Monday, January 30, 2012

Frayed Ruffle Heart

Frayed ruffle heart
Make a little frayed ruffle heart pillow for Valentine's Day!

What you'll need:
Fabric remnants in a variety of prints and colors
Transfer paper, tracing wheel, straight edge
Needle, thread

Start by using the heart pattern to cut hearts out of fabric.

Each pillow will need four hearts: the back of the pillow, the front of the pillow, the lining, and the front backing. Choose a fairly bold print for the front and experiment with contrasting colors and prints for the other layers.
Heart pieces

Transfer the diagonal lines onto the wrong side of the front backing.
Marked heart

Pin the front, the lining, and the front backing together. They should all be right side down, with the lining in the middle of the "sandwich." The wrong side of the front backing, with the marked lines, will be on top. Stitch along these lines. (I found starting with a line in the middle kept the fabric from shifting around.)

Turn the heart over and cut the top two layers between the stitched lines. Be very careful not to cut the botton layer (the front backing)!
Cutting the channels

Cut all the rows.
Cut heart

Now pin the back of the pillow to the sewn sections, right sides together. Stitch, leaving an opening on one of the long sides of the heart. Reinforce the bottom point and the upper V with backstitching.

Trim the edges and clip the V very close to the stitching.
sewn heart

Turn the heart right side out and stuff.

Turn the raw edges under and whipstitch closed. String beads together on a double strand of thread and sew a loop to the top of the heart or string several hearts together.

Rough up the ruffles by brushing your fingers across them vigorously. Trim any loose threads.

Be sure to make enough for all your valentines!

Basket of heart

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Make your own gourmet tea

DIY gourmet tea
I love tea and we have a nice little gourmet tea shop near us called Todd & Holland. They offer amazing combinations of all kinds of tea and a wide variety of lovely teapots and cups. It's a wonderful place to go. Unfortunately, they're getting more and more expensive. Too expensive for me, in fact.

So I've been making my own tea blends. Grocery stores that stock Mexican products often offer herbs in bulk. They're pretty cheap, particularly if you can find the large one pound bags.
Tea supplies

You can also grow and dry your own herbs or make your own dried citrus peel. Once you get the ingredients, it's easy to come up with tasty combinations. Here's the one I made today:

1/2 C Hibiscus flowers (Called Jamaica in Spanish)
1/2 C Chamomile flowers
1/2 C Mint leaves
1/4 C Dried orange peel
1 T Dried rosebuds

I put about 3 heaping spoonfuls into my big 38 oz FORLIFE teapot.
TeapotFor loose tea like this, it's great (but not required!) to have a tea press or a teapot with an infuser or strainer. And try using the tea twice. The second steeping will be weaker of course, but chilled and with a bit of honey, it's often strong enough for a nice, light refreshment!

Tea lasts longest stored in a dark cool place. Tins are perfect for this.

Of course, around my house, tea this yummy won't get stored for long.

Wren with tea

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pickled horseradish hummus

pickled horseradish

The pickles I made are all gone. But what about the veges I pickled them with? Well, though the celery was too sad and limp for anything, the onions were delicious on burgers. Now I'm left with the horseradish, swimming around in its magic, murky brine. It seems too good to waste. How about adding it to hummus?

Most recipes for hummus include tahini. But I don't use that much; the jars I buy always seem to reach a very ripe old age in the fridge. So today I simply used olive oil. It's a nice match for the brightness of the horseradish.

1 clove garlic
2 pieces (roughly 3/4" square) pickled horseradish
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
4 T olive oil
1/4 t salt
pepper to taste

In a food processor, chop up the garlic and horseradish, then add the remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth and blended.
Spread on toasted pita bread or try it on rosemary crackers.

Now the only question, as Jay says, is whether this is "Yummy hummus" or "hummy yummus!"

(P.S. Have you subscribed to Smalltropolis yet?)
Wren with hummos

Friday, January 13, 2012

Make your own zombie masks

Make your own zombie masks

Tonight we're headed to an anniversary party. And, since it's Friday the 13th, the dress code is (What else?) "Zombie Formal."

Time to make masks!

First I took aluminum foil 4 layers thick and smooshed it down on the top half of my face. (Since this was all an experiment, I didn't start on Jay's till I was finished with mine. This let me reuse the aluminum foil.) Jay actually did a better job at this part than I did, so his mask (on the right) has a better formed nose than mine, which makes it more comfortable.

Then I took pieces of flesh-colored fabric and dunked them in "Aleene's Fabric Stiffener & Draping Liquid." The fabric I used was a very thin cotton so I thought I might have to leave the aluminum foil backing. Nope. It stiffened up plenty.

A few thoughts about the fabric stiffener: I've had this bottle forever so I'm not sure if it comes this thick but it was THICK! I watered it down a little, more for the second one, because I realized a little goes a long way and if you leave too much, it sort of smells.

After letting the mask dry completely, I peeled off the aluminum foil. The backs of the masks were really stiff and uncomfortable so, using white glue, I lined them with another piece of fabric.

Then I trimmed them, cut holes for eyes, and sewed on pieces of elastic.

For the painting, first I looked online for pics of zombie faces, masks, etc, to get ideas. Then I used a "dry brush" technique. This means I got a small bit of paint on the brush, wiped most of it off on scrap paper and then painted on the mask. This gives you a much softer effect and let's you control things better, building up the color slowly.

Simple but spooky. Now I just have to go find a dress...

Wren with mask

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year's Fast

No sugar, alcohol, or caffeine for six weeks. That's the fast my husband and I are on this year.

We've done this about five years now. Each year is slightly different in what we exclude but this year we're keeping it simple with the big three. We always start January 4th, the day after my birthday, and end around Valentine's Day.

The first couple years were hard and we cheated a lot. But it's gotten easier, because, bit by bit, it's changed our permanent diet.

Oatmeal, for example, before the fasts used to require spoonfuls of brown sugar. Now we just go with raisins and chopped fruit. (We eat oatmeal almost every day so this adds up to a lot of sugar!) After the first fast or two, I was sooooo happy to go back to my caramel-y sweetener. But somewhere along the line, I quietly realized I really preferred the fruit and just never went back to sugar.

And that's what it's about: small changes, year by year, eating better so you feel better.

In fact, health precipitated all this. I was starting to get allergies and I hate taking medicine. I thought changing my diet might help. So the early fasts took out things like wheat and dairy. This had no effect on my sniffles but total banishment of high fructose corn syrup and other GMO corn products has all but cured me. And of course, reducing my sugar intake always makes me feel better and improves my complexion.

I was hoping for these results and they please me. But they're not all I've gained.

For one thing, the self-discipline a fast requires makes you stronger mentally. We live in a society where we can have anything we want any time. We've almost forgotten how to tell ourselves "no." And I think that weakens us.

I also think being indulged makes us lose track of what's really important. I think that's why the fasts make me more grateful. They teach me to look beyond myself and my donut desires. They teach me to look more honestly at my life and see how perfect it is, even with no chocolate lava cake tonight.

And then there's the meal that breaks the fast. It's amazing. Jay and I talk for hours about what restaurant we'll go to, what we'll order, what it will taste like, how it's tasted in the past and how much we'll enjoy the wine, dessert, coffee, whatever.

The anticipation of this meal is every bit as delicious as the meal itself. In fact, the anticipation of this meal is so sweet, intoxicating, and energizing, I almost don't miss the things we've cut out...almost.


Wren in the kitchen

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Gifts for her. From her.

Cake on a heart plate

Yesterday was my sister Robin's and my birthday. She gave me some heart-shaped plates that say Love, Hope, and Dream.

While out shopping, we had seen them and I had admired them greatly, thinking, "Oh, wouldn't these be just the perfect romantic gift?!" Except what guy—like Jay?— would even be caught dead in any shop that sold them?

Don't get me wrong. I love my husband Jay very much. He even on occasion buys me flowers or cool jewelry. But to be honest, one of the best gifts he ever gave me was a HUGE tackle box in which to store my beads. It's true. There's just a guy reality — washing their stinky gym socks, or dealing with guitars, well, everywhere (like the kitchen table...sigh). Then there's a guy fantasy — Ryan Gosling stocking up your tea because you're hosting Stich N' Bitch this weekend...

But we can do it for each other, can't we? We can buy our sisters and girlfriends all those frilly, lovely, girly things, like a lolly pop tea towel or filigree cupcake wrappers, rubber stamps or handmade dolls. So happy birthday to me. And happy birthday to all my sisters!