Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Just This Side of Sanity, For Now...

There is a sign at my local Fabricland that says "Dear Fabric Store Worker, please stop asking me what I'm going to use this for, I'm running out of ways to say 'It's going into my stash.'" I try very much not to be that person. I am sometimes, I freely admit that; anyone who sews is occasionally going to be. However, I have to keep it under tight control. First it's a bit of fleece bought on sale in the spring, squirrelled away for the next fall. Then it might be a piece of silk twill in an odd colour that I'm sure I'll do something with someday. (I haven't bought this one yet. It stares at me every time I'm at the store, though...) But that way lies a work room that no one but me can walk through and perhaps a brief moment of fame, guest-starring on a future episode of Hoarders.

So I've gotten pretty good at the old self-denial. I don't usually let myself buy aimless fabric; that is, fabric I have no immediate purpose for. There are times when I've bought something for a purpose and then realize I have absolutely no time to work on it. And there are the times when someone (or someone's family member) wants/needs to get rid of some of their stash, and I end up with a whole bunch of fabric I have NO idea what to do with, but it's often too cool or pretty to get rid of. As such, I do have a stash, of course. It's very helpful when I'm working on shows and realize that a piece of fabric I already own is just perfect for someone. It's less helpful when I have to clean up my work room/our guest bedroom because we have guests coming to stay.

The placement of this buttonhole makes me giggle. Possibly more than it should.
However, there are times when I simply must buy a piece of fabric, when it's just so amazing or beautiful or unique and I love it so much I could happily stretch it over a frame and hang it on the wall. I had one of those moments the other day. I'd been eyeing this fabric for a while now, and it was on sale! The most on sale it would likely ever go, too. I went for it. I knew if I didn't, the next time I came by it would be gone and I'd be sad. I don't like making myself sad, so instead I made myself very happy! I mean, come on, look at it! Disney villains in messy makeup on a grey/pink print with spiders? Impossible to look it in the face and say no.

Now, what to do with it? I knew if I put it in my stash it would take years before I got back to it, so I needed to do something ASAP. I have less impulse control when it comes to pattern sales, so I have a somewhat largish collection of untouched patterns. I went through them and found one by Butterick (B6318) for an early 60s dress and decided to give it a try. It turned out super cute, but not for me. It has a really high boat neck, which doesn't flatter me and drives me crazy. Okay, take two.

Love the skirt, but... Seam ripper time!

I have been holding onto a Vogue shirt-dress pattern for years (V8352). I honestly don't think they sell it any more. (note - I just checked the Vogue website and they do not. They actually sell almost the exact same pattern, but it buttons in the back now. Huh.) I've held off on it partly due to previous negative experiences with Vogue (they have a tendency to have mistakes or very confusing directions), but I have to say this one was great. It came together pretty quickly and, like all Vogue patterns, it has some very nice little high-end touches, like the snap at the waistline to keep it from gaping. Plus, it fits beautifully! I didn't have to do any alterations and I really like the fit, especially in the back.
Fancy snap!

And these buttons! How perfect are they?

Tangled vines! Love it!
My husband likes it, but he thinks it should be tighter. Granted, he says that about most of my clothes... :)

I'm so happy I bought this fabric, I'm so happy I took the first dress apart, and I'm so very happy with the final product! Today is a day to celebrate aimless fabric.

But only today, because again, that way lies madness.
I LOVE the back of this dress!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

What, Me Crafty?

Last week, Rowan's teacher sent home a request for hard-boiled eggs. They were to be sent with him today as the class wanted to dye Easter Eggs. He was very excited about this, and naturally Willow wanted in on the excitement. To her dismay, we once again reminded her that she doesn't go to school yet. Sadness ensued.... Then I had a brilliant idea: why don't I boil extra eggs and then she and I can dye some ourselves? We could do a CRAFT! (Here's the thing. Many people consider me very crafty. I am not one of them. I make things, yes, but I've never thought of myself as crafty. There's a distinction there, it's in my head, but don't ask me to explain it coherently. Anyway, I haven't dyed or decorated eggs since elementary school, so this is kind of a big deal.)

I think I did okay, too.

I love to eat hard-boiled eggs, so decorating them always seemed an unnecessary step between the egg and my stomach. Then last year, while on a playdate, the kids got to decorate eggs and they wouldn't let me eat them. Naturally, the rules are different this year. If I'm going to be crafty, I'm going to get a snack out of it. So there.

Pretty blue!

I made up a dye bath, a very basic food colouring one: 1 cup boiling water, 1tbsp vinegar, 20+ drops food colouring. I'm very excited to know this recipe. (Apparently if you mix 1tbsp of olive oil in with the bath you can do tie-dye eggs. I haven't tried this, but now I really want to.) 

It looks like a Doctor Who prop...

My plan was for us to just plain-old dye the eggs, maybe try a two-tone dip-dye, but Willow had another idea.
Last October, the ever-wonderful Mista at AppleBox Boutique sent the kids two sample pots of Chalk Paint to paint pumpkins. I'm sad to say that that didn't happen, because I was way too busy. How busy? Let's say I lost 10 lbs. that month simply due to not having time to eat. It was a tough month. However, Willow never forgot about the "special paint" Mista had sent her, so when I started getting things set up to dye the eggs, she immediately went to the shelf and got the paint pots and her paintbrushes down. She was going to paint her egg, no arguments allowed.


It worked beautifully! She put the paint on pretty heavy, so we let it dry for a while and then wiped the excess off, coincidentally leaving behind a neat texture (Willow laughed and laughed, "It's an egg with hair!!!").
And now for the pink

Lots and lots of pink...

I still wanted to try the dye bath, so my egg became blue. I quite like the colour, but totally plain isn't really my style, so I added some designs with the Chalk Paint. I'm super happy with it. I would have continued the designs over the whole egg, but the bottom cracked when I was putting it (read: dropping it by accident) into the dye bath. I have faith that the food colouring will be safe to eat, but I'd rather not chance eating straight paint... Next time!

Pink and blue!

There will definitely be a next time. The kids and I are going on a road trip this weekend and hard-boiled eggs are a favourite road snack of mine. This trip, they will be Fancy!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bottling summer (lilac/pear mead)

In the last couple of years I have discovered a serious love of brewing. I started with a few wine kits (two malbecs and a Syrah) but then I started looking for more information. I didn't just want to follow the instructions, I wanted to know why I did each step and what each ingredient did to the final product. My e-library is mostly useless, but I managed to find a couple of things to read on brewing.
One of those books was True Brews, by Emma Christensen. It's phenomenal! She covers every kind of yeast brewing, from soda through kombucha and beer to wine. She even has recipes for sake!

I've tried a couple of recipes: sparkling cherry wine that I made from cherries I grew in my yard, and chai mead - which has made me realize how much I like dry mead. I always thought I disliked mead, but apparently I just dislike sweet, renfair-style mead. Dry mead is delicious!

This June, we had an amazing profusion of lilacs. Lilacs grow like crazy in my climate, so almost everyone in town has tangles all around their yard. This means that June always smells amazing. I had been doing a bunch of reading about dandelion wine and while I was in my yard, breathing the scent of my favourite flower, I thought "why can't I made something with lilacs?" I decided to try my hand at a lilac mead, using one of the recipes in True Brews as a starting place.

I picked a huge bucket of lilacs, then removed the blossoms from the stems. This was a long, sticky process. I also learned that you should keep the sprays in water so they don't wilt. From about 4 gallons of sprays, I eventually ended up with about 6 quarts of blossoms.

I boiled up 14 cups of water and mixed in 2.5 lbs if honey, then poured it over the blossoms. I let it sit overnight to steep. It smelled.... odd. And it was an incredible pink.

<- Honey

                     Pears ->

I'm not going to post the recipe here as it would mean my straight-up copying Emma's recipe for Blueberry-Lavender Mead with a different fruit and flower (other than the fact that I made the lilac tea first, instead of adding it with the pears). I'm not okay with doing that. Plus, if you are really into brewing, I think you should get this book. It's so very worth every penny.

I'm so high-tech

Straining the after the primary fermentation
Anyway, after the normal 4 weeks of fermentation I decided it wasn't ready to bottle (it was still fizzy and the SG wasn't where I wanted to to be) so I left it. Then I got crazy, stupid busy and never had time to get back to it. So it ended up bulk aging for another 5 months, which isn't a bad thing. When I finally got around to bottling it, the colour had changed to a much more orange-copper instead of the bubblegum pink I started with.

So pink!

Much more orange
I tried some while bottling, and it's very interesting. It starts with a punch to the face, but finishes amazing, leaving you with a very delicate floral flavour. I'm quite excited to see what it's like in another few months!

Starting Gravity: 1.093
Final Gravity: 0.998
Approximate ABV: 12%

Monday, 20 April 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

After supper tonight I asked the kids if they wanted popcorn. To the surprise of no one, the answer was a resounding Huzzah! However, Rowan wanted chocolate popcorn and Willow wanted peanut butter. Ahh, flavor dilemmas... What's a girl to do?
Throw stuff in a saucepan, what else?

Thankfully, as a human on this planet, I am well aware that chocolate and peanut butter often go well together. 
Like, so well.

Yes. I made Reese's popcorn. And it was just as amazing as you're thinking it might have been. 

I couldn't get a picture without hands!

It's not crazy sweet, just enough to make this stuff almost impossible to stop eating. The coconut oil definitely adds a flavour, but it works beautifully with the peanut butter and chocolate. I might try butter next time, though. Or just more peanut butter! In our house, I can't go wrong with more peanut butter.  

This was taken on a high counter.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

6 cups popped popcorn (you can do this in the microwave, just make sure it's plain)
1tbsp coconut oil or butter
1tbsp honey
2tbsp peanut butter
1/8-1/4 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 
2. In a small saucepan, melt the honey, oil (or butter), peanut butter and chocolate chips till smooth. 
3. Put the popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the popcorn, tossing gently to coat. 
4. Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheets. Bake for 5 mins, remove from oven and stir. Repeat until the popcorn is almost dry. 
5. Allow to cool completely before eating. 
6. Store in an airtight container, should you have any left over. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Holy pants, I made soap! (Beer&Bacon soap)

I make a lot of things that most people would buy in a store. I'm not just taking about baking and sewing projects, either, though I certainly do a lot of those. I make my own laundry detergent. I make a hair tonic we use in place of conditioner, the recipe for which I had to divulge to my mother-in-law so she could make it herself. I make deodorant not just for myself but also for my husband and my mother. I made a bug bite salve this summer that ACTUALLY WORKED.

Earlier this year I tried to explain to my father why I do these things; why I make it myself instead of doing the much simpler task of going to the store and giving them money in exchange for finished goods instead of ingredients. I'd like to say it's for environmental reasons, or ethical reasons, or health reasons. Those are part of it, sure. However, the real reason is twofold. 

The first part, unsurprisingly (as we are a young family and I am self-employed), is money. Making things myself is so much cheaper than buying in a store. The laundry detergent cost me $4 for close to 5 gallons. You just can't beat that. 

The second and major part was perfectly demonstrated to my family this afternoon, when I made some soap. I danced; I jumped up and down; I kept yelling "holy crap, I just made soap!" The basic reason I keep doing all these things? I get SO DAMN EXCITED when it works. When I can look at something and say "Hell YES, I made that!" That feeling is worth any amount of effort. 

The soap I made today has been in the works for literally years. We always collect bacon fat. There is always a can or jar on the stove to pour the pan into. I use it to cook sometimes, I made biscuits with it once, I grease the cornbread pan with it. A few years ago I decided I wanted to make soap. I researched it, I looked for lye everywhere I could think of, but always it stayed on the back burner: I'll admit it, I was mighty intimidated by the idea. Especially since the smallest bags of lye I could find were 10lbs!

Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered that I could, in fact, buy small amounts of lye from a couple of Canadian suppliers if I was willing to pay the dangerous goods shipping price. I decided I was. So now there was a jar of lye, sitting on a shelf in my workroom, staring at me. Disappointed in my seeming inability to pull up my big girl pants and just bloody do this!

Today was the day. I got out my bacon fat, gave it one more clean, and let it cool (this blog gives great instructions for cleaning the fat and is also where I got most of the instructions for this project). I poured a can of beer (Original 16 Copper, graciously donated to the cause by my lovely husband) into a bowl and made it go flat. There are lots of great lye calculators out there, I used this one to figure out my lye amount. 

Fat and lye, the basic bones of soap!
this beer took a ridiculous amount of time to go flat.
I melted my bacon fat in a stainless steel pot that I normally use as a dye bath, then set it in a warm place to stay at 88F. 

mmmmm.... melty bacon...

I was so nervous/excited about adding the lye to the beer that I completely forgot to wear my gloves. When I realized, I almost freaked out. Bad me! I wore them for the rest of the process, I promise you. I had to do this outside as there is nowhere in my house with the proper ventilation....

ahh! gloves! where are my gloves!!!

it begins to bubble...

lots o'bubbling now! it smelled very strange...

Once the lye had cooled to about 88F, I added it to the fat and used my immersion blender to blend it. 

can YOU use a thermometer?

THERE are my gloves!

a blender in a metal pot on a glass table = lots of noise

Using the stick blender makes the stirring stage go extremely fast. Once recipe I read basically said "Blend by hand for 2-4 hours, or blend with a stick blender for 2-4 minutes." Once it got to trace (like pudding or whipped cream. If you lift the blender, the shapes stay on the surface) I added some cedar essential oil and stirred that in by hand. I had read that using the blender at this point can make it set up too fast and figured I'd rather chance uneven scent. 

see the trace? i'm pretty sure i did this right

lots of drops.....

and stir. doesn't it look delicious? it's not.

I used a couple of milk cartons for molds because they were what it had on hand and I had read that they work well. My soap at this point looked like butterscotch pudding. It was seriously lovely and smelled pretty nice.

and gloves, again. 

big bars and little bars!

The soap is now sitting on top of my refrigerator (a warm place), wrapped in a towel. I'll unmold it in a day or two (and update this post) and then in 4-6 weeks it will be ready to use! (And I'll update again)

soap, concealed from predators 

Today is a proud day. 

UPDATE: I cut the soap up today. It looks lovely, smells interesting and has a texture like firm cheese. I put it on edge on a baking rack, covered it with a light tea towel to keep the dust off and put it in an out-of-the-way place. Now, we wait!

the milk cartons worked great!
it sliced so nicely....

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Snack time! (Puffed Rice)

This recipe came from Karen Solomon's fantastic book, "Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It." I'm a trifle obsessed with it right now; there are some truly amazing recipes in there. Plus so many "holy crap that's so easy, why am I not doing that every day??" recipes, which are my favourite kind. This one is great, it uses up leftover rice and is insanely delicious.

I think she sums it up really well in the intro to the recipe for corn flakes (the page before the puffed rice): "There come moments in kitchen projectry when one has to ask oneself, "Is this insane? Have I crossed the line from food-craftiness into utter madness, making my own cornflakes?" Search inside your gut and you will find the answer to that question yourself."

Yes, I am mad. But it's a pretty awesome madness, and my family seems to enjoy reaping the benefits.

Puffed rice

Cooked rice (long grain is better, but I've used short as well)

Once you've eaten whatever meal the rice was for, spread the leftover rice on a baking sheet. You can either leave it out for as long as it takes to dry completely, or put it in the oven at 180 with the door cracked. Stir it occasionally, breaking up clumps, until it is totally dry.

Line a baking sheet with paper towel and prepare your seasonings. We prefer cinnamon and sugar. 

Looks like it's uncooked again!

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a round-bottomed skillet (a wok is perfect) until smoking hot. Pour the rice in in no more than 1/2 batches and stir. Use a skimmer to scoop them out as they start to get brown, onto the paper towels to drain. 

Season. Eat!

A note on oil: I usually use peanut oil for these. It's a nice, light oil that leaves the rice fluffy. Tonight I discovered to my chagrin that I was out of peanut and I had to substitute canola. Though still good, I find them to be not AS good. The canola oil seems to have made the rice much crisper; almost to the point of painfully so. Also, I don't like the way it makes my house smell and the smoke from canola oil really bugs my eyes. I conclusion, not using that again. Definitely going back to peanut.