Monday, April 30, 2012

Fun at the CreativFestival


Tilly starts her quilt before the show
On Saturday, I had the fun assignment of hanging out with some awesome needlework designers at A Needle Pulling Thread Magazine's booth at the CreativFestival in Toronto.We chatted with hundreds of people who were at the show to see what's new in fabric, notions, kits, sewing machines, quilting patterns, knitting, all forms of embroidery, beading, scrapbooking and paper craft, and weaving. There was even a group of people who get together to re-create medieval events. They were dressed in period costumes. Some were even carding and spinning wool.  
Japanese linen in all kinds of yummy!
My very large jewelry mannequin was a hit at the booth, so I explained to several ladies all about my love for the Tilda books, as well as sharing the info on how to get the books in Canada.  I was also pleased to show off my new Tilda angel -- I am calling her Tilly -- and she got rave reviews as well. All in all, it was quite an ego boost for me. Tilly seemed to be lapping up the compliments too.
Cheap and charming
There were quite a few free activities and workshops during the day, and I had been invited to show people how to make a felt needle book. To my immense relief, it was a full class, and everyone was very friendly, so I managed not to be nervous.We didn't have a chance to finish up, so I will be posting the instructions and tutorial for the projects in the next couple of days. Best of all, I have been asked if I would be part of the fall CreativFestival in October. I am looking forward to doing that!
It was a high energy event, filled with lots of creativity and a chance to shop for many new fabrics that are generally difficult to find in Canada.
They were also offered at Festival prices too, so it was pretty hard to stick to one or two choices. Truthfully, I didn't really bother to try...
I found some beautiful Japanese linens at easy to deal with prices. I picked up some fat quarters of Sweetwater Fabric's new line called Reunion, as well as some Benartex's Wordplay  quarters from Hamel Fabrics, a charm pack of Vintage Modern from Bonnie and Camille, and a charm back of cool Basic Grey fabrics.
Both of them were on sale for really good prices. How could I leave them there?
That's right, I could not. All in all, it was a great day out.
The weekend ended with a Sunday drive to Kingston ON -- three hours from here -- to pack up my daughter and move her back home.
Sweetwater Reunion
Her undergrad degree is complete, and she will begin a Bachelor of Education program in September. At the moment, the whole house looks like a bomb went off and all the furniture in the world ended up in our front room. She swears she will get it all in order today. I am just happy to have her, and her mess, back home.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Berni is back and better than ever!

Berni, my deeply loved vintage 830 Bernina, is back home after a very long time at the sewing machine spa. The time away was well spent. She is back and she is beautiful. It is true of all the classics, with proper attention they age well.
She needed some attention to her motor, a gear somewhere in the middle, a new bobbin case cover and a new bobbin winder. The bobbin winder used to make a horrible banshee wail because what used to a rubber washer had turned into bakelite.
 Now, Berni winds bobbins with a gentle purr -- like a Bond girl or something.
There have also been adjustments made to her automatic button holer. Nothing sticks and we progress through each step like the champion she is.
Berni is also very, very zippy now. The problem with her motor meant she was operating on half speed -- well after 33 years, stuff like that happens. After her tune up, I can only trust myself using her at half speed, but I notice I am speeding up daily.
I am glad I took her into the shop for servicing. It is truly amazing what we get used to while creating our masterpieces. However, the tools that help us do the work often get neglected and that's a shame. When they are running in top-notch shape they are even more fun to work with. My Dad used to tell me that it is true that a poor workman blames his tools, but a lazy one neglects to care for them. I truly understand what he meant now.
Sitting pretty in progress
The good news is that according to the shop owner, Berni will not likely need this level of service again. Every two years, I will bring her in for a check up and an intense lube job. Cool.
As soon as she was back, we worked on a Tilda angel which will be going with me to the CreativFestival this week in Toronto. She's a work-in-progress still, but I wanted to pose her on this little wicker chair that I found last week at one of my local thrift stores.
The angel's skirt is made from a bit of my great grandmother's "company" apron. This dates from the 1940s, and had some damage, but I used some very diluted non-chlorine bleach to restore it back to almost white.
The angel's leggings were from the remnant bin at the quilt store. The pickings there have been pretty slim lately, so I was lucky to find this bit.
I am tackling her hair next. The instructions in every Tilda book I have aren't especially helpful, so I am going to hit YouTube this evening and see what's out there in the way of tutorials.
We had snow yesterday and today. Weird this late in April, but then again, weather is like that sometimes. I will post the angel again when she is finished and ready for the big show on Saturday morning.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cupcake wrangling

***No actual cupcakes were harmed in the creation of this post ***
Last Christmas, as icing sugar and flour flew like snow over the kitchen, my darling daughter was hunting for the cupcake accessories. These little things tend to hibernate in odd spots in the cavernous cupboard where the baking pans live.
Wild cupcake accessories contained
I came home from my folk music group rehearsal to find she had passed the time by re-organizing the baking cupboard. It was a lovely Christmas gift -- for me and for Goodwill. The charity shop inherited quite a few duplicated baking pans and cookie sheets. I got to do a happy dance because she found the removable bottom of my torte pan. Not that I make a lot of tortes -- but it is nice to have the proper pan complete and ready to use should the inspiration arise.
The cupcake accessories were neatly organized in its very own bin. However, they were not completely contained. Every time I needed a pan from the top most shelf of the cupboard, I managed to knock around a package or two of cupcake cases or the whole bunch of flower pot cupcake molds. No longer!
I made a little fabric box just for the cupcake stuff. I used a bit of tablecloth vinyl, and I quilted the liner by machine. It is pretty sturdy and this will help it keep its shape. I just zig-zagged top edge because it is a bin that hangs out in the cupboard. If it was out on display, I promise I would have used bias tape. I plan to do a few more of these types of boxes to wrangle a few other bits and pieces that always seem to end up where they shouldn't be.
Tonight is Friday Night Sew In. I don't really know what I will be doing, but I think it will involve some preparation for a special birthday project, rather than actual sewing. We will soon celebrate my mom's birthday. I found a little pine doll cradle while on a thrift hunt not long ago. I will be making bedding for it so that she can display a couple of her many dolls -- two little newborns dressed for a Christening. More on that project later. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

And it's not even my birthday ...

English Madeleine cake

One of the things you learn when caring for someone with dementia is how precious memories become. In our lives, we go around acquiring knowledge, ways of doing things, and mental images of the things  we love. We think -- and some times even say -- "I will remember this forever." And sometimes, that's a gift we are denied.
There are days with my mom are better than others, and one of things I have learned is that the bad days can be made better if I serve up long-time favourites for dinner.
Recently, quite out of the blue, there was a recollection that I never liked traditional birthday cakes for my parties. I always asked for English Madeleine cakes from the Dutch bakery in our neighbhorhood. (This is always been proof to me that all my past lives have been lived as an British tea granny.) Nonetheless, it is true. My birthday cakes were almost always one dozen jammy coconutty sponge cakes arranged in birthday cake formation -- a candle in each. Bliss.
Strawberry filling
I haven't seen these cakes since the bakery closed more than 40 years ago. And yet, the memory of them remained.
Today, in the morning of a slightly rough day, I fired up the oven and baked a simple sponge cake. Then I went to the fridge for the strawberry jam. Not there. I live with a teenaged boy who slathers bread with jam for a late night snack.
I did have frozen strawberries. So, I made a simple syrup, 2/3 cup of sugar dissolved in 2/3 cup of water. Boiled for 5 minutes. I defrosted and mashed up about 1/2 cup of strawberries, and then added the fruit to the syrup. I boiled the mixture for a minute and then simmered it to reduce it to half. I dissolved 1 tsp corn starch in 1 tbsp water and stirred that into the fruit syrup and stirred it until it was thickened. It's a kind of jammy pie filling, and it tastes pretty good.
I let the cake and the fruit filling cool slightly and then brushed the fruit all over the top and sides and the top of the warm sponge. This was smelling incredible. Next, I coated the whole cake in shredded coconut. When the cake cooled completely, I piped little butter cream rosettes all around the top edge.
This is tonight's dessert, and I will serve it in the hope that it brings some comfort and sweet memories. It's the least I can do, after all, it was Mom who let me celebrate my birthdays like a little old English lady.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter comes to Canada -- can spring be far behind?

Canada usually doesn't experience the bucolic spring time where folks go around saying, "Oh to be in England, now that spring is here."
Many parts of the country are still blanketed in snow, enduring "spring storms" which feature icy little needles of rain, followed by falling slush and then full on snow. It is greening up nicely around here, but this has been a weird weather year for us...

Generally, we have touch points for the changing of the seasons that have nothing to do with nature. We buy daffodils from the Cancer Society volunteers parked inside the entrance of the grocery stores, and Girl Guide cookies from the little darlings who come to the door.
And I make hot cross buns for Good Friday and Easter weekend.
I use chopped up dried cherries for the fruit, and I put their crosses on just before they hit the table.
Here is the recipe, along with a wish for a lovely Easter celebration in your part of the world.
Hot Cross Buns
(makes 8)
1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
2- 3/4 to 3-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tbsp chopped dried cherries or cherry flavoured cranberries (dusted with a bit of flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of all spice
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg yeast
1 egg
Warm milk in the microwave. It should be quite warm to the touch, but not hot. In a large bowl, combine milk, 1 cup of the flour, sugar, salt, yeast and egg. With an electric mixer, beat at low speed until moist. Beat at medium speed for two minutes. By hand, stir in remaining flour, cinnamon, all spice and dried fruit until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 2 minutes). Place dough in a buttered bowl and turn the dough in the bowl so it is greased as well. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean tea towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (about 45 to 60 minutes). I usually put my oven on at about 100 degrees and then turn it off. I keep the oven light on too and that creates a nice warm place for rising.
After the first rise, punch down the dough and divide into eight balls of dough. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place the dough balls about an inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap and the tea towel and put it all back in the warm rising place for a second rise. This one will be about 30-45 minutes. The dough will be doubled in size and light at the end of this rise. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush tops of the buns with an egg wash (egg white thinned with a bit of water) Cut crosses in the tops with a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears. Bake the buns for 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully. You are going for a nice golden colour -- and because of the sugar, these can burn easily.
Brush tops of the buns with some melted butter and allow to cool completely. Before serving, pipe a frosting cross on the top of each bun.
1/2 cup icing sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons softened butter
1 teaspoon milk or light cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Cream the butter in a small bowl, gradually add the icing sugar, slowly add the milk and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Put the frosting in a piping bag or a small re-seable lunch bag with one of the bottom corners nipped off.  Store in the fridge until the buns are gone, or until a teenager finds it and pipes the whole thing directly into his mouth...