Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guest post: Making cross-stitched gifts, and throwing yourself a bone too

My friend is getting married in two weeks. She's an old-timey kind of gal, and her husband's an old-timey kind of guy. In the best possible ways, they seem to keep things pretty simple, and don't worry too much about things that won't matter in a month, if you know what I mean. In other words, they're solid people for whom I have a great deal of time and affection! Love, people!

For their wedding present, I am cross-stitching them something. In trying to figure out what I was going to make, a lot of things came to mind, but the cross-stitch idea seemed the most appropriate because it suits them, it will fit in at their house, and they will appreciate the effort. Over the years I have given hand made things to people who don't recognize the EFFORT. Sorry, people who didn't realize it, but those days are over! Not only is a lot of time involved, but you're putting your body on the line a bit more when you have to hold a hoop or needles or whatever for dozens of hours.

Enter my newest friend. The stitching frame! This great birthday present (thank you Mom!) has only just been assembled, but I can already feel the relief, and I'm sure next time I go for a massage, I won't get as many sighs and grumbles as my massage-guy goes in under my arm where all of that tension from HOLDING SOMETHING UP AND STILL for hours goes. I mean, check that out people. That wooden arm IS INSTEAD OF MY OWN ARM!


Monday, August 25, 2008

One night in Dublin, one night in Zurich

Things I remember about one night in Dublin: drinking Guinness (and stumbling upon the bar that I went to with my cousin Averil during my first visit); finding the viking church at night; watching people walk to work beside the beautiful canal outside our bed and breakfast; and feeling so at home that we imagined ourselves attending school at Trinity College one day.

Things I remember about one night in Zurich: seeing the largest clocks in Europe, hearing bells from said clocks, thinking that those really aren't great attractions; and eating Swiss-style sushi.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Guest post: Making socks

Last night I embarked on what I suspect will be a very satisfying quest: knitting my own socks! And maybe your own socks! Keep your eyes on the Christmas tree friends, because so far, with Robin's excellent guidance, this has been a really fun tube knitting time. It's light, small, and the sock yarn! So many colours! They make their own stripes! Hard to resist, so I resist no longer.

I will keep you posted as I approach the hard part...turning the heel!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Guest post: Making sure it works for a long time

Wasn't that funny how I snuck Radiohead onto this, Erin's craft blog? !!?!?!??!??! I couldn't resist. And I have to reiterate: watching proficiency in rock makes me want to become more proficient in non-rock. No offense to rock, of course.

One of the things that I think is important to let yourself relax and focus on your ideas is to have tools that work. Growing up, every Halloween I watched my mom suffer at the foot of her sewing machine, with it's weird tension and bobbin problems, breaking needles and eating fabric. She always managed to make us really hot (and warm) costumes, but always in spite of the devilish machine.

The above is a photo of my sewing machine following a service. I have owned my sewing machine for 8 years or so, and have never had it serviced. I've never used it as much as I have in the past year and a half, but still! It was starting to act out a little, and I started to wonder whether a special love-up wasn't in order. I carted it off about a month ago in it's green case, and the whole thing was sort of reminiscent of taking our cat to the kennel before a vacation. Where was our beloved creature going for 10 days?! Would Those People be nice?

When I got it back, it had that test swatch still engaged, presser foot down, with every stitch that it can do in yellow thread one next to the other. Presumably it's a final tension check and not really that big of a deal, but I LOVED IT! It felt like a gold star or a seal or a stamp of approval - a sign that my machine was ready to face the world. Or rather, ready to face me and my random, well-intentioned demands!

Future plan: learning to do some basic servicing myself!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guest post: Making the effort

Photo from Gorilla vs Bear

Last night I saw Radiohead. They are my favourite band. I've seen them three times previously over the years, one in particular with a rather fantasy-like back story.

Every show ends up being a special one, and last night's was no exception. It was my birthday you see, and I was struck during Karma Police by how important Radiohead has been to me for over a decade - my entire twenties. Without going on and on, I had a chance to step out of things for a minute and take a bit of stock about the passage of time, and the inspiring products of doing your best not just for a week or two, but OVER TIME.

Watching people who are great at what they do is one of my favourite things. I get full of sorts of feelings, like how impressive the mountain of effort is that yielded that ability or song or object or idea or whatever. 'How many hours did that take to learn, Jonny Greenwood?', I think to myself. ('Awesome!', I also think.) Also, I'm so proud of them/happy for them for their accomplishments! A very 'Check out the fruits of your labours!/Thank you for the fruits of your labours' kind of thing. The fruits of passion! Passionfruits!

No one is exempt from this - everyone from the amazing kids on PBS on Saturday morning to Radiohead to Elephant Island to all of us, as you know, we all have our passionfruits.

Let us take heart then, and inspiration from our favourites, whoever they are. One of the best parts of making things for me is making the effort, and not necessarily the result. Which would explain why I have so many unfinished baby sweaters littering the house.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Northern Ireland from Siena

Even though I was encouraged to take a break from the blog while on holiday, I can't stay away. Today I will share a few photos from Ireland, but I'll leave it at that. I foresee a lot of reflecting once I get home.

This is my favorite photo from Northern Ireland. As you will see from the photo below, Ireland is THAT green. It's green because it rains ALL the time. We spent two days in Templepatrick, which is near Belfast, and five days in Portrush, a vacation town on the north coast. All of the family time, including the wedding, was wonderful. The only bad parts were the jet lag (which I suffered from more than the others) and the stress my poor dad experienced as he drove us around. None of us wanted to share the responsibility.

Sheep! Another Irish cliché that is based on truth.

We took this photo at Ballintoy Harbour, a place that I visited during my solo trip to Ireland 10 years ago. I was happy to have a buddy with me this time around.

There's too much to capture in this one post, so maybe I'll tell you about our Black Cab tour of Belfast and our trip to Derry another time. Maybe not.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Guest post: Making those cookies from the New York Times

So, a recipe whose primary feature is waiting for 36 hours posed a few problems for me at first. Here is a list of some of them:

1. You have to wait!
2. You can't make them in the middle of the week (well, you can't bake them in the middle of the week).
3. You have to wait!
4. Also, chocolate discs? No.

It says you can store the dough up to 72 hours, which would fix problem 2, but only makes problems 1 and 3 a bit worse!

Still, I had recently made some cookies with the 'old reliable' recipe on the bag of chips, and they were NOT good. For some reason, the recipe had been changed, REMOVING THE SALT. And they were pretty terrible. As this new recipe insists, salt is key. I concur.

So, basically I was in the chocolate chip cookie desert when this recipe oasis appeared, and I had to check it out! What if it solved all of my problems? What if I gained a new solid move that yields one of my favourite things?

Making a half recipe, which I did, involved a few 1/8 teaspoons and things like that, but I think my math is solid because THESE COOKIES ARE SOOOOOOOOOOOOO DELICIOUS.

I did deviate from the recipe a bit. It calls for a hilarious amount of chocolate discs. I used nice chips (Ghiardelli milk chocolate), but no discs in sight. I think I might have used half of the called-for amount. I also made these a bit smaller than I think the recipe calls for. Five inch cookies seemed a bit too big to me.

This being said, I didn't deviate with the two types of flour as many have in their experiments, since cake flour does have a magical ability to make things delicate. Also, the salt really is great. It's fun to sprinkle on top before you bake, and if you miss a bit it just goes on the parchment paper and gets baked into the bottom of the cookie, which to me is a great feature.

They are delicious warm, and I made small batches right away, at 24 hours, and at 36 hours. I haven't eaten one cold, or even cool, but I'm sure they are good too.

I have to say, the second and third batches were better, in that they did seem to have that toffee-ish thing they claim the rest time provides. The only real difference between these two later batches was that I baked the second batch a little less, ie, they weren't (the tiniest bit) burnt. A good feature for sure.

Make these. They are worth it. And if you can't wait, Michael says that the dough is a cut above as well.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Keeping in touch

I have tentative plans to update this blog while I'm away. I also have plans to send a few post cards. Let's see what happens!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Guest post: Making apricot jam

I'm one of the friends that Erin mentioned who makes jam, and I have to admit that I am eager to seduce her with the whole process. It's not hard if you follow a few rules, and the results are disproportionate to the effort in my mind. The beauty of the jam, the satisfying 'pops!' when the jars seal, and the jam! It is, of course, delicious. A whole other beast from store-bought.

In no case is this more true than for apricot jam. I'm not crazy about apricots in their off-the-tree state. They seem kind of dry, and boring in the non-pastry context, and when faced with the seasonal alternatives like peaches and berries, I'm left with a feeling of 'who gives?' when faced with the notion of eating an apricot.

I had never bought an apricot until last summer, when I decided, for some reason, to make apricot jam. I had been making other jams, like strawberry and raspberry, and I guess I was more game to give it a try. When I bought the amount I needed and it cost TWO DOLLARS, I excitedly trundled home, full of suspicion that I might really be onto something.

Then, the preparation. MINIMAL! You wash them, slice them in half, take the pits out,'re done! It takes no time. The features of this endeavour were becoming irrefutable.

I used this recipe. Again, not sure why, but I'm glad I did. Basically, once you prepare the apricots, you put them in a pot with sugar and lemon juice (and zest if you have real lemons. I've only ever used organic lemon juice) and gently boil them down. The skins dissolve. And flesh of the fruit breaks down. and a beautiful orange goo emerges.

A delicious beautiful orange goo.

I'm not going to go into the intricacies of the canning process here, but I would like to reassure everyone that you can do it! And it's fun, and when winter rolls around, and you spoon some of this onto toast, you will never look at that twoonie in your bag the same way again.

PS: Erin! Have a great vacation! I'm sure we are all excited to hear your tales!