Monthly Archives: February 2012

holy liebster and {printemps shawl}

i love pleasant surprises. and, from unexpected birthday gifts to a huge dump of snow, this weekend has been full of them. the cherry that crowned the icing on top of my wonderful weekend cake was discovering that i was the recipient of a liebster blog award.

a liebster, i have learned, is a peer-awarded recognition of little blogs (read: fewer than 200 followers – i am, ahem, well within that margin). apparently, by loose translation, liebsters are “dear, sweet, kind, nice, good, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing and welcome“. how very warm and fuzzy! the recipient of a liebster is to pay it forward by bestowing it on five bloggers whom they admire, and so on and so on (kind of like a good-vibe chain letter). salma, from the beautiful blog beautifully sewn was kind enough to include me in her list of honourees. thanks, salma! i’ll try not to let too much time pass before i come up with my list of liebsters.

all of this liebsterness has prompted me to switch up my post. i was going to tell you about my ‘flopjacks’ – the kitchen disaster that started out as buttermilk oatmeal pancakes and ended up as a pile of mangled and chewy (though tasty) dog’s breakfast, but that just seems a little too negative for today. today calls for feelgoodery, so i would like to introduce you to my most recent finished crochet project, {printemps shawl}.

{printemps shawl} is so named because the colours remind me of spring crocuses peeking out through the snow. this is the scarf-sized version of the garden path shawl, designed by ‘lily go’ on ravelry* (lily’s well written and charted patterns are wonderfully intricate and creative – i can’t imagine the time and mathematics that go into her patterns, let alone the art and the vision).
i’m not sure if this colourway of malabrigo merino wool was the best choice…i can’t tell if it’s hideous or fetching. i tend to be drawn to either very plain or completely gaudy colours and patterns – there is no middle ground for me. this was my first foray into colours other than grays and browns, so maybe that’s why i’m a little uncertain of it. despite my uncertaintly, however, i will embrace my printemps scarf/shawl in the name of liebsterism! long live good, kind, generous, welcoming, nice, cute, beloved, sweet, endearing and lovely souls!

*do you know ravelry? if you crochet or knit, or just dream about crocheting and knitting, you will love ravelry, guaranteed. the garden path shawl link above will take you to ravelry, if you’re interested.

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creme fraiche {blueberry scones}

i wish you could smell my house right now.  buttery, floury, sugary, warm – the emanations of scones in the oven.  such a heavenly and comforting scent.  it makes even our mid-renovation kitchen feel glowy and wholesome and good.

instead of being at work today, my cough/cold germs and i are at home, filling the hours with the kind of non-demanding, pleasure-filled tasks that are normally reserved for weekends and evenings (one of the blessings of being sick, i suppose).  my wrists needed a break from crocheting, so my thoughts turned to baking (as they so often do).  i didn’t want anything overly sweet.  or chocolatey.  or involved.  then i remembered i had a tub of creme fraiche in the fridge.

creme fraiche is one of the many culinary treasures i encountered (and immediately loved – along with cream tea, egg and cress sandwiches, bakewell tarts, eccles cakes, greengrocers and ribena) when i lived in the UK.  i’ve been stumbling over recipe after recipe calling for it lately.  sadly, but understandably, it is one of those elusive ingredients that just isn’t stocked in a rural grocery store.  when i discovered it gracing the dairy shelf of the nearest ‘big city grocery store’, i was thrilled…until i got home and couldn’t find even one of those oh so promising sounding recipes.  does this ever happen to you?  it’s a common theme for me.  wonton wrappers, walnut oil, asafoetida, harissa paste and, most recently, creme fraiche – they all held such allure at the time of purchase, until i got them home and couldn’t think of one single thing to do with them.

so this afternoon i decided it was necessary to find a use for this tub of creme fraiche and came across a recipe that wooed me right away – the aforementioned blueberry scones.  i love a good scone and loathe a bad one.  even lashings of butter can’t rescue a dry and flavourless puck of a scone.  despite temptation, i didn’t mix in any lemon zest for zing or adorn their tops with coarse sugar – i just dutifully followed the rather plain sounding recipe, and i’m glad i did.  i think the creme fraiche gives these a deeper and more unique flavour than your standard cream or milk enriched scone.  an IDS approved scone would be thicker and shaped more tidily (i have only myself to blame for the sloppiness), but there is something quaint and pleasing about these simple and flavourful little triangles – they are a perfectly lovely accompaniment to a spoonful of blueberry apple butter and a brit-worthy cuppa on a sniffly afternoon.  enjoy!

•  •  •

blueberry scones (posted by ‘howchow’ on chowhound, 2007)

2 cups  all-purpose flour
1/4 cup  sugar
2 tsp  baking powder
1/2 tsp  salt
blueberries (no measure was given – i used about 3/4 cup frozen wild blueberries – thawed)
6 tbsp  cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
7.5 oz  creme fraiche
1 1/2 tsp  vanilla

•stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. blend in butter until it resembles fine meal.  in a separate bowl whisk the egg + yolk, creme fraiche and vanilla together.  gently stir this and the blueberries into the flour mixture (i did the mixing of the butter into the flour and the wet into the dry in my stand mixer, much like when making pie crust).  the dough will be sticky and a little on the wet side.

•bring dough together on a well-floured surface (this is always a clean dish towel for me).  with floured hands, divide dough in half.  pat each half into a disc about 1/2″ thick/6″ in diameter (i would leave them a little thicker next time).  cut each disc into 6 pieces and place pieces 1″ apart on a cookie sheet (i always use parchment).  bake at 350°f for 25 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean (mine only needed 20 minutes).  serve warm or at room temperature.

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mighty {stash baskets}

this is the project that marked my return to sewing.

i learned to sew as a youngster (on my sew easy) and carried on with it right through high school.  my twenties, however, saw me neglecting my sewing skills in favour of travel and adventure.  when i finally settled long enough to start nesting again, i bought my first grown-up sewing machine.  despite moving with me from the arctic to the rockies and from the rockies to ontario, my machine didn’t see much regular use until i faced 3 months away from work after knee surgery.  i found myself a copy of sew liberated and became inspired.  i started searching for fabric shops and discovered the likes of amy butler and purl soho online (this would be akin to a trendy bargain-hunter finding h&m).  i planned all kinds of nifty projects to while away my time off, and this was my first.

i chose molly’s sewn stash basket pattern from the purl bee (one of the most amazing craft blogs ever).  these make great multi-purpose storage baskets – perfect for corralling yarn, books, knickers, extra toilet paper…they have so much potential!

the bird basket was take one.  i chose lightweight cotton for both the exterior and interior (that great bird fabric was from ikea), which i learned wasn’t particularly well suited for this use.  even though they were stabilized with a mid-weight interfacing, the fabrics weren’t sturdy enough for the basket to stand up on its own when it was empty.  still, it’s perfect for holding mitts and scarves and shopping bags – all of the bits and bobs that collect near the front door.

i wised up for take two.  i used heavier canvas-weight fabric for the exterior and the lining, et voila – they stand on their own and hold their shape nicely.  i thought that the mama basket needed a baby basket, so i modified the pattern in order to make a smaller version of the  purl soho size.  aren’t they cute together?

actually, when i think back, i made another slight modification – instead of hand stitching much of the bottom and back seams as instructed (sooo tedious and time-consuming, not to mention super difficult to do with 4 to 6 layers of canvas-weight material), i machine-sewed everything and it worked out perfectly (but see the safety caveat below).

these baskets taught me that i need to sew and create.  they led me to discover that there are legions of like-minded crafty folk out there, eager to share their patterns, ideas and experiences.  they also taught me a valuable safety lesson worth noting…whilst powering my machine through said thick layers, my needle broke and the tip flew from the machine, narrowly missing my left eyeball.  yikes!  from thereafter i donned my cycling glasses whenever sewing the thickest sections.  who says sewing is for sissies?

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the enigmatic ginger crunch

i think a great recipe is made even greater if it has a history of good memories behind it.  this is one of those recipes.

‘the enigmatic ginger crunch’ recipe came into my life when TDHH and i were exploring the maritimes this summer.  a spate of unseasonably cold and wet weather froze and saturated our usually more rugged selves and had us neglecting our tent in favour of a warm and dry b&b.  by the time we made it to lunenburg, nova scotia, we were beginning to lose hope in tourist accommodations.  we had come across too many sadly dated pastel colour schemes, surfaces covered with dead-eyed porcelain dolls and bowls of synthetic potpourri (IDS was not amused).  even TDHH, who has and will sleep anywhere, found the plethora of lace doilies and forced conversation with too-keen hosts eerily unpleasant.  then we found ‘1775 solomon house’ (one of the oldest historic homes in lunenburg) which was, by vast leaps and bounds, the most brilliant b&b we’ve ever experienced.  authentic, antique, welcoming and instantly comfortable.  the host, janet, artfully curated our time in lunenburg, ensuring we found the hidden beaches and out-of-the-way bakeries.  it turns out janet knows her way around the kitchen, too.

 

 

when we arrived late in the evening, we  found a dainty dish of these mysteriously delicious bites of glory awaiting us.  they didn’t look terribly exciting, but after one bite, i had to have the recipe.

thankfully, janet was willing to share.  i learned that janet is a former cafe-owner/chef from saskatchewan, who received the recipe by way of a new zealander customer of hers who traded it for a recipe of janet’s which she coveted.  going back a little further, i’ve read that the recipe originated many years ago in scotland and made its way to new zealand with what must have been a very discerning, food-loving scot.  such a convoluted path!

so now for the enigma explanation.  when i first tasted these, i was sure that they involved browned-butter.  others have queried cardamom or lavender.  no one who has tried them (in my presence, anyway) has correctly identified the flavour.  it turns out it comes simply from powdered ginger, butter and a splash of vanilla.

like most of the recipes i return to again and again, these ingredients create a fabulous flavour that belies their simple origin.  the combination of the thin ginger shortbread base and the smooth, subtly gingery fudge topping is a knock-out.  people have literally swooned when tasting them, and i daresay you will, too.  you may even taste the maritime architecture and the atlantic air.

• • •

ginger crunch, aka kiwi crunch (i found the same recipe in gourmet, december 1999)

for the base:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 or so pieces

for the topping:
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 tbsp lyle’s golden syrup (corn syrup will do in a pinch)
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla

•sift the base ingredients together (i just whisk them) and blend in
the butter until it resembles coarse meal (i use my stand mixer). press evenly into a greased and parchment-lined 9×13″ metal pan (i learned that part the hard way – definitely line your pan). bake at 350°f for 15-25 minutes until golden and crisp (i know that’s a wide range in terms of time – what it means is don’t take your eyes off of it after the 15 minute mark – it browns quickly).

•just before the base is done (about 5 minutes if you can time it), melt the topping butter in a heavy pot, then whisk in the remaining ingredients until smooth. bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring, for about 30 seconds. remove the golden base from the oven and pour the topping over-top, tilting the pan to cover evenly. cool in the pan on a rack and cut into small squares or rectangles while cooling (for me, i wait 5-6 minutes so they’re cool enough that the topping is starting to set but not so cool that they crack). cool completely in pan.

yields about 2-5 dozen, depending on size cut.  squares keep at least 3 days in an airtight container.

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call me cosy {iphone cosy from scratch}

this summer, i finally took the neo-luddite’s leap and got myself an iphone.  given its cost, and its potential fragility, i quickly decided it needed to be enveloped in something protective.  i didn’t want anything plastic or mass-produced (IDS strikes again), so i crocheted up a wee apple green cosy for it, complete with a handy drawstring at the top to cinch as desired.  it did look very fetching on my white phone.  simple, practical, acceptable.  but kind of boring.  so i set to work on a one-of-a-kind iphone sleeve, and this is what i came up with.

i’ve since refined my pattern and have managed to apply it to ipads, tablets and e-readers (and i must say that i’m really quite pleased with the results!).  i know – they don’t look terribly complicated, and, admittedly, they are not.  my great sense of accomplishment comes from the fact that i made them from scratch without a pattern or any form of guidance.  it took some number-crunching mathematics (not my forte), a few major gaffes teachable moments and several frustrating prototypes before i came up with my very own original pattern.  hurrah!

my goal was to chicly protect my phone from offending items such as keys and assorted handbag flotsam while tumbling about my bag.  i padded it with some fusible fleece for protection and added a tab-closure which uses a snap, allowing one-handed operation (and it’s much less fiddly than a button and button-hole).  i’ve had a little fun with the fabric, experimenting with patchwork and adding an unexpected lining here and there.  i’m in the process of writing up a pattern/tutorial for it, which is proving much more difficult than i first, naively, expected…so check back if you’re interested in making one for yourself (it will, of course, be free for fellow stitchers).

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