finally, a loom

the loomThis loom has actually been folded-up in the corner of the dining room for a little while, waiting for a warping board. It’s a second-hand Leclerc, and I find myself describing it with feminine pronouns and wondering if I should give her a name, as one might designate a boat or a car. I was happy for the delay that warping board construction afforded, because it’s been a few years since I had to load a warp on a loom, and it’s not very much fun. My preferred method of learning new things (or re-learning, in this case) is to just wing it and analyze the outcome, but weaving is too technical– it relies so much on math and precision, and there are too many factors that affect the end result. And, let’s be real– there’s no way I’m spending three hours stringing thread through heddles on a whim.

heddles and stringLuckily, it wasn’t too hard to pick back up, and there were only a couple times I had to guess and hope for the best. I decided to start with a striped warp of unmercerized cotton, which I’m weaving into dish towels. This way, even if it’s a terrible disaster, the finished product will be functional.

future dishtowelsNow that I’m done with the tedious part, I can enjoy the process of weaving. There is something deeply comforting about its repetition, and in creating something which will be handled and put to use. It’s been nice remembering the little things I forgot I missed, like the creaky heave of the pedals and the sigh of string through the reed. I’ve barely begun, and I’m already thinking about what I’ll weave next.


– I just finished this incredible book, and I wish it never had to end.
– Can’t wait until October 23rd.
– Today is the right kind of day for a batch of this.

Posted on by Jessica in Links, Weaving | Leave a comment

six years

year six branding iron

This year’s anniversary post is a little late because it required Nick’s input. Traditionally, year six calls for an iron present, but I decided to be less literal about it. This gift is totally non-ferrous, but it’s technically an iron, so I think it counts. Nick created a design (inspired by this) and I sent it off to a company that mills solid aluminum into a brand. He can use it on handmade furniture, art crates, or whatever else strikes his fancy. We have already tested its culinary applications.

Because most of our photos together are cell phone selfies featuring cats, we decided to break out the real camera. This had the dual purpose of capturing our portrait and working through the backlog of expired film taking up room in my freezer.

year sixThanks for being mine for six sweet years, bub.

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

Posted on by Jessica in Life | 3 Comments

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!

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 2 Comments

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

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 4 Comments

this and that



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.

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Food, Life, Soap | Leave a comment

shirts from 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.

– 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.

Posted on by Jessica in Links, Sewing | Leave a comment

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.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Life | Leave a comment

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