spring-colored macarons

spring-colored macaronsA friend and favorite coworker of mine has recently moved on to other endeavors, and as I did the last time this happened, I took requests for her farewell treat. She had two: something with saffron, and blue, speckled, bird’s-egg macarons.

bird-egg-spotted macaronsThe bird’s-egg treatment was inspired by a newspaper article featuring coconut-laden macarons, and while I didn’t follow the recipe or present them on a cutesy faux-nest of spanish moss, I think I nailed the dark brown speckles. I used my standard recipe and flavored these with the seeds scraped from a single vanilla bean. The saffron macarons got a heaping 1/8th of a teaspoon of saffron ground up with their dry ingredients, and the green tea batch was made with a tablespoon of matcha. They were a perfect send-off for a lovely lady.

I’ve been spending my time reading in the backyard, enjoying the impossibly short flowering period of my favorite blossom, and soaking up every last second of spring, but I’ll be back with more soon.

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around our house

dryer balls

 

cacti

 

compost bin

 

orange-vinegar cleaning sprayTo celebrate my reunion with our stolen camera, I snapped a few shots from around the house today. I got a few small projects completed recently, but it’s been challenging to make a dent in my to-do list without consecutive days off. It’s much too tempting to loll around the house with no agenda, like these furballs.

Although I kind of miss the romantic nature of line-drying all our laundry, I’m not sad to see the stiff socks and crunchy towels go. We’ve had a dryer for quite a few months now, and until recently, the luxury of freshly tumbled laundry (in any weather) has been enough to sustain my enthusiasm. Now that I’m inured to the idea, I figured it’s time to take it a step further and bring some dryer balls into the mix. I spent an hour or so putting together those woolen spheres in the top photo. They’ll tumble around with our drying laundry, soften it, and knock out static electricity. I followed this tutorial but used polyester fiberfill for the middle of mine. I also ended up wet felting them some by hand after they took two trips through the washer, which helped make them a little denser. Next time I run a load, I’ll put a few drops of essential oil on one of the balls, and pop it into the dryer. The question is: do I go with a typical scent, like lavender, or do I try out a weird one, like rosemary? And will it make me constantly hungry to have herbal-scented clothing?

In lieu of flowers on date night, Nick brought me the two cacti in the second photo (and an air plant which is not pictured). I love receiving plants that can keep on growing! That guy really gets me.

I finally slapped a couple coats of paint on the cedar compost bin Nick made me for valentine’s day. We’ve been tossing yard clippings and some vegetable scraps in a designated compost spot, but it’ll be nice to contain it in this lovely bin. Although bugs will find their way inside just fine, I want to pick up some red wigglers to kick-start the composting (and also because I miss having worms). The only other thing I’ll need is a tiny pitchfork for tossing and turning the bin contents, and I’ll be good to go.

I ate A LOT of oranges this winter. Since the rinds are too acidic to compost in large quantities and throwing them out seemed wasteful, I started to slip the peels into a jug of plain white vinegar. After a month or so, it turned a deep shade of orange and took on a much improved aroma. I mixed it with an equal amount of water and a few drops of lemon essential oil to make a citrus-scented cleaning spray. It smells much nicer than my usual plain vinegar and water concoction, and the lemon and orange oils contribute to its cleaning powers.

I’ll be back with more soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Home | 2 Comments

a little bit of christmas

Back in December I promised a whole slew of posts about the presents I crafted this year, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have much to show. Don’t get me wrong– I painted, sewed, silk screened, and knitted my heart out all month long, and documented every bit of it– but things didn’t go quite according to plan. A few days after Christmas our house was broken into, and three pillowcases of expensive items and one camera bag made it out. While it’s not fun to have to replace things you’ve spent a lot of time working and saving for, it’s even harder to deal with the loss of things that can’t be replaced (especially when they only have sentimental value). It was a learning experience, to say the least.

My mom was kind enough to take pictures of a couple of the things I gifted this year, so although it’s just a small selection of what I worked on, at least it’s something!

grey knitted jul hat

knitted jul hat in mustard yellow

This is my lovely sister, Bonnie, modeling a Jul hat in two colorways. After both of my sisters and my mom chopped their locks off, I knew I’d be knitting them warm winter hats to compensate for their lack of hair. I’ve been a fan of Wiksten for quite a while, and was eager to try out a couple of Jenny’s patterns. While the delicate, almost lacy qualities of this hat are a perfect fit for Bonnie and my mom, my goofy sister Savannah required something a little less elegant. She got a chunky, seafoam green Ribbstickad Hat with a giant pom-pom on top. This one took only a few hours to knit and is a great pattern for any beginner knitter.

agate necklace

amazonite necklace

I also threw together a few simple, beaded necklaces on bronze chains. Shown here are agate and amazonite, flanked by tiny, bronze cube beads. These look fantastic on their own or layered with other necklaces.

Hopefully I’ll manage to photograph a few more of my creations, but either way, I’ll have some new posts up relatively soon. I’ve made it out of my post-burglary slump and I’ve got lots of ideas for future projects. I may be using borrowed cameras and cobbling together posts on my iphone for the time being, so bear with me.

Now, some anti-theft tips!
- Record the serial numbers of every device you own, and put that list somewhere safe. Although we didn’t have the foresight to do this, a lot of the things that were stolen were online purchases, so it wasn’t too hard to track a lot of this information down. Pawn shops log these, and the police monitor those logs, so this helps your chances of recovering stolen property (and proving it’s yours).
- This is free, anti-theft software you can install on your computer or smartphone. You can activate it online and use it to lock your stolen item, take a picture of the thief, or access location data, among other things. We only had this installed on one of the stolen items, but it immediately allowed us to recover it.
- If you have valuables you don’t need frequent or immediate access to, keep them in a safety deposit box. We qualified for a free one when we got a mortgage, and didn’t get around to signing up for it until it was too late. If you don’t qualify for a free one, they’re usually not more than $40 a year, which is not too steep a price to pay for keeping your things safe.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Life | 2 Comments

cinnamon tea

bag of cinnamon teaThis well-worn plastic bag has been around for quite a while. It’s moved with me four times (from Texas to Ohio and back), carefully transported from apartment to house in spite of its sporadic use. In fact, the contents have been past their shelf life for some time, but I’ve held onto it with the intention of one day reverse-engineering the mixture inside. When I opened it a few weeks ago, I realized that not only could I easily identify all of its components, most of them were already in my pantry.

cinnamon tea ingredients

If you don’t already have these ingredients and want to make a batch, I recommend shopping for them at ethnic markets– the quality is usually up to snuff but the prices are much lower. I scored a huge bag of cardamom pods from an Indian market for next to nothing, and most of the rest are from the section of my local grocery where the Mexican spices are kept (like this ginger). Cardamom is typically sold ground or in the pod– for this recipe, you’ll need to crush some of the brittle pods and pick out the little black seeds.

Cinnamon Tea

1/2 cup broken-up cinnamon sticks
1/2 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp whole cardamom pods
3 star anise, broken up
2 inch piece of dried ginger, broken into pea-sized bits
1/4 cup loose leaf tea
1 tbsp pink peppercorns

Break up the cinnamon sticks, star anise, and ginger with a mortar and pestle or a small food processor. Combine all ingredients, and shake in a fine-mesh sieve to remove small particulates. Store in an air tight jar in a cool, dark place for maximum shelf life. This batch filled a half-pint jar with a little left over. To brew a cup, fill a tea ball with a tsp or so of the tea. Put it in a mug filled with boiling water, and steep for five minutes. Remove and enjoy.

Note: The pink peppercorns are pretty mild, and contribute more to the appearance of the tea than the flavor. They’re not interchangeable with black peppercorns, so if you can’t find them, be sure to omit them entirely instead of making the substitution.

jar of cinnamon teaA honey-sweetened mug of this tea is perfect on a chilly winter day, and a jar of this mixture makes an excellent gift for the host or hostess of a holiday party. If you make a batch, let me know what you think!

I’m busy planning out my baking schedule and knitting at full speed over here, so I probably won’t be back until after the holidays. Stay warm, everybody.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Life | 4 Comments

linen midi skirt

grey linen midi skirtIt’s been a long while since I’ve made myself something new to wear, and I figured I should get all my personal sewing out of the way before the rush of christmas-present-crafting. I’ve wanted a mid-calf-length skirt for a couple of years, so I’m glad to be able to cross this one off the docket. I used this pattern and a beautiful, grey linen. Apart from reducing the flare of the skirt a bit, I followed the pattern exactly. Like I do with many patterns, I totally overestimated the pocket size. This seems like the type of skirt that could conceal some luxuriously deep pockets, but sadly, they’re just big enough to put a hand in. If I use this pattern again, you can bet I’m drafting a new pocket piece.

grey linen midi skirtI have a soft spot for this length of skirt, so I’ll get a ton of wear out of it. For less than $30 and a day’s work, I’ve got a wardrobe staple.

Posted on by Jessica in Sewing | 1 Comment

happy halloween!

halloween macarons
I got in the halloween spirit last week and baked a few batches of appropriately-colored treats. I repeated the pumpkin pie macarons of last year, and also tried out black sesame and chai tea versions of my favorite cookie. They were a huge hit, and in spite of the overload of food coloring necessary to tint them a dramatic black, the sesame macarons are a new favorite of mine. To make them, I slipped couple tablespoons of ground sesame seeds in the batter and a teaspoon of tahini in my favorite mascarpone frosting. A sprinkle of black sesame seeds graced the top of each cookie. The chai tea macarons got a good dose of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and a frosting that was flavored with black tea. I love adding new flavors to my macaron repertoire.

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za’atar

za'atar ingredientsFresh sumac was part of my CSA share two weeks in a row. These little red drupes are tart and tangy, and a typical American preparation is sumac lemonade, which involves soaking the fruits in cold water and sweetening it to taste. I wanted to stretch mine a little further, so I went middle-eastern with it. I’m talking about za’atar, people.

There are an endless number of za’atar recipes– some with oregano and marjoram, some with black pepper or fennel, and some with no sumac at all– but I decided to keep mine pretty basic. In order to make the most fresh and delicious za’atar possible, I started with whole versions of all the ingredients. I dried the thyme by roasting it at the lowest possible temperature for my oven– 170°F. I left the door cracked and checked it after a couple of hours. The sumac, sesame, and cumin were each toasted in a dry pan over medium heat. I took the sumac and cumin off when they became aromatic, but I roasted the sesame until it was a lovely golden color. Each spice got a whiz in my grinder and was sifted through a fine mesh sieve to eliminate any large chunks (except for the sesame, which I left partially whole). A touch of cayenne gives this za’atar a little kick.

Za’atar

1/4 cup ground sumac
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp sesame, toasted and roughly ground
2 tsp sea salt
3 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine and store in a cool, dry place. Yields a little over a half a cup.

This spice mixture is excellent on roasted vegetables and meats, sprinkled over hummus, or dusted on flat bread dough before it goes in the oven. Let me know how you use it!

za'atar

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year four

It’s been a while, folks.

glasses pouchThe reason for this lengthy hiatus from blogging was a desire to update with a post about Nick’s anniversary present– which, had everything gone as planned, would have been a pair of wooden glasses– and which, despite being terribly late, would have been peeking out from inside this linen pouch.

The long story (hopefully) somewhat shortened, is that buying a house, tiling a floor, and living out of a single room while your hardwoods are refinished is infinitely worse than the chaos of simply moving, as we were last year around that time. In addition to (mostly) not being handmade, this year’s present would be late. I spent a little time looking for the best pair of wooden glasses that could be filled with prescription lenses and that weren’t $500. Before ordering the pair I settled on, I fired off an email with a couple of questions, and waited. And waited. After a week and no response, I ignored the obvious foreshadowing and ordered anyway. Five weeks and a paypal dispute later, I don’t have the present I planned to give, but at least I got a refund.

Traditionally, anniversary number four calls for a linen gift. This little pouch was a challenge to make, but mostly because nearly all of my craft and sewing supplies were still boxed up in the garage. Once I scrounged up the bare essentials, I spent a day on it: the glasses were applied with a little silkscreen ink and a freezer-paper stencil, the drawstring is a scrap of red yarn from my stash, and the lining is some silky bamboo jersey– soft and scratch-free for whatever lenses are inside. It won’t contain any wooden glasses, but it’ll work just fine for his pair of back-ups.

jersey interiorWhile I feel pretty guilty about not giving my amazing husband an equally amazing (and timely) gift, I’m a little comforted by the fact that I already have an idea for next year, and I think it will be fantastic. Hopefully it’ll be worthy of the man I’m lucky enough to be married to.

For past anniversaries, click: one, two, or three.

I’ll have more to show you soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Life | 2 Comments

pip and the new house

this is pip

This is Pip. He’s a fluffy little ball of terror– attacking everything that moves and some things that don’t. He purrs in an instant, loves to perch on our shoulders, and we like him in spite of our bevy of scratch marks (although we haven’t gotten many since we trimmed his claws, so that one’s on us). We adopted this little menace about a week before we moved houses, which may not usually be the best idea– but he and Lexi seemed to start to tolerate each other just after we moved in, so everything worked out okay. She’s not totally convinced this creature in perpetual-attack-mode is a good idea, but I think she’ll warm up to him when he mellows out and spends more than a second standing still.

lexi at the new house

So far, home ownership has been exciting, expensive, and challenging. It’s hard to prioritize the many home improvements we want to make, especially when we are limited by time and money. We got a nice surprise when we pulled up some laminate “wood” flooring to find paint-covered red oak hardwoods underneath. Score! After they’re refinished, we can finally unpack our things and retire from the nomad lifestyle. I’m counting down the days.

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we bought a house

books for the backyardAfter about a month of looking at houses and weeks upon weeks of delays, extensions, and paperwork errors, we are finally homeowners! We didn’t end up in the biggest house we looked at, nor the fanciest, nor the house that would require the least amount of work– but ours was the only house I could immediately imagine as our home.

It’s a modest little cottage on a huge (nearly quarter-acre) lot, and as you may have surmised, we’ve got a lot of plans for all that space. It’ll be a while before our wallets catch up with our dreams, but I’ll keep you posted along the way.

Posted on by Jessica in Home, Life | 6 Comments