Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm addicted to roasted strawberries!

I think I have a problem. No. I'm pretty sure I know I have a problem. I've eaten ... um ... I think I've eaten almost four pounds of strawberries in the past three days. All of them roasted.  Oh my gosh, you guys, these are so delicious!

I used this recipe from Dimity Jones of Three to One. It's very simple, just mix up 4 tablespoons of brown sugar and one 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for every pound of strawberries you're going to roast. Wash strawberries, pat them dry, then cut off the green tops and toss them in the sugar mixture. Place them in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet (I just laid down parchment, since my baking sheets don't have a nonstick coating), and place in a 250° Fahrenheit (120° Celsius) oven for 2 hours. And that's it - no stirring needed. Just walk away, enjoy the tantalizing smell that fills your house, and then eat these delicious berries!

I actually think Dimity Jones' recipe makes a bit more sugar/balsamic than you need. I used about 2/3 this much sugar/vinegar for my second batch. I got less syrup out of the deal, but I don't actually feel like I need to eat that much brown sugar - you know?

The strawberries hold their shape through the baking; when they come out, they're soft, and the seeds are sticking out a bit, but they aren't totally mushy.

And how do they taste? Like strawberry jam. Warm strawberry jam. Soooo delicious. You've got to try this.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

a postcard ... for somebody else!

We invited some new friends over for dinner and board games a couple of weeks ago. It was fun. They actually sent us a thank-you card afterward. I think Cass and I were both a little intimidated. "Oh. So that's how we do this?" (I mean, c'mon. This is Seattle. People wear jeans to the opera. We've made four-course dinners and then eaten them - with guests - in front of the TV, while watching a movie, noshing out of a communal bowl of truffled cauliflower risotto...things are different out here. Casual.)

So, last week they reciprocated: we went over to their place for dinner and games. Great food, great drinks, fun game. They gave us a little plastic bear as a kind of ... gee, I don't know. Favor? Joke? - to remember the dinner by.

"Hipster battle!" I joked to Cass. I pulled out one of those leftover marbleized postcards and made a thank-you-postcard featuring the bear. With a bunting. Because, you know, it's cute.

Okay, it's really cute. I made a high-res scan before sending the card, and I'm thinking of printing six- or eight-packs of these and including them in the Months and Years shop. What do you think? Would they sell?

(Also, still working on the second Months and Years dress. I will NOT cover the rest of the clothes in time-consuming appliques. But it's beautiful! And I'm getting there! Photos in a few weeks, I hope!) =)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

project 52:35

nail polish on watercolor paper

Yeah, that's right. Nail polish. I'd been wanting to try this nail polish marbling technique that I'd been reading about on the interwebs and by this point in the project, I was looking forward to an "easy" week for a change, something that might not be quite so time consuming, demanding of energy and focus. I admit it: I slacked. A bit.

The nail polish tutorial is a nightmare. I don't think I'll be doing it again. The smell is crazy, I struggled to get any kind of control over the nail polish - and when the tutorials tell you you have "seconds," as in, perhaps you might have two full seconds in order to pour AND swirl the nail polish, they are lying through their teeth! Or - more likely - I just never hit the "sweet spot" in terms of the water temp. Or maybe I don't have the right kind of polish for this. Needless to say, it was not quite so easy nor so quick as I'd hoped. But I did end up with a big fistful of crazy marbleized cards, and I've already turned one into a bizarre thank-you note, which I'll share here in a few days. This was my favorite one, above, so of course it was the one I sent.

I have some flowers and recipes to share with you before the week is out, too! The generous season is upon us and I already feel like I'm struggling to keep up with everything. I started my first batch (who knows? I might do more than one this year) of candied angelica today, too. I was surprised how much I enjoyed getting to be around the scent of that plant again. It's definitely a favorite!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

before the storm

The air is stale and still and the humidity's been increasing, palpably, for hours.The sky turned a dark blue - but it wasn't the sky, it was storm clouds gathering in the east. A flat, deep blue - you could almost mistake it for an evening sky, after sunset (but the sun hadn't set yet). The birds are quiet. Everything is waiting.

The storm is due any moment, and it's due to last all weekend and into next week. So, before the rain could spoil my beauties, I gathered them in (some of them, at least): Gertrude Jekyll and Evelyn (both David Austins), Morden Sunrise and some pretty pink thing whose name I've forgotten (I feel like a jerk! Maybe Fragrant Dream, or something like that?). After snapping this picture, I noticed some nice big blooms on the little Knockout rose I've been nursing back to health; I went out and cut a stem with a gorgeous, perfect red bloom and three little tight buds and stuffed it in the vase as well.

I also cut big swaths of avens roses and tucked them into vases and jars around the house; it feels like summer, however dark and lowering the sky, with flowers gleaming in every corner. The best season, the generous season, is upon us. (And if I forget it, I'll have the flowers to remind me - at least, until the sun returns next week!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


In this year's second installment of preserved flowers: candied lilac blossoms. I never realized you could candy lilacs; honestly, I always thought they were poisonous! But then I saw Chelsea's post about infusing drinking water with lilac blossoms, and that got me thinking. A little digging turned up plenty of recipes for candied lilacs - and the process was the same as one uses to candy other flower blossoms or petals: a dip in egg, and a dip in sugar, then allow to dry.

A few tips for the lilacs:

I did go out and buy dried egg whites to make these. Dried egg whites will be a bit less gelatinous when you mix them up, and that's ideal when coating delicate flower blossoms - you just want the thinnest coating of egg white. I also read that using dried egg whites eliminates any risk of salmonella, so that's a nice bonus. I found a little tub of powdered egg white at the home cake decorating store near my house for $13; it was a bit more than I'd been expecting, but oh well!

I also made superfine sugar for this, by running regular sugar through my coffee grinder for a few seconds. I think this step is important, too: just like the powdered egg whites, finer sugar means you can get a smoother coating of the blossoms (so that the shape and color of the blossoms won't be overwhelmed by a coating of thick crystals).

Otherwise, it's very simple to candy lilacs, though it's time consuming (I must have spent about 7 hours candying two and a half pans of lilacs over two days): rinse and pat your blossoms dry and remove blossoms from the stems/bunches. Using a pair of clean tweezers, dunk a lilac bloom into lightly beaten egg white (or reconstituted powdered egg whites). Tap the blossom lightly on a paper towel, twice, to remove excess egg white. Next, tap your blossom (face down) into a bowl of superfine sugar 3 or 4 times. Sprinkle sugar over the back of the bloom, then pick it up again (still using your tweezers). Tap your tweezers against the side of the bowl about three times, with some pressure, to shake excess sugar loose from the bloom. Place on a tray or pan lined with paper towels, face down, to dry overnight. A heavier coating of egg white will require an extra day to dry.

Once dry, carefully remove the blooms from the paper towel - they may stick a bit; gently work them loose, being careful not to break the petals (if you do break one, you must eat it! Darn!). Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place (exposing the blooms to light will cause their fragrance to fade faster). They will last for some months, though the scent and flavor will fade over time  - so, ideally, use them soon after making them!

How do they taste? They taste just like lilacs smell. It's marvelous! Cass says they taste a bit like peeps, with a floral finish. (I've never had one of those marshmallowy treats, so I can't vouch for this, but two of our friends exclaimed he was right, so there might be something to that observation!) They're delightful, and delicate. Imagine them sprinkled over a cake with other flowers - or cupcakes, or floating atop a floral cocktail, or garnishing a panna cotta (this is what I want to do with them!). =)

Monday, May 19, 2014

project 52:34

ink on watercolor paper
prints available here

Back on track and back on schedule - I missed a week, several weeks ago, and while I thought I'd be able to crank out two cards in a week, it didn't happen; rather, I managed to squeeze three cards over two weeks. Here's the second Woolf postcard of the summer. I've dogeared so many pages, and underlined so many passages that I could easily create nothing but Woolf cards for the rest of this project. I won't, of course, but I could. And I love how this self-portrait-with-Woolf turned out.

I loved this line, the sense of fullness and anticipation, and the idea of one's life as a kind of storehouse of days that must be dipped into, and run out eventually. But here, as I wrestle with the strain of unemployment (on our finances, on my self-esteem, on my happiness) and the frustration of the slow process of trying to shift career paths, I have recently been reminded that there are plenty of folks out there who look at me and see a person who is still very young. They don't see worries about the crippling six figures of student debt, they don't see exhaustion and burnout, they don't see grief over lost compass; they see a woman who has scarcely broken into her hoard. And I'm working to see that, too, to shift my own perspective as I wrench this train of my life onto a new track - or rather, perhaps I am shifting back to an old track. So much lately feels like settling back into habits, music, interests, pursuits, the person I was 10 years ago - the last time I was unemployed and searching for work, in fact. (And yes, once again, my fresh start began with freelance work. Hum.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

project 52:33

acrylic on paper

The only time I've ever been to Snoqualmie Falls was in the autumn of 2001. I was upset about something - probably the frustrations of trying to find a job and worries over what I'd do when the money finally ran out - and Cass made a detour on our way home from Index one day. It was a sunny, dry day. Leaves that had fallen early had dried in the gutters and crackled underfoot. The sun winked through the trees as we turned down these winding country roads. He wouldn't tell me where we were going. It was a surprise. And what a surprise. I recognized it immediately - from the picture on the paper bag of pancake mix that my parents always bought (when they weren't buying Bob's Red Mill buckwheat pancake mix, that is).  It cheered me right up.

So last week, when I found myself nursing a grief-hangover from the first anniversary of Herb's death, Cass took me again. What a difference this time - as we headed toward the pass, the sun faded into a haze of clouds, and at the falls, everything was green, pale, misty. I have been thinking lately about how the Irish language has a word - glas - that means both "grey" and "green." It makes sense, if you think about their climate - and ours, too. Though perhaps we need a word for "blue" and "grey" instead. Still, the environment was all glas at the Falls: all misting, dripping, grey-green, steam rising from the green forests and twining with the lowering grey clouds.

It rained - I wouldn't say it was quite pouring, but there was plenty of rain. We mingled, stoically and without umbrellas - like any self-respecting Seattleite - amidst the handful of tourists braving the wet for photo and video ops. We took the new (since we'd been there) path down to the water, and walked along the embankment. It was lovely.

And while I wouldn't say it cheered me right up (te heartache of grief is a harder one to ease, I think, than money worries), it did give me solace and ease the hurt. Oh, those magic falls.

Hm. Suddenly I want pancakes for breakfast.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

pickled cherry blossoms

Last year, I pinned pictures from Gardenista's lovely DIY post about how to make traditional Japanese pickled sakura, or cherry blossoms. They looked so beautiful and sounded so interesting, but I found her post after the cherry blossoms had fallen for the year, and I wanted to remember to try it again when I got a chance this year. I almost missed my chance - again! But one afternoon, late in the cherry blossom season, as I looked out and admired my neighbours' gorgeous cherry tree, covered in pink blossoms, I suddenly remembered those photos. I immediately called them to ask if I could come over and pick some blossoms to pickle. They laughed, "yes, of course you may. Please take as many blossoms as you would like!" (When we first moved in to this house, our neighbours were so surprised to see me using a sewing machine that they would stop and ask (through the open kitchen window) what I was making every time I hauled it out. After more than three years together, they no longer are surprised by anything: there are new portraits being painted out on the deck all through the summer, traditional marmalades and pickles being made all through the year, I set racks of calendula blossoms out to dry in the sun ... they're used to it all now! (But they still laugh!)

So, the next morning, I hustled out to pick a big tub of blossoms, as I read we had a week-long storm due to set in by mid-morning. The best flowers to use are ones are not fully-opened yet, so that their perfume has not faded. You can include the stems and even some of the young leaves, though I didn't want to remove leaves from my neighbours' tree, so I only picked blossoms.

 First they had to be soaked overnight in cool water to kill any bugs that might be in them and release any dirt or detritus...

... and then they had to be gently set out to drip dry (above).

After that, it was time to get ready to salt. The proportions in Gardenista's recipe are loose: you put a layer of salt in the bottom of a vessel, and start putting in blossoms, adding generous handfuls of salt as you go (she estimates that you should use about 1 cup of salt per gallon of blossoms).

It looks like snow, doesn't it? So pretty. Then the blossoms are gently weighted: I fit a plate in on top of them and added a jar of pie weights, to press them into the brine created by the salt. Then the entire bowl needs to be placed in a cool, dark place for four days. Mine went into a cupboard that buts up against the uninsulated back wall of our house; it's always cool in there, no matter what I do in the kitchen!

After four days, you pour off the brine and then pack the blossoms (which have considerably less volume at this point!) in a bowl with enough umeboshi (or "ume" or "ume plum") vinegar to cover. This was the only challenge in the process: I went down to Uwajimaya and they were entirely out of ALL umeboshi vinegar! We tried a few other import shops before I finally found some at Central Market in Shoreline. Whew! I didn't see that coming! Lesson learned: acquire your ume vinegar in advance, kids!

The blossoms are weighted (again) to keep them submerged in the vinegar and go back into the cupboard (or other cool, dark place) for three more days.

Then it's time to dry! Gardenista stipulates that the blossoms should be spread on a bamboo rack to dry. Lacking that, I realized I could use the trays from the food dehydrator my parents got me for Christmas. (Perfect! Thanks, Mom!)  To keep bugs from getting into them, I draped flour sack towels over them, so that air could still circulate around them.

The blossoms are supposed to be dried for about 24 hours, until they are a little leathery and not wet anymore. I went for about 48 hours (it's so damp here in Seattle)!

And here's the final result! Aren't they pretty? And how do they taste? They're salty, but also kind of fruity, and they have a lovely cherry floral quality (yes, like almond extract!) that fills your palette.

The blossoms are packed in salt and stored in the refrigerator. Gardenista says you can also let some of the blossoms dry out completely and grind them with salt to make sakura salt. I'm going to do that - I even have some Himalayan pink sea salt that I can use, so that it will all be a lovely pink color!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

project 52:32

ink and acrylic on paper
prints available here
Once again, I had the most colorful of intentions: this tulip is a brilliant flame red streaked with yellow; even its leaves are striped with purple and white! And yet, as soon as I got started, I wanted to play around with ink - and I liked the monochromatic blue-greys and green-greys in the ink so well that I decided just to leave it at that (but with a few white highlights from acrylic paint brushed over the ink, to maximize the contrast). I think I can chalk the monochromatic approach lately up to the weather; we've had a handful of beautiful sunny days, but by and large, most of the days have been typical damp, grey-green days around here, days that make me feel like living in the NW is like living in a perpetually dripping terrarium.

That probably doesn't sound very attractive, but I like it, just like I like wool and warm clothes and bundling up; goodness knows, I get plenty of opportunity to do that here!

I have nowhere to go tomorrow, and I promise to share my latest kitchen experiment: pickled cherry blossoms! They're very neat!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

happy beltane!

It's May 1. On the old European agrarian schedule, this is the start of summer (and hence, the solstice is called "midsummer," and the winter solstice "midwinter"). It's a festival of flowers, those gorgeous precursors of the harvest. I wasn't even thinking about this this morning; as I watered the garden, I picked a few loose  blooms (bleeding hearts, bluebells, avens roses, lilacs) and tucked them together into this vase, loose and free and a little wild - like Beltane itself!

However you measure out the seasons of your year, it's a gorgeous sunny and warm day here in Seattle, and it could feel more like summer. Happy Thursday! Happy day!