February 23, 2011 § 2 Comments
I know, I know, February is almost over, but things have been hectic! I’ve been working on something for a neat lady, though, and it’s about time that you all met her!
What is your name? Jo(lene), or, alternately, “that girl with the weird hair/that girl with the bicycle”.
Do you have a blog or website (or Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) that you’d like me to link? As I have a certain… not to say addiction… to test-driving nearly every new blogging platform that floats my way, I could give a rather ridiculous list, but you can mostly find me at Twitter, LiveJournal, and Tumblr. I also run a fashion blog, Her Kirtle Green, and have music for sale at Bandcamp. (NOTE FROM CHARIS: You should all go and check out all of those things, and buy music, because it is awesome)
What is your quest? To get out of small-town Pennsylvania, become a librarian, acquire several more cats, and build a reputation among neighbourhood children as that mad lady in the creepy house who is totally a witch. Also to read all the books, learn all the things, and kiss somebody marvelous someday.
What is your favorite color? COLOUR IS MY FAVOURITE COLOUR. No, but seriously: I love colour. Colour makes me happy. I’m particularly drawn to deep, rich, earthy colours — crimson, plum, goldenrod, sage, turquoise, pumpkin — and I find brown, grey, and cream to be highly underrated. Black is quite nice as well. I love finding the balance between stimulating and clashing when mixing colours and patterns.
What is your life like at the moment? What do you do in a day? As I’m currently in an in-between stage trying to work out where to go next and how, my schedule’s a bit loose — but things you can find me doing on a regular basis include baking, reading, more reading, tripping over cats, bicycling around town, writing, playing with my four-year-old sister, writing, researching for writing projects, making music, accidentally injuring myself in increasingly embarrassing ways, and even more reading. I play at a local coffeeshop every Friday night as well. They give me free drinks and a place to nest and gloriously fast wi-fi and I give them free publicity; it’s an awesome trade.
What is your creative outlet? I’m a writer by nature, and, I hope, by trade someday; I’m currently working on an alternate history pre-WWI vampire novel and an old-fashioned YA werewolf novel (with bonus Wild Hunt) set in the 1940s. (The latter setting may be entirely an excuse to dress all of my characters in tweed and flat caps and wellies, but I’ll never tell.) I also take photographs, bake (and eat), and enjoy designing graphics for my personal internet haunts (and occasionally when my dad needs a poster), and while I’m not very talented at crafty things I love to work with my hands — paints, clay, crayons, and the like feel fantastic, even if what I make with them is rarely impressive or useful. I’d like to learn to knit or crochet and sew a little, especially to alter my clothes and make little things like detachable collars. I also see the human body as a fantastic palate for art, as might be evidenced by my eccentric fashion sense and multi-coloured hair (and while I haven’t any tattoos or other body modifications I love looking at people who do).
What have you been reading and/or watching lately? What is your current favorite thing to read or watch? Well, the library’s run out of books again, so my reading supply’s gone a bit dry recently, but books I’ve fallen in love with in the last several months include Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin (my first re-read felt like a homecoming, which is always a sign of a personal classic), Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy (book three is out in June!), Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, Barbara Hambly’s vampire now-trilogy (linguist/retired spy and his badass scientist wife deal with vampires in Edwardian England; it is EVERYTHING I’VE EVER WANTED), R.J. Anderson’s faery books, Eva Ibbotson’s deeply hilarious and intuitive and touching historical novels, Alberto Manguel’s books about books, Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s hilariously macabre books on grammar, and Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival. Filmwise, my tastes run a ridiculous gamut from Disney’s Tangled to Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel uber Berlin; other stuff I’ve been loving lately includes Moulin Rouge!, Children of Heaven, How to Train Your Dragon, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Young Victoria. Television-wise, I’ve been a bit busy — I marathon shows at ridiculous rates and have been rewatching Chuck lately as it’s a bit of a happy place, while Fringe (OLIVIA DUNHAM AND HER FACE AND HER EMOTIONS AND HER ENTIRE EXISTENCE) and The Vampire Diaries (awesome girls who love each other!!) are pretty much my favourite things currently airing, along with Being Human and Doctor Who (come baaaack!). And trust me, that is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Television is bad enough; if I tried to tell you about all of the books I’ve ever loved we’d still be here this time next year and that would have been the prefacing remarks. I REALLY LIKE ALL FORMS OF STORYTELLING MEDIA, AS YOU CAN SEE.
What inspires you at the moment? Oh, lots of things — sunlight (it’s hard to come by in February), Japanese mori-girl fashion, goth and steampunk fashion, music festivals, freak folk, multi-instrumental confessional folk like Mumford & Sons and Over the Rhine and the Civil Wars and Lisa Hannigan, storytelling musicians like Vienna Teng and Richard Shindell and Sarah Slean, neo-swing, neo-tradfolk, proper tradfolk, ballads (Tam-Lin is demonstrably my favourite), tea (especially the Neipalm blend of Earl Grey and Oriental Spice), colours and textures (my bedroom is a pleasantly cluttered conglomeration of objects and contrasts), kickass shoes that make me feel like a heroine when I walk in them, my cats, long aimless walks, the atmosphere at our little coffeeshop, old photographs (and when I have trouble getting into an aesthetic mood for writing I tend to trawl Flickr or Tumblr or similarly image-driven websites for inspiration), eavesdropping (my earliest and oldest and most accomplished hobby), French Roast in the morning, Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction and nonfiction, really feral music full of clapping and stomping and group harmonies, lists of words, new places, T.S. Eliot, stars, cities, graffiti, really good food (the Orange Crème Dream I get at the coffeeshop sometimes is profoundly inspiring, as is my mother’s Hungarian goulash; I am food’s most ardent fan), bits and bobs and scraps of ideas and information, steamingly hot showers, those underwater moments between waking and sleeping when one’s mind flutters free, Neil Gaiman’s hair (does it belong to him or does he belong to it?!), any breath of spring I can possibly snatch at the moment.
February 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
There are a lot of things that look really hard before you do them–knitting with cables, for instance, which looked so hard before I realized how simple it is. Or watercolor painting. Or (although I don’t really remember, but I imagine) walking. When it comes to cooking there are lots of things that intimidate me, and it is true to my tendency to improvise gets me into trouble, but I’ve found that if I take the time to figure things out I can make all kinds of awesome things.
A couple of weeks ago I made tiramisu for my Bible study’s Italian potluck using this recipe. I thought that it was going to be a lot harder than it was. Guess what? It’s easy! It’s just not quick. It’s fairly time consuming just because you have to make several different parts and then assemble them, and then you have to wash all of the bowls that you made them in (I think I counted a minimum of six bowls dirtied during the tiramisu process. Thank goodness for the Kitchen Fairy, that’s all I’m saying). And THEN you have to let your tiramisu chill in the refrigerator overnight (and trust me, it will not be amazing if you do not let it chill overnight). Tiramisu is not an instant gratification kind of project, but you know what? Good things come to those that wait. And by ‘good things’ I mean ‘delicious and creamy desserts’.
Tiramisu has three components: a Mascarpone cheese filling, whipped cream, and ladyfinger cookies soaked with coffee and liqueur.
The first part of the Mascarpone cheese filling needs to chill for an hour in the refrigerator, so start there–and by the way, if you’ve never heard of Mascarpone cheese before (I hadn’t!) you’ll be interested to know that it’s an Italian cream cheese. Look for it with the specialty cheese in the deli section of your grocery store.
Mascarpone Cheese Filling:
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
16 oz of Mascarpone cheese (you won’t be using the cheese just yet, but go ahead and leave it out on the counter to soften)
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small saucepan (discard the whites, or save them for an egg white omlette). Whisk the sugar into the yolks until combined, then whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils (this took about five minutes for me).
Let it boil gently for one minute, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly. Cover tightly and put in the refrigerator for one hour (I transfered the mixture into a different bowl and covered the surface with plastic wrap). Leave the Mascarpone cheese out while the egg mixture chills so that it will soften.
Now you have an hour to kill! Perfect, because you have ladyfingers to make (you could buy prepackaged ladyfingers, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, they’re really simple). I used this recipe.
4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup white sugar
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup coffee liquor (you won’t be using these two ingredients until later, when you assemble the tiramisu)
Place egg whites in bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks start to form. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. In another bowl beat egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whip until thick and very pale in color.
Sift flour and baking powder together (the internet advised me to sift thoroughly for the best results, so I sifted the flour and baking powder onto a paper plate, then moved the sifter to another paper plate, used the first plate as a funnel to transfer the flour back into the sifter, and sifted again. I did this twice, which may have been overkill). Fold half the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour, and then add the remaining egg whites. Keep folding gently until the flour is well incorporated. (I was really focused on what I was doing at this point. Way too focused to take pictures).
Preheat oven to 400F. Line two 17 x 12 inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit large pastry bag with a plain 1/2 inch round tube or if you’re using a disposable piping bag just cut off the tip (you could also use a heavy duty freezer bag* and cut off one corner).Transfer mixture to pastry bag and pipe out onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.
*I’ve seen lots of tutorials that blithely instruct the reader to use a ziplock bag for piping. Most of them aren’t more specific than that, but I am here to tell you that you ONLY want to use a heavy duty freezer bag. This is not a time for bargain brand ziplock sandwich bags. Why? Because they will explode on you.
For my test batch of tiramisu I piped out three inch ladyfingers, but then I had to fit them into the bottom of my pan, which was a bit of a jigsaw. So for my second batch I got clever:
I took the pan that I was going to assemble the tiramisu in, set it on a piece of parchment paper, and traced around the bottom with a pencil. Then I moved it over and traced it again (making sure that both outlines would fit on one cookie sheet–otherwise I would have used a second piece of parchment paper). I turned the paper over so that the pencil marks were on the bottom and voila! a perfect template of my pan. I just piped the ladyfingers out to match.
Now you have your ladyfingers cooling (you can speed up the cool time by sliding the parchment paper off of the cookie sheets and onto a wire rack) and your egg mixture has been in the refrigerator for an hour, so you can get it out and finish it by folding the 16oz of softened Mascarpone cheese into the egg and stirring until well blended.
Two components down! Only one to go!
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixture, gradually increasing the speed to high, and beat until it is light and fluffy and soft peaks form when you lift the beater. (Be careful not to overbeat, unless you’d rather have butter than whipped cream).
And now it is assembly time! Arrange a layer of ladyfingers in the bottom of your pan and and brush them with a mixture of strong coffee and coffee liquor (remember the coffee and liquor that I mentioned before? this is when you use it). Most recipes say to dip the ladyfingers, but I don’t like my tiramisu too wet so I wanted a lot of control. My original recipe (the one I used for the test batch) also called for coffee and rum, which I didn’t like–I thought it was too strong and bitter, so definitely splash out for some coffee liquor (or omit the liquor and just use coffee and vanilla extract, if you want your tiramisu alcohol free). I brushed each ladyfinger three or four times–you want them to be saturated, but not dripping.
Once your ladyfingers are boozed up to your satisfaction, cover them with half of your Mascarpone cheese filling, spreading it in an even layer. Then take half of your whipped cream and spread it out in an even layer, and repeat with another layer of ladyfingers, another layer of Mascarpone cheese, and another layer of whipped cream. Top with a sprinkling of shaved chocolate.
Put the assembled tiramisu in the refrigerator for the night, and go get some well deserved rest.
Then have tiramisu for breakfast.
February 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
February 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!
…yeah, I don’t really get excited about Valentine’s Day. When I was growing up I did get excited about Chocolate Eclair Day, which also happened to be on February 14th, and everyone knows that the real holiday is Discount Chocolate Day on February 15th, but Valentine’s Day itself has always struck me as a little pointless.
Still, I love a theme, and a couple of weeks ago when I volunteered to bring dessert to Bible study I must have had hearts on the brain because this was what I made:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that cake mix cookies are not only the easiest thing in the world, they are delicious and decadent–one cookie sandwich was enough to knock me over, anyway. I had to sit quietly and recover from the sugar rush.
But when I say that it’s the easiest thing in the world, I really mean it–if you need a last minute Valentine’s Day treat, look no further!
For the cookies themselves, you just need
1 box of cake mix
1/2 cup of oil
AND THAT’S IT. You just mix up those three things, scoop out balls of the resulting dough onto a cookie sheet, and bake at 350F for about 8 minutes, until the top of the cookie cracks slightly. I scooped my cookies out with a tablespoon, but they were very large–next time I’ll use a teaspoon instead.
The icing is also simple:
8 oz cream cheese
6 oz white chocolate
1 stick butter
Beat cream cheese until fluffy, add in melted chocolate (I chopped up my chocolate and melted it in the microwave, stopping every thirty seconds to stir until it was smooth) and softened butter, then mix until light and airy.
Once your cookies have cooled simply match them in pairs, spread with icing, and sandwich together. Easy as pie. Except EASIER than pie, because pie can actually be a lot of trouble.
If you want to be ambitious and keep things really tidy, then you can also use a piping bag to fill your cookies:
It’s not really necessary, but it was quick and easy, since I had the piping bag ready to ice my cupcakes anyway–I used the same icing for both red velvet cookie sandwiches and chocolate cupcakes, and it was delicious on both. The cupcakes, by the way, were Cupcake 22 from Ming Makes Cupcakes, one of my favorite go-to cupcake recipes (Cupcake 1 and Cupcake 24 are also very popular in my house). To dress up my cupcakes I just melted a handful of red candy coating in a disposable piping bag by microwaving it, stopping every thirty seconds to squish the bag until the candy coating was smooth and runny, then snipped the tip off of the bag and piped hearts out onto wax paper. Easy peasy, and it made for a pretty presentation–
February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
There are lots of tutorials out there about how to make a silhouette portrait. I mean really, lots, so I feel a little silly putting up my own tutorial. However, the tutorials that I read all varied in their methods, so I thought it would be worth it to explain just what I did (and what I will do differently next time)
First I found the picture (obviously). You want a simple picture that shows the person’s profile, and if there’s a good contrast between the person and the background it will make your life much easier. A closed or slightly open mouth is better than an open mouth or a really big smile (because those expressions don’t translate well into a silhouette). An interesting hairstyle is a plus. You can take pictures specifically for the project, but you can also look through pictures that you already have and look for good profile shots (especially if you want a silhouette of a child who won’t hold still for a portrait session- -it might be easier to get sneaky profile shots while they’re engaged in something else than attempt to stand them against a wall).
Once I had chosen the picture and cropped it, I uploaded it to Flickr and edited it in Picnik with the ‘pencil sketch’ setting–if you’re using Picnik, go to the ‘Create’ tab, click on ‘Effects’ in the toolbar, then scroll down the menu on the left until you find ‘pencil sketch’. If you aren’t using Picnik then check your favorite picture editing software–most will have a similar sketch tool. Or you could skip this step. It’s not essential, it just makes it a little easier to trace the outline in the next step.
I sized the image to fill a regular piece of paper and printed it out. Now, this made my silhouette large enough to require an 11×14 frame. Then I had to hunt and hunt for a frame that would fit (this would have been easier if I had been willing to settle for a rectangular frame). I really recommend choosing your frame before you cut your silhouette and sizing the image to fit.
I taped a piece of tracing paper on top of my printed image and then just used a pencil to trace around the outside of the picture. This was my chance to experiment with the image–this is when you have to make decisions about what to include. I used Jason’s collar and Sharon’s necklace as handy guides for where to end their necks, but I debated about how much detail to add. Should I try to cut out Jason’s shirt collar and tie? Sharon’s veil? The flowers that were in Sharon’s hair? Her necklace? In the end I decided that keeping it very simple would have the best look. The biggest challenge was Sharon’s shoulder, because of the angle, so I added a couple of tendrils of hair.
I also added their eyelashes–this is something that all of the tutorials I read agreed on. Most people’s eyelashes don’t actually stick out far enough to be visible beyond the bridge of their nose when they’re in profile, but most silhouette portraits include them anyway. Silhouettes without eyelashes look a little strange to me, and have less personality, so I just marked the level of their eyes when I was tracing the silhouette and cut a whisp of eyelash.
When I was satisfied with my outline I removed the printed picture and looked at my traced outline alone, to make sure that it looked okay on its own, before using masking tape to secure it to my black paper. I used black scrapbook cardstock from my local craft store and a fresh exacto knife. And a piece of very thick cardboard as a cutting surface. And a steady hand. I just cut through the tracing paper and into the scrapbook paper beneath, following my pencil lines slowly but firmly (so as not to tear the tracing paper and ruin everything forever). It took about thirty minutes. For some of the details–such as Jason’s hair–it was easier to cut beyond what I needed into the area outside the silhouette (NOT into the silhouette) to get a sharper point, if that makes sense.
When I’d gotten all the way around my outline I removed the tracing paper, and followed the cut lines that I’d made to make sure that they all went all the way through. It was hard to gauge through the tracing paper whether I was cutting deeply enough–it was also hard to make my cuts very clean (a ragged cut means a fuzzy edge to your paper). Next time I’ll either make shallow cuts through the tracing paper just to score the black paper, and then remove the tracing paper and go back to cut the silhouette out all the way OR I will transfer the outline onto the black paper with carbon paper or white pencil, so that I can cut through only one layer and really see what I’m doing.
Also, because my silhouette was joined at the nose, I had to be careful not to bend it. I made the mistake of cutting out one head entirely before cutting the second–I should have left the center of the image, the faces, for last, and cut out everything else before doing their features. It would have made things much easier.
Having the faces joined at the nose also meant that I couldn’t pick the silhouette up–if I were cutting a single profile I think I would pick it up and cut with scissors (one tutorial I read mentioned cuticle scissors, but I think that any small, sharp craft scissors would work). And when it was time to turn the silhouette over so that could attach it to the background, I sandwiched it between two pieces of paper, the way that you would flip a cake.
My background was just a piece of Bristol board, which is like a heavy cardstock. You can find it in the art supplies section of your local craft store, or (if you silhouette is small enough) you could just get a piece of scrapbook paper. Or a piece of fabric, or wallpaper, or anything else that strikes your fancy. I stuck to white, because I wanted this silhouette to be very classic (and to always go with Sharon’s decor, no matter what colors she uses in her home!). I turned my silhouette over and applied double-sided scrapbook tape to the back, then laid the Bristol board down on top of it (instead of picking it up and setting it on the Bristol board) and voila!
February 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’m really pleased with my craft for my January victim–and in case you missed it, the fabulous Sharon answered a few questions about herself in this post! You can also learn more about Sharon and her wedding journey–pre- and post-wedding–at her blog, Bride Sans Tulle.
But what did she make for Sharon? I hear you wondering. Wonder no more! It is time for the Big Reveal!
….yeah, ignore my weird squinting-in-the-sun face. Don’t even look at that part of the picture. It’s not important.
Instead, look at this!
I love traditional silhouette portraits–I think that they’re beautiful, classic, and elegant (all words that also apply to Sharon), and I’ve been wanting to make one for a while. Originally I thought about doing two separate silhouettes as a pair, and starting looking through Sharon’s wedding pictures for profile shots, which is where I found the perfect shot of Sharon and Jason in profile together:
Sharon’s beautiful wedding pictures, by the way, are by (once a spark) photography
It was too gorgeous and adorable. How could I resist?
In the original picture, Sharon and Jason’s noses overlap, and I considered separating them a little so that they would be two independent silhouettes. Then I changed my mind, because I am sentimental and I liked the symbolism of their wedding portrait being cut from a single piece of paper.
The hardest part of this project was actually finding an oval frame large enough for my 9 1/5″ by 10 1/2″ silhouette–I finally found this 11X14 frame at Michael’s. Here is my pro-tip for you: If you plan to frame a project, keep standard framing sizes in mind as you work on it! And if possible, buy the frame first.
And if you are bound and determined to find an oval frame (as I was–I was going to be heartbroken if I had to settle for a rectangle! I think silhouettes are at their best in oval frames), I am here to tell you that your best bet is Michael’s. They were the only oval frames that I found, so thank goodness they were perfect!
…I was also paranoid that the frame would break in between Texas and California, so I wedged it into its box with as much padding as I could fit. Let’s just say that a bunch of tissue paper, an entire roll of bubble wrap, and some packing popcorn was involved, as well as enough tape to subdue a legion of five year olds.
Not that I would use tape to control a five year old. Of course not.
That would be unethical.
And a waste of tape.
Sharon and I met online through our love of books (and the influence of a certain person named Sophia), and spent years exchanging emails and letters. We met in person for the very first time almost a year ago, in February 2010, and during the visit Angela and I got to go wedding dress shopping with Sharon. We got to see her try one what would be ‘the dress’.
We met in person for the second time when I had the privilege and the blessing of going to her wedding in August–one of The Best Weddings Ever (and not only did we go to the wedding, we got to be there for an entire weekend of celebration leading up to the wedding, and join the big, loving community of people surrounding Sharon and Jason. One of the Best Weekends Ever).
I suppose it isn’t a big surprise that my inspiration for Sharon’s craft came from her wedding.
However, Sharon happened to mention that she doesn’t look good in hats.
Hm, I thought.
That sounds like a challenge.
So I also sent her a hat:
The pattern is the ‘Proposal Beret‘ by Belle Dee Designs
Happy January, Sharon!
February 4, 2011 § 6 Comments
If you knit or crochet, or do any other fiber related crafts, then you’re probably on Ravelry (and if you aren’t, then you should be! You’re missing out on a fantastic resource and community). I spend most of my Ravelry time on the forum of the Folklore & Fairy Tales group, and every season we have a swap. This winter’s swap was ‘Straw into Gold’, a theme that was all about creativity–we weren’t supposed to buy anything for our swap partners, and instead we were supposed to put together a package using things we already had (yarn from our stash, things that we’d made or happened to have, etc.)
My swap partner loves owls so much that they’re part of her screenname, so I made a couple of owl crafts for her:
First I made fingerless mitts, because everyone always needs fingerless mitts! I managed to improvise this pair, without following a pattern (so of course they aren’t perfectly symmetrical), with cabled owls that have been featured in several different patterns that I’ve seen–I don’t know where it originated, but you can see other patterns using it here and here, and in my favorite here (scroll down to find the pattern ‘owls’).
Do you see the owls?
But you can never have too many owl friends, so I made a little owl out of wool felt as well:
He stitched up by hand really quickly–perhaps an hour or so. I think that this style of soft owl originated in a Japanese craft book, but I was inspired by this tutorial. If you follow that link you’ll find a template to download, but the owl is such a simple shape that I cut mine out freehand (…so of course he isn’t symmetrical either!). It’s just a teardrop shape with the point folded down, and voila! I used pinking sheers to cut out the red piece and the yellow circles that I added around his button eyes, and for a little detail I embroidered his chest. I’m so pleased with how he turned out–I think he’s darling!
And he would, by the way, make an excellent pincushion.