Sunday, September 30, 2007

Simple Crisp, Simple Trick

I love fruit crisp, especially in the autumn, and once, long ago, complained to my friend Betsy that my crisp always turned out poorly, either powdery-floury on top or burned fruit stuck to the pan. She told me then the secret to a good crisp is to pack it tight in the pan. If you do this, then as the fruit cooks, the juices will bubble up and cook the topping. So simple, yet I'm surprised at how many people have the same complaint I use to. It's always irritated me when certain directions (inevitably techniques) are omitted from recipes, as though we're all suppose to know everything. so I'm sharing a crisp recipe that is particularly good, and also the technique to make it perfect.

This is a recipe for apple crisp from Mark Bittman's book "How to Cook Everything". This is a great book, and though I like all the Mark Bittman cookbooks I've looked at, this one is the best. However, like all the crisp recipes I've ever encountered, it neglects to tell the reader an important step.

Apple Crisp

6 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples (or other fruit)
1 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
juice of 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup brown sugar, divided
5 tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes (plus a small amount to grease the pan)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut (optional)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the fruit with half the cinnamon, the lemon juice, and 1 tbsp of the sugar, and spread it in a lightly buttered 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan (I use a deep dish pie plate)packing it down with the back of a spatula.

Combine all the other ingredients - including the remaining cinnamon and sugar - in the container of a food processor and pulse a few times until well incorporated. To do this by hand soften the butter first and rub together with your fingertips or a pastry blender.

Spread the topping over the fruit, packing down tightly, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the fruit is tender. You may want to place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. This can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Now, honestly, how much trouble is it to mention this important step of packing the beast into it's little plate?

This one is mine, made with a few leftovers from the fridge; four beautiful, ripe nectarines, two Granny Smith apples, and two Mackintosh apples. It's the perfect autumn dessert with lots of vanilla ice cream. Yum, yum.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pincushion Challenge

I've been feeling lately like I'm neglecting my creative side. Sure, I do lots of little crafty things, but always from someone else's design. I've been thinking I need some sort of project, but have lacked inspiration. However, I heard about this yesterday and had to help get the word out.

I've seen lots of fantastic pincushions out there. Like here, here and here.

Now, I've never designed a pincushion, but I've certainly made them and I'll bet a lot of you out there have as well. I've decided to enter this challenge, even though I've never done anything like that either. I think this is an easy way to connect with the stitching community. It's just the sort of mini project to get that creative energy focused.

Anybody with me?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wee Folk

Things are moving pretty slow this week, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to show a project from last year.

I'm very fond of Salley Mavor. She operates Wee Folk Studio in the Northeast States. She does beautiful work using textiles and paints. Her creations are so simple, but enchanting. I've made two of her faeries from kits. You can see their size compared to the Loonie one is holding.

They are the blueberry faerie and the rose faerie. There are lots of other kits in different colour combinations and a book as well called Felt Wee Folk available here (if you're interested).

I've also made the Nutcap family. This is two kits, one for the mother and baby, and one for the other three children.

The toadstool house is from a pattern by The Silver Penny. I made this last winter and it was my first attempt at needle felting. It's a good thing I didn't realise I'd chosen a complicated project for my first try. If you've never tried to needle felt, I'll warn you now that you can do serious injury to your fingers with the needles.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Autumn Begins

Everything is beginning to accelerate on the Canadian Prairie. Summer swings into autumn swiftly, and this year seems particularly quick. The photo above is a neighbour's tree, an Amur Maple I think. It turns the most stunning shade of red/pink/orange.

These tomatoes were harvested from my tiny garden just two weeks ago, and now the leaves are already turning on the trees, unbelievable.

They were made into a fantastic salad (the tomatoes, please, not the leaves). I meant to take a photo, but it went a little too fast. The recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Foods July/August 2005. I'll give you my variation here:

3 tbsp red-wine or white-wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp minced red onion
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on their size
salt and pepper

Combine first four ingredients and pour over tomatoes. Let sit at room temperature for half an hour, so flavours can mingle. This recipe is very yummy, and basic too. Summer garden tomatoes are best left fairly simple I think.

I've finally completed that first sleeve on the Tangled Yoke Cardigan. In a continuation of the mental block I'm having with this project, I knit too far, by about two inches, in fact. However, I knit back and started the next sleeve. Hooray!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tiny Witch in Tiny Post

A quick post to let everyone know that I've figured out the comments setting on my blog. Now anyone can make a comment, you don't have to have a blogger account.

I've also figured out (bothered to read the manual) the macro setting on my son's camera. Now I can take pictures of very small things.

This is a tiny beaded witch. She has stripey stockings and a green face. I love her. See how small she is:

Very small. If you want to make one yourself the instructions are here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another Mad Direction

Look what arrived for me in the post today.

The brand new book by Joelle Hoverson at purlsoho.

This book is gorgeous. I love the way this book and her previous book, Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, are written. There are lots of projects, divided into "time to make" chapters. Beautifully photograph, and look:

I had it signed by the author. I feel like I should join a fan club.

There are so many projects I want to start. Hillary Lang at Wee Wonderfuls has a pattern for Peanut, the Wee Elephant and Kathy Mack at Pink Chalk Studios has instructions for the Coloured Pencil Roll, both absolutely fabulous. My favourite though is the Colour-Wheel Quilt.

Very simple and straight-forward, and best of all, the bulk of thinking on this project is deciding on which fabrics to buy, and there are so, so many.

I'm sure Nigel is whimpering somewhere in a corner, clutching his chequebook. I think I should make him a nice quilt to nap under, or maybe a pillow to rest his head on. A good idea, no?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Bigger Family Birthday

Well, Whimsy may have turned two earlier this week, but today is a far more important birthday. My Mum is 75! She's finding it hard to believe she's such a big number, but, well, she is.

Mum is very camera shy, and though I do have a photo of her, she would probably prefer if I didn't post it. So instead I'll show some photos I've taken of a few things she's made for my daughter Elly.

Benjamin Bunny and Jemima Puddleduck. Who doesn't love Beatrix Potter? (Actually I knew someone once who didn't, but no-one talks to him anymore). Mum is a great knitter. She rarely makes things as finicky as these, but you know, if it's for the grand kids, she'll make an exception. I have endless knitted items by my Mum; afghans, sweaters, hats, mitts, toys. They all seem to be much better than I ever make, just like meals and cookies, Mum's are always better.

Raggedy Ann and Andy, so sweet. These two were made for Elly, but I remember a pair, now long gone, from my childhood. I think Mum likes the wholesomeness of Ann and Andy, their faces are simple and kind. I've always loved those stripey legs. My taste always runs a little more toward the gaudy than Mum's.

This is Josie and Miranda. Mum always chooses fantastic names for her dolls, though I'm ashamed to say I can't remember which one is which, I think Miranda might be the red-head. Mum made them in a class out on Vancouver Island. I can't remember the name of the artist who ran the class, but she's quite well-known out there. (Isn't my memory appalling??!!)

Mum has sewn tons of other things as well, quilts, clothes, toys. In fact, the greatest toys, she's made fully-jointed teddy bears, really incredible, and a beautiful baby doll named Maggie who has a bisque head and arms, a hand-painted face with glass eyes and rooted hair. Absolutely amazing.

My Mum's enthusiasm for new things and working on projects, big and small, is a trait I share with her, and I'm glad I do.

Happy Birthday Mum!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Whims and Whimsy

It's a curious thing, my sense of reason. For a couple of years now my life has been buzzing with crafty whims and projects; hats, mitts, scarves, sweaters for the dogs, along with little toys and what-nots, knitting, beading, cross-stitch, felting. In fact, it's been so busy that I finally decided I had enough interesting little things going on to support a blog. Curious though, because just as I begin blogging about all of it, I'm settling in to two time-consuming and complicated projects.

I have no wonderful finished creations for you.


I do have a bit of unfinished:

the Asian cross-stitch.

Can you see? There is more of her kimono. See? Just there, at the bottom. No? Well, believe me it's been a ton of work.

And the cardigan? Well, I'm still working on that first sleeve.

Can you see? I'm past the ribbing now and working on the stocking stitch. It's coming along. Slowly.

However, I suppose I have finished one small item.

A little snail to go with my turtle.

Fittingly, a snail and a turtle reflect the pace of my two larger projects.

On an unrelated note, I have to offer birthday wishes to a family member.

Happy Birthday Whimsy! Two Years Old Today! Hip, Hip, Hurrah!

Monday, September 10, 2007

And He's Off!

School has officially begun.

The world returns to normal.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Madly Readying With An Art Brut Chaser

This week has been a bit of a rush as we prepare for Ian's upcoming school year.

New clothes:

New shoes:

Sewing in all those little labels:

Everything hemmed,pressed and ready:

Supplies, labelled and perfect:

I think it's important to pause and reflect on this moment when everything is perfect and tidy and clean. I'm taking a deep breath, are you?

I also re-covered the kitchen chairs, they won't stay perfect for long either:

When my daughter, Elly, saw me taking photos of the chairs she wanted to get artsy with a cup and saucer.

But life wasn't all work, on Friday night my husband, Nigel, and Elly and I, along with friends Bruce, Andy and Drew, went off for an evening with Art Brut. A great band from England, doing a tour of North America. The show was fantastic, the band is absolutely adorable and their music is always good fun. I didn't bring my camera that night, but here is a video called Modern Art by Art Brut for you to enjoy.

Now, what kind of fans are we? Well, (forgive the poor quality photo) check it out:

We, as a group, had tickets numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Nigel bought them, he was very proud.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Our Day Out

Souris is a very small town in south-western Manitoba. It's most famous for its swinging bridge.

Built by a fellow called Squire Sowden in 1904, it crosses the Souris river, spanning 582 feet. The Squire built the bridge to connect his property with the town of Souris - a practical man.

It's very long and looked very sensible.

That is until an eleven year old boy decides its more fun to run at full speed across it.

I don't think I've ever had my legs turn to jelly so quick, I was dizzy the rest of the afternoon. After we finished our tour of the bridge (we not only crossed it, but crossed again to get back to town), we took a spin through Hillcrest Museum. Built for the Squire's son and wife; it over-looks the bridge.

The house was once quite grand. It had these fantastic tin plate ceilings and stained glass windows in almost every room. The town has done a good job of restoring the place, though if you plan a visit, I'd advise not going on a holiday Monday as a lot of businesses were closed.

I might also advise choosing your bridge partner carefully.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

The family took a road trip to Souris on Labour Day. It's almost three hours to drive there, so I took some knitting with me (I wasn't the one driving).

It's the Tangled Yoke Cardigan I've been working on, though I suppose one could call it the Tangled Mess. I'm going to come clean about this project, as the knitting group is starting to snicker every time I mention it.

I decided in late spring that it was time to make myself a SIGNIFICANT PROJECT. No more hats, mitts, scarves and the like, but a real commitment. A commitment to myself and (for shame) to the size I currently fit. I chose a pattern from Fiddlesticks Knits called Caress.It was so pretty, all soft and flouncy. I began this project and finished the back, both fronts and both sleeves. I still had to make the large, flouncy border around the edge, when I decided that it was really all wrong for me. Too soft, large and flouncy of course. So I unraveled the entire work.

Then I decided to knit the Katherine Hepburn Cardigan from the book Lace Style. Well, I decided, instead of kntting the back and fronts separately, I'd be clever and knit them all at once. So, off I went with something over 260 stitches on my needle, and knit , knit, knit the first 10 rows when suddenly I realised (this was late at night) that I had reversed the directions of all the cables. I left it overnight and first thing in the morning, I unravelled the entire work (without looking at it first). I started the same sweater again, but rather than be clever, I only cast on for the back this time. Well. Of course, I reached to the end of 10 rows and realised that the original cables had been all correct to begin with! A little bit disgusted, but undaunted I continued up the back. After about four or five inches I had a good look at my project and decided the pattern, though it would suit me fine, really needed to be done in a cotton or silk yarn that would give good stitch definition and the alpaca I was using was just too soft and fluffy for this pattern. Yes, I unravelled the whole work. Again!

When the Interweave Knits Magazine arrived in the mail I knew immediately that the Tangled Yoke Cardigan was perfect. It needed a soft touchable yarn, it wasn't fussy, and in was sized to fit a hefty lass. I began the project, and away I went.

The main part of the body is finished.

The first sleeve has been started.

And so, one last confession: I started a sleeve, worked an inch and a half, decided I had done it all wrong, unravelled and started again, worked three inches, thought I had done it wrong AGAIN, unravelled and finally started a third time, realising I had been doing it right the entire time. I should know to trust Interweave patterns and not my judgement late at night.

I'm not sure if I'm exhibiting a mental block about self-worth, a neurotic perfectionism, or a maybe just a really, really deep psychosis.

I wonder if those big bales of hay are ever "just not right" and someone says "no, no, no let me try that again". Or, "I think that one needs to move to the right", maybe, "People, People, we need a odd number, bad feng shui you know".

I'm sure glad I'm not a farmer.

In my next post I'll tell you about our trip out to Souris.