Monday, March 31, 2008

Dance party procrastination

This is my last week of university classes! I have some assignments due next week and an exam the following week, but things are winding down and the end is in sight. Mini dance parties are helping me cope with the stress. My music of choice? Neon Neon! The latest project by Gruff Rhys! Listen to Raquel if you want to dance around your computer like me. Then read what Pitchfork has to say about Neon Neon. You should know that their debut album, Stainless Style, is based on the life of John Delorean (you know: the guy who designed the time traveling car in Back to the Future).

When I'm not doing homework, applying for jobs or dancing, I'm watching dance crews on TV. Michael and I just finished watching America's Best Dance Crew. My favorite crew was Kaba Modern, but my favorite dance routine is the one posted here. I'm not a fan of the JabbaWockeeZ masks, nor is this my favorite Michael Jackson song, but wow. They were Michael's favorite dance crew, for the record.

UPDATE: The video is no longer available on YouTube do to Viacom copyright blah blah blah, and the American MTV website won't show videos to people outside of the US, so you'll have to watch these two little dudes doing the routine instead. I think you'll get the drift.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making cupakes

I made cupcakes! I've been eating too many sweets lately (I have a soft spot for Easter candy), so I gave most of them away, but the few that I did eat were delicious. I found the recipe on The Joy of Baking. I like this website because of the beautiful pictures, the thorough instructions (my icing turned out perfect, for once) and the contextual information that Stephanie Jaworski provides. Did you know the term cupcake originally referred to a cake where the ingredients were measured instead of weighed? I didn't. Also, I just found out that the site has been around since 1997. Did the Internet even exist back then?

I picked this recipe for vanilla cupcakes because it called for lemon zest. This was the deciding factor for two reasons. First, I've recently fallen in love with a lemon zester that I got for Christmas. Thanks Mom! Second, my friend Zoe T. gave me a cute little greenhouse lemon on Saturday, and I could think of no better way to use it. Thanks Zoe!

I decided to make the recommended buttercream frosting, although I was tempted by the suggestion to make royal icing. I'll try that next time. I also want to try colouring my icing with beet juice, but this time I just used the food colouring I had on hand. I wanted pink icing for festive purposes, but according to the back of the box, food colouring also adds appetite appeal to things like milk shakes (like they need any help) and pickles (that's right).

I've noticed that there are a lot of websites dedicated to cupcakes, such as Cupcakes Take the Cake ("the #1 blog about cupakes"), and a lot of cupcake-only bakeries, such as Cupcakes in Vancouver. I like cupcakes and all, but really? Why so much fuss? Maybe the artistic component of cupcakes has something to do with it. I know I had fun decorating mine with my new dollar-store piping bag (which I will be upgrading in the near future), but I am pretty sure I will never go this far.

Spring bun

The UVic buns don't hold still for very long, so this picture is a prize. This little guy reminds me of my favourite passage from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami:
* * * * *
"I really like you, Midori. A lot."
"How much is a lot?"
"Like a spring bear," I said.
"A spring bear?" Midori looked up again. "What's that all about? A spring bear."
"You're walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, 'Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?' So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other's arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?"
"Yeah. Really nice."
"That's how much I like you."
* * * * *
That's how much I like you, even if I didn't get a chance to give you any of the cupcakes I made for Things Worth Making on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bring Your Own Champagne

When we were in Seattle, I finally had the opportunity to buy these mini cans of champagne - a product brought to us by Sofia Coppola. I had tentative plans to buy them for many years, but I don't think they are available in Canada. I found them at my favourite grocery store: Whole Foods.

I don't like champagne very much, but these pink cans made my homework go down easier for a couple of reasons. First, they are ridiculous. Second, they contain alcohol. I wish I had one right now.

Oh yeah. I made earrings. I wrote about them on Things Worth Making.

Making earrings

I've only scratched the surface of this craft, but I still want to write about it because I'm excited by its potential. As you know, I visited my local bead store recently. As I was browsing around for charm bracelet supplies, I was drawn to the hardware for making earrings. I've made dangly earrings before, after buying the hooks at a similar bead store, so I shouldn't have been surprised that earring posts and backs are also available for purchase. I was. Then the wheels in my head started turning, and I realized that all I needed was a glue gun (check), the hardware that I was eyeing (check) and something to glue to the hardware to get my hands on a new pair of earrings. After a quick glance around the bead store for something appropriate, I found some yellow aquarium stones and hustled home to experiment with my new craft. Voilà: I made the earrings pictured above in two minutes.

Aren't you excited by the possibilities? I want to make a pair of earrings with a googly eye on each post for my sister. She has two piercings in one of her ears, so they could be worn side-by-side. Do you see what I'm getting at? I assume she'd be up for this type of jewelry; she's been known to sport an earring made out of a bobbin from a sewing machine. That earring gets so many compliments from fellow sewers that I think I may have to copy her and make a pair of my own.

I made these dangly earrings a few years ago. They use the same supplies as the charm bracelets, but are much easier to make. If I were to make this type of earring again, I would first make these beads from recycled newspaper, as featured on A Storybook Life.

I guess what I'm getting at is that you can and should make earrings out of anything. Let's all take a cue from these vintage resistor earrings that were featured on the Craft Magazine blog.

If you don't have time to make earrings, I suggest you buy some that someone else has made. I've had tentative plans to buy a pair from Art School Dropout for years, and I'm also tempted by the treats made by my buddy Jesse. I like this pair. They are made from vintage enamel horse pendants on antique brass French-style ear wires, but sadly they are sold out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Who says women aren't funny?

A year ago I made a website for a class project that responded to the Vanity Fair article Why women aren't funny by Christopher Hitchens. You can find the old website here, but I can't promise you that the YouTube videos are still up and running. I'm not really trying to get you to visit my old website though; I'm just trying to jog your memory, because I'm pleased to report that the magazine finally published an article that presents my point of view: Women are funny. I think you should read Who says women aren't funny? even if you know there is nothing to debate. There are some great photos in the print version, so make sure you look at those while you're in line to pay for your groceries. Aren't you exited about Baby Mama? The Tina Fey & Amy Poehler buddy movie? I am, even though Michael and I weren't impressed by the preview.

Oh yeah, one last thing: Vanity Fair focusses on 12 notable female comedians, even though they mention many more in the full article. Let's compare their shortlist to mine:

My shortlist: Amy Sedaris, Catharine O'Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Margaret Cho, Samantha Bee, Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Wanda Sykes (+ Parker Posey, but I didn't include her in my website because I ran out of time).

Vanity Fair's shortlist*: Sandra Bernhard, Susie Essman, Tina Fey, Jenna Fischer, Chelsea Handler, Leslie Mann, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, Kristen Wiig.

*Click on this link to see short interviews with each comedian that aren't included in the print issue of the magazine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

You can thank procrastination for the new colours

I'm drowning in my last political science essay today. I've been working on it for days and it will not go away! I barely managed to write my Wednesday post for Things Worth Making, but I persevered and it's really good. I think. Also, I somehow found time to change the colours on this blog. Procrastination is a strange beast, friends.

Making charm bracelets

The Spring 2003 issue of Bust Magazine taught me how to make chunky charm bracelets. I started to make one when I got the magazine in my mail box five years ago, but I didn't finish it until last year. I finished my second bracelet, the one pictured above, yesterday.

I'm already scheming about my next bracelet, so hopefully it takes me less than a year to finish. It helps that I actually visited my local bead store to get some new inspiration; my first two bracelets were made from material that I've had kicking around for years.

I also found some inspiration on the Internet. I really like the designs by Jodi Bloom, especially this custom bracelet, which is loaded up with treats. She sells her jewelery on her retail website So Charmed, and this interview for StyleMaven suggests she was also inspired by the Bust article pictured above. She's just like me, except she's turned her inspiration into a lucrative career.

My favorite Internet discovery is this bracelet by Wise Craft. I love the homemade fabric charms! I can make my own charms!

I also like this two tone bracelet by Miss Kerry Turner because it's so contrary to the multicoloured array of charm bracelets I've come across. I think various shades of the same colour would work too.

Do you want to know how to make your own charm bracelet? I tracked down some basic instructions for those of you that don't have a stack of Bust magazines to search through, but I think you should just gather the supplies together and start experimenting.

This is what you need:
> Pliers are used to manipulate the head pins and jump rings so they connect to the chain. Round nose pliers are ideal for this type of project, but I managed to make my first bracelet with trusty old needle nose pliers from my tool box.
> A wire cutter is needed to cut the head pins and the chain down to the right length. Most needle nose pliers have a built-in wire cutter.
> Your chain must be chunky enough to handle all of your charms and beads. Cut it so it fits loosely around your wrist, and add a fastener of your choice with your pliers.
> Head pins and jump rings will allow you to attach your beads and charms to your chain. Buy them in bulk because you never know how many you'll need; some of you might be satisfied with 20 attachments per bracelet, but others will add as many as 80. I only used 40 in the bracelet pictured above.
> Collect a bunch of beads and charms for your bracelet. You can see from the photos and the links that many bracelets follow some sort of theme or colour palette, but you should want do whatever you want. Right?

Now go! And remember to add your suggestions, because I'm new at this.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The truth about Cadbury Crème Eggs*

*Where I explore a couple of the controversies surrounding my favorite Easter treat

Controversy 1: Size
I only became aware of this issue when I did some cursory Internet research about Cadbury Crème Eggs a couple of weeks ago. It seems that the American egg became smaller last year, and the issue exploded online after actor BJ Novak (he plays Ryan in The Office) complained about it on Late Night with Conan O'Brian (the video is no longer available on YouTube).

At the time, this is was the response on the Cadbury Schweppes website (Internet archive):
Why has the size of the egg changed?
It hasn't - you've just grown up!

This is what the Cadbury Schweppes website says now:
If you're eating a Cadbury Crème Egg in the UK or Canada - nothing has changed, they're the same size as ever. However, in the United States, our business partner, Hershey, elected to reduce the size of the crème egg.

Thank goodness I live in Canada! Thank goodness I live in Victoria, where I can buy British Cadbury Crème Eggs at The English Sweet Shop. Read on to find out why.

Controversy 2: Taste
It was obvious to me that a taste test is the only way to discover the true difference between the British and the Canadian Egg:

No, I didn't eat two eggs in one sitting. I needed a second opinion, and Michael grudgingly accepted the challenge.

We determined that the British egg (on the left) isn't as sweet as its Canadian counterpart. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the British preference for more cream and less sugar in their chocolate. Also, the filling isn't as runny. The Canadian egg has an icing sugar flavour, and not surprisingly, the chocolate tastes/feels a little waxy.

I'm sure you won't be shocked to find out that I prefer the British egg, but I have realized that the quality of the product has little to do with my opinion. These are the eggs that used to be available in Canada, and the flavour is all nostalgia for me. I can't remember the precise year, but at some point in the 1990s the British eggs were pulled from our shelves. My infatuation with the eggs died that year. I don't think it was resurrected until I happened to be in Ireland over the Easter holiday in 1999, and my cousin Keren showed me the light. The British eggs taste like my childhood. Now I haunt the afore mentioned sweet shop every spring, waiting to fill my annual craving and revisit the past.

Michael, on the other hand, prefers the Canadian egg. I imagine this has something to do with childhood nostalgia too. Sometimes you just like bad chocolate. Like those chocolate bunnies from the drug store. You know? Also, he claims the Canadian egg has a better aftertaste.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Making curtains

I've been planning to make curtains for my office for over a year. I don't know why it took me so long. It's a pretty simple project and the payoff is significant. All of the walls in my apartment are beige, so custom curtains are one of the few ways to add colour to the decor.

One of the things that prevented me from starting the project was finding appropriate material. All I knew is that I wanted something colourful with a big pattern. I originally planned to order fabric designed by Amy Butler from Purl Soho. I even wrote it down in my day planner over a dozen times, but I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea of buying fabric without touching it first. I'm sure this won't be such a big deal once I'm more experienced with different fabric types, but I'm still a beginner and it's unnerving.

I looked at Satin Moon, my local quilting shop. While I found something I liked (a pattern with eagles and tigers!), it would have cost me $80. I didn't visit my local fabric stores because Gala Fabrics is the only one walking distance from my house, and I assumed it wouldn't have anything appropriate. When I was forced to go there to buy new needles for my sewing machine, I found out I was wrong. I'll log that away for next time; my bedroom could use new window coverings too. Another thing that I might try next time is painting fabric with my own designs. How About Orange tried it, and I like the results.

In the end, I used a long curtain panel that I got on sale for $20 from Urban Outfitters (surely this was cheaper than anything I could have found at the fabric store, right?). This made the project especially easy, because I merely cut the panel in half and sewed the unfinished ends.

But even though it was so easy, I ran into a couple of problems that were unavoidable due to my inexperience. First, there was the problem with the needle that I just mentioned. My thread was puckering on my test run, and after I exhausted other possible causes, such as thread tension, I realized the needle, which is meant for sewing heavy fabric like denim, was to blame. Experienced sewers will shake their heads when they read this, but I didn't even realize that needle size was that important until I read my sewing machine manual. Now I know.

The other problem resulted from sheerness of the fabric. I had to pick out and redo one of my seams when I realized that you could see the imperfections during daylight hours. I'm happy that I took the time to fix it, because I know how these details can haunt me.

Even though these curtains were relatively easy, I found them taxing because I have a bunch of school projects piling up. I'm excited to try my hand at other sewing projects once my classes wrap up at the beginning of April.

Tentative plans for sewing

I just wrote about my latest sewing project on Things Worth Making. By "latest" I mean the first one I've tackled in a couple of years. My sewing machine was dusty, and the lady at Gala Fabrics gave me heck for not servicing it before embarking on this project. A new tentative plan! I also have plans to get my scissors sharpened.

Remember how I planned to write about Cadbury Creme Egg controversies? That's going to happen soon! I have one British and one Canadian egg sitting on a shelf, waiting for an official taste comparison. I can't believe I've held off on gobbling them up this long.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Photo update, one of Michael's top 10 ideas of 2008 and a small complaint about Flickr

I've posted new pictures to Flickr. Jen, Tim and baby Kaden recently visited us for a week, and we joined them on a weekend adventure to Seattle. It was tops. There was lots of baby time, lots of walking and lots of good food.

Seattle is a hard city to navigate, even though we've been there quite a few times over the last 10 years, so Michael came up with a handy map idea to help with the driving and the walking. He took digital pictures of key Seattle neighbourhoods on Google maps, and referred to the camera when he needed a guide. He declared it one of his top 10 ideas of 2008. He loves the compact nature of the map (which you can still enlarge at will) and he feels it doesn't mark you as a tourist, like a regular map does. I'm not sure about that last point, but it was handy. He had me save one of the map photos as a commemoration of the trip and his great idea.

If you look at my Flickr photos, you'll see that the photo order is a little mixed up, which is my only complaint about about the program. I read about the problem here, but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to reorder the photos once uploaded. Tell me how you deal with this problem! Or are you just more laid back than me?