red, white, and blue macarons

red, white, and blue macaronsI made these macarons for a friend’s baby shower a few days ago, and it just so happened that the nautical-themed colors coincided perfectly with the July fourth holiday. Vanilla bean and red velvet are two flavors I’ve baked before, but the blueberry was a new one. I added a heaping tablespoon of blueberry powder (made by whirring some of these in a spice grinder) and each sandwich got a kiss of blueberry jam and a dollop of blue-tinted mascarpone frosting. Next time I’ll double the blueberry powder and up the jam so each bite is packed with a more intense blueberry flavor. Precisely ten minutes after I finished piping the last macaron, it dawned on me that parchment paper might be sold in sheets rather than in a roll, and it is! I don’t know how it took me so long to figure this out, but my macaron game is about to get a lot better now that I no longer have to fight the creeping edges of curly parchment. I wish I’d had this epiphany sooner!

Because these macarons served as party favors, I finally got some use out of this impulse buy from last year: macaron boxes!

macaron boxI’m always grateful to be an American, but this Independence Day is made much more poignant and meaningful after the recent and long-overdue supreme court ruling. I’m so proud to live in a country that champions equality. Happy birthday, America!

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honeysuckle jelly

honeysuckle jelly
There are few things in the world that I love as much as the scent of honeysuckle. One whiff and I am seven years old, barefoot in the backyard with my brothers, pulling apart the wispy blossoms to find the single drop of nectar inside. Even if you’re not the nostalgic type, it’s impossible not to appreciate these tiny ombre flowers and the way their heady fragrance marks the end of spring. I decided to preserve this fleeting moment with a batch of honeysuckle jelly.

picking blossoms

 

basket of honeysucklesI followed this recipe, which calls for four cups of honeysuckle flowers. The vine by my house is particularly prolific, so I grabbed a basket and filled it with hundreds of the butter-yellow blossoms. The honeysuckle was then steeped in hot water, creating a really potent, aromatic infusion that’s used as the base of the jelly. I found that a lot of the delicate flavor cooked out as I boiled it to gel point, but the result is still delicious– sweet and faintly floral, with some brightness from the added lemon juice. So far, my favorite jelly application is to spread it on a piece of toast with some fresh ricotta. This batch yielded ten four ounce jars, but I have a feeling it won’t last long.

honeysuckle jelly on toast with ricotta

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this and that

mirror/cat

 

vintage juice glasses

 

lemon-poppy seed soap

 

color-swirled marshmallows

Here are a few recent things not worthy of their own post:

Up top is an incredible mirror I got my mom as an early mother’s day present (and also, Pip, pretending to be majestic). It’s so precisely carved and in such intricate detail that you hardly notice what it’s reflecting. I wanted to keep it for myself, which is probably a sign it’s a wonderful gift, right?

We got an unexpected package in the mail containing eight superlative juice glasses, a belated christmas gift from some dear friends. I’ve kept two out for daily use, but the rest are tucked away safely. They’re nearly too pretty to drink from.

I made a batch of lemon-poppy seed soap a while back, and in many ways, it turned out better than I could have hoped. Completely by accident, the batch gelled, which means it’s more shiny and translucent than a normal batch of soap– a nice feature for a bar embedded with poppy seeds. Nick made me a few molds, so the soap set with perfect squared corners and straight edges, which made it much easier to cut into uniform bars. The recipe is one I concocted to use the oils leftover from the christmas soap experiment, and although it was untested and entirely made up, it resulted in a better batch than the recipe I used then. This is my new go-to soap base:

12 oz canola oil
8 oz castor oil
16 oz coconut oil (76 deg)
10 oz olive oil
4 oz shea butter
19 oz water
7.04 oz lye

To make it lemon-poppy seed, I added 1.5 oz lemon essential oil and a quarter cup of poppy seeds at trace. It’s got an excellent lather and it smells like dessert.

Nick had the genius idea to partially swirl food coloring into a batch of marshmallows, and my only regret is that nobody thought of it sooner. The ribbons of dye formed technicolor striations and made for some trippy looking s’mores.

Other things:

– I’ve made this cake twice in as many weeks, and I already have plans to make it again. It’s that good.
– My antique mall luck has been off the charts lately– I’ve had my eye out for one of these for AGES, and I finally found one.
– I’m spending every second there’s cool, breezy weather listening to mountain man with the windows open, trying to enjoy this season before the onslaught of summer heat.

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shirts from saris

saris
I’m always on the lookout for interesting textiles, so when my mom offered up a couple of silk saris she discovered while thrifting, it was easy to say yes. She hinted that they’d make excellent shirts, so with Christmas fast approaching, I picked out a couple of patterns and mentally prepared myself to cut into the precious fabric. I think I did alright:

sari shirt
As soon as I saw the beautiful gold-thread embroidery on the selvedge edge of the black and white sari, I knew I’d have to leave it intact on the bottom of the shirt. I love the extra weight the heavy thread adds to the delicate fabric and the tactile contrast between the silk and the cool metal. I put together a braided rope necklace to go along with it. (This was for my mom, but is modeled by my sister Bonnie with a special guest appearance by Blanca the cat.)

sari tank
Bonnie will always be associated with this mustard-yellow color in my mind, so I knew I’d be making this sari into a tank for her. I didn’t bother with a selvedge edge at the bottom of the shirt, but I cut a little square out of a differently-patterned section to make a contrasting pocket. She also got a coordinating rope necklace. Both shirts were easy to put together, but I made sure to take my time– I get nervous working with a material so dear.

Also,
– I scored this sweet card for my valentine while antiquing last month.
– Today is dreary and overcast, so I’m listening to some equally gloomy music.
– I really need a reason to make a batch of this today.

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homemade soap

homemade cold-process soapSoap making has been on the docket for years, but something’s always stopped me from getting organized enough to make a batch. There are hundreds of cold-process soap recipes on the internet, and it’s hard to know which are reliable and simple enough for a beginner. I also knew I’d need to amass a small collection of dedicated cookware, measuring cups, utensils and thermometers so I wouldn’t end up mixing pancake batter in a bowl that once had lye in it. Speaking of lye, I was nervous about working with such a potentially dangerous substance– especially considering how often I manage to spill boiling hot tea on myself (more frequently than I’d care to admit).

Nothing motivates me quite like the holiday season, so with the December deadline looming, I got to work. I used a similar base recipe for all the soaps, and subbed different liquids and additives to create each scent: goat milk, honey, & oat soap; peppermint soap; coffee soap; and beer soap. The peppermint batch was the only one I tried coloring. I’d hoped to achieve a vibrant red and white swirl, but the bright red I mixed up faded to a kind of dull brick-red, and when striped with an off-white, resulted in what Nick referred to as “bacon colors”. So, I still need a little practice coloring soap. Because I wasn’t sure my soap experiment wouldn’t be a terrific disaster, I didn’t invest in a soap mold– instead, I spent a shockingly short amount of time saving empty quart-sized cream cartons and used two for each 5 lb batch of soap. After a day or two, the soap hardened and I peeled the cardboard off. These worked pretty well in the short term, but bowed a little when they were filled, which meant my finished bars were a little wonky.

Each batch yielded 16 bars with a little trimmed off the top for testing. I used a crinkle cutter to give each bar a fancy rippled top. After the bars cured for a month, they were wrapped in paper sleeves, labeled, and handed out to family and friends.

homemade soap

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Soap | 1 Comment

christmas gift bags

christmas gift bagAlthough I do some kind of gift basket every year, I haven’t always done a great job documenting the contents. I’m usually scrambling to finish making components and end up sending them out the door before I can even snap a photo. This year, bad time management paid off, and by the time I was done putting everything together, a lot of the recipients had left town. Most everybody is getting New Year’s treats this time around, but that means I had time to break out the camera.

This year’s gift bags include:

-Raspberry and blackberry jam
-Mushroom salt (a blend of dehydrated wild mushrooms, coarse grey sea salt, thyme, and pink peppercorns)
-Spicy brown ale mustard
-English toffee (adapted from this recipe)
-Pretzel fudge
-Sea salt caramels
-Beef and pork summer sausage (Nick’s contribution)
-Apple butter (recipe from this cookbook)
-A mediocre attempt at Sriracha (I won’t share the recipe, because it’s not even close)
-Homemade soaps (more on this later)

Because I am a crazy person, I’d actually planned on doing more than this, but came to my senses when I looked at a calendar. The rainbow of macarons has been re-slated for next year’s gift bags. Something went totally awry when I calculated how much mustard I’d need to make, and I ended up with an insane amount. If you want some mustard, let me know! I will never eat it all and I need the fridge space. In the meantime, I am putting mustard on everything.

Other news:
-If you were wondering what the most beautiful mug in the world looks like, look no further (thanks, mom and nan)!
-Finally my love of NPR and true crime is combined into one awesome podcast.
-I have seen a lot of excellent movies lately, but this is a recent favorite.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Life, Links | 3 Comments

new things

mom's ceramics
albanian socks!
krantz cake
pip's new hideoutI’ve been keeping busy around here, finishing a few small projects before christmas-present-making goes into full swing. Here’s some of what’s been going on:

In an attempt to declutter, my mom showed up at my house with a couple boxes of old things, including a few of the ceramic pieces she made in college. Most of these vessels were a part of the landscape of my childhood, and I remember regarding them with an awe and reverence that stemmed from more than just their relative fragility. I can’t believe they’re a part of my home now.

The beautiful socks in the second photo were hand-knit by an Albanian woman, and hand-selected for me by one of my worldly friends while traveling abroad. I put them on for the photo, but they’re much too lovely and precious to actually wear. I’m going to keep them someplace I can gaze at them adoringly.

That krantz cake has been on my to-bake-list for well over a year, but the intricate-looking folds, two-day prep time, and final sugar syrup glaze made it look like too much of a feat. Allowing the dough to rest overnight seemed a bit fussy, but it serves to break up the active preparation, making this seemingly complicated confection much more manageable. The sugar syrup takes just a minute to make, and lends a glossy sheen to the finished cake. It bakes up buttery and rich, and the chocolate filling seeps out in ribbons, craggy with pecans. It’s just as delicious as it is pretty.

We discovered recently that when he’s not laying on top of my sleeping head or trying to climb my body in an attempt to perch on my shoulder, Pip is content to spend most of his time tucked away in a paper bag. His preferred mode of entrance is to run and dive inside, sliding across the hardwood floors and creating way more noise than paper should.

I’m enjoying the recent drop in temperature more than I can say. Although it’s not cold enough for boots, scarves, and oversize sweaters (my favorite temperature), it’s cool enough that I can savor a cup of tea on the porch or drive around town with my windows down, blasting this from my car speakers.

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baby things

baby thingsSome dear friends of ours are expecting, and I could not be more excited! They are awesome people who deserve equally awesome baby gifts, so I bought some soft yarn and some velvety pigskin suede and got to work.

The baby bear hat is a super quick project– I stitched the whole thing up while watching a movie. The yarn I used was a cozy acrylic/wool blend that can be put through the washer, which is a pretty important feature of any knitted baby accessory. The moccasins are based on this pattern, which is easy to adjust for different sizes of little feet. I love the scalloped edges in the original pattern, but I wanted to make something a little less girly, so I redrafted the pieces so they’d have a simple fringe edge. This tomato-red suede is so beautiful! I wish I had some shoes made out of it.

Other things:
– I’ve got this bubbling away in the oven, and it’s making my house smell incredible.
This dessert was a huge hit and made use of some red currants I couldn’t resist buying.
– Is it weird that I want to be best friends with this guy?

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Links, Sewing | 2 Comments

linen shirt and skirt

checked linenThis checked linen was purchased on a whim and for years has been stuffed, forgotten, in my fabric stash. Last week I had a few days off in a row, so I decided to put together an outfit for a party on the weekend. By some miracle, every element I needed for this shirt– from the pattern, the fabric, down to the notions– was already sitting on my shelf. I love it when that happens.

linen skirt and shirtI used this pattern for the shirt, and made a few small alterations so it would hit just below my waist. If you have a keen eye, you might notice that in spite of careful planning and meticulous stitching, I couldn’t quite manage to match the checked pattern when I sewed the side seams. I’m still pretty pleased with how close I got! The best part of this shirt is the delightfully criss-crossed back:

criss-crossed shirt backI finally wised up and realized that my love of linen is contributing to the amount of ironing I do on a regular basis, so the skirt is made of a linen/rayon blend that isn’t as quick to wrinkle and has an excellent drapability. I followed this pattern exactly.

More soon!

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raspberry jam

8 cups of raspberriesEvery summer, for a day or two, raspberries go on super sale. You can pick up a 6 oz clamshell for 99¢, and the berries are sweet, juicy, and very, very ripe. I wait for these days all year long, and I spend every one of them gorging myself on my favorite fruit. This year, that period seemed to last much longer than usual, and I found myself making extra trips to the grocery store so I could cruise through the produce section and pick up more cheap raspberries. In spite of my constant berry consumption, I ended up with towering stacks of 6 oz clamshells in my fridge, and I knew I’d have to use them up soon– before they were lost to a fuzzy blanket of white mold.

I managed to use a few cups in this cake, but it only made a small dent in my berry supply. It was time to break out the dutch oven and make some jam.

jam on the stoveIt’d been a few years since I’d last made a batch of jam, so although I didn’t follow it exactly, I referred to this recipe for instruction. The warm sugar trick is one I’ll keep in mind for all future jam-making. I ended up using about 8 cups of berries, 5 cups of sugar, and the juice of one small lemon. After a little while on the stove, the berries broke down completely, and turned into a thick, deeply scarlet syrup.

jam's doneThis is easily the best jam I’ve ever made– it was perfectly sweet, intensely fruity, and it gelled up impeccably. I ended up with six full half-pint jars and a little left over. I think I’ll hand a few out to friends and selfishly hoard the rest. Perhaps there’s a batch of linzer cookies in my future.

raspberry jamOther things:

– I got this album as an anniversary present from Nick, and it’s been playing non-stop.
This is both an effective and highly entertaining way of cleaning records. I rescued a favorite Billie Holiday album that no amount of felt-brushing could completely clean.
– I’m excited to see this movie this week!

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