Wednesday, 30 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 30 - In Summary

Welp, I did it. This entry marks 30 entry for the 30 days in November (not counting the short entry about the name of my project). After this post, my self-imposed NaNoBlogMo challenge is complete.

I couldn't decide what I wanted my last entry to be about. I thought about doing some leftover bits that I had to talk about that didn't seem worth a full entry. I thought about talking about projects that I am currently working on. I thought about talking about upcoming stuff. So, in summary, I think I am going to do a little bit of all of that. Coherence be damned.

Here is a picture showing all my current knitting projects. Or at least all the ones that I could think of/find. Going clockwise starting from the top left we have the back of the body for my first attempt at knitted chainmail, a lengthwise knit scarf in a pattern called Henry made with a lovely baby camel blend yarn, my Pippin scarf (which I am thinking might be a bit too bright, but I'm ignoring that voice and keeping on with the knititng), and a simple garter stitch scarf with Homespun on my lightup needles that I started while watching a movie with friends and continued knitting since the lightup needles were helpful during the power outage.

For Thanksgiving, I made an apple pie. I wanted to try something a little bit different. I did my usual crust, tossed the apples in my usual dry mix (sugar/cornstarch/spices), but then before I did my lattice top I poured a bit of caramel sauce over the filling. Not sure how much of a difference it made, but the results were tasty.

On the improv front, Sea Tea is doing great. My teammates won the most recent improv cagematch, we have another monthly show at City Steam Brewery on December 11th (hosted by the fabulous Kate), we got our cast picture framed and hung on the wall of the comedy club (which we've been looking forward to forever), we just started some more long form classes with a pretty talented comedian/writer/actress as our teacher, and I will be making my City Steam hosting debut in January. Keep you eyes on THIS page for news about upcoming shows!

My friend Emily sent me these lovely pictures a few days ago. This scarf is one of the first 5 I ever made. I remember picking out yarn in the tiny yarn shop near my college before I even knew how to knit, planning out my first projects. I thought this warm orange color would be perfect for Emily and her sunny smile. Its been so long since I knit this that I can't really remember much, other than that this was made back when I used to wear each scarf I knitted out once when it was done, because I was so excited it was done.

So there are my leftover bits and bobs. I suppose I should be all reflective on this last month or something. Honestly, a huge part of me is going to be glad its done. I don't have too much free time to begin with, so giving myself a daily assignment was a bit much. I think my fledgling gym habit might have suffered a bit this month. And posting has given me another excuse to hide from my very sad (and full) inbox.

On the whole, though, I'm glad I did it. I set a goal for myself and I met it. It has been a great opportunity for me to collect pictures and stories from projects as recent as this weekend and as old as seven years ago. As for the reason I even started this project, to revamp my blogging mojo, whether or not it has worked remains to be seen. I did mention to a friend that I was slightly worried I would be so sick of blogging after this that it would have the opposite effect, but I don't think that will happen. I am again finding myself phrasing in my head the blog post to go with a project while I am still physically working on it. That's probably a good sign. It will probably be most effective if I give myself a new assignment, such as making sure to post at least once a week. I think that might be a schedule I can keep, as long as I keep busy enough with projects to write about. What do you think?

Thank you to everyone that helped, everyone that sent me pictures of old projects, everyone that suggested topics, everyone that has been commenting and reading. I really appreciate it. It helps a lot to know that I'm not just sending these posts out into nothing but that people are reading them. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you'll stick around.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 29 - Painting a Privacy Screen

I mentioned in my recently started "Hobby Bucket List" that I don't really paint much. I do really enjoy it, though. I loved painting in art classes both in high school and in college. Left to my own devices, though, I just don't do it. I guess I don't really have the right kind of patience for it. There is a lot of both setup and cleanup involved, so to me painting is something that you really need to block out a good chunk of time for. My most common craft, knitting, I can just pick up and do a few stitches and toss back down (any where in the house, as my parents sometimes bemoan): no mess, no fuss. That being said, if I have a particular project in mind, that can be the kick in the pants I need to paint outside of a classroom.

A few years ago my mother picked up some cabinet doors and explained to me her idea of making them into a privacy screen at the cabin. The upstairs is one large open loft, so its nice to have the option of a little privacy for getting changed, etc. She asked if I would be willing to paint them to make them a little more interesting, and I agreed. My vision was the four center panels to each have the same tree on it (specifically an apple tree since the cabin is right next to an orchard), painted through the seasons, and then vines along the top and down the sides of the two end panels. All six doors got a plain brown base coat spray painted on. Then I picked up what felt like a million different little bottles of acrylic paint. I started by painting roughly the same tree shape on the four panels, then added the seasonal details to each one. Winter and spring got touches of silver, autumn and summer got touches of gold. In my opinion, winter came out the best.

The vines came last, in shades of green and gold. I gave myself a somewhat difficult subject matter to paint. Natural things, like trees and vines, can be hard to get to look correct. It is all too easy to have an end result that looks childish or cartoony. Then again, being a mediocre-at-best painter, I would probably say that no matter what I had decided to paint.

The last steps were to just drill a few holes for the hinges, top and bottom of the panels (alternating sides to get that folding effect) and then screw on the hinges. All in all, I'm not that disappointed (man, can I heap the compliments on myself or what?). I don't have as much faith in myself as a painter as I do with other things, so my hopes weren't terrible high before I even started. This project came out pretty much as I was expecting, not bad, but no where near as good as it looked in my mind when I was planning it. The privacy screen has been up in the loft since it was completed and though it often just sits there, every once in a while it is used for its intended purpose.

Monday, 28 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 28 - How NOT To Make Maple Sugar Candy

I was searching for another blog post topic when I got a message from my mother saying that she had found a huge, unopened bottle of maple syrup at the cabin and when I came up to join them for the long thanksgiving weekend, I should try to make maple sugar candy. I found this recipe and read the reviews and comments (my usual method before choosing whether or not to follow a recipe). It seemed like it would be easy enough, so I packed up the candy thermometer and a good cooking pot. Saturday night my mom pointed out that I still hadn't attempted to make the candy. I poured a good amount of maple syrup in the pot, but a small enough amount that I thought wouldn't boil over (maybe about 4 cups) with a few drops of oil (which according to comments could help keep the boiling down) and clipped the candy thermometer on the side. Slowly I stirred and watched the temperature rise.

What was initially a slow and boring case of waiting and watching a pot of maple syrup not boil soon became a maple-splosion. I was incorrect in thinking that the amount I had chosen was small enough to prevent a boil-over. I turned the heat down as soon as it looked like I was in the danger zone, but the damage was done and I ended up with hot syrup all over the stove. Cutting my losses, I moved to another burner and got the syrup to a near boil. I was more concerned about avoiding another mess than hitting the temperature mentioned in the recipe. I turned the heat off and mixed for over 10 minutes, but the syrup never changed color or consistency. I figured the problem was having not reached the right temperature. In order to try again and avoid the boil issues, I split what I had into two batches and started again with just half.

This time I aimed to hit the right temperature. This time it seemed like it was thickening, so I poured it into my pre-greased glass dish and waited. Even after letting it sit for a while, it was only about as thick as honey. Thicker than when it started, but not by much. I took the other half and tried for a third time. This time I made absolutely sure to hit and stay at the target temperature for a little while. After it cooled, I stirred and was relieved to finally see a significant change in color and consistency. I poured it into another container. I reboiled the batch that had reached the "honey" level the same way and poured it on top. The whole time the cabin was filling up with the amazing maple smell that made me think of Sunday morning pancake breakfasts.

After letting everything sit for a while, I was not left with creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, maple sugar candy like I had hoped. What I had poured into the bake tin had instead become something very akin to taffy. Thick, stretchy, tough but oddly pliable and very sticky. Of course it tastes good because all that's in it is maple syrup, but it was about as far from the texture I wanted as physically possible.

I am not 100% sure what went wrong. I searched through the recipe comments but no one else mentioned taffy-like results. My best guess as to why the candy failed was that I didn't stir it fast/hard/long enough. And the only reason that that is my guess is when I was furiously trying to scrape the last bits of syrup out of the pot to pour into the baking tin, the syrup on the spatula turned the color of maple syrup candy. A pale, creamy, opaque color.

These pictures here can best show the consistency of my results. On the left you can see that I pulled and bent a hunk out to taste. As tasty as it was, there was the slight concern of pulling out a tooth. When I came back a few minutes later, the candy had oozed back to fill in the hole I had made by pulling out a piece.

Honestly, I think this might be the kind of thing that my 'rents and I nibble at for a few days before the rest gets thrown away.

Maybe someday after I shake off this failure, I might try again. I do love maple sugar candy and it would be great to be able to make it at home. If anyone has made maple sugar candy successfully before, please share any advice or tips!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 27 - My Hobby Bucket List

I'd like to take this time to mention a few things I plan on doing...someday. This will serve as a sort of inspiration or reminder or announcement. Like how I knew when I made it public that I was trying to lose weight, that's when it became real. So by making public these projects that I want to do someday, I feel like I am one step closer to making them realities. I'll mention a few here and hopefully they will also because realities in this blog someday. I will probably add to this list in other entries as well.

I am going to cheat with the first one because I am already doing it. Knitted chainmail. A good friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in trying to make and sell knitted costume chainmail. As someone that both knits and makes chainmail, I can tell you that look remarkably similar. If you don't believe me, the chainmail worn by the actors in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was knitted wool that was dyed and stressed to look like metal. I got the patterns for our prototype and I've been making the pieces in between other projects. I'm curious to see how it will look when done.

Make A Sweater Blanket. Ever since I saw this post in a favorite hobby blog I read, I have wanted to make my own sweater blanket. I have a bag of sweaters saved up from my parents and I. Some are too big or too small. Some have been shrunk or ripped or stained. For whatever reason they have gone from "wearable" to "re-purpose for materials". I believe I have more than enough sweaters now and I plan to someday soon-ish (hopefully this winter as making a sweater in the summer seems foolish) actually sit down and turn the thing into a reality. I imagine it will mostly be a matter of cutting the sweaters, sewing a few zigzags to make sure nothing unravels, then sewing the squares together. The blog post that inspired me mentioned backing the sweater with wool jersey, and I would probably back the sweater with either a jersey knit sheet or a thin fleece like I did with Rose & Jesse's quilt. It will give me an excuse to use the sewing machine again. I had grand plans to be sewing all the time after making that quilt, but I haven't touched the sewing machine since.

This next one is much further from being a reality. It may sound a bit...I don't even know what word I am searching for...pretentious? But I have had in the back of my mind for a VERY long time that someday I hope to Paint a Sunset. And I mean like a really, really good sunset painting. I rarely paint, even more rarely if I try to think of the very few times I have painted outside of a classroom setting, but for some reason ever since I was pretty young, I knew that before I died I wanted to paint a really good sunset picture. I imagine myself all set up with my easel, outside, painting away. Of course it will be hard for me to paint a really good sunset or paint a really good anything considering that I never paint. So we shall see how this one works out.

So I've mentioned a few more crafty bucket list items, so here is a kitchen one: someday I want to try Cooking Duck. I've never cooked duck before, but I like it (especially Peking duck...deliciousness!). I don't know if its particularly hard or tricky or anything because I haven't attempted it or really looked into it. All I do know is that I keep seeing really good duck recipes that I want to try. I think the first recipe I saw that got me thinking that I wanted to try cooking duck involved smoking the duck with teas. Of course any recipe that involves the meat being smoked with teas probably is going to be complicated regardless if its duck that I'm making.

The last one I'll mention here (cuz 5 sounds like a good number) is to Finish Writing A Book. I would ideally love to publish a book someday, but just finishing one and having it all written down someplace would make me incredibly happy. I was much more gung-ho about writing when I was younger. I KNEW when I was in high school that I was going to be a writer. Sometime between then and when I graduated from college, that sure knowledge sort of faded away. Its still at the back of my mind though and it frightens me that I might just let something that was once so important to me just fall out of my life. So here is my public announcement and one tiny step towards making it a reality: I plan to finish writing a book before I die.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 26 - Making Chinese Dumplings

This will be my most cheaterly post for all of NaNoBlogMo, I promise. This post below the line is a word for word and picture for picture copy of a blog post I did in 2009 in my China blog. I have a decent post scheduled for tomorrow. I wanted to post something with a video in it as I have done for every Saturday this whole project, but that kind of limited my options. I had already posted sword fighting and guitar playing videos and I couldn't find any decent improv videos, but I found my dumpling video and figured I would take it easy on myself during the Thanksgiving holiday. So if you haven't already read/watched me talk about making Chinese dumplings, please enjoy!

Alrighty, here is how you make Chinese Dumplings!
First off you make the dough. Zeno made the dough with just dumpling flour and water. She kneaded it for a long time. According to her, you know when it's ready when it feels "smooth like a young girl's arm". After it's all mixed you set it aside for a bit and work on your filling.
Then you chop a lot. We made shrimp dumplings so the three main ingredients were shrimp, egg and what we called "grass" because I wasn't 100% sure what the English name for what we were using, and it looks like grass. I am pretty sure it's Chinese chives...Chopping up some scrambled up eggs...
Here is the lovely dumpling filling all mixed up. We also add some dried up tiny little prawns and some sesame oil. One of my favorite jobs that I did on Friday night was going through the mixture and picking out with chopsticks any piece of "grass" that was too long. Ha.
Now you start making your wrappings. You roll the dough out like a snake, making sure it's an even thickness.
Then you roll the dough stick back and forth while you cut it into sections so that the pieces look like this:
The pieces will be sticky on both ends. Only rub flour into one side, as the stickiness in the middle will help the filling to stick. Smush each dough piece with your hand.
Using your rolling pin, work from the outside in, turning the dough piece constantly, to get a nice round wrapper. You want it to be a little thicker in the middle so that it doesn't rip and spill out all the delicious filling.Here is the first wrapper I made by myself. I approve.
Then, using chopsticks, scoop up some filling into your wrapper. Don't overfill or it'll explode!Closing/folding it is really hard to describe and I don't have the best pictures. You start by pinching it in the middle and then fold up each side. You want it to be able to stand. The more folds you can fit in, the fancier your dumplings will look.
One of my fancier dumplings...
Once you have a big ole' plateful of dumplings, boil up some water and drop them in. Be sure to keep the water moving when you drop them in or they might sink to the bottom and stick. When the water seems like it's going to boil over, douse it with some cold water and let it get to a boil again. Do this a few times.If you want to fry up the dumplings in oil, you only want to half boil them. We decided to just have them boiled so we boiled them through.
Mmmm...a delicious dinner of boiled shrimp dumplings, jellyfish and Zeno's delicious chicken wings. Yum!

Here are some random clips from when we were making the dumplings if you care to watch...

Friday, 25 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 25 - The Great Hall (Writing Sample)

Unfortunately, I let time get away from me and I have to write four entries in a night so that I don't have to write them during the Thanksgiving weekend. So I am going to have a bit of a cop-out for this entry and post a small bit of creative writing I did previously. I think its a bit fair, as writing used to be a much bigger part of my life and much more often done hobby of mine before. This is an extremely short excerpt from a much larger story I was working on mostly in high school, actually. I think my favorite part of writing is going into excessive detail when describing things, so here is a chunk of description. Again, sorry for the cop-out.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall appeared to be caught in the act of flowering. The ceiling was so high above Keroqui that he could barely see the ends of the vines that seemed to grow from the floor, twisting among the tall, thin windows lining the long hall, letting in golden sunlight. The glass of the windows was broken into a hundred thousand tiny pieces, each shaped like a different leaf in the forest, and stained in clear shades of green and brown. They were held in place by the tiniest and most intricate brass work he had yet seen, the glass leaves fitting together as a puzzle would. The veins of each leaf was made of tiny spiderweb threads of gold. A single piece of one of the windows would be a fortune to a common man.

On the far wall was a window shaped into the eight pointed star crest of his father, perfectly framing the sun as it sunk lower in the sky. Each summons to the Great Hall was made so that those entering would be treated to the most glorious view of the sun in the entire kingdom. The bright light made Keroqui blink before he could see clearly again.

The floor beneath his feet was smooth dark wood, polished to a dull gleam, but as it spread out before him, roots began and grew in size, until they became two great trees growing on either side of the star crest window. These were the thrones of his parents, where they now sat, appearing to glow with the sunlight behind them. Beneath their hands grew branches, and over their heads were canopies of leaves reaching out so that the ends of the branches of his father’s throne curled among the budding branches of his mother’s.

His father was wearing his best, as was customary when holding audience in the Great Hall. The king’s coat was emerald; a hue as fresh as though he was wearing the essence of all things alive. At his waist was a belt of gold, interlocking stars that reflected the light at sharp angles. In contrast to his bright finery, Gundear’s leathery face held no emotion. His gray eyes seemed blank, as though there was nothing behind them but emptiness. If he had looked enraged, it would make Keroqui feel better then the hopelessness that seemed to have settled on his father’s brow. Gundear’s white hair was grown down to his waist, neatly combed, and with pure gold threading plaited in a braid tucked behind one ear. His shoulders, which had always seemed to carry the weight of his position with pride and strength, now seemed to fold in, with only an air of royalty remaining, hinting at something that was lost.

His mother, Anthery, smiled at him reassuringly beneath red rimmed eyes. She had been crying, and seemed ready to weep again. The throne of the Lady of Allenya, the Lady of the Blue, was only slightly smaller then his father’s. She appeared to be clothed in water, the fabrics flowing upon her shoulders, in fountains down her arms that stopped just short of her fingers, and creating a shimmering pool beneath her feet. On her forehead was a silver chain that held a single blue stone, shaped into a droplet, or a tear. Around her neck was more silver, linked leaves, each no bigger then a joint of a man’s finger. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Gundear, so many told her, with her smooth cheeks and serene blue eyes. Her own hair was piled in delicate curls, like lace crowning her face, with silver threading glinting when she turned her head.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 24 - Pie Vignettes

Happy thanksgiving everyone! Although I wasn't the best at keeping up my blog before this crazy challenge, I did keep taking pictures of every pie I made. So for my thanksgiving entry I figured I would write a few mini-entries in one about three times earlier this year I made pie, with lots of lovely pictures to go along with them.

Cooking With Cori

The weekend of the New Year, my good friend Cori came over and asked me to teach her how to cook a few things. We took a bunch of pictures (partially because I figured I was going to be writing a blog entry about it at the time). For dinner, I showed her how to make my stuffed chicken breast. Or at least one variation of it. It pretty much always involves a mixture of cream cheese, spinach, shredded cheddar and bacon rolled up in flattened chicken breasts. Yum!

The main event was the pie, though. Cori peeled and I sliced, like a well-oiled (if giggly) machine made to create tastiness. Our aim was to make three pies. One for Cori to bring home, one for my parents and one for me to bring to improv rehearsal.

There was enough crust and filing leftover to make one more tiny pie in a little dish. It was until later that my father pointed out to us that we had in fact, made pi pies, which had me dying with geeky laughter. You can see our creations (pre-baked) below. Cori's pie is on the left and for someone doing a lattice-work pie top for the first time I think she did AMAZING.

Fakes-giving Dinners

In March of this year, my mother invited some coworkers over to have a sort of faux-thanksgiving. We tried to go for some good traditional foods to show American culture and all that jazz. I made some creamed spinach that came out mighty tasty. I also made two pies (there was an ungodly amount of food for the 5 of us, so I guess we also showed off good ole' American excessiveness).

I wanted to try making something a little different from my usual apple pie recipe so I made Grandma Ople's Apple Pie from It was ok, but nothing spectacular. I think the weird hardness that the sugar/syrup creates over the top of the pie wasn't really worth it. I might experiment with other apple pie recipes in the future, but I'll probably just keep coming back to the more traditional recipes.

I also made a pecan pie for the first time. I was warned multiple times to make sure to not cook it until the middle hardened unless I wanted to make a brick. I was surprised that everyone preferred the pecan pie over the apple, if for no other reason than that the pecan pie was easier to make (I guess I believe that effort should add tastiness?).

Sea Tea Falfün Day

My last and most recent pie vignette is from when I hosted the members of the improv group I am in over for dinner and pie after a "fall full day" (which later turned into our own made-up holiday called Falfün day). It was decided that Falfün is celebrated with many liquids as dinner included soup and stew and we had 5+ options for types of drinks.

I made two pies again (although this time we had 10 people, so it made sense to have a lot of food). I made pumpkin pie, and decided to give myself a break and just use canned pumpkin. I have gone all out and made fresh pumpkin puree before (using a toaster oven even), but I figured since I was making pies and dinner, I could take it easy.

Even though I did used canned pie, I did make the crusts from scratch, as I pretty much always do now that I have a crust recipe I really like. I decided to fancy up the top of the pie with some leaves since I had a good bit of crust leftover.

I also made pecan pie again, though this time using a completely different recipe (and I have forgotten which one, just use the one I linked above, its good). I DO remember that most of Sea Tea preferred one pie over the other, but I really can't remember which one. I THINK it was the pumpkin one.

I'll be making apple pie this Thanksgiving too. I am writing this entry ahead of time so its possible I am in the middle of baking a pie as this post publishes! Trippy! One last thing for all of you, I took this picture when I bought the apples for my Thanksgiving pie because it made me laugh. You can easily tell which apples are the most popular for making pies.
Hope you all have a lovely thanksgiving if you celebrate it, and a lovely fourth thursday in November if you don't!