Thursday, 31 January 2013

Time Out....For a Little Beading

Beading is such a zen thing to do.  A tiny plate of beads, a needle, some nylon thread and a strong light is all you need. 

I have an old black quilted jacket that's been around forever. It's just the thing for a windy spring day, the quilting keeps you warm but you don't feel bundled up.  I took it out of the closet a few weeks ago and noticed how tatty the cuffs had become. Too many years of resting them on the edges of tables, I suppose.

Hanging right next to the jacket was a black cotton shirt I never wear. I bought it at a secondhand shop because I liked the shape but when I put it on it just didn't sit right, it fell a little too long, making me seem wider at my widest point.  I put the shirt down on the bed to go to the thrift shop and realized it was a perfect match for the quilted jacket. In a trice I had cut the arms off the black shirt, made wide cuffs for the jacket and sewed them on by hand.

It looked a little odd since the new cuffs weren't quilted in the same diamond pattern as the jacket fabric.  I hung it back in the closet anyway, while I thought about what I'd do, maybe quilt over the new cuffs, or leave them plain, at least they didn't look frayed anymore.

An hour later in my studio I was sorting through some beads, looking for something in a dark green to work with a malachite necklace I have been putting together, when I  knocked a hank of beads off the wall. They were a lovely gunmetal grey and as I reached up to hang them back up I suddenly thought of the black jacket. What about some beading on the cuffs, in a pattern to compliment the quilting?

So, for the past two evenings I've been beading the cuffs.  The gunmetal gleams nicely against the black cotton.  I used some scotch tape to outline large diamond shapes and then basted the lines with bright yellow thread.  As I stitch in the beads I slowly pull out the basting thread a little at a time, so the diagonal lines don't wander too much.

It has been a nice break from online research and testing recipes for The Chocolate Gazette. Everyone needs a little down time now and then, this turned out to be perfect for me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Winter Fantasy

It's snowing again, great fluffy white flakes, soft as goose down.  Sitting by the fire with a hot apple cider I am almost drowsing in the warmth, my mind drifting to warm climates and exotic locations. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just transport ourselves somewhere romantic for an afternoon walk, or dinner with friends at a long table surrounded by white candles, on a wide paved terrace, with the heady smell of vanilla orchids or nicotania wafting towards us from the moonlit garden?

How about an evening at The Peacock Pavillions in Marakesh

It seems the owners have even produced a lovely book for us to peruse as we sit on the terrace with our cocktails and enjoy the late afternoon sun.

Perhaps you'd rather go for a walk along the cobbled streets of San Miguel d'Allende. 

After visiting the market to buy fresh fruit, bread and soft cheese, we could gather on this rooftop for a picnic.

Maybe what we need is a dip in the sea, or a dip in the pool over looking the sea.  The Riu Hotel on the Cape Verde Island off the coast of Africa has just the ambience we're looking for.  Imagine a few hours here, swimming, watching the waves roll in.  After a stroll on the beach we can settle here by the pool with tall glasses of fresh mango juice and a plate of spicy chicken canapes.
Feeling a little more energetic? A visit to the Costa Rica Toucan Rescue Ranch is just the thing.  Imagine being able to visit with the rescued toucans and admire their amazing plumage up close? 

Hard to believe those beaks don't tip the birds right over.  Just now the folks at the ranch are caring for this gorgeous owl who was hit by a truck.

 Cuddly companions abound including baby sloths.  Is there anything sweeter?\

Cuddling with sloths reminds me how warm and drowsy I am.  It's time to retire to the sofa with a knitted afghan and dream on.

P.S.  Three new cookie recipes at the Chocolate Gazette.  My favourite cookie of the moment is the white chocolate cookie.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Cold Moon of January: Tonight's Full Moon

It's the weekend again.  Time seems to be zipping by and I couldn't be happier, January is not my favourite month, but I have been putting the time indoors to good use. My house is sparkling clean. If you knew how messy I can be when I'm working and doing research you'd understand why this is worth mentioning.

The kitchen and bathroom are sparkling, the rooms are tidy, the laundry's done and even the beds are made, ready for a long winter' nap.  I'm thrilled.  This means I can spend some time this weekend just reading. No housewife guilt for me!

I finished my sterling silver wire bracelet and as a prototype I'm pleased with it.  I used clear glass beads that give just a hint of sparkle when the light hits them.  Now I've mastered the knitting technique (you need sturdy very sturdy metal needles for this job) I want to try doing one with fresh water pearls.  I haven't decided on a colour yet, but I am leaning towards something pale. White pearls just seem to say "bride" to me, and I'd like something a little more colourful.

Here's the prototype.


I also finished four fabric brooches, added bits of old lace and sewed the brooch pins to them.  They were fun and easy and could be used to decorate gifts (an extra treat for the recipient).  I showed them to a friend and she gave me a basket of fabric yo-yos she had made and suggested I use some of them in brooches.  So now I'm trying to find suitable fabrics to go with them from my stash.

Here are the completed brooches so far.

Hardly fine art, or even fine haberdashery, but fun and colourful for a drab season.

I've added a few new recipes to The Chocolate Gazette, double chocolate muffins, double chocolate cookies, chocolate marble loaf cake and chocolate chip pancakes.The cookies were a big hit for teatime yesterday afternoon.

Tonight is the full moon, the Cold Moon of January (in the northern hemisphere). Some believe the moon goddess watches over us during these dark days of the year.  An offering of sandalwood incense and a white candle welcome her presence.

Cold as ice, the night you own,
Shine your light for all who roam
these darkest hours a path alone,
May you lead them safely home.

Look for the full moon after 11:30 Eastern Time.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Chocolate and a Warm Drink

This week I am researching a new article for The Chocolate Gazette about chocolate schools, courses and classes availabe in the English speaking world. I love the research part of my work, visiting websites, discovering new companies and the people who run them, with all their different points of view. I try not to get sidetracked but that isn't always easy.  I will see a link at the bottom of the page about a chocolate course tailored to vacationers in Mexico and the next thing I know I'm down the rabbit hole of chocolate tourism.
Apparently there is a chocolate theme park being developed in China. Hard to imagine, but true. Here's a shot of the famous terracotta soldiers, available in an edible version. Picture courtesy of Getty Images.

It's still very cold here, in fact much of North America is in the deep freeze this week.  Even the dogs, who are usually pretty excited to get out for a long walk, are happy to snooze by the fire.  In between research sessions I've been trying out various chocolate recipes for the website.  Today's winner was Orange Muffins with Chocolate Chips.  Research has shown that small amounts of semisweet or dark chocolate actually boosts your brain power for a few hours, so a chocolate chip muffin as a snack before an exam might actually be a good thing.
Any excuse for a bite of chocolate, right? Besides the oven helps warm the kitchen, always nice when it's -5C outside or worse.

In the evenings I'm still working on jewellery and have completed a new piece. I used an old metal mesh coin purse and grey fresh water pearls mixed with a gray/blue Austrian crystal.  The colours outside the window seemed reflected in the little bowl of pearls and as I started to string them together, the whole theme became grey and icy. When I set up my Etsy shop in the spring this will be for sale, with a few other pieces I'm working on.  For now, though, it's wrapped in a piece of felt and tucked away on the shelves of my studio.

And no matter what I'm doing, cold days call for hot drinks: mulled apple cider, hot chocolate, and lots of tea with honey.

I hope you have something interesting to keep you occupied during these miserable cold days of January.  Not a crafter? Don't care for writing?  Here are a few great books I finished in the last month. I recommend all of them for a light read.

1.    The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McCall Smith
2.    Enchantment, Guy Kawasaki
3.    The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen


Sunday, 20 January 2013

January Joy - Indoor Fun

The best part of winter is the chance to stay indoors without feeling guilty about all those outside chores you ought to be attending to.

I have completed the first of my new designs for necklaces.  I have called it Winter Dove.  All pale blue and creamy white it reminds me of our doves at the feeder during the long winter months.  They prefer to stay on the ground and eat the seeds the cardinals and chickadees knock down from the hanging feeders.  There is a quiet cooperation in winter, all the animals accept one another.  On a cold day a wild rabbit will often visit the base of the feeder to pick up any peanuts or suet the birds have missed and the blue jays wait their turn at the heated bird bath, for once showing some manners.

Winter Dove

I have been studying Portuguese every day, an hour or two in the morning and an hour's review in the evening.  I'm using the Rosetta Stone CDs, which are quite wonderful. I have developed quite the vocabulary.  I can't wait until we visit Portugal again so that I can practice speaking with real people. Although I am normally quiet shy for some reason when I am learning a language I seem to be able the set that aside. The first thing I teach myself are a few phrases such as "I am learning Portuguese (French, Spanish) so please excuse my mistakes."  and "Please correct my mistakes I am trying to learn."  Most folks are thrilled to be able to help and so friendly that it just eliminates my normal shyness.

I have started sketching the next 2 necklaces, looking through my supplies, dipping into drawers and boxes to see what treasures lie forgotten that I can use in this series.  In the meantime I am making a couple of leather cuffs or wristbands from scraps of leather I've had sitting in a basket in the studio for months.  I love beading, stitching, embroidering and using the tiniest embellishments from my stash.  This one is a deep red, leather side out. 

I know the dogs would happily spend the afternoon in the hayfield, water up to their knees, chasing rabbits and exploring, but I am feeling warm and cozy and contented curled up on the sofa.  My list of things to enjoy in January doesn't include skating on the pond, or sledding, or walking through the snowy fields. I don't know where I first heard this remark but I love it, "My favourite winter sport is climbing on a plane headed south."

My Top 10  Things To Do in January

1. Get out my paper scraps and make a few Valentines cards for loved ones
2. Make clementine marmalade (see recipe below)
3. Take the afternoon off to watch a movie, complete with popcorn
5. Finish knitting the green socks I started before Christmas
6. Read a new book or three
7. Dig out my leather scraps and bead and embroider them to make leather wristlets
9. Invite friends over for a chocolate and wine tasting party. (read about that here)
10. Take a nap

At the moment there is a wild wind blowing outside.  My friend R. called to tell me that her neighbour's spruce tree fell on both her neigbhour's car and her own.  She had just gotten into the car when she heard a loud crack and saw the tree begin to fall.  She stretched herself out sideways on the front seat and although a large branch fell on her roof and engine she was able to wiggle out unharmed!

That's enough to keep me indoors for the rest of the month, but the dogs need walking twice a day, wind or no wind.  I'm hoping there won't be any cavorting in the creek, just a nice run in the hayfield and back home. Then I hope we can all agree on an hour by the woodstove, and maybe a little nap later on.

Cheater's Clementine Marmalade ( from Chatelaine Magazine)
Notes in italics are my additions.

8 seedless clementines (about 800 g or 1.6 pounds)
1/2 lemon (seeds removed)
2 cups white granulated sugar 9 (or 500 g or 1.6 pounds)

Remove stems from clementines and discard.
Wash fruit and pat dry with a clean dishtowel.
Cut clementines and lemon into quarters.

Fit your food processor with the grater attachment.

With the machine on high, push the fruit through the chute 4 or 6 pieces at a time.

Weigh the grated mixture on a scale.
Weigh out the same amount of sugar into a clean bowl, or work with the measurements above.

Transfer the fruit to a large wide saucepan.

Stir in the sugar.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.

 Cook until the sugar has completely melted, about 3 to 5 mins.

Pour the marmalade into clean sterilized glass jars.

Either cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks, or...

Using canning jars, attach the 2 piece lids and  process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Label your jars and keep in the pantry for up to 12 months.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Haven't blogged for a month, the weeks raced by.  First I slipped and fell out walking the dogs. I felt okay at the time, just a twinge of pain, but next morning I couldn't walk properly.  I wound up spending almost two weeks either lying flat on the floor or mincing about the house carefully.

This made for rather slap-dash Christmas preparations but we managed.  A series of sad events put a blight on the holiday this year. On December 23rd a friend and neighbour died at the age of 40 while home with the flu. He could not stop coughing and choked to death.

Then late on Christmas Eve another friend had to be rushed to hospital with blood pressure off the charts.  This was also attributed to the flu. 

On the 26th a woman friend suffered a heart attack and has now undergone triple bypass surgery.  All in all we were was happy to see the end of December.

January came in with a blanket of snow. So we are tucked up indoors for awhile, knitting, reading, sitting by the fire. I am not a social creature in cold weather. You can get me out on a sunny day, but once the sun disappears the world seems just a little too cold and miserable out there. Apart from walking the dogs and feeding the goats and chickens my time outdoors is limited to a quick run down to the mailbox and back.

So with all this indoor time I have been working away on my website The Chocolate Gazette.  I had a computer crash and lost some photos, so I am still checking each page for typos, broken links, and those missing photos, but I hope that will be done in the next few days.  Then I can move on to writing more content, adding more recipes and start entering the site's information on assorted Internet directories. Have a peek at the website if you are curious and let me know what you think. All feedback is appreciated, the good, the bad and the ugly.  It's the only way we learn!

I cleaned up my studio space and have begun working on a series of necklaces that I sketched out before Christmas.  I have been making various components and then I wire those together and adding the finishing touches.  I'll post some photos of them once I have a few finished.

While working on the necklaces I found a spool of sterling silver wire I bought ages ago, and brought it downstairs to try an idea I had for a knitting bracelet with knitted silver wire and crystals.  Knitting with wire is a rather strange feeling, but it is working and the fabric is makes can be squished or spread out into different widths and shapes.  I like the effect so much I want to make a second one, using some semiprecious stones I have stashed away. 
 I've also been cleaning out the sewing room and found a stash of pretty fabrics that I'd like to make some use of.  I cut out circles with my pinking shears, but found the shears were not happy working with the soft cotton.  So I ironed the cotton onto some freezer paper and then cut out my flower shapes. This worked like a charm, no problem with the pinking shears, as now the soft fabric had a little 'body'.  I peeled off the freezer paper and sewed the bits together. If I like the effect I sew a simple brooch pin to the back of the corsage.

I usually make half a dozen of these at a time and stash them away in a box with assorted ribbons and other doodads that I use for wrapping birthday gifts all year round.  The recipient gets the gift and the brooch.

Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be 5C, and Saturday as high as 11C.  The famous "January thaw".  We'll enjoy clear roads and some warm afternoons, before Old Man Winter returns with a vengance for his long second act.  Snuggle up.