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?

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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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five down

wooden beer mug
Yesterday marks fives years since I married my best friend. I’d planned an elaborate, masterfully crafted, homemade gift, but I didn’t stop to consider that my woodworking experience is limited to making canvas stretchers or that Nick is off for the entire summer, giving me no time for working on secret projects. Instead, I scoured the internet for the best wooden beer mug I could find, and settled on this one. It’s maple and mahogany, and will hold 12 ounces of delicious home brew.

smoker

One of Nick’s gifts to me was this bee smoker with a wooden bellows. I won’t get to use it until next spring when we get our hive, but in the meantime, I’m geeking out over what a cool object it is. Incidentally, I’ve discovered that my cats don’t like air blown in their faces.

The traditional sixth anniversary gift is iron, and I’m very glad to have 364 days to come up with an idea for that one. Although if they pass by as quickly as the last five years, our sixth anniversary will be here in no time! I can’t wait to find out what the coming years bring. Love you, old bean!

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

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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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