making an alcoholic Dark & Stormy, my favorite rum to use is Cruzan's Blackstrap Molasses Rum; it's deep and dark and earthy and herbal. So, when I mix up one of these, I use blackstrap molasses - and a heavy hand with it. It gives that same earthy quality to the mix that I like. And if you're not abstaining entirely from alcohol, try adding a few drops of bitters (orange or lime bitters would be great), just to give it an extra interesting kick!

week of jam, day three: thimblequest 2014!

Now for my absolute favorite wild berry: the thimble berry. Growing in patchy sunlight, with big fuzzy maple-like leaves, thimbleberries might be the most delicate of all the wild berries up here. They're mostly seeds and fuzz, not much juice, fall apart almost as soon as you pick them, and crush each other in whatever particular vessel they're being gathered. As a result, I can't wash these berries before I cook them (the secret's out! Are you grossed out?); if I did, I'd wash away half of the juice. So, we pick them carefully, removing all debris as we go, and then we pick through the berries again as we put them in the pan. But no water is involved.

This jam is also incredibly seedy. It's basically a seed-compote! I suppose if I really wanted to make a beautiful jelly, I could put the mix through a food mill or pass it through a sieve and make maybe one jar of perfectly smooth preserve, but I don't. It took a lot of picking to gather enough berries just to make the eight tiny 4-oz jars (every year, we call our thimbleberry picking "thimblequest," for the hours involved!) of thimbleberry jam I have tucked away in my pantry to last me through this year.

How does it taste, though? Like the brightest, tangiest raspberry you've ever had in your life. Delicious, and so worth that extra effort!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

week of jam, day ... two?

whoops! Sorry about that; I got the photo taken before dark, but I didn't manage to stay awake long enough to post last night - in fact, it was still light out when I fell asleep (sometime around 8:30pm). Such a long and productive day yesterday - garden work, painting, etc.

Welp, we'll just have to extend Week of Jam by one day then, won't we? Today we have an apricot preserve, an easy way to put up and save some apricots that most definitely would have gone bad before we got around to eating them. This is another simple one: just wash apricots, pit them, and cut into quarters. I used about a pound and a half of fruit (maybe two pounds?). I placed the quarters into a pan with the zest of one lemon and about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice - apricots are so tart and zingy anyway, I didn't want this preserve to be too tart! I added the seeds from one vanilla bean and a couple Tablespoons of sugar. I cooked all of this together over medium heat until the apricots had mostly broken down (be careful! The apricots break down into a creamy mash that can stick and burn very easily - you need to stir this one frequently as you make it). I left some chunks because, well, why not?

Then I added another 3/8 cup of sugar, with about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of low-sugar pectin, whisking it in rapidly to incorporate into the hot mass - and cooked for a few more minutes before checking the set and canning/processing.

We like to combine apricot preserves with dijon mustard to make a tangy sauce/glaze that we brush over pork tenderloin before roasting the meat in the oven, a recipe picked up from one of Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food" mini-mags years ago. Any leftover glaze is used as a dipping sauce for the sliced tenderloin. Paired with some roasted asparagus, wilted spinach, or steamed green beans, it's a quick and easy weeknight dinner - in short, I know exactly how we'll be using these preserves!

Monday, July 7, 2014

week of jam, day one: strawberry

Yeah, I think I may have enough jam made (and to make) to do an entire week of jam posts. I might also be getting a little sick of jam, as a concept, already - ha! This was the first batch, the batch that kicked it off: our little strawberry patch is really taking off this year. It's nice to see our little garden investments start to pay off, and the back yard start to function like an old-fashioned homesteading garden, with gooseberries, currants, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries, and huckleberries - in addition to veggie beds, kitchen herbs, and the [floral] cutting garden! I already made another batch since this one, and have another bowl of strawberries in the fridge just waiting to be made into a couple more tiny jars.

I don't really have a recipe for this: I wash and halve the strawberries (if they're large), put 'em in the pot with some lemon zest, lemon juice, and the seeds of one half of a vanilla bean. I add a little bit of sugar (for this batch, which only comprised about 2 cups of fruit, less than 1/4 cup of sugar) and cook the fruit gently until it all breaks down. Once that happens, I add a bit more sugar with some pectin stirred into it, cook and check for gel set, and then process in my water bath. The proportions are pretty loose: I use less sugar than recipes call for, and a bit more pectin, and it all works out somehow. I think jam is kind of like pie crusts and biscuits and other things - eventually, you just kind of have a feel for them and you kind of lose track of precise measurements.

I like using lemon zest, lemon juice, and a bit of vanilla bean with fresh strawberry jam; there's something about this combination that really screams, "fair food" (as in, "state fair food" - slap it on a warm, fresh scone and my husband swears it is just like getting a scone from the Fisher Scones stand at the Evergreen State Fair). I'll tuck some of these jars away and they will be forgotten, just you wait and see. He never keeps track of what I put up, and doesn't bother pawing through the cupboard. Then, one morning in early autumn, on a week when we're tired and he's frustrated with something at work and wishing he could just stay home and sleep in, I'll get up early and make a batch of scones and pop them in the oven before I hop in the shower. I'll jump out and catch them just as they finish baking. He'll wonder what the timer is for and what smells so good - and I'll bring him a piping hot scone, slathered with sweet summery strawberry jam, and it'll make everything better.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

project 52:40

ink and acrylic on paper

A rather simple one this week, but a pattern I've absolutely fallen in love with. Last week, I volunteered to help with the setup for a nonprofit fundraising event on Bainbridge Island - the Rotary Club's annual auction. This auction/tag sale is truly massive; it takes over a whole middle school, and everything from housewares to clothes to books to tents to sinks and tubs to boats to cars are up for sale. It's dizzying. Hundreds of volunteers put in I-couldn't-guess-how-many hours during the ten-day setup. I volunteered in the furniture tent, pricing rugs and unloading all kinds of things from the backs of people's trucks. As we finished pricing the last of the rugs, one of the women working in the tent brought over a few more goodies - beautiful handwoven 100% wool rugs from Mexico. Out of gratitude for my help, the pricers cut me a deal and let me take two of them home - a small 2' X 3' one in gorgeous reds, purples, and oranges, and a nice long (albeit narrow) runner with this pattern (but in bold cherry red and a deeper indigo blue). I've handwashed the little rug already and plan to do the same with the big one. As I haven't got a lovely long hallway in which to put it, I think I'll use the runner as a table runner. (Is that silly? It's so thick! And of course, I'm afraid of it getting dirty and having to clean it too often - I don't want to the dyes to wash out or become muted!) It's so lovely, though, and a nice momento of yet another sunny summery day spent on that pretty little island.

Can you believe this is postcard 40 already? Only twelve left ... I've become so used to doing these, it's strange to think of this project ending.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the reddening

In Czech, the word for the month of June is "červen," "the red month," because it is the month in which red things bloom and red fruits ripen. July is "červenec," "the redder month" because even more fruits and flowers are blooming. I'd say what we've got going on in the garden right now fits the bill, though not everything is red. Our strawberries are finally lighting up their slightly-shady garden spot with ruby jewels, the roses are getting ready for their second round of blooming, the black raspberries are ripening, the poppies are actually fading, the dahlias are starting, and the anemones and lilies are fattening up their buds. A time for everything; now is the time for ripening and bounty.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

project 52:39

ink and acrylic on paper

Okay, I really like this one. This one went out late, because of the time involved in making it, and because of everything that was happening last week; I was sketching in the kitchen, between and during rounds of cooking, hoping to send my brother a Midsommar postcard that would arrive right on time, as we were celebrating over here - but, alas, I couldn't quite make it all happen. Oh well, better late than never, eh? But I quite like how it turned out - the sun is taken from a 19th-Century Flammarion engraving (roughly), and I've encircled it with a flower crown of sorts, made of poppies and grasses and roses and peonies and hypericum berries and lavender and daisies and any number of things I thought to put in it.

And now that this is out and a series of meetings and volunteering work that took over the first part of my week are done, it's Thursday and I finally feel like the Midsommar rush is over - and man, am I ever tired. I have a long list to get to today, a freelancing project that I need to finish and mail tomorrow, and another one coming sometime next week. Before it arrives, I'm hoping to really dig in and make a good start on a 30-page article that I pledged to write and edit/shape with my adviser this summer. Things are pretty crazy these days. Summer is like that, though - isn't it? Everything happens all at once, while the sun shines we are superhuman.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

preserved 2014: candied angelica stems

There now, isn't that a pretty sight? And one of my favorites, too: candied angelica stems. I planted two more plants last year, so I could harvest this year - and lucky me, I planted them in a partly shady area. This plant seems to like a bit of shade, and it definitely likes a good drink of water, which makes it an easy plant to grow here in the wet and gloomy Pacific Northwest.

I have a tendency to grab these when I want something sweet, but I'm trying to save a bunch for my fruitcakes this year (so I made two batches - the second one is still drying). A longer version of this recipe can be found in full here, in last year's post. It's a simple, if time-consuming, process. The stalks are harvested before they turn purple at the base. Leaves are removed and they are cut into lengths (whatever you like! I usually do between 3 and 5 inches. They are soaked in cool water for eight hours, then drained. Bring water and baking soda (1 tsp baking soda per quart of water) to a boil; add the stems and cook for five minutes, then shock in an ice bath. Once cool, drain the stalks and peel the outer layer of skin and strings and discard. Bring a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) to boil on the stove. Add the stalks and cook for about 3 minutes. Allow to cool, uncovered, on the stove. When completely cool, cover and place in the refrigerator for two days. After two days, remove the stalks, and bring the syrup back to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and return the stems to the syrup. Allow to cool, uncovered. When cool, cover and replace in refrigerator. After two more days, take out the pan, remove the stalks, and bring the syrup to a boil for a third time. This time, add the stalks and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, drain the stalks, and place on a baking sheet (or this year, I'm using the drying racks of my food dehydrator) and allow to stand for about 4 days until they are mostly dry. Pack into a jar and store away from heat and light.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

first fruits foraged 2014: salmonberries and strawberries (of the frais de bois variety)

Ah, last night! I'm sorry! I was scrubbing chair cushions and the front walk, managed to squeeze in my workout before Cass got home from work, started dinner while he went out for a short 15-minute session on the elliptical, then he came back and we ate and I was asleep maybe 30 minutes later. Woof! Such a day!

Today, not so much. The cool mornings make it hard to get up the motivation and I admit, I'm having one of those days when the unemployment situation really gets me down. It's hard to keep one's chin up. But let's not talk about that. It does no one any good and I'm doing my very best to keep myself cheered up today.

Instead, let's look at these beautiful ruby-red berries, shall we? I thought today merited a two-fer, seeing as I missed yesterday's second post (but I *did* take more pictures - and more today, too; if my improvised plan for dinner tonight turns out tasty - and not gross - I'll share the recipe tomorrow). The top is salmonberry jam. Not a lot of salmonberry jam, but a few jars. I also put one 12-ounce jar in the fridge for Saturday's panna cotta, which we'll serve with the alpine strawberry/wild strawberry/frais de bois (whatever you want to call it) compote below. There really is nothing like an alpine strawberry: they're tiny, and just packed with an unbelievable amount of natural sugar. They make a nice contrast to the panna cotta (which is slightly sour, owing to the inclusion of buttermilk in the recipe), and such a nice taste of the wilds. This is a big half-gallon jar. I actually canned and processed the strawberries this year, since we picked them two weeks before the party and I didn't want to risk the berries - or the compote - going off before the big event. I've been storing them in the fridge, though I suppose there's no real need to. I just feel weird having canned something with so very much space left in the jar.

Alright. More tomorrow! I will continue to be dutiful and get back on top of things around here! Keep your fingers crossed that dinner isn't a disaster - sometimes, when I experiment, it's not successful. I hope, based on the number of hours I've already put in today, that this isn't one of those times!