I'm going to be at Seattle's Urban Craft Uprising this weekend checking out the super awesome crafty stuff, and also signing copies of our book The Boss of You. If you already have a copy please bring it and introduce yourself. We (which is me and Lauren of course) will be there between 2-3pm on Saturday. And if that isn't enough for you, Alicia Paulson will be there from 1-2pm ahead of time and I'll be there in all my fan girl glory to get her to sign my copy of Stitched in Time (which is for the record super awesome).
So it's been an awfully long time since I've been posting regular updates here and that's been a for a whole host of rather dull reasons -- busy at work, busy at home, a bunch of work travel over the Fall that had me feeling like I barely touched down on domestic life, etc. -- in addition to the dull and rather everyday reasons, I also went through some fairly profound introspection that had me questioning just how much time I wanted to be spending online. This self-analysis came out of some fairly low periods over the past few months, as well as some really high points. The high points all came in the form of face to face interaction with incredible people (some old friends and some new) and I somewhat subconsciously decided to take a bit of a break from spending too much time with the computer (or as much of a break a the partner in a website design studio can take). But, the combination of the rain and the shorter days, my own adventures in researching holiday projects and recipes, and some interesting online personal projects that have come my way recently have me thinking about this site again. So, I thought I'd share one of the things I've been up to in all this offline time: gnocchi nights.
Our house, as much as I love it, isn't really that well suited to mass entertaining. We don't have a diningroom (or a particularly large kitchen table) but about two months ago I decided I couldn't let that hold me back, as I wanted to start entertaining friends in our home. I had also been itching to try making homemade gnocchi, never having been able to quite shake the bliss of the first homemade gnocchi I tried in a small town outside of Rome over a decade ago. And so, gnocchi night was born. And has since been repeated with great success.
Amongst my cookbooks I have several recipes for gnocchi, including ones hailing from specifically vegan cookbooks and others from Italian tomes. On the inaugural gnocchi night I had actually planed to make Heidi's recipe from 101 Cookbooks, but the internet went down at our place at a rather untimely moment. In the end I used a very simple (and hugely successful) recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is really a must-have cookbook for any vegetarian or veggie food loving cook out there as it is a truly comprehensive (minus the meat) guide to cooking and eating well. I've made the recipe a few times now and it's been reliably delicious and fabulously easy.
Potato Gnocchi Recipe
From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone mildly adapted by me
2 large russet potatoes (about 2 pounds, I've been using local organic spuds and I've needed significantly more than 2 as they've been fairly wee, so have gone by weight)
1 1/4 cups of flour (more if needed)
Pinch of sea salt
To start with you bake the potatoes in a 400F oven until tender. Then cut them open and scoop out the potato from the skins after they've cooled enough to handle but are still warm. Pass the potatoes through a food mill or just mash'em with a potato masher (many recipes I've read said this last technique won't work, but mine have been more than fine, just mash'em well). They should be light and fluffy. Let them cool to room temperature and then add a pinch of salt and sprinkle with the flour.
Using your hands, gently work the potato/flour mix until you have a smooth, soft dough. If it's too sticky add more flour. Don't knead or overwork it. Take a 1/4 of the dough and roll it out into a large rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the rope into diagonal pieces about 1/4 inch long. Set these in a single layer on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour. Repeat with the remaining dough, then cover with a towel and refrigerate for a few hours.
To cook them, add salt to a large pot of boiling water and then add about a quarter of the gnocchi. As they rise to the top, count to ten and then remove with a strainer. (I put the removed gnocchi in a pan in an oven on low heat to stay warm while I cooked the rest. Ta da.
I worried that they would fall apart in the water, or all stick together but they haven't either time. You can serve the gnocchi with the sauce of your choice. The Artful Vegan has a particularly tasty looking beet sauce I have yet to try that is paired with gnocchi. I have to admit, however, that I'm a sucker for a simple butter and sage sauce, particularly at this time of year. Some roasted pumpkin is also quite nice tossed with that.
We had a gnocchi night for my birthday and I made gnocchi while everyone else brought sides, salads (and of course cupcakes!). It was a great way to have a dinner party and really there's nothing quite like a belly full of tasty, light, fluffy potato dumplings in butter on a rainy winter's night.
(If any of you out there know if you can easily replace the wheat flour with a gluten free option I'd love to hear it).
No, we haven't officially hit the middle of the month yet but holy smokes it's been for-ev-er since I posted over here. Why? Usual reasons I suppose. Busy at work. Busy at home. Plus I've been on the road with work and the book, and getting a couple of days of playtime in there with a visit with the lovely Alex as well. And now suddenly it's November. It's dark and rainy by 5pm nearly every day and I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that this year is nearly over. But before it ends: my birthday! It will in fact be my birthday in a week (November 15th) and this year I don't really have big plans for a splashy celebration, though I'm hoping for a nice dinner party at our place which may or may not involve some champagne I have kicking around, but I need to get on organizing that before it's too late.
I also know (or think I know) that my darling Martin has yet to find just the perfect gift, so to help him out (and inspired by Alex's gorgeous Esty post) I've put together an Etsy wishlist. So my darling, if you're stuck anything from here would do most wonderfully.
A few weeks ago, while having tea at Martin's mom's place, she started bringing out several of her hand embroidered table cloths to show me. Most of them were made by her or her mother in years now best measured as decades, and I loved pouring over the little details of them. I've never been much of one for the fine needle crafts, focusing more on the big picture sewing end of things, but over the past few months I've found myself noticing cross stitch and embroidery more and more and thinking that it would be a nice meditative hobby to pick up.
My problem with it has always been -- and I know I'm not alone in this -- how lame most of the commercially available patterns are for cross stitch, embroidery and the like (Jenny's Sublime Stitching of course being the exception). Much of the work that Martin's mom has -- whether on pillows, napkins or table cloths -- has a much more modern feel to it, in the Danish Modern sense of the word. Simple patterns, lots of use of space and often monochromatic. After an evening of google searching and much bookmarking, I became a bit overwhelmed looking for a project that would suit my needs. It had to be simple enough that I could start and complete something without getting totally overwhelmed. I wanted something with a modern feel, and I wanted to start picking up some basic skills to that I could potentially start designing my own basic patterns to stitch.
While on a trip to Victoria recently, I decided to stop in on their very well stocked stitching craft store (on View Street/Trounce Alley) and see if they could set me up with something along the lines of what I was looking for. After evaluating many Scandanavian sampler packs -- the most compelling and beautiful of which were I think a bit over my head -- one of the women there asked if I would be willing to try out Crewel. "Crewel?" You ask, as I did. What the heck is that? From best I can tell Crewel is basically embroidery with wool instead of cotton or silk embroidery threads. It is the basic form of stitching from which many tapestries were made in days of yore, and generally it's much like embroidery with a finished product that has a slightly different texture due to the wool floss (a bit fuzzier). What sold me on it was the patterns available in the little kits from a company called Wool & Hoop (the photo up there is of the kit I chose). Many of them are monochromatic, they're all quite modern (though a bit more off-kilter than the designs I originally had in my head) and best of all, each pattern inspired me to think I could easily start drafting my own/answering to my own embroidery desires without too much trouble.
I was so sold with my wee kit and the idea of crewel that I actually went back and bought the Wool & Hoop book which has several patterns in it as well as ideas for ways to use crewel embroidery to embellish household stuff, clothing etc.
I'm about half way through my little project kit (it's about 3x3 inches) and so far am really enjoying it. As I suspected, it is very meditative, I can bring it along with me on the bus, etc. and my stitching is definitely improving quickly. My only complaint so far is threading the needle with the wool, as it isn't nearly as cooperative as embroidery thread. That said, I suspect most of these projects could be made with cotton embroidery thread to fine results, so I may try that next as an experiment.
Things on the web I wish I had more time for:
And on a somewhat random (but, hey you never know) tip: if you're a php/Drupal developer in Vancouver (or thinking of moving here really soon) looking for work, check out our job posting. The sooner we fill this job, the sooner I have time to breath.
To say that I wanted to love this book wouldn't really do things justice. Really, I just assumed I would love this book. Like, L-O-V-E love it. Afterall, I adore Amy Butler's fabrics. Regularly succumb to ordering her patterns online (which then too often sit languishing in my sewing room, but that doesn't mean I love them any less), and am a big fan of Amy Butler's In Stitches, as I've mentioned before. The format of Little Stitches is the same as In Stitches, meaning it's a combination of general sewing tips and know-how, gorgeous photos of sewing projects, and then a full set of patterns and instructions tucked into the back, but instead of focusing on general household/personal projects the theme is all babies. Specifically babies from newborn to 1 year old (for pattern sizing), nursery projects, stuffed toys, and things like diaper bags for mom.
So where was I? Oh yes. I was sure I'd love this book, so when my friend Annemarie asked if I wanted a review copy I jumped on it. I'll admit, my only hesitation stemmed from our ongoing struggles to conceive (still not happening), and the pages and pages of cute newborn projects I would be confronting myself with. But, I do love making gifts for friends and I've got no shortage of friends with new wee ones. Plus, any chance to make adorable things with Amy Butler fabric inspirations seemed like it would override any emotional tingles.
So, I set out to make at least two projects as a way to test the book's actual patterns as a part of my review. I chose the booties and the jumper dress as they seemed like great gifts, and were frankly easily made out of existing pieces of fabric I had lying around. (As a side note: I so love making things for little people when it comes to fabric usage. It's so satisfying to indulge in lovely fabrics but not break the bank due to the small amounts required.) Both projects did not really turn out. The booties -- which I double checked pattern and measurement sizes on several times -- ended up with a leg hole far to small for chubby baby legs, and the jumper I ended up abandoning the instructions for half way through (there seemed to be a stray waistband that did not figure into the pattern in any way I could work out) and pieced together with my own plan/logic. The final product worked out, but seemed in the end to have required a far more steps/complication than really should have been necessary for such a simple garment. I have to admit, I'm wondering if I was suffering from some sort of sewing curse that weekend, as one of the things I've always loved about Amy Butler is the simplicity in her patterns. I'm quite tempted to try another pattern to see that was the case (and I hate to judge a book on two patterns alone) but honestly, the other patterns all look like their likely way more complicated. And here's where my other concern with the book comes in: the patterns are far too complicated/intricate for the moms of newborns that I know (and the sizing only goes up to 1 year). (And I know some really overachieving, driven, seamstressy kinda mommies). So I'm not totally sure who the audience is. It seems like it would be a super awesome thing to give to your talented mom/sister/mother in-law/grandma who has the time to make you a full set of crib bedding, but I'm not convinced the average pregnant/new baby gal has the chops to get into the level of projects in this book.
I'm curious though. Has anyone else picked this up? Sewn with it? Am I suffering from a sewing curse? Am I loosing what remains of my mind due to the emotional rollercoaster that is my own trauma with conception and pregnancy? Help me out here. And more specifically, if you made one of these patterns and it worked, which one? I'm happy to try again, because I really do want to love this book.
I'm not sure how it is that it has taken me so long to finally pick up a copy of Clotilde's cookbook Chocolate and Zucchini, but now that I have it is providing much in the way of inspiration for our summer cuisine. I think that part of my hesitation when it first came out was the inclusion of meat dishes -- I very rarely buy non-veggie cookbooks -- but while meat certainly is well represented, there is also an abundance of veggie recipes in here (and a really delightful dessert section). Overall, it is a cookbook that focuses on using a few carefully chosen, fresh ingredients and Clotilde's love for food and the joy of cooking comes through in her notes and instructions in such a way that it makes cooking along feel like the best kind of simple indulgence. I'll admit that I first picked it up at the library, as I wasn't sure there would be enough in it for the non-meat eater to make a purchase worthwhile, I have however since bought 3 copies (two as gifts). So what tipped me over?
Most of all what I really love about the book is Clotilde's attitude toward food and the stories she includes. "Write a cookbook" is fairly high on my list of life dreams, and I know that my own cookbook would include the same style of storytelling alongside the recipes. I love hearing what inspired someone to try a flavour combination, what a particular ingredient makes them think of and how a dish plays into their lives. Of course, it is this style that has made the Chocolate and Zucchini site so popular and it is very well reflected in the cookbook. The only drawback I can see to this cookbook is that it makes me wish that I could transport my kitchen to Paris, but alas a little taste of Paris at our Domicile will have to suffice for now.