Sunday, May 27, 2012

Picnic season

In honor of the unofficial beginning of summer (well, in most parts of the country; in Seattle the unofficial beginning of summer is Bastille Day, but I digress), I made some picnic napkins out of a piece of fruit/bandanna print fabric that I recently thrifted.

I think the fabric is vintage; at least, it smelled vintage (although that was nothing that a hot wash couldn't cure).

Sadly, today was not a great day for picnics (see above comment re: Bastille Day), but they look good under a latte too.

I thought about hemming them with mitered corners, or finishing the edges with bias tape, but in the end I just cut the yardage into eight equal pieces and used my machine's fake overlock stitch to finish the cut edges.

I did spring for some variegated thread, but still, 8 funky fabric napkins for roughly 75 cents apiece--not bad.

Minimal cost, minimal waste, minimal time (though, I admit, maximum tedium). Not every project has to be super elaborate, you know?

(I mean, don't get me wrong, I like an elaborate project now and then too. In fact, I have two in the works right now--one of which had me in the kitchen this afternoon muttering "poop" over and over to myself, after realizing that I'd made a fatal mistake in drafting a skirt pattern. Which may--I am not sure--have caused me to put too little yeast in the pizza dough, in turn necessitating a trip to the grocery store for mediocre par-baked pizza crusts, not exactly what I had in mind for dinner. So, thank goodness not all projects are so complex, is what I am saying.)

Now, bring on the watermelon and potato salad.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday flowers

I thought it would be interesting to put a really over-the-top showy flower in a vase with some really subtle ones. Frustratingly, the peonies haven't yet opened up. So here is a calla lily, with some fringecup (Tellima grandiflora).

The fringecup is a Pacific Northwest native, bought last year from the Native Plant Society yearly sale (pretty much the highlight of May, as far as I am concerned). The plant I bought last year came back, and another much larger fringecup appeared in another garden bed. Huh. Anyway, I'm not complaining. The flowers have lasted a long time on the plant--I wonder how long they will last as cut flowers.

Friday flowers photobombing!

Seemed like an appropriate vase for the calla lily.


And as a bonus, here's an iris stem that I rescued a few days ago from a half-trampled state. The guilty party is either feline, procyonid, or small hominid, but I can't be sure which.

 The bloom smells like grape soda. Should I be worried?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Full potential

From the very thoughtful blog annekata I recently learned the Japanese term "mottainai':
Mottainai means “a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized“. According to wikipedia, it can refer to physical waste (resources) but also to wasted and wasteful efforts and actions, activities, time, souls, talents, emotion, minds, dreams, and potential.
It's a compelling concept (and look, said Wikipedia page is even illustrated with one of my favorite paintings).

But, wow, what a heavy responsibility.

A while back we had this jungle of arugula in our garden beds. And we needed to empty the beds so that we could dig in some compost and plant this year's crops.

I didn't want the arugula to go to waste, so I pulled out all the plants, stripped the leaves from them, and stuffed (I mean that literally) about half a dozen bags full of arugula into our refrigerator.

We ate some salads, and some more salads, and a really fantastic sautéed mushroom dish topped with arugula (I'll share that recipe with you in a little while), and barely made a dent.

I gave a bunch away to the neighbors. I became the neighborhood Oprah of arugula: "You get arugula! And you get arugula!"

And…we still had a refrigerator full of arugula. So I made pesto. Lots and lots of arugula-walnut pesto.

Sometimes the "highest and best use" isn't so photogenic. But let us soldier on!

This arugula thing became my hobby for about two weeks.

But now I have a huge stash of little green bricks of pesto in my freezer (I like to freeze things like this in ice cube trays, then pop them out and store them in a bag, so that I can use just a bit at a time.)

And to be totally candid, my freezer is usually the place where good intentions go to die. But I am hoping that I can avoid having to feel mottainai in this case. Because this stuff is very tasty, and good for lots of different things.

You can put it on pasta, of course.

 Or toss some with roasted new potatoes. Put a few dollops on a pizza.

(I think it would also be good as a pizza base, maybe with very thinly sliced potatoes and fontina cheese.)

Serve it with asparagus.

Or in a kind of deconstructed/reconstructed egg salad sandwich.

(That's whole grain bread, arugula pesto on one side, mayo on the other, sliced hard-boiled egg, and lettuce. Serve with very good potato chips, of course.)

If you should find yourself with a surfeit of arugula ('tis the season, after all), and a desire to avoid regret, here is how to make the pesto.

Arugula-Walnut Pesto

6 packed cups arugula leaves, tough stems discarded, washed well and dried
1 1/2 cups walnuts
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 large clove garlic
1/3 cup olive oil

Whizz it all together in a food processor. If your food processor is small like mine, it can be tricky to get a smooth, even puree, so here is what I recommend: First, puree the walnuts, salt, and garlic. Pack in a few handfuls of arugula, pour the oil over, and puree. Add more arugula a few handfuls at a time and puree after each addition. Add the cheese with the last handful of arugula.

P.S.: I'm not sure where the recipe came from; it's been in my recipe binder since long before I ever imagined I would have a blog where I would want to credit the sources of recipes. Oops.

P.P.S: Guess what we planted in those newly harvested and amended garden beds? Oh, yes (among other things), arugula--we are gluttons for punishment.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday flowers

There's a lot of pleasure to be had from a pair of scissors, ten minutes in the yard, and another ten standing at the kitchen counter poking stems into vases.

 Forget-me-nots, Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus)
Evergreen azalea, beach strawberry (Fragaria chilensis--large white flowers, wow, these are super delicate, they barely survived the journey inside), can't remember what the small white flowers are
Perennial verbena (dark purple), miner's lettuce (light purple), kinnickinnick (greenery at top of image)
Hawthorn, a bit of a maidenhair fern, horribly invasive creeping buttercup
Pansy, hawthorn, creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis, little pink buds in the back)

I am going to try to make this a regular practice, if I can. I saw earlier this week that the garden writer Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl has started a series of weekly herbarium boxes illustrating what's growing and flowering in her yard, and that seems like a great idea to me. Plus, I have a bad habit of putting flowers in a vase and then...leaving them there for three or four weeks. Yuck. Clearly, the solution must be more flowers, on a regular basis.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cross-Stitch with Washi Tape

I really liked this image of a painted cross-stitch style mural that I saw a while back. And then there are those washi tape deer heads that keep showing up all over the Internets. So those two ideas had a little party in my mind and this is what I came up with--a cross-stitch mural, but made with washi tape. Here's how I did it:

First, find a blank wall.

Choose a pattern. I started out looking at actual cross-stitch patterns, but they all had way too many stitches for my rather smallish area of wall. So I used one of these patterns for birds made from Hama beads--one bead = one "stitch." Much better.

Note that the center of the pattern is marked (with a circle) in the image above.

Now mark the center of your wall space.

Get out your washi tape. Mine is a pack called "Smoky Colors" from Pretty Tape on Etsy. I didn't have the same colors of washi tape that were specified in the Hama bead design, so I just changed things up a bit to fit the tape on hand and the color scheme of the room.

Tear off a piece of washi tape about 2.5 inches long. You can experiment with the length if you like, but I found that for my 1.5 cm-wide tape, this was a good length to get stitches with the right proportions.

And some more pieces of a similar length. You'll need two pieces of the same color for each x. Don't worry too much about getting pieces exactly 2.5 inches. Worst case scenario, you have to tear off a bit of excess, or cut a new piece if one is too short. A little bit of variation and raggedy ends is okay--it makes your stitches look painterly.

Now place the tape on the wall in "x"-es, around your center point. Especially if your wall is textured, make sure to rub each piece firmly so it sticks to the wall.

Work in a circular pattern out from the center. I found that this strategy both helped keep the design centered, and helped keep the rows and columns straight. You don't want it to get too wonky. But if it does, just peel the tape off and try again. This is a very forgiving medium.

Getting there. The whole process took little more than an hour, by the way.

Ta-da! A bird even the cats can live with.

I had a lot of fun with this, and can't wait to do another one. (Like daughter, like mother, I guess.) I have my eye on a very sad, bare, long and thin bit of wall above our kitchen window--I'm thinking some kind of folkloric border pattern.

I think this would be a great project if you rent--an easy way to make a big, colorful, but temporary wall decoration. It would be really fun in a nursery (a rabbit? a rhinoceros?). And I would love to try a really big one someday. Maybe if the writing doesn't work out, I can just make washi tape murals for a living. People would totally want to hire me to come and put tape all over their walls, right?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to plan a crafty weekend retreat

Finally, I am back, with some thoughts on the crafty weekend getaway I had with a group of friends a month or two ago, and how you can enjoy one too.

I feel a bit sheepish typing out all this advice, because really, it was not rocket science. Not even lace knitting, or setting a pocket into a princess seam--nothing nearly as complicated as that. But a couple people have expressed that they were eager to hear how we pulled this off, so here goes.

The main thing I want to express is that you can do this! I think a lot of us crafty types tend to look longingly at other people's blog posts recounting their adventures at Squam Art Workshops, or Sewing Summit, or whatever other big-name craft retreat is happening somewhere in the country this month. And yeah, I bet those events are awesome! But you can grab a group of friends and go to a cabin nearby for a lot less money, and it will still be plenty inspiring and productive.

Also, when we were planning this event, a couple of participants expressed nervousness about not being "creative enough" to come along. Seriously? Let's just nip that talk right in the bud. Because I think that if spending a weekend at a cabin with a half-dozen people who are sewing/knitting/drawing/building with Legos/whatever sounds remotely appealing to you, then you are creative enough.

Anyway, here's what I did, step by step:

1. Find your people.
I put out a call on Facebook--just posted a status update asking who might be interested in going away for a crafty weekend. People liked the idea! A couple friends-of-friends ended up in the group, but Facebook was a handy tool to get the ball rolling.

2. Choose a date.
I asked those who were interested which weekends would work for them; my goal was to find a time that would work for the maximum number of people from that core group who were interested.

Our retreat was 2 nights--we arrived at the cabin around 5 pm on Friday, and left around 2 pm on Sunday. I think 2 nights is the minimum--if you only had 1 night you'd barely have time to get started on the making. I'd actually love to go for 3 nights next time.

3. Find a place.
I wanted someplace that felt like a getaway, but with modern conveniences so that we could focus our time on making stuff instead of, you know, building a fire to make the house warm. We ended up here and it was just about perfect.

I recommend starting early. We were looking to book about 2 months out and a lot of weekends were already spoken for. We would have had more choice if we'd started the process about 3 months before our planned event. Yes, even in late winter.

4. Invite some more people.
Once we had those basics figured out, a couple of us issued broader invitations. I think only one or two people joined the group at this stage, but we already had a big enough group to make the finances pretty workable. My thought here was that if it worked for more people to come along, great, but I wanted to make sure that the plans accommodated the schedules of those who were definitely in from the beginning.


5. Leave some breathing room.
The place where we stayed sleeps 8, and we were 6 people (plus 2 large dogs). I think it would have felt crowded (though still doable and probably totally worth it) if we'd had the maximum of 8 people. Especially if we'd had more sewing machines! Anyway, don't feel like you have to max out the bunkhouse.

6. Figure out logistics.
About a week beforehand we started furiously sending around emails to work out carpools, meal assignments, etc. This was a remarkably self-organizing process. And it's nice to split up the gear-hauling assignments, so one person can bring the ironing board and another can bring the iron. I recommend you have your own sewing machine, though!

Speaking of meal assignments…

7. Plan your menus.
Each person was responsible for providing one meal for the group. We didn't coordinate menus beforehand, though we did share any dietary restrictions or strong dislikes. We ate very, very well, and it was nice only having to worry about one meal--all the rest of the delicious feasts appeared by magic.

We had 6 people and 6 meals, so each person just took one meal. If you had more people than meals, I imagine you could double up on dinners or something like that.

In addition to food for your meal, I'd recommend bringing a bottle of wine or other tipple (if you're into that), and a bit of something snacky or chocolate to share. And make sure someone (possibly the breakfast crew) has coffee and tea covered.

Another pro tip: I was in charge of dinner the first night we were there, and I brought soup I'd made the night before. I was really glad I'd made it ahead, as we got to the cabin a bit later than we'd expected (inevitably, I suppose), and arrived hungry!

8. Claim your bed.
Actually we didn't figure this out until we all arrived at the cabin, and that was just fine. So, you know, chill.

But I did want to mention that we established one bedroom as the ironing/cutting room, and kept the dogs out of there while crafting was afoot. That way we didn't have to worry about pups tracking mud over fabric or knocking over the ironing board. Which would not have been fun to worry about, let alone deal with!

9. Settle up.
I made the lodging reservations and offered people the option of sending me their share of the lodging fee via PayPal or check. (Everyone chose check, which I guess is neither here nor there, but interesting.) This did mean that I fronted the money, since the place where we stayed charged half the fee up front and the other half 2-3 weeks before our stay, and other participants reimbursed me during the trip. That wasn't a problem for my bank account, but it's something to be aware of.

People also figured out gas money among themselves, and each person was responsible for the cost of the meal that they provided. (Which I think is a useful approach, because if you're not feeling so flush you can sign up for a breakfast, or make an inexpensive dish, you know? Although I will say from experience that a simple meal of soup is, um, not so cheap once you add fancy cheese, artisan bread, and nice wine. Oh well!)

Between lodging, gas, and food, I think the cost of the weekend was about $250 per person. (Those who brought their dogs paid a bit more, because they covered the per pup/per night fee for their dog.)

10. Do it again!
Yeah, there is totally going to be a next time.

I would go back to the place we stayed in a heartbeat, although one friend and I have talked about just convening at her house here in Seattle. Pros: way cheap (so we could do it more often), and less driving (so we could spend more time making). Cons: no hot tub. Admittedly, a tradeoff. But I think that would work just fine.

What did I miss?
Let me know if you have other questions in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fashion advice from a four-year-old

Bell-sleeve flowered tunic and bright blue tights?

Actually, yeah, I would totally wear that.