Monday, December 13, 2010

Ending radio silence

The lack of posts does not mean a lack of crafts, cooking, or grammar fixing--in fact, there is more of it than ever, now. I have been so busy with grad school applications and most recently, an elopement! I haven't even started Christmas cards, which is a total shock to me. Presents and cards are going to be late this year!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Placemats, Part I

I always forget how time consuming it is to use fusible interfacing, especially to multiple large pieces at a time.  In the time it has taken me to iron on 4 pieces of interfacing to 4 pieces for placemats, I could have sewn in all 4 and maybe finished one or two entirely.  Although it's been a while since I used sew-in interfacing, too, so maybe I forget the drawbacks of sew-in.

Here is the front of what the placemats will look like:

While we were in Portland for the Labour Day long weekend, I went into the Pine Needle Quilting Shop in Lake Oswego (apparently the "hoity toity" neighbourhood of greater Portland; we thought the downtown area looked like Whistler) and found some Ducks fabric. They had some placemat kits, and I thought it would be fun to make a set for Ben's Aunt Sandy, to bring up next Thanksgiving.  The lady helped me put together a placemat kit with Oregon fabric, although her version had the left panel using Oregon fabric that faced to the left, which I didn't realize until yesterday.  Luckily Eddie's was having a sale today... rather, unluckily for my wallet, since I found this pattern, and then decided to get fabric for it, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Tomorrow is Friday the 13th.  Hello, GRE, at 12:30pm!  I will surface at 4:30, hopefully not too smushed.  And then I need to start grad school applications, and begging for reference letters.  Gee, this year has gone by quickly...

On a related note, I learned this week that to get into the US armed forces, you have to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test.  There appears to be a standardized test for everything, and textbooks to match!  I am waiting for the standardized test for preschool kids wanting to get into Kindergarten.  Oh, and the textbooks to help them study, of course.

(I think that test would have to go something like this: "You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out...")

Thursday, July 15, 2010

mmm, cake.

Here is a rare occurance: I wrote out an actual recipe, with timing and measurements.  But this slightly altered Betty Crocker recipe has become my current favourite basic cake recipe---it's simple, and while very tasty by itself, you can add anything to it to make it more interesting.  I dedicate this post to Tessa and Ifi, because they said words that made my heart flutter: "It's so yummy! Can I have the recipe?"

San's Betty Crocker's Silver White Cake
Prep: 10 minutes (yeah, right). Bake: 45 minutes. Cool: 1 hour 10 minutes.
Servings: ~12. Pans: 13"x9" rectangle, two 9" round pans, or three 8" round pans.

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 5 large egg whites

  1. Heat oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour bottom and sides of pan(s).
  2. Beat everything except egg whites with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds.  Use a spatula to scrape the bowl, then beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.
  3. Beat in egg whites on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl.  
  4. Pour into pan(s).
  5. Bake times:
    13"x9": 40-45 minutes.  9": 30-35 minutes.  8": 23-28 minutes
    Bake until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, or when cake springs back when touched lightly in centre.  
  6. Cool rectangle in the pan on a wire rack. For rounds, cook 10 minutes, then remove from pans to wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Variations that I have done:
  • Chocolate glaze: Cover pan with a chocolate glaze. ...I bet this would be deadly with a ganache.
  • Blackberry chocolate: fill layers with blackberry filling and cover with chocolate glaze or chocolate buttercream. Make sure the blackberry filling is not liquidy, or else you end up with what looks like a beheaded cake.  Behold:

  • Cinnamon swirl: sprinkle (okay, I mean dump) a bunch of cinnamon on top of the batter before baking, take a chopstick and swirl the cinnamon around.  After cooling, cover it with a simple powdered sugar icing.  Here is a quickly taken, phone-quality photo:

Ones that I have thought about, but haven't tried yet:
  • adding dried fruit, especially raisins and pineapples, or mangoes!
  • pumpkin cake!
  • apple cake!

Some notes:
  • instead of cake flour, substitute 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (not self-rising). This is the original recipe, and I haven't tried it, to be honest. I bought some cake flour a while ago to make a birthday cake with this recipe, and it turned out so well I didn't want to mess with it, and bought more cake flour to have around.
  • instead of almond extract, use vanilla extract. Mmm vanilla extract.  I love the almond flavour in this, because it gives the cake itself some character. Also I don't normally give it 1 tsp, I give it 1 tsp and a little tiny splash.  This is me cooking, after all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

small world

Ben and I were both born in Vancouver, but didn't meet until we were in university, 18/19 years later.  But imagine this: my mother, who has been in the hairstyling industry for over 40 years, used to own a hair salon, and Ben's parents, having lived nearby for a year or two when they moved to Vancouver, both had their hair done at that very salon! Not only that, but after they moved to a different neighbourhood, his mother liked her stylist--one of my mom's employees--enough to keep going back.  I wasn't born yet, and my mom took a couple of years off once I had been born, so I don't think Ben and I met as babies, but it's still boggling to me. It's a small world after all!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Kitchen Gadgets

Yesterday my rice cooker got a little bit of blog attention, but it's not the first fancy kitchen gadget I've discovered I absolutely love, nor will it be the last!  Here are some others that I've come across, since I started cooking for myself while having a real paycheque, to the joy of the kitchen store owners.

on Rubber-Ended Cutting Boards
As a rule in this household, our plastic cutting boards are used for meat, and the bamboo ones are used for vegetables only.  In a pinch, since we frequently live more slovenly than I would like to admit, the plastic cutting boards are dual-purpose, here-this-board-is-clean-just-use-it backups, but generally not.  When we moved down and were setting up, we basically lived in an IKEA showroom, and nearly all of our cooking utensils were gloriously "Swede."  But cheap plastic cutting boards warp a lot when used and washed over and over, and we ended up with a convex board which would spin and leave trails of chicken juice all over the counter, whenever I tried to prepare dinner.  This irritated me to no end; I broke down into countless swearing fits while trying to chop chicken.  Since I picked up an OXO Good Grips cutting board with rubber on the ends, this has not happened.  The plastic is thick enough that it won't warp for a much longer time, and the rubber on the ends keep the board still.  I probably still swear while cooking ("Ahhhh shit I burned my chicken!"), but at least not at the cutting board.

on 3-cup Food Processors
I forget why I bought my Cuisinart 3-cup Mini Prep food processor, as I got it a very long time ago, and rarely used it.  But then we started doing "Nom Bowls," which is a variant of the home-made Yumm Bowl, and I also started experimenting with chicken marinades.  Now I use it so often that the lettering on the buttons are completely worn off, and unlike many other items in the kitchen, it never has enough time to let dust settle on it.  Mostly, I use it for chopping up nuts and beans, and the 3-cup size is perfect for the 2 of us; very likely I will break it down long before there are 3 of us.  I had been toying with the idea of getting a larger one, so that I could also grind up vegetables for yummy soups, but the last time we visited Vancouver, I made some Nom Sauce in my mother's 14-cup food processor, and it is seriously a pain to clean all the parts involved.  Not so with the 3-cup!  We're literally bonded by blood, those little blades and I.

on Citrus Juicers
My mother also has an electric citrus juicer which is apparently older than both my brother and me, which is extremely easy to use, and very efficient.  I think it's similar to this one, only it was made in the 70's and therefore will last much longer than that one will.  But if I had not picked up my manual Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer, I would definitely consider getting one anyway.  As it is, I love that citrus juicer.  Lemon halves go in, juice comes out, and the things that remain are unrecognizable as anything but plant matter.

on Silicone Spatulas
Though I used to only use them for baking, silicone spatulas are fantastic for everything else, too.  Plastic cooking tools have been one of many banes in my few years thus far, and the prospect of eating little plastic bits in my scrambled eggs is never appealing.  There are many silicone spatulas around in my kitchen, in various sizes (little silicone spatulas are better in my food processor than the tiny plastic scraper it comes with), and my current favourite has a very nice stainless steel handle.  Some day I am going to add this silicone-coated thin metal spatula to my collection, and perhaps I will know nirvana.

on Cherry Pitters
My most recent acquisition was this OXO cherry pitter, which I used on Sunday to bake a yummy cherry pie. As a side note, said pie was made in a glass pie plate, which I also required recently, and though this is no revelation to me, it is a far cry from the metal pie tins that come with the frozen shells I buy (I am lazy, okay).  Given that I can't ever have fresh cherries, even organic, pesticide-free ones, without having my lips, tongue, throat, and occasionally gums (??) swell up, cherry preparation requires cooking, which generally includes pitting.  But until this weekend, pitting cherries meant cutting them in half and digging the pits out with my fingernails, resulting in itchy, red fingers.  It finally dawned on me that I could buy a specialized tool to help me with this, and what a difference!  A pound or so of cherries, minus fresh ones set aside for Ben to steal, pitted in no time.  Mmm, pie.

There are likely others I could add to this list, like my rice spatula, which is perfectly shaped for fluffing and serving, and there are more I have my sights set on, like the cookie dough scoop I always look at and invariably decide against buying. But doubtless I could continue on in this vein for a very, very long time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Miso Chicken

Miso Chicken is an experiment I tried out a long time ago, which didn't turn out quite so well.  I thought I might have posted it anyway, but obviously I am wrong, since I can't seem to find it in my archives.  I tried it again today, with some modifications, and the results were significantly better.

Miso Chicken for 2:
- 1 chicken breast, cubed
- 1 heaping tablespoon of miso paste
- 2-3 tbsp rice vinegar
- dash of salt
- dash of mirin
- water
- 2 fresh green onions
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- olive oil for cooking
- pinch of powdered ginger
*If fresh ginger is your thing, then I'd do that instead--we never have any around, and I doubt I would use it fast enough to warrant buying a whole root, so it would be rather wasteful for us to buy some. 

Mix the miso and vinegar together, until there are no clumps of miso paste left.  Shake in salt, mirin, and add water so that there is just enough to cover the chicken. Let marinate for a while.
Wash and chop the green onions, yum.  Crush the garlic, then heat up the oil and garlic together.  Pour in the entire miso+chicken, add the green onions, and sprinkle the powdered ginger on top.  Cook until the chicken is done, and the water is evaporated enough for the miso to be paste-like once again.  Serve over rice, with steamed green beans.

Speaking of rice! I got this little baby a few weeks ago, and I am completely in love. It was a present to me, from me, using up an Amazon gift card I redeemed with my Aeroplan miles--it only took a mere ~5 round trip flights between YVR and SFO to get a $50 gift card. But I love my rice cooker! We've done white and brown rice, I've made congee in it, and it all turned out beautifully. It has a fantastic timer function, especially wonderful since brown rice takes a million years to cook, and we aren't usually home until 7pm as it is.  Now I set it up in the morning, and by the time I'm home and preparing dinner, rice is already done! Rice consumption has doubled, if not tripled, since we got one.

Ben commented that it is very Asian of me to have the apartment smelling of rice, which it was when we got back from running errands this afternoon.  I guess the miso chicken recipe adds to that thought! All I need now is to start cooking Chinese soup (I think it's a broth?) all the time, and I'm sure my grandparents would be very proud of me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving, gack!

Until we came to California, I lived in one house my entire life.  My parents bought a newly built Vancouver Special in 1979, when my brother was only months old, and they live there to this day.  

When we moved, it was relatively easy, despite the distance--we did a road trip down the coast, and filled the car with important items we didn't want to bring by air: computer equipment, video game consoles, Ben's guitar, etc.  Those we put into storage, and when we flew down later, we brought our personal affects via plane.  Setting up the apartment was more fun and exciting than hard work (although there was hard work and elbow grease involved in assembling our classy IKEA furniture), since we had to get everything brand new.

Last June, we moved into a very nice 11th floor apartment, and though the move was grueling (and I feared for Boris, my faux piano), we were excited to be there, and adjusted quickly to the horrors of having a gorgeous view.  However, apartments in high places come with high price tags, and with much consideration (not really) of my contract's end in November, living there for another year seemed like an unintelligent decision. Plus, given all the stuff we have, a 2br apartment didn't seem like a bad idea.  Using the wonders of Craigslist, we found a somewhat nice apartment not far from where we were living, and were set to move this last Memorial Day.  I write these lessons we have learned, the hard way, about moving.

1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness
If moving from an apartment building owned by a large corporation (e.g., Avalon) to an apartment owned by private owner, either request that they have the place professionally cleaned, or else hire professional cleaners yourself. When we went to pick up the keys from the owners, one of them was there, ostensibly cleaning up and doing some paint touch-ups.  The idea of having the place properly cleaned never even entered my mind. That changed when, every time I went into the apartment, my throat would get itchy, and my nose and eyes would start watering.  I spent the first week of June in a veritable allergy coma.  It wasn't until this past Saturday, when we had finished mopping the entire place (the 2nd bedroom had to be mopped 3 times, and we also swabbed the walls), that I could finally go home and not feel like I needed to leave to breathe.

If professional cleaners aren't an option, or you are like us and have already moved in and started cleaning, and hiring cleaners seems futile, then pick a place to conquer.  Ours was the bedroom--we moved out all of the boxes, unpacked what we could, mopped the floor and vacuumed the rug twice, cleaned the windows thoroughly, and had the air purifier going with the door closed.  The bedroom became our sanctuary.  We spent one night doing no moving tasks at all, and instead just sat in the bedroom on our computers, and my allergies didn't make a peep.

Also, the air purifier seems to work fairly well, at least for dust, and a little bit for odors.

2. Don't underestimate how much stuff you have
This is actually something we learned during our move last year, when we rented a smaller truck and figured we could move the rest of our smaller things in our car.  This was true, but we ended up doing at least 3 trips between apartments.  This year, we made sure we had a ton of boxes, and packed up as much as possible to load into a slightly bigger truck.  We did still have to do some trips, but it wasn't as painful, and we turned in our keys midday instead of midnight.  We've both become a fan of, as I posted a listing for our empty boxes and had 3 replies in the course of 24 hours.

3. Curtains are fantastic
Our apartment is one of six, and one of four on the second level.  It's a very small building right off of a somewhat main street.  There are some nice trees right outside, which give us a little bit of privacy from people across the street, but that's about it.  When we moved in, the living room had curtain rods, but neither bedroom had any.  This didn't seem like a particularly big deal, until we tried to sleep the first few nights without curtains on the window, and discovered that the tree outside does not shield the bedroom from the orange glare of the street lamp right outside.  So much for sleeping!  I taped a bunch of bags to the window, until we got our curtains up.

4. Floor cleaning
In the three Californian apartments we've had, we've had linoleum, carpet, granite, ceramic tile, and now bamboo hardwood flooring.  As such, I have collected a plethora of cleaning supplies, my favourite being nearly anything made by Casabella.  Our third broom is a Casabella, and my wonderful, amazing sponge mop is also Casabella.  Do you need to mop? Don't skimp on a crappy mop.  
When it comes to soaps, I'm pretty much covered, too.  
  • Linoleum = Pine Sol.  
  • Granite = Granite Gold; that stuff is amazing, just make sure you get the mix right, or else it will streak.
  • Tile= Either of the above.
  • Carpet = Foley's for spot cleaning, if I had bothered to buy any.    
  • Hardwood flooring = Murphy's Oil Soap.  That stuff is also fantastic, but you do have to make sure the dilution is just right, as well.  I tested this by doing two small patches on the floor behind the toilet: one with just water, and one with a diluted mix.  Because how often do you look behind the toilet?  Also, it smells so good.
I'm not sure what kind of typical flooring is left to deal with, but if there's a soap for it, I'll get that to mop with, too.  Anything to avoid having feet so black from built up dirt, just from walking around your apartment. Yes, it was that gross.

5. Screen doors
Did you know that screen doors can be very filthy?  Ben spent at least an hour cleaning the screen doors and rail with a dirty rag, and the water went from colourless to black.  YUCK.

6. How to wash the walls
After telling my mother about my allergy problems, she suggested we wash the walls, and I brushed it off as a silly suggestion.  Who washes walls?  But considering that the previous person used the 2nd bedroom as some sort of meditation room, complete with incense, we decided it was worth a try.  We took a (relatively) clean mop, and a bucket of clean water, with a very little bit of lemon castile soap mixed in, and used that to gently swab the walls.  Turns out that we wash walls, and we aren't the only people to have done so.  I'm not sure that it really helped, and that room still stinks, but after wall washing and triple mopping, it is actually starting to be livable in there.

In retrospect, these are basically all about cleanliness.  Possibly we are very picky people who enjoy clean apartments, especially compared to whomever lived there before--given the state it was left in, obviously it did not bother them very much. I don't think it's too much to enjoy the luxuries of good hygiene, but given the amount of work we have done so far with this place, I feel like we might as well have moved into a small house!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Craft Carnival

I submitted my post from yesterday on my Mother's Day card + towel roll cover to the Craft Critique Mother's Day Craft Carnival, and it's currently listed there amongst some very cool Mother's Day projects.  Check it out!

Here are some of my favourites from a quick glance: a very cute little hat (and a more stylish card than mine), a dish towel tutorial that seems like a good reason to finally use my gathering foot, tea and a card--which is what I did the first time I made a Mother's Day card, and a purse made with fabric and crochet--now that's a combination I could get into!  Not that I need more projects...

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day!

Mom, do NOT read this blog post!  I MEAN IT!

The Paper Source is currently having a Mother's Day card competition on Facebook.  Submissions are closed, and the winners are going to be chosen by popular vote, so I don't have my hopes set too high, but you can vote for my submission on Facebook, and I can always dream.  I didn't have a whole lot of time to make it, since I was away (visiting my Mommy instead of crafting for her) for the end of April, and didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. In any case, I do like my card a lot, and it's currently on its way to Canada.

 - A2 foldover card in PS Poppy
 - vellum paper
 - paper in PS Blossom for the mum petals; PS Beet for the mum center
 - vine ribbon by the yard from PS for leaves
 - my favourite American Crafts rub-on letters -- this one is "Molly" in charcoal. I love these letter rub-ons.
 - VersaMark ink
 - Zing! embossing powder in blush
 - Paper Source mum (as in, chrysanthemum) stamp

One of my main problems whenever I make a card is with the background; plain paper is too boring for me, but patterned paper is too busy and takes away from the main decoration.  For this card, I stamped mums semi-randomly over the paper with VersaMark watermark ink, used a heating tool to darken, and fit the coloured flower directly over one in the background--you can kind of see it (maybe) if you click on the full version.  It's like my mom standing out amongst other moms, hey! Metaphors.

While I was visiting, Mom actually decided she wanted a (badly needed) electric kettle replacement for Mother's Day, so now my brother owes me $20. But I had already thought of something I wanted to make for her: a towel roll cover. My mom usually sleeps with a hand towel rolled up to act as a neck bolster, to alleviate pressure on her neck while lying down.  I think normal bolster pillows are too large for this purpose, and the nice thing about a towel is that you can just wash it and get a fresh one whenever you want.  Plus, when she travels, she can grab a towel from the hotel washroom to use, or from my linen closet when she visits.  I thought of making a nice cover for her, that she could wash just as easily as a towel and pack easily when she travels, but felt nice and silky and looked pretty.

Et voilà‎!

A towel roll cover amongst my messy work space.  Roll up the towel, roll that up in this cover, then use the elastics at the ends to secure the cloth in place.  I didn't think of taking a picture of it in action, and I didn't photograph the illustrated instructions I drew, and now the entire package is somewhere between here and Vancouver, sorry!

Construction of this was quite simple: cut two pieces of pre-shrunken, easy-care cotton fabric 15" by 17" large, and two pieces of elastic about 7.5" long.  Baste the elastics as a loop, to the right side of one long edge, with raw edges matching.  Sew the 2 pieces right side together using a 1/2" seam allowance, and leaving a hole for turning.  Turn out, poke out the corners (FYI pointy chopsticks are great for this purpose), iron, then edge stitch all around.

Edge stitching is my new favourite technique--I don't bother slip stitching turning holes, and it looks so clean when I use my edgestitch foot.

The labels are really old--I got them when I was a kid, and my mom found them recently, so when I left Vancouver, I left with that package, as well as the Olfa mat and cutter she doesn't use any more.  I would love to get more, so if anybody knows of a good place to get nice, woven labels, please let me know!  Seems like the ones I can find online are either printed, or can only be ordered in multiples of 100.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Apricot Chicken

Here is another chicken recipe I tried out and really liked, but didn't write down.  I didn't even measure amounts, so there's no way I can replicate it exactly, but I assure you it was delicious. 

- 1 chicken breast, cubed
- ~1/4 cup of white wine
- salt + pepper, to taste (to me this is a few shakes of salt, and a couple turns of the pepper mill)
- ~1/4-1/3 cup apple juice
- 4-5 dried apricots
- small handful of dried cranberries
- onion (minced) and/or sweet pepper (chopped)
- garlic powder
- dried parsley

Marinate the chicken in wine, salt, and pepper. Chop the apricots into thirds; heat apricots and cranberries in apple juice until it simmers. If using onion, add them at this point. Add chicken (don't pour in the wine) and garlic powder. When chicken is mostly cooked, add the pepper and parsley.  Cook until the juice is almost all evaporated, and everything looks nummy.  Make some cheesy parmesan toast for starch.  Eat! 

On the craft front, I finished a cotton scarf in a knitted lace pattern a while ago, but I've been getting confused on what makes a good blocking pin.  I picked up some pins today from my favourite yarn shop, yay!  So I'll be blocking that tonight... probably on the sofa, which is currently the only free surface, as the desk has my sewing machine and iron, and our "dining table" is covered in fabric from various projects (not just mine, though!).  But we'll see how well that goes.  Currently, my only decent spray bottle is outside in my bucket, underneath a bag of potting soil.  Hmm...

Monday, April 12, 2010

From the desk of Sandra Ewing

Whenever anybody asks me for my last name, I spell it out for them--I don't even bother saying it.  If I'm in a store, and they want to look up my name to see if I'm in their database, I just hand over the debit card I'm going to pay with--they can read it for themselves, and hang on to the card to charge me.

I'm not exactly sure when I started doing this, but I suspect it was in high school, when I was discussing a volunteer opportunity over the phone, and the lady asked for my name. "Sandra Yuen," I replied, oblivious to the aural turmoil it created on the other end. "Could you say that again?" she asked, and I obliged.  "Sandra Yuen."  When I reported to the volunteer office later that day, I noticed that she had written on a piece of paper, "Sandra Ewing?"

Saying it letter for letter doesn't always fix the problem, either: I say, "Y, U, E, N," and I see them writing down "Why" and then stop.  And then they realize they made a mistake, and they change it to "Wuen."  I have had to make clerks stop and really look at what was written, and still they thought they had it right.  "No no," I would say, "It's Y-U, not W-U." "Yeah, that's what I wrote, I don't understand the problem." "You've written W-U-E-N."  "No I haven't--OH."

Many people who read my last name, but have no idea how to say it, eventually come up with their closest guess, with "yen," "yoo-wen," and "y'wen" being the most common mispronunciations.  Plus two for effort and creativity, but sorry, no dice.  "Yoo-wen" might be the closest, except that's two syllables, and the name is meant to have only one.  Think of the name "Ewen."  A "Ewen Yuen" would be teased mercilessly, growing up.

My mother and I have had discussions before where we figure that "Yune" or "Yoon" would have been better romanizations, as they would provide far less confusion when reading it aloud.  Neither of those are particularly attractive spellings, however, and they don't exactly apply the nuances that exist in the pronunciation of my last name.  It might be better if I could write it out as "Sandra Yue," but it might be difficult to indicate that on the census form. Or any form.

"Yuen" isn't a common last name compared to many others in China, but it isn't rare, either.  In Mandarin, it would be "Ruan," and in Vietnamese, it's the surname "Nguyen."  Some interesting information on the character, 阮, can be found on this page. If you know how to read proper romanizations of Asian languages, the Cantonese section is relevant for my last name.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sylvi Berninasdotter

Tomorrow, at approximately 9:06 AM, I will be 24!  I've discovered that there is no lack of "Birthday deals!!!" down here, and since March 1st, I have acquired makeup from Sephora, a 20% discount from Green Planet Yarn, which is my favourite yarn shop, and a 25% discount on fabric from Eddie's Quilting Bee, which I have visited nearly every week this month, and for good reason--Sylvi:

I finally bought myself a sewing machine!  Much research has been done since Christmas, and for my birthday, I finally settled on the Bernina Activa 210.  It's the simplest (and cheapest) of the lowest models of Bernina machines (not including Bernette), and I felt very out of place during the Bernina "Eddiecation" class I took at Eddie's Quilting Bee.  It was a class to learn the ins and outs of your Bernina, and all around me were women with sewing machines that must have cost at least $1500-$2000--but I think I bought exactly what I need, and the class went through the basic stitches of the machine, which are all going to be very useful.

Bernina manufactures a bazillion different specialty presser feet, which are all listed online.  Since I bought my machine at Eddie's, I got that Bernina class, but I also get 10% off on fabric for a year, and more importantly, 20% off of presser feet for a year.  There is a possibility that I have already bought two: the #2 overlock foot, and the #10 edgestitch foot.  Feet aren't exactly cheap, but man those two are awesome already.  I imagine that by the time that year is up, I will have amassed a small army of feet.

This was my second project with Sylvi--the first being new placemats which I forgot to photograph.  This  tiny little dress is made using a pattern from Leila and Ben, and I find that I actually really like the PDF.  Not just this pattern, which was extremely simple, but PDF patterns in general--no messing around with tissue paper, worrying that it will rip, and realizing that you will never reuse that pattern because you basically snip it to shreds while cutting your fabric.  Our printer is currently out of commission, so I sent it to the nearby Kinkos/FedEx Office to get the pattern printed, and it worked out extremely well.

Side story: when I went to the FedEx last Friday to pick up my prints, having submitted my files online, I just happened to run into the dress recipient's father!  I was still kind of sick and we couldn't go visit the newborn, so I at least got some preview photos.

Anyhow, PDF patterns = good.  I'll be buying more of them in the future, I think.  I like the idea of having a digital version that I can re-print and chop up without keeping the extra sizes to tape on at a later date.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kumquats and Cashews

I actually took a photo before I began nomming on this one, to make it a more difficult post to put up, but apparently that proved too difficult for me. to be just fine, thanks!  But here is the text, anyway:

Kumquats and Cashews and Chicken, oh my!
 - 1 chicken breast
 - ~10 + 2 kumquats
 - ~1/2 cup cashews, unsalted
 - 1/2 cup apple juice
 - < 1/4 cup white wine
 - salt
 - dried parsley

1. Let cubed chicken soak in juice, wine, and salt.
2. Grind cashews, set aside.
3. Remove seeds from 10 kumquats, allow the tiny food processor to mash them to a pulp.  Some extra apple juice may be helpful here.
4. Slice remaining 2 kumquats, remove seeds, and set aside.
5. Mix together kumquat mush and cashews.  Try not to eat any, but fail because it smells so good!
6. Place chicken into oiled, heated skillet. Note: normally when I make marinades fresh, I dump everything into the skillet together. This time I only placed the chicken into the pan, and unlike the failed lemon chicken recipe which I did not post, this one did not taste like wine.
7. Add kumquat-cashew mixture, cook until chicken is done, and the sauce is paste-like.
8. Add kumquat slices and stir a bit more.

I served it with parsley flakes on top, rice, and a nice salad.  You may pretend see that there is a photo here:

It may appear eventually was totally here all along!  The almond-plum is probably my favourite experiment so far, but this is a close second a long with apple chicken.  I should turn these into a book some day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goodbye, Olympics

After years of preparations, two weeks of city-wide madness, and 14 gold medals (!), the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver have come to a close.  It felt like an age in coming, and it went by in a blip.  It was surreal seeing shots of my hometown splashed about on NBC, and I daresay I will miss seeing TourismBC commercials between now and our next trip to Canada.  But this is not what I want to say.

Blogs are about opinions, so here is mine: the closing ceremony was hilarious, and I loved it.

Being not only a Canadian, but also a Vancouverite, I may be predisposed to approve of whatever shenanigans they decided to come up with for the "less formal" ceremony--especially in the heady wake of what was a fantastic, well-fought hockey game (what else would we expect from a game of NHL all-stars divided only by the 49th Parallel?), which was won by Team Canada. (Wooo!)

But, from the mime "fixing" the fourth column, to the amusing monologues mid-ceremony, to the crazy "WTF?" dance of inflatable Mounties, giant beavers, floating moose, two-man "canoes", plaid-clad lumberjacks, and "fluttering" maple leaves, the underlying theme of it all seemed to be about poking fun at Canadian stereotypes, and playfulness.  Rather fitting, after the "come play with us" theme during the closing ceremonies of the Torino games in 2006.

Really, that last part of the ceremony was worth the wait, despite delayed coverage on NBC, and despite having to listen to the grating presentations from various NBC commentators.  I really got a good laugh--and I'm sure many other Canadians did, too.  We are proud of our amusing stereotypes! And anybody who might be appalled or unimpressed by the seemingly comical display (especially after Beijing, which, we were told numerous times, was amazing, so amazing, oh my so amazing!--I am looking at you, Costas) perhaps needs to be told, "Don't take yourself too seriously, eh?"

Friday, February 26, 2010

Accidental Yarn Review

I am totally obsessed with making bowls! And felting them!  I meant for this post to be just a photo that I uploaded yesterday, but I got distracted.  So if you're interested in reading about me geeking out on yarn, then you're in the right place.

Crocheted bowls are super easy, very fast to make, and I've been testing out different types of wool yarn for the felting process.  I have an awesome spreadsheet tracking yards per ounce of wool and cost per yard, because I am a total geek!  And I love spreadsheets!

Here's my current list of wool, all in worsted weight:
My least favourite was the Harrisville New England Highland.  It was a nice colour, and it looked nice when I crocheted it into a bowl, but it smelled funny and felt coarse.  Then, after felting, it went completely shaggy--that was the first time I've ever had to clean my washing machine after using it.

Cascade 220 was the other highland wool--excuse me, Peruvian highland--and I had a similar post-felting cleanup experience.  I'm certain that I didn't get all of it out, since the next batch I felted had little red bits floating around.  But despite the cleanup, it barely took 20 minutes to felt (most of my tests required at least 40 minutes for felting, though I wasn't timing very religiously).  Overall I was actually impressed with the final product, as the bowls have a nice weight to them.

Nordique from St. Denis was my first non-Michaels/non-Jo-Ann wool purchase, so I am rather partial to it.  It took forever to felt, however, and I'm not even sure it felted entirely, since the stitches are still visibly separate.  I bought a couple of balls in the Aubergine colorway which was a beautiful amethyst shade, but I'm not sure I would pick up much that line again.

Since I started going to a bunch of smaller yarn shops, I have become something of a yarn snob.  I refuse to buy anything that has a lot of acrylic in the mix, because I think it feels too crunchy.  I love working with yarns made from natural fibres, because not only do they feel better and they look better.  And I like the idea of supporting a local yarn shop--my current favourite being Green Planet Yarn, in historic downtown Campbell.  I could never see them carrying Patons Classic Wool, but I have to be honest: it felts really easily, and the bowls look great.  I have no idea where the wool comes from, and I have no idea if their manufacturing process is ethical or whatnot, but it's a pretty decent yarn for felting, and I actually quite like it.  But I am trying to be snobby!  Oh, what a dilemma.

The merino wools I listed first, but have left for the last, because I liked those two the most.  The O-Wool took about an hour to felt to my liking, but the bowls looked great.  It didn't shrink as much as the Cascade 220 or the Shepherd's Wool, but the felted wool is nicer to the touch than the Cascade 220.  At $14/hank, it was definitely the most expensive, so although I like it very much, I'm not sure if I would buy it very often.
(As a side story, the first skein of O-Wool I bought was from the DK weight Balance line, which is 50% Merino, and 50% Cotton.  Only, I didn't realize that fact until much later, and I eventually gave up trying to felt it.  "Ben, this wool refuses to felt!  I don't know what's going on!")

Last but certainly not least is the Shepherd's Wool.  This has got to be the softest wool I have ever felt. Ever.  I just felted the bowls from that test, so they're still drying on the counter--we'll see if they actually make sturdy bowls (my comparison point is currently the Patons Classic Wool), but I'm not sure if I care.  The first time I worked with a carefully wound ball of Shepherd's Wool, I was cuddling it up to my cheeks.  The Pacifist Knight is made of Shepherd's Wool (not including his face, which is actually SWTC Yin in Harmony, the only skin-coloured yarn I could find), and he is pretty cuddly too.  Green Planet Yarn has a "sale" where for any one purchase during your birthday month, you can get between 20%-100% off of that purchase; I fully intend on going as soon as I can in March, to build up a Shepherd's Wool stash.  Then it will be bowl-a-bonanza. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Pacifist Knight


Meet my hero, The Pacifist Knight.

After discovering all the cute amigurumi figures listed on Etsy, I wanted to try making my own!  During one of our many foraging trips to Borders, and armed with a coupon and a mission, I picked out a bunch of amigurumi books to peruse, ultimately settling on Creepy Cute Crochet.

I had actually bought this book before, as a gift, because I liked it, but ultimately returned it because it seemed inappropriate to give a crochet book to a recipient who did not crochet at all (in my defense, the contents of the book suited her well, anyway).  But despite my obvious underlying desire to own the book myself, the reason why I bought it the second time around was because Ben wanted me to make him a knight.

And so,

The Pacific Knight was born.  In the book, she recommends fashioning a sword out of felt, or perhaps out of clay, but I don't have felt in the right colour, I wasn't interested in using more wool to create the felt to fashion a sword, and I don't want to get into yet another craft, so I have no clay.

Then Ben got it in his head that no sword was necessary, since our little knight was a pacifist.  I'm not sure if that means he resolves problems, or if it just means that he doesn't get involved, but either way, the chocolate lolly I bought Ben for Valentine's Day made a fitting addition to his photo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Almond Plum

So here is another chicken recipe; I am going to start calling these my cop-out blog posts, because they're easier to write up than a craft post.  No photos needed!  Anyway.

1 chicken breast
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp honey
a pinch of salt
a bunch of almonds (very specific!)
2 plums, not too ripe, cut to 1" pieces

Combine wine, water, and honey until the honey is dissolved.  Cube the chicken and let it marinate.  Grind the almonds until fairly fine; I used my little food processor and it worked great.  I mixed in the almonds just before I started cooking, and dumped everything into my skillet with a bit of olive oil.  Add plums once chicken is mostly cooked, and let everything simmer until the liquid is gone.  Then be like me, and completely forget about vegetables!  We're nomming this one right now with a carrot, half an onion, and cilantro rice, and it's really good!  Now I need to go stop typing and keep eating.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Honey Garlic Chicken, and, a sale!

One of my bowls sold on Etsy!  Apparently it sold last night, but Etsy didn't see fit to tell me until this afternoon, which means I can't send it until Monday morning.  But it'll be very nicely packaged and ready to go, before then!  Later tonight, or tomorrow, I'll have to list the other bowls I finally managed to photograph--I made a few amethyst coloured bowls; it is February, after all.

Tonight on the menu is honey garlic chicken and rice.  I found a recipe at Christmas that worked really well, but I never wrote it down, and I can't seem to find it any more.  So, I'm trying a new experiment today, which I will actually write down.  But we will see how it tastes.  The chicken is marinating in it now, while the rice cooks, and it smells pretty good so far.. of course, it is basically swimming in garlic. Noms...

Honey Garlic Marinade (good for 1 chicken breast)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced

Rice vinegar is starting to be one of my favourite marinade additions. Have I mentioned that yet? It makes me wonder how horrible it is for my health.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Apple Chicken

Here is one of my classic dishes: apple chicken.  I've been making this delicious one for a while, and as usual, I, er, never have the sense of mind to write it down, but it needs to be posted all the same!  Works great with rice or bread.

 - 1 chicken breast
 - 1 apple (washed but not peeled)
 - 1/2 onion (I prefer sweet onion, though yellow or white are both fine)
 - ~2 cups apple juice
 - ~1 tsp dried basil (honestly, I just shake it in until it looks good)
 - ~1 tsp vinegar (I use rice vinegar, although vinegar can be left out entirely)
 - salt, to taste

1. Cut the chicken into cube or strips, whichever you prefer.  Allow chicken to marinate in 1 cup apple juice, salt, basil, and vinegar.

2. Cut the half onion into 8.  For the apple, cut into very thin slices.  I usually use an apple corer (dropping in some lemon juice when the corer is halfway in will help keep it from browning), then cut the apple into fourths, and slice each quarter carefully.

3. Cook the onion and apple in ~1/2 cup of juice, until partially tender and the juice is evaporated. Remove from heat (placing it into a temporary holding plate works).

4. Warm the remaining juice, add chicken and marinade, and cook until mostly done. Add in the onion and apple, and continue cooking until chicken is well done, and juice is mostly evaporated.

5. Serve, and nom!

Today I'm trying out a new mango chicken marinade, one that involves red wine and orange juice. We'll see how it turns out.  

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I've been talking about wanting to list items on Etsy since I first discovered it, and I've finally mustered up enough courage to do so.  A few items are listed, just to start--I'm trying to be both realistic and optimistic at the same time, but maybe I'll get noticed by somebody!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Christmas Advent Calendar

Apparently, I uploaded photos of my Christmas advent calendar project, but I failed to mention them on my blag.  The Paper Source card contest completely took my attention, and lately, I've been spending a lot of time knitting and crocheting and felting, so it seems as good a time as any to post these photos, finally.

Ta-da!  Twenty-five little baggies, Christmas style.  The numbers are cut out of recycled felt, using the Red Tag Sale alphabet set for my Cuttlebug, and putting them through my Xyron sticker maker.  For the bags themselves, I used a fat quarter I found at Jo-Anns, which I had bought originally to cover buttons, to use in a felt ring advent calendar, like this one I found on Etsy.  But then I realized, advent calendars are fun because there is chocolate contained within!

Chocolate and goodies!  Those are some magnets I found (on Etsy, again) featuring images from Portal; I put the cake magnet in day #25, because I really wanted cake at the end.  Every day had a chocolate and a magnet or a Jibbitz for our Crocs.

In case you were wondering, one fat quarter is not enough to make 25 bags that are 2"x3" in size.  But when I went back to get another, after I ditched the button idea, I couldn't find another, and they didn't have any bolts of the same, so I instead dug through the remnants pile and found some nice silk.

The colour seemed to match, and it didn't require waiting the half hour it usually takes to get fabric cut.  Having never worked with silk, though, I wasn't expecting it to fall apart as easily as it does, so there was some hacking involved to get it to stay.  Even then, I'm not sure these bags will hold up very well to abuse; I cut them too small to do any sort of seam finishing on the inside.  But they did the job, and now they are packed away nicely, in the Christmas box.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sweet and Sour Sauce

A recipe for Sweet and Sour Sauce.
  • 1/3 cup white or rice vinegar (Note: rice vinegar gives better results)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 4 teaspoons water
Preparation:Mix the vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce together and bring to a boil in a small pot. Mix together the cornstarch and water, add to the other ingredients and stir to thicken.

(If desired, you can add 1 green pepper, cut into chunks, and pineapple chunks as desired after adding the cornstarch. For a thicker sauce, increase the cornstarch to 4 teaspoons while keeping the water constant.)

I've been experimenting with chicken marinades and sauces lately, and I thought it would be good to start posting some of them.  After doing a quick search for sweet and sour sauce, I found this one online, which worked out pretty well.  We normally have 1 large chicken breast between the two of us, though, so even though I made a full batch of sauce, I only used half.  It worked really well when cooked with onion, sweet pepper, and fresh pineapple. Noms!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My last post was on the 17th, so this appears to be right on time?

In the suitcase my mom left me at Christmas, alongside packages of Canadian Smarties, leftover cross stitch fabric, floss, and patterns, and slippers too warm to wear in this balmy climate, was a roll of crochet hooks. 

Being totally obsessed with felted bowls I've seen on Etsy, I bought some yarn and made some little bowls, none of which are photographed. In the interest of experimenting with felting on my own, I subsequently bought a skein of 100% wool, and that endeavour turned out extremely well:

Those are just single crochet spiral bowls, with my favourite new technique: an adjustable ring. The bowls didn't take long to make, and felting them was pretty easy too.

I've also decided I'd like to take up knitting (because I need more craft hobbies, apparently), although to less successful results.

Bit of a rocky start, there. Muscle memory made knit stitches fairly easy, so that first cm or so is just garter stitching. When I was little, Mom would help me cast on, and I never figured out how to purl, so those need some practice.  I'll get there.

Since it is 2010, I've decided on a fairly decent and reasonably attainable resolution: to make as many gifts as possible this year, instead of spending tons of money buying stuff.  Felted anything is probably a good start; crocheting is fast and easy, as is felting.  Once I get my knitting up to snuff, I'll have an even better skill set for being successful.  And once I finally get myself a sewing machine of my own, oh ho ho!  I just need to find one that's both suitable and affordable. 

I'm not sure if this is really a resolution, or if it's just a good excuse to spend a ton of time crafting.