Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cannot. Stop. Felting.

I have cast aside all of my responsibilities so that I can felt.
I am having so much fun!
I especially like making tentacles.
In four days, four critters. Let's see how long I can sustain this before the house falls apart.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I am a Mess

I am a mess when it comes to keeping my loose recipes in order. I collect recipes from all over the place: online, from friends, ripped out of magazines, and from our organic food delivery. And whenever I want to cook something from the pile, I have to go through the entire stack to find it.

I don't like 3x5 cards and I am afraid I will get my laptop too messy if I have it in the kitchen. I think my best solution is when we all have computers like in Star Trek and I can just talk out loud to the computer what I want and it will project onto a screen hanging from the upper cabinets.
But in lieu of waiting for my Star Trek fantasy to come true, I couldn't stand leafing through the big ugly mess anymore and realized I needed to do something ASAP. So I promptly bought a 3-ring binder and some dividers and plastic page protectors and then left the whole mess on the kitchen table for the last 3 weeks.
Today I sat down and actually went through all of the sheets, tossing out more than half of them from the pile and dividing the rest into nice sections like SOUPS, CHICKEN, and VEGGIE SIDES. I am embarrassed to say it only took about an hour and now my cookbook shelf will look a lot tidier.

DESSERTS and BEEF were the largest sections. Does that say something about me as a person?
Will it last? Who knows? But I am going to try and give it my best effort to keep it organized.

Goodie Giveaway Winners!

The randomly selected winners of my RavenMeetsCrow wine gift tags are:

From comments on the posting: Antoinette

From my facebook fan page: Angela Jossy

Thanks for playing! Please email me your addresses so I can mail you your gifts!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Little Felted Sea Monster

I've always been drawn to needle felted items and for some reason thought that it would not be in my skill set or that I needed fancy equipment or something. Then I saw a whole bunch of needle felted items when I was up at ArtFest back in the Spring and was told it was super easy to get started. But I promptly put that idea up on my shelf of future projects and forgot about it.
Then, I was up in Seattle a month or two ago at an event where I met Moxie, a felting artist and the brain behind HiFiber Kits. She sells brightly colored wool and needles and foam for felting. I broke down and finally bought some material and am delighted to report that it is, in fact, easy and addictive and you only need a felting needle and some foam and some wool!
She even sells little kits that can get you started right away. (She lets you pick out your own colors for the kit too, which is nice.) I bought the Octopus Friend kit along with some extra colors.
The only thing challenging is that that you have to have patience because it takes a while--This little Sea Monster took me 5 hours! OK, I might have been able to finish it faster, but I was creating it while I watched movies. One of those movies, Young Victoria, had my eyes glued to the screen more often than not so I might have gotten it done faster if I completely focused.
I had a lot of fun making his little tentacles. I started with his head/body and then the arms separately and then attached them. I meant to take photos in progress, but I was so wrapped up in making it, I forgot!
I think this would be a great technique to make party favors or place settings. I can't wait to get started on another project! I want to make something wearable out of felt, too. A hat or a purse, we'll see where this takes me. I might want to try combining it with some reclaimed tin. The possibilities are endless!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekend Getaway and Goodie Giveaway!

I was just wrapping up a box of my RavenMeetsCrow wine gift tags to send out to one of our favorite wineries (Otis Kenyon) in Walla Walla as giveaways with their next wine club shipment and realized I haven't done a giveaway in a couple of months.

So in honor of us getting the heck out of town to go to a wedding this weekend and in honor of wine and weekends everywhere, I am giving out 2 of my wine gift tag packs of 4.

There are two ways to enter:

1) Leave a comment here about what you are planning to do this first weekend of Fall.

2) Become a fan of RavenMeetsCrow on Facebook

Respond or Fan (or both!) by Midnight on Sunday, September 26th.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Teaching the Husband to Cook

I am cook in the house. I enjoy cooking and I also have the most flexible schedule of the two of us and I really like to take time and make things from scratch: no boxed or processed foods. But once in a while, I do actually have projects that come up and deadlines and I don't have as much time to cook.

Trevor does not cook and, as far as I can tell, has never really learned much about cooking anywhere in the last 35 years. His solution when I am too busy to cook or just plain tired, is the "let's go out and eat then" approach and that usually is something I will give into, but lately I have been pushing him to cook too. Eating out is expensive and we tend to drink too much when we eat out (which is also expensive). So we came to an agreement that he will cook one dinner a week. This is just to start and we'll see where we go from there.
Now, I still have to plan the meal and grocery shop for it.

And give him instructions.

But last night he made Spicy Cauliflower Soup out of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and it was delicious. Last week I had him make enchiladas and it looked like a bomb went off in the kitchen, so I thought a soup with simple ingredients was maybe a better way to go. Although it was funny because I looked at the soup and thought "that's not how it looks when I make it" and then realized I am constantly adapting recipes to suit my own wants and needs. Usually when I make the cauliflower soup I add an extra carrot or two and tons of red chile flakes and omit the tumeric and it comes out more orange in color. Trevor followed the directions exactly as written and the soup came out a lovely yellow color.

I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I caramelized some onions and made some flatbread pizza to go with the soup. I know, I know, it didn't keep me out of the kitchen, but the process was much faster than if I had been doing it all myself and I like to cook in tandem with someone else.

I have been using Fleischmann's Pizza Crust Yeast and it really makes pizza making fast and easy. I like to roll it out extra thin and just coat it will olive oil, cheese and onions and have it as more of a crispy flatbread.

Now I have to start thinking about what I can have him make next week.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jumping on the E-Reader Bandwagon

My husband and I are not what you would call "first adapters"--you know, the ones that have to buy the coolest, neatest technologies the second it comes out. We like to research for the best product and wait until the kinks are worked out and/or the prices come down.

We've been admiring Amazon's e-reader from afar for a while now and the newest model just released with a price that is significantly lower ($140 vs. $300 plus) than before. So my husband finally broke down and ordered the Kindle 3 for himself since he needs to read a lot of PDF files for work and hates reading them on the computer. I was pondering whether I should get one as well when one of my friends upgraded to the newest Kindle and gave me his "outdated" Kindle 1.

The white one is the older one, and I think it works perfectly wonderful. I don't think this will ever replace books completely for me. But it is good for novels. (We are starting to have a serious bookshelf shortage in the house.) And it will be good for traveling so I don't have to stick 4 books in my suitcase, just one. And there is absolutely no eye strain when you read on it. Now that is something special. I also saw that I can check out e-books from the library but I haven't researched yet if they are compatible with the Kindle.
I was reading on it for about a week until Trevor's showed up and I noticed a couple of differences between the two. The new one is thinner and weighs less and, more importantly, the next page buttons aren't as easy to hit accidentally. That is really my only complaint with the Kindle 1. The cats jump up in my lap and rub their head on the Kindle and press the next page button or I shift my hand and accidentally do the same thing. Notice on the black one the buttons are much, much smaller on the sides. But that is still a minor complaint compared to how well it works. I don't think I could have even imagined anything like this 15 years ago. What if you can start buying textbooks in e-format? Now that would be amazing. I also like how easy it is to download new items (too easy with your debit card hooked up to "one click shopping".)

I am happy with the black leather cover it Danny had bought for it. I guess it is hard to find covers now for the Kindle 1 since everyone is upgrading to the newest sizes.
I pointed my husband in the direction of Etsy to find a cover for his Kindle and he picked out this one from BeeSocks. It's much prettier than the boring options at Amazon and it supports a small business!
On a final note, the coolest thing about the Kindle is the other night I was on the sofa with a sleeping kitty and a glass of wine and I finished my book and instead of having to get up, I already had another book ready to start reading! I say two thumbs up for the Kindle.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dead Plants Equals Ugly Yard

Once upon a time a girl picked out two beautiful blue planters and filled them with fescue and thyme and admired her handywork. Then the girl became lazy and let the plants grow too large for their pots and forgot to fertilize and then the neighbor cats also sprayed on them (which didn't help matters) and the plants died. And she left them sitting in front of the house all summer long looking dismal and, frankly, ugly.

Oh, my, that's about me of course. I have looked forlornly upon these planters the last few months, not sure what I wanted to do with them. But then a friend of mine borrowed an outside umbrella and large brass pot to use as a display for a day and brought me back these lovely pink grasses as a thank you.

And I knew immediately what to do.

So I ran down to Gardensphere to get some organic potting soil. I have learned not to skimp on the potting soil, especially if you are from the lazy or over-burdened school of gardening. The better the soil, the long your plants will be healthy and happy. I also picked up a couple of ground cover type plants to contrast with the grasses.
I had to take nearly all of the old soil out since the fescues were so root-bound. I also split the ground covers up into thirds so that they will spread out and fill up the pots faster.
Ah, that's looking much better.

And that pink matches our front door so well. Now I just need to take some boiling water to the weeds in the stairs, and pull out those blackberries that keep trying to grow by the hose, and weed all those dandelions and well, I think I am going to be pretty busy in the garden next month. Once you make one area look nice, you want to make the rest look nice!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Perfect Party Potluck Dish: Romesco Dip

Last night was our monthly Wine Pundits wine tasting and get together and since this one was at a member's house and not a restaurant, we had a potluck as well.

I discovered this delicious dip at an art opening a few months back and convinced the cook to give me her recipe. Romesco sauce is originally from Catalonia, Spain, but there are many, many variations on this fabulous, healthy dip. It tastes creamy like it has a whole lot of mayo in it, but almonds are the secret, thickening ingredient. Also, if you know any vegans, throw this recipe their way.

Please note that I tripled this recipe for the party so the photos show a lot more going on than just a normal sized recipe.

Cecilia's Romesco Dip

1/2 cup raw almonds
2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
3 large roasted red peppers (1/2-3/4 12 oz. jar)
2 Tablespoons red wine or Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
heavy pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start by roasting the almonds. You can either stick them in a 350 oven for 10 minutes (shake pan halfway through) or roast in a cast iron skillet on the stove. Allow to cool while prepping the rest of the ingredients.

When almonds are cool, pulse in food processor until finely chopped.

Add rosemary, oregano, garlic, and blend in.

Next add your drained red peppers, sugar, salt, and cayenne.

Pulse until thoroughly blended.

Finally, add olive oil through top feed tube while processor is running and until well combined.
I served these with baked pita triangles, but I think it could also be great on a turkey sandwich or warm on top of fish.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lunch To Go the Eco-Friendly Way

When I first went to Dubai 8 or so years ago, sure, sure the architecture was crazy and the locale exotic, but the one thing that really caught my eye was all these savvy little lunch boxes all the Indian and Pakistani construction workers were carrying to work.

These sort of layered tins are called "tiffins" and comes from an Indian British word meaning light lunch. Usually these tins have 2-4 layers that you can put different items in and stack on top of one another.

I promptly bought 3 or 4 of these tiffins to bring back home to use for taking my lunch to work. Now that I work from home, I don't have as much use for them anymore, but every so often I find a way to pull them out from the back of the cupboard.

The other night some friends of ours called to say they were down at The Red Hot having some beer and hot dogs right when I was in the middle of making this amazing Hot Fudge Pudding Cake from the new Cook's Illustrated Fall Entertaining. (Thumbs way up on these quarterly publications, by the way.)
So I promptly whipped out a tiffin and loaded it up with the Hot Fudge Pudding Cake.
I even brought forks so everyone could share.
The tiffin kept the cake nice and warm until I got to the bar and then everyone made short work of emptying it! And the best thing is that you can bring it home and toss it into the dishwasher.
If you are interested in your very own tiffin, check out Happy Tiffins. This is a company in California that sells every size and shape of tiffin under the sun.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Secret Confessions

Okay, maybe a better title would be, not-so-secret obsessions. I have weird things that I am interested in. And this isn't what you are thinking.

For the last 8 months, I have been obsessed with all things Roman. I mean, ancient history Roman. Like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and Romulus and Claudius.... I know, I know, weird, huh?

My other long term (like for the last 10 years) obsession has been the Napoleonic Era of Britain. I think this one makes a little more sense. I have read all of Jane Austen's novels over and over and over and they are mostly set during this era. Then I read all of the Master and Commander books (20 of them) by Patrick O'Brien. These are great-they made a pretty good movie with Russell Crowe but the books are still better. Then I read the Horatio Hornblower books. (and watched the miniseries) And I rounded it all out with a fantastic non-fiction tome called To Rule The Waves, by Arthur Herman. Now THAT is a wonderful tale that reads part spy novel, part pirate story. If you are even the tiniest bit interested in the British Empire or naval history, it is well worth the time. (And for all you Pacific Northwesterners, Nancy Pearl highly recommends this book as well.)

But I digress. My love of the British Navy has not diminished in the slightest, but I cannot get enough about the ancient Romans. It all started with the HBO series, ROME, and spiraled out of control from there. My father-in-law, it turns out, shares the same obsession as myself and introduced me to the Roman Blood series by Steven Saylor. Delightful detective novels set in a historically correct Sulla- Julius Caesar time period--I could not get enough of these. Then I read a few in the Under the Eagle series by Simon Scarrow. Not bad--realistic descriptions and stories of Roman Legions fighting in Britain but not enough to keep me interested.

And now I have nearly finished I, Claudius by Robert Graves and I can't wait to start the second one, Claudius the God. This is a very interesting novel because it is written in first person, like an autobiography and it was published in 1934. Not only is a giving you an accurate history of the time period, but Graves makes the character of Claudius quite compelling, with humor, and sympathetic all at the same time. It turns out there is a well regarded BBC miniseries (of course there is) based on I, Claudius made in 1974 and starring Derek Jacobi (Gosford Park and Gladiator) and John Hurt (too many to note.)

I think my obsession is starting to get a little notice: a friend recently let me have this copy of The Early History of Rome and my dad just went to Italy on a cruise and brought me back these coin replicas that I want to incorporate into some jewelry.

Although, stopping to think about it now, this actually does makes sense. Some of the best known mosaics in the world have come from this region and this time period and I already have read quite a few books on the art of this time. Now I just have a little more of the narrative of the people of this time. I find it riveting.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Love to Paint Animals

I recently was commissioned to paint a memorial to a beloved dog. Pet portraits can be tricky some times, since you don't ever really know what the owner is expecting. But I love to paint animals. And I like to make them fun, like adding in these tennis balls because this dog loved to play with them. This is 24" x 24", acrylic on canvas.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Peach Upside Down Cake

Now is the bounty of peaches. Inundated with lovely peaches at the farmer's market, the organic food delivery, and at the grocery store. We have so many right now, I got it into my head that I wanted to make upside down cake.

Peach Upside Down Cake

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large or 3 medium sized peaches, cut into slices
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt 1/4 cup butter in 8 or 9" cake round (here I used a 7" x 11" baking dish and it worked just fine). Mix in 1/2 cup brown sugar and make sure entire bottom is coated with this mixture.

Gently lay peaches in butter/brown sugar. I only used 1 1/2 peaches here and realized later I could have used a lot more slices.

Cream 1/2 cup butter and 2/3 cup white sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt. Add flour mix to creamed mix alternately with milk. Finally, add vanilla. If you have any left over peach slices that didn't fit in the bottom of the pan, chop them up and add them to the batter. Gently fold batter over peach slices.

Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes or until you have a lightly browned top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Loosen edge with knife and invert onto serving plate. If you wait too long, it will stick to the pan.

The peach taste is fabulous and the cake is nice and moist. You can also make this without the fruit. Butter and flour a cake round, pour in batter, bake and then top with a mix of coconut and brown sugar and broil until nice and brown. Yum!