Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I, Ironman, take you, Pepper Potts...

This is another portion of the gift that included the embroidered dish towels. The whole gift (towels, an Ironman nightlight, and some gift cards) was "wrapped" in a set of graduated round boxes, painted white, trimmed with ribbon, and stacked on top of each other to look like a cake. The cake topper was this bride and groom set. The groom is slightly obsessed with Ironman (and just happens to look a good bit like Tony Stark in the Ironman movies). Not only that, but the bride also has red hair! So I got these little peg people at the craft store and painted them to look like the bride and groom. The bride's dress looks an awful lot like her actual dress, and the groom's cummerbund and bow tie match the color they will actually be. The last detail--a little glowing blue circle right where Ironman glows! Once I finished all my painting, I sprayed them with clear sealant.

Word to the wise: once you've sprayed them a few times and you're ready to let them dry overnight, put them somewhere that they will be disturbed by neither cats nor wind. My cat was always a little too interested in the little peg people, so I put them outside to dry, where they got blown over by the wind, messing up the finish and forcing me to sand it down, re-paint, and respray! Grr....But I like the way the finished product turned out. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the boxes, either before or after they were finished and assembled into cake-shape. But the bride was pleased, and that's what counts!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

I am blessed to have the whole week of Thanksgiving off from work, and I'll definitely be making use of it.  Today, I hung out with my mom, and we had lunch with my sister.  Tomorrow, I'll be taking care of doctor's appointments and hopefully cleaning my house some in preparation for Christmas decorating.  Wednesday will involve cooking at my grandparents' house to get ready for the big day.  Thursday, of course, is the rest of the cooking, as well as lots of eating and being thankful for all the blessings God has given us this year.  One extra blessing--Small Cousin #2's birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year!

This year we'll be having Thanksgiving dinner at supper time, rather than at lunch.  While we have all the menfolk around, we'll get them to haul all my grandparents' Christmas decorations down from the attic.  We'll get the tree set up and some of the other decorations put around.  It's always nice to have a few second opinions!  My sister doesn't enjoy decorating a whole lot, although she does like to lobby for lots of colorful lights on the tree.  (My preference is usually for something a bit more serene.)  Small Cousin #1 will probably be engrossed in his DS, while Small Cousin #2 will be trying to get everyone to pay attention to the football game on TV.  We'll probably manage to get everyone involved in the tree-decorating once the lights (the hard part) are all finished.  At some point we'll look at the Black Friday ads.  My uncle and grandaddy will be looking for technology, my grandmother, mother, and aunt will be looking for gifts, and my sister and I will be checking to see if anything strikes our fancy enough to get up early to get it. 

One thing I like about Thanksgiving is that it's a rather laid-back holiday.  There aren't lots of day-of parties, like there are for Fourth of July.  There's not a hugely-tight family schedule--we try to schedule dinner so everyone can come, but if someone is with another part of the family, that's okay--we'll hang out with them when they get here.  If you want to lie down for a nap sometime after dinner, you can do that.  I guess the stressful part is the dinner, but I've never been responsible for more than biscuits and "help."  I help crumble the cornbread for dressing, or help toast the almonds for the green beans, or help top the sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows.  Someone else makes sure it all comes out of the oven at roughly the same time!  It's mostly a day when the whole family (or at least the local branches of it)  just hangs out together--no rush, no worries.

So, from me to all my friends and family (and anyone else who may be reading), Happy Thanksgiving!   Don't forget to sit down and spend a few minutes actually thanking God for all He's given you. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Distressing Distress

I've been reading a lot of crafting and decorating blogs lately, and I've been seeing LOTS of heavily distressed finishes.  Now, I love a distressed piece here and there, and I love old things.  My decorating style is informed somewhat by my trip to Italy a few years back (especially Florence).  And many of these items are things I would love to have in my garden, if I didn't live in a climate where they would rot or rust away within a year.  But to me, having a heavily-distressed urn sitting on a heavily-distressed table next to a heavily-distressed chair is a bit much.  Having the exact same thing outside would shout loveliness and sophistication to me.  But having it inside shouts something more along the lines of "dirt."

These are some random photos I found, but picture this lamp on this table in front of this armoire.  All are cool pieces of furniture.  I especially like the lamp.  But, to me, each one would look best with some contrasting furniture and accessories.  For example, put the lamp on a dark-wood table, with a lush velvet reading chair nearby.  Put the armoire in a bedroom with thick comforters and glass or porcelain lamps.  Put the table in an otherwise modern kitchen. 

Perhaps my style is have that much of one finish all together.  But I think, too, that too much distressing gives something of the same feel that too many slick, modern finishes give.  Don't we distress things to give something of an authentic feel, the sense of age, about something?  I like that something slightly distressed already has that "first scratch" in it--I don't have to be worried about messing it up so much.  But really, how much "authenticity" is there to something that was given an appearance of age in two days?  If everything is hugely distressed, in a way that would only happen if you left it out in the weather for half a century, but you know you (or someone else) did all that weathering, to me that feels the same as having a room full of plastic, metal and glass that's all shiny and new-looking. 

Perhaps I'm coming at this from the wrong angle, and perhaps I'll change my mind later on.  But for now, I'll let things age naturally--with perhaps just the tiniest bit of help on occasion. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Things Gotta Get Dried...The Towel Might As Well Be Pretty

You saw the mess in my previous entry. Now that the gift is safely given, I can post the process of turning the mess into something pretty!
Don't make fun of me--some of my favorite things in my kitchen are the flour sack towels that I embroidered a few years back. I got some pretty transfers of fruits and vegetables and used a stem stitch to outline a different fruit or vegetable on each corner of the towels. It took a while, but it was fun. So when it came time to find a small gift to include as part of a bridal shower present, I decided to hie me to Target to get some white flour sack towels. I didn't have a chance to get to a craft shop that sells embroidery transfers, however, so I decided to look online.

I found this website, which has tons of downloadable hand embroidery designs. There were many other sites, as well--just google it.
I printed the pattern twice on the page, a bit smaller than the original size. It looked like the pattern was meant to be done with french knots--the lines were made up of small dots. I had no intention of making that many french knots (besides which, I don't think that texture would be very good for drying dishes), so I went over the pattern on the right with a black pen. I then realized that the designs on the right and left wings are just slightly different, so I color-coded the pattern on the left using red and blue pens. This was a lot of help!

The transfer process: I didn't have a transfer pencil (a pencil you trace onto the paper, then iron onto the fabric), and my fabric-marking pen was fresh out of ink, so I used a pencil and my own version of a light box. After ironing the corner I wanted to embroider onto, I put the fabric into the embroidery hoop upside down (so the tight-stretched fabric was flat against the table. My coffee table is glass, so I put a lamp underneath, laid my pattern down with the towel on top, and traced away! I flipped the light off periodically to be sure I was actually tracing all the lines.
The pattern traced onto the towel. It wasn't nearly as dark as it looks in this photo. Also, stem stitch is pretty wide, and pencil washes out well, so I wasn't concerned about any marks showing.

The right side of the finished towel, right before laundering. See, no visible marks.

The wrong side of the embroidery. With something like a towel, that doesn't necessarily get hung up perfectly after every use, I like to be sure the wrong side is just as neat as the right side. It means you waste a bit more thread, but it looks better, and it keeps fingers and forks from accidentally catching on threads that were carried from one area to another.

I washed them again, ironed them, wrapped them in tissue, and put them into the box they were going to occupy. I'll tell more about the gift (this isn't all of it!) later.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Late-Night Omelet

This late-night cooking adventure involves eggs, salt, Penzey's Bouquet Garni spice mix, vegan cheese, and almond milk. The dairy-free options are simply because that's what I had, not because I have any experience in using them! It also involves salsa, which I didn't think about using when I was taking this photograph.

I whomped up the eggs a little bit in a bowl, seasoned with salt and bouquet garni, and dumped them in a nonstick skillet. I grated in a bit of cheese.  You may recall my one-and-only previous experiment in cooking with vegan cheese, where my Brazilian cheese bread came out more as oil bread.  The vegan cheese works great in omelets, though!

(On the other hand, after I finished making my omelet, I tried using it to make fried cheese.  With normal cheese, you just grate a line of cheese into the pan and let it cook until it browns.  However, vegan cheese doesn't brown--it just turns into oil and some yucky-looking solids.  I don't recommend trying it.)
At this point, I decided I wanted a bit more flavor in my omelet.  So I poured in a bit of salsa--just let it sprinkle in a few spots.

I covered the skillet with a lid for a few minutes to help the top cook. You could also pop it in a hot oven if you want to have it puff up like a fritata.

Tonight, however, I let it cook until it could slip around in the pan (if it doesn't slide after you loosen the edges, it's not yet ready), then folded it in half and enjoyed my French-Mexican omlette.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Strawberry Topping

One of my favorite late-night snacks to make is strawberry topping. I love to have it on ice cream, but today I had no ice cream, only the last few slices of a store-bought angel food cake. Aren't you sorry for me?

This time I made it with frozen strawberries, but it's great with fresh berries or frozen berries of any sort. Step one is to boil the berries. Well, I should clarify that. Tonight, my first step was to dump a couple handsful of strawberries and some sugar into the pot and set it to boiling. In the past, I have occasionally tried caramelizing the sugar first, but it didn't seem to make much difference in the flavor, so I don't usually do that. You can leave the sugar out, if you like--after all, berries tend to be sweet, and you'll probably be using this sauce to top something else sweet. You can also experiment with white sugar, brown sugar, honey, or whatever other sweeteners you like.

I tend to let it go at a pretty strong boil for a while--you want to break down the cells of the berries so they're easier to smash. You also want to get rid of some of the water, so the sauce thickens up. (Remember, it will also thicken some as it cools.) Once the berries begin to break down, I use a fork or a potato masher to squash the berries. I like my sauce pretty lumpy, with large chunks of strawberry, but you may want it smoother, depending on your purposes. I'm sure an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor would also work well!

When the sauce is almost at the thickness and smoothness you want, you can toast your angelfood cake, if that's what you're using the topping for. It's absolutely not necessary, but it's a nice touch. I often add a bit of vanilla or almond extract to the sauce at this point, but, again, it's not a necessary step.

Spoon the sauce over your cake, ice cream, or whatever else, and enjoy!  (I apologize for the dark color of the sauce in this photo--it was night time and apparently my lighting wasn't quite up to par.)

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