wedding presents

A couple months ago, my little sister got married. Although my sisters are just six and eight years younger than me, I’ve always felt a sort of parental responsibility for them. I approached Savannah’s wedding as I do all their major life events: with a bittersweet mixture of adulation tinged with a tiny bit of sadness– because I can’t believe how quickly they’ve both grown into such terribly beautiful and brilliant young women. Ok, enough corny gushing and on to the presents:

nan's wedding presentNick carved some wooden spoons from a piece of dalmata, a hardwood from the Peruvian jungle. I got my hands on a couple yards of linen and made my sister some fancy fabric napkins. The pattern I silk-screened has been waiting around for the perfect application, and this was it. You’ll definitely see more of it soon, so keep your eye out.

Of course, I was asked to contribute some macarons:

wedding macaronsI developed a couple of the flavors for these macarons around her wedding colors, but they turned out so tasty, I’ve already got plans to make them again. I love a good lemon macaron, but wanted to come up with something a little different for the yellow-colored treats. When I stumbled across honey powder, I knew it’d be perfect. I added a couple tablespoons to the macaron batter, and mixed up a batch of mascarpone frosting that was sweetened with honey to pipe between the baked cookies. Each macaron sandwich was kissed with a single drop of honey before it was frosted and assembled.

I’ve had the idea for key lime pie macarons ever since I had my first taste of speculoos. If you’re unfamiliar with it, imagine a paste with the consistency of peanut butter and the flavor of graham crackers. It’s an integral part of my recipe because it exactly mimics the flavor of a graham cracker crust. Before I baked a batch of these, I did a quick google search to see if anyone else had the same idea as me– and it seems like a lot of the “key lime pie macarons” out there are really just “key lime macarons”. To make the shells, I added about a half a tablespoon of lime zest to the macaron batter, but didn’t color it, so that the green specks of zest became not only a flavoring agent but a decorative element in the finished cookie. I used the standard recipe for key lime pie filling, but cooked it on the stove top, and strained it like a custard. After it was chilled, it became perfectly thick enough to pipe. Tucked into the center of each macaron, behind a ring of key lime pie filling, I piped a little speculoos. The combination of the softly spiced graham-cracker-like paste and the bright, tart key lime filling was absolutely perfect, and each bite tasted just like a bite of key lime pie. This may be the best thing I’ve ever invented.

Last but not least are the matcha macarons. I’ve made them dozens of times, and they’ll always be one of my favorite flavors. I used a tablespoon of matcha to flavor the shells, and filled them with my standard mascarpone frosting.

As expected, her wedding was incredibly lovely– it was elegant, lively, and so much fun– just like my sister. Of course, I wish for nothing but the most blissful, carefree life for her and her husband. Love you, Nanny-poo.

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

vegan chili

Although this is a blog about things I’ve made, most of what I spend time making isn’t featured here at all. I do post about the occasional baked good, but I don’t really document my everyday cooking (and I have to do quite a bit of it to keep up with all this). One reason is that there are already a ton of food blogs out there doing a fantastic job, and while I do my share of off-the-cuff cooking, I’d rather not stop and figure out how much rosemary I just threw in the pot so I can blog about it– that would take away from an activity I find really relaxing and enjoyable. Most of my cooking takes place in the evening, which usually means conditions are less than ideal for food photography. And most importantly, the evening is when I spend time with Nick, and I can’t really do that if I’m stuck behind a camera or jotting down recipe notes.

That being said, I have a recipe for you. I made it during the day, when Nick was at work, and when I’d have more than enough light to snap a few pictures. And even though I usually season and taste until I get it just right, this time I took notes on how much of what was thrown into the pot. I give you vegan chili:

vegan chiliFolks, I like bacon just as much as the next guy. Even though I’m an avowed meat eater, I really don’t cook with meat more than a few times a month. Although it’s nice when a meatless dish turns out to be healthier than its meat-filled counterpart, it’s not always true that eating vegetarian is better for you (the ultra-cheesy greens and potato gratin I made last week is a testament to that). One of the reasons I make a lot of vegetarian dishes is that I like a little flexibility– oftentimes, vegetarian ingredients have a longer shelf life than a piece of meat, so I can put off making a dish without worrying about anything expiring in the mean time. However, I usually don’t cook with meat because it’s almost always more expensive, especially if you seek out free-range, hormone-free meats. In the case of this chili, a few cans of beans cost much less than 4 or 5 pounds of beef.

This recipe’s the meatless version of my mom’s famous chili– a dish she makes a giant pot of every Christmas Eve. I adapted her recipe so I’d have something similar to eat, but different enough that her Christmas version is still a special treat. Although there’s no meat, textured vegetable protein lends a toothsome texture. If you’re unfamiliar with tvp, you’re probably assuming it’s some kind of hippie food, and you’re kind of right– but it transforms a pretty basic vegetarian chili into something much heartier. I’ve only tried the kind I linked to, but I’ve also seen tvp chunks and textured soy protein, both of which would work just as well. If you can’t find any of these, bulgur is a decent substitute that’s more widely available.

chili ingredientsVegan Chili

4 poblano peppers (or 2 poblanos and 2 green bell peppers)
1 large onion
2 jalapenos
4 cloves of garlic
2 46oz cans of tomato juice
1 1/2 cups of textured vegetable protein
2 30oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 30oz cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15oz can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp of brown sugar
salt to taste

The first step is to remove the tough skin of the poblano peppers. If you’re lucky enough to live in a house with a gas stove, you can easily turn on a burner and char away, but I do not, and my broiler is weird and unreliable, so I just scorch them with a blow torch.

charring a poblanoOnce the skin is charred and blistered, immediately slip each pepper into a zip-lock bag and leave them to cool for 15 minutes or so. Afterwards, you should be able to rub the skin off with a clean paper towel.

I am not a big fan of chunks of peppers and onions, so I usually chop these ingredients into smithereens. If you don’t mind a chunky chili, you can make pretty quick work of chopping up the onion and peppers, but it takes me quite a while to get through it all. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll only chop one poblano, a jalapeno, and half the onion. I put the rest of the onion and peppers into a blender with a little of the tomato juice and make a pepper puree. It takes a lot less time and adds a bit of body to the chili.

Heat a tbsp or so of oil in a large stockpot (I use a 16 qt) over medium heat. Add your chopped peppers and onion, and cook until they’re tender but not browned. Add the garlic, minced, and cook for another minute. Pour in the tomato juice (and pepper puree, if you’ve made some) and bring to a low boil.

While this is heating, prepare your tvp according to the package directions. If you want to keep it vegan, you can use water to rehydrate it, but I often use chicken or beef stock for a little extra flavor.

When the tomato juice starts bubbling, add the beans, tvp, spices, and sugar (if you’re using bulgur, you can add it to the pot uncooked, and boil the chili until it’s tender). Add salt to taste and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally.

A batch of this chili will easily serve a dozen hungry adults, and can be stretched even further if you serve it with a side of cornbread, or my favorite, spooned over a baked sweet potato and topped with a little monterey jack cheese. Because it can be made vegan, it’s perfect for serving to a group with a variety of dietary needs. I like to freeze individual servings and reheat them for a quick and hearty lunch.

Of course, this is a pretty basic recipe and is easily adaptable. Feel free to swap the poblanos or jalapenos for whatever peppers you fancy, and don’t feel limited to black and kidney beans. If it’s your thing, add in some chopped roasted tomatoes or some corn. My recipe is what I’d consider a medium-level of spiciness, but you can make it milder by leaving out a jalapeno or hotter by adding another (or cayenne pepper, to taste).

If you make a batch, let me know what you think!

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nebula shirt

nebula shirtFor Christmas, I made my brothers some nebula shirts. I looked at a lot of online tutorials and gleaned a little bit from each one, but also came up with a couple of my own techniques.

  • I started with two black, 100% cotton tees. If you’re using fiber reactive dyes, it’s important to make sure the garment you’re dyeing is made of natural fibers. You can get away with using something that is mostly made of natural fibers, but the dyes won’t be as vibrant.
  • Next, I filled a spray bottle with bleach and sprayed the shirts down (front and back). For some reason, the bleach I bought wasn’t especially potent, and the spots I sprayed never got lighter than a brownish-red color. It’s best to test a hidden spot of your garment with a drop or so of your bleach to see the effect it has. It could be that a solution of bleach and water is strong enough to lighten your garment (and you can always bleach more if need be). I concentrated the bleach spray in a few areas and left a couple spots pretty black for contrast.
  • I let the shirts sit for a half hour or so, then ran them through the wash to remove the bleach.
  • The shirts went straight from the washing machine into a baking soda solution to prepare them for dyeing. I used four or five different colors, but it’s hard to see much more than the purple and blue. If I’d had more time, I’d have mixed up a stronger solution of each of my other colors and re-dyed the shirts, but as usual, I was down to the wire. Although they didn’t quite match my reference image, the blue and purple gave it enough of a nebula look that I was satisfied.
  • After applying the dye and letting the shirts set overnight, I washed and dried them. The last step is to dip an old toothbrush (or any comparable brush) in white silk screen ink (or fabric paint), and flick white specks over the shirts to make stars. I left most of the small specks alone, but I used a q-tip to spread out the ink on the larger stars to create shine lines. After the ink dried, I heat set it and gave the shirts one more wash and dry.

Although they took some time to make, the effect is pretty dramatic. I may have to find myself a pair of black cotton tights so I can wear nebulas on my legs.

In other news,
- I made this a little while ago, and it was really tasty.
- Saw this movie last night and was thoroughly entertained.
- Next up is one of my staple recipes, so come back soon.

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

woven table runner

hand woven table runnerMy mom-in-law can be a tough one to make presents for. Although she’d sincerely love anything Nick or I made her simply by virtue of our effort, it can be challenging coming up with useful gift ideas for things she doesn’t already have. When she sent me this book for my birthday and a card that jokingly said, “Now you have to weave me something!”, I started brainstorming.

I remembered how much she admired the pattern and color of the scarf I made my mom last year, but knew I’d have to think of something else to weave– we’re talking about a lady who’s so warm-natured, she can be seen rocking shorts and sandals 360 days a year. So, a table runner it was!

hand woven table runner
Like the scarves I made, this table runner is woven in overshot (using two colors of thread in the weft), but I also moved the selvages in a little so I could create a plain weave border with the cream colored thread. The differences in the sizes of thread and the types of weave resulted in a lot of contrast (both visually and tactilely) between the patterned section and the border. I’m pretty proud of this one.

Now, if only I could find myself a cheap loom so I could get weaving again– anybody within driving distance of Fort Worth looking to get rid of one?

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 1 Comment

jewelry for christmas

gem earringI made a couple dozen pairs of these fimo gem earrings to give to all of the ladies in my life. You can make them in virtually any color, and they’re very quick and inexpensive to put together. My ears aren’t pierced, but if they were, you can be sure I’d have a pair of these for every outfit. To make a pair, just:

- Knead a little fimo until it’s pliable, and form into a rough ball.
- Use an exacto or craft knife to make clean slices from the very edges of the fimo ball. Continue to rotate and slice until you’ve got a gem shape you like (it may take a little practice to get it just right).
- Bake according to the package directions, and allow to cool.
- Attach to an earring back with a little dab of glue (I used this).

necklacesI used the same method to make some gem-shaped beads for matching necklaces. It’s an excellent last-minute gift idea, because you can have a pair of earrings (or a necklace) made in under an hour.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 3 Comments

a dyed basket

hand woven basketLongtime readers may recognize this as the same style of basket from this first basket post. Although I’ve woven a few different types of baskets since then, the potato basket remains my favorite. My plan was to dip it a couple times in a tub of latex paint, giving the bottom half of the basket a smooth, matte coating to contrast the textured reeds it’s made of. But when I hadn’t yet dipped the basket a couple days before we were set to drive to Houston, I realized I’d have to come up with a new plan, or risk getting wet paint in my car. I had a bucket of dye left over from this project, so in it went. I love the way the reeds soaked up the dye– even in parts that weren’t submerged, you can see tiny veins of bluish-green. I finished the top off with a little tung oil, and the basket was complete.

Check back later for more handmade presents!

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things made of cord

Unlike the low-tech potato-stamped bags of the last post, two of these cord baskets benefited from a bit of a technological intervention. When I told Nick I was planning on dip-dyeing some some things, he insisted on building me a machine that would do the work for me. As it turns out, it was exactly what I needed:

rope giftsThe outpatient drug treatment
general contractor
alcohol withdrawal
lower back pain relief
best wireless speakers
construction company
plantar fasciitis treatment
bluetooth wireless speakers
yellow bag and the red basket both took a ride on the dyeing machine, and although it’s hard to tell with the yellow, you can see the subtle gradation of color on the red basket. The yellow bag was the first non-round cord creation of mine, and it was a bit trickier than the standard circular basket. After dyeing it, I attached a couple hand-stitched leather handles with some brass rivets:

rope bag with leather handlesI dyed the cord for the green and blue basket before I sewed it together. I like how it turned out, but next time I’ll probably soak the cord before dyeing it so that the color disperses a little more.

dyed rope basket close-upI’ll have some more handmade Christmas presents to show you soon!

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 4 Comments

how to print your own fabric with a potato

I’ve got a few fabric-printing techniques under my belt, each with its own drawbacks, benefits, and results. Screen printing is a good way to cleanly and uniformly print a lot of a complex design at once, but never seems to be a good option for last-minute projects because our photo-emulsion is somehow perpetually expired. It’s also a bit more complicated and involved, since there are many steps to go through to produce a good screen and then print with it accurately, so it’s not the most economical option for really simple projects. Freezer paper stencils can produce a print similar to that of a silk screen, but can only be used once– and depending on the complexity of the design, they can take a while to make. Stamping fabric to produce a design takes just a tad longer than the time you spend carving the stamp, which, if you’re using a potato, could take just a minute. Printing with stamps is not typically clean– there tend to be artifacts like smudges and drips, too much or not enough paint, and it can be hard to achieve a lot of detail. It’s this imperfection that I find charming and lovely, and that’s why I decided to stamp some fabric.

all you need to print your own fabricAll you need to to print your own fabric is something to print on, something to print with, and some ink.

- My plan was to make tote bags with a simple triangle print in three different colorways, and since I already had a lot of nice bottom weight cotton on hand, I decided to just make my own rather than drive to the store to buy blank bags. I cut out the pieces for each bag before printing them so I’d have no wasted fabric.
- You can find a myriad of excellent stamp-making options at your typical craft store, but if your design is simple and you don’t care about saving your stamp, a potato’s the way to go. It’s cheap, biodegradable, and if you mess up while carving it, you can just slice a little off and start over.
- I used a screen-printing ink I had on hand, but I’d imagine fabric paint would work too. Regular old acrylic paint might do in a pinch, but won’t hold up as well to washing and will crack and chip over time.

First, make sure whatever you’re printing on is clean and ready to go. I used this tutorial to make my tote bags, and had each piece cut and the components of each bag organized before I started. Next, carve your stamp:

potato stampSince I wanted to create a grid of triangles, I used a fabric pen with disappearing ink to draw a single line through the middle of my fabric. This ensured my first row was straight and allowed me to stamp repeating rows of pattern accurately.

potato stampingI tried dipping my potato stamp in paint, applying it with a palette knife, and painting it on with a brush; I found that the latter had the most consistent results. After I stamped the first row, I matched up the top corners of the printed triangles with the bottom corners of my stamp, and covered the entire piece of fabric.

all doneThe silk screen ink I used needs to be heat-set, so I ironed each piece for a few minutes, then sewed up my bags:

hand-printed bagsI love how they turned out, and I’ll definitely use this method again in future projects!

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Sewing | 19 Comments

painting and such

paintingI’m spending most of my time these days finishing up my commission so I can really get started on Christmas presents. It’s turning out pretty good, which is much better than I usually feel about things I make. Taking a three year break from painting hasn’t seemed to affect my skills, and it was pretty easy to pick it back up again. I may have to do a little more painting in the future.

Anyway, Christmas-present-making always means a little break from blogging, so don’t expect to hear much from me until the new year. I’m really excited about this year’s presents, so it’ll be hard to hold off posting about them.

In other news:

- Today I’m going to finish up my holiday music playlist– something I’ve had to work on in secret because I’m married to a Christmas music hater. What a humbug.
- These are so lovely, and so, so expensive.
- Can’t wait to get started on holiday treats with the help of this.

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fruits of the orange tree

box o' orangesWe came back from our Thanksgiving trip to Houston with full bellies, bags of leftovers, and a box of oranges. Nick’s aunt has an orange tree in her backyard, and when we went to visit, its branches were heavy with hundreds of the ripe fruit. Nick cut them off and plopped them in this box until I said it was heavy enough. I knew right away I’d be making some curd.

My go-to lemon curd recipe is from Joy of Cooking (minus the vanilla extract), but I knew the orange version wouldn’t be right for the fruit we picked– because the oranges were so sweet, I knew I’d want to decrease the sugar and add a little lemon juice for tang. This recipe calls for both those things, with the genius added step of reducing the orange juice for a more concentrated flavor. It’s pretty much perfect.

orange curd on a biscuitThe curd came out creamy, brilliantly golden, and not too sweet, and I have been eating it for breakfast every day on a freshly-baked biscuit. We saved a dozen or so oranges for snacking, and the rest were juiced into a gallon of the freshest OJ I’ve ever tasted. I think I’ll definitely need an orange tree of my own, someday.

juice and the fruit

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