Friday, August 29, 2008

Shiny Nickel Cuff Bracelet

This was probably one of my favourite projects to make, and I like how it turned out. The whole process was pretty simple, involving annealing the nickel and texturizing it, then filing down the edges to get a smooth finish, and hammering it into shape.

Actually, trying to get it shaped around my wrist was the hardest part and required a surprising lot of direction from the teacher on how to position the metal on the anvil-thingy so that I wouldn't be creating a wonky curve (and taking my fingers off).


And when I was done with all the fussing, I got to use the tumbler for the first time, yay! It's a little tub filled with metal shot and soapy water that rolls around on a very basic-looking machine, and once you put your jewelry piece in it, it polishes your metal to a nice shine! I was feeling nice so I included it in a PIF gift to z. knits as part of her PIF gift.

Jewelry class finished a couple weeks ago, and I'm still undecided about signing up for another one at this point...between pottery and my two bakery jobs, I haven't been doing as much crafting at home as I'd like. We'll see. Next up, I finally finished my PIF gifts and more or less delivered them, so I can show you what I made!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First Pottery Cylinders

After many months of mangled lumps of clay, I present to you....our first successful cylinders!!

My first mug!

On our visit to Deep River this past month, D and I got some pointers from D's mom (thank you Alison!) that really improved our cylinder-throwing. D's mom has been potting since last November, and her progress has been really amazing to see - her pieces are incredibly professional-looking with beautifully done glazes. I think she is just being modest about her work, because she pots with other experienced potters, but honestly they were much nicer than the pieces we have seen in our classes. Particularly the glazes. I can't get over how great they looked. I hate glazing. Well, I don't really. But it can be very frustrating when things don't turn out how you expect. It's all part of the learning process.

D's pencil jars

Anyhow, their house has become something of a ceramics gallery of pitchers, planters, casseroles, lidded jars, tea pots, mugs, bowls, plates, and various serving ware. D and I kind of looked at each other and were like, "how is it possible we have been doing pottery for nearly just as long?!!" It was definitely very inspiring, and we're both excited to go back to our next session of pottery. For those of you that don't remember, we were struggling with having to throw five 10" tall cylinders for class. We are determined to conquer our cylinders!

We also played around with throwing off the hump, a technique in which you plop a giant mound of clay on the wheel and only concentrate on centering the small portion on top to make small objects. It is much easier to centre using this method. Here's a little vase I made:

That's it for now...more progress in September. Next up: some sewing goodies.

Meet Mr. Snapper!

Mr. Snapper used to live at the North Market fish stand until the Knitticrafty household decided to explore the world of grilled fish. Stuffed with lemon, thyme, garlic and butter, he was a very good fish indeed! Neither D or I had ever grilled a fish whole before, but with a well-oiled grill and minimal fussing (i.e. resist the urge to check and turn the fish) it is possible!

Look at those big fish lips!

A lot of people are squeamish about seeing their dinner in its original state, with heads, necks, tails and all. I've never really understood what the big deal is - although being Asian, you get exposed to this sort of thing early on. Get to know your food! It's OK. Let this be your first exposure session. Stare at the picture until you feel your anxiety subside, which might take several minutes. Practice makes perfect and soon you will be able to face your own whole fishie. It's more delicious this way.

Grilled Whole Red Snapper:

1 whole fish, about 1.5 pounds
2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lemon, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper

Have your fish person scale and trim the fish, and empty the body cavity. Salt and pepper the outside and inside of the fish. Mix the butter, herbs and garlic together, and stuff this mixture into the cavity, along with the lemon slices too. On medium-high heat on your grill (let it preheat), brush the grill generously with oil. Now lay the fish diagonally on the grill to get pretty grill marks. Cook 10 minutes on each side, and resist the urge to move it around - you will get a botched up fish with bits falling off if you fuss with it! When the thickest part of the fish flakes with a fork, you're done. Yum!

Since Mr. Snapper was nice enough to give us his fish life, it would only be right to use every last bit of him we could. So, we used his bones for fish stock and made seafood chowda with the rest of the fillet, adding clams and shrimp, which ended up giving us 3 dinners altogether. How's that for no waste?

New England Clam Chowder:
From, modified a bit

24 ounces fish stock (or bottled clam juice)
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
3 slices bacon or salt pork, finely chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/4 cups chopped celery with leaves (about 2 large stalks)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 lbs of littleneck clams, or whatever clams you can get (or 6 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams, drained, juices reserved)
1 1/4 cups half and half cream

Soak the clams in water for a couple hours with some salt to release any sand. Then, put the fish stock in a pot, bring to a boil, and throw in the clams to steam. Put the lid on and leave for 7-8 minutes until the shells fully open. Discard any unopen clams. Remove clams to a bowl, shell half of them, keeping some in the shell for garnish. Now you have a potful of yummy fish stock enhanced by clam juice! You can strain it at this point in case any sand got in there. Add the potatoes, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until bacon begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add onions, celery, garlic and bay leaf and sauté until vegetables soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes (do not allow flour to brown). Gradually whisk in reserved juices from clams. Add potato mixture, shelled clams, half and half and any other ingrediants you want (like shrimp, or leftover fish). Simmer chowderto blend flavors, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before serving.)

I threw a handful of chopped chived and thyme on mine to make it pretty.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Cake Site Ever

Image borrowed from Cake Wrecks

If you haven't already heard of a blog called Cake Wrecks (I may be one of the last ones), you absolutely must go visit it now. Oh my, it is really something. Who knew professional cakes could be so funny. They are so bad that they cross the line into being totally awesome. I especially love the 'creepy cakes' and 'beyond bizarre' categories. Thanks Amanda for introducing me!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World of Cake Freelancing: Recent Cakes

Hello there! We're back! We just returned from a two-week trip to Toronto and Deep River to visit family and friends, and I'm only just getting back into the swing of things. Blog neglect inevitably occurs every once in a while, but I fully intend to make it up to you with lots of new craft updates, including baking, jewelry, pottery and knitting.

Lots has been going on with my freelancing work (love saying that!). The past month has been chock full of kiddie birthday cakes and wedding cakes. The first one I'll show you is a chocolate truffle cake we made a few weeks back. Each tier is covered in fondant, and the lines were pressed in with a ruler. Since the truffles were a bit tricky, we attached them on-site with buttercream and reinforced rogue ones with toothpicks.

The cake with the dark secret...

Alright, now get this: the only part of this cake that actually has chocolate is the truffles. The chocolatey-looking fondant is just plain ol' white fondant dyed brown. Crazy! Puzzling, isn't it? As a guest I think I would be quite distressed that this decadent-looking cake was a chocolate imposter! To be fair, I should add that they also ordered a ton of chocolate turtle brownies for the reception, but why you'd want a cake to appear chocolatey, but not taste chocolatey is beyond me. The cake would have been a much richer and uniformly deep chocolate brown with real chocolate fondant, but instead I dyed about 3 pounds of white fondant that left me with aching arms for the next 2 days. Yes, it's true, cake decorating builds the muscles.

Our second cake today is this cute, colourful polka-dotted number, which was a buttercream cake with cut-out fondant designs. It seems that the new trend in children's birthday parties is for loving (or Martha-Stewart-obsessed) parents to spoil their 1-year old with a cake that it more appropriate for a wedding. See below:

This cupcake tower with a 6" top tier was based on a picture that the customer brought in. Aside from what's on the stand, there were more cupcakes in boxes! This is some big party they are planning! I don't think my first year was celebrated in such style...although I wouldn't have remembered it anyway.

There was another weekend where a family ordered this adorable monkey cake for a toddler's birthday. Then I found out that the monkey was just the smash cake (also a new trend - a cake for the child to mangle for the photos, while the guests are served other cutely decorated cupcakes). At least it generates business, I guess.

I'm too cute to be smushed to pieces!

They also ordered monkey cupcakes which were fun to make, but very fiddly. I spent a good half hour sawing off bits of big vanilla wafers and cutting mini wafers in half for the ears. Thank goodness it was only a smallish order. I probably wouldn't be calling them cute if I had made hundreds of them.

Planet of the Apes, in a non-scary delicious kind of way

To finish the post, here is a a simpler, more reasonable 1-year old's cake that was modeled after the party invitations. And of course, it was accompanied by a mini smash cake:

Woops, I should be running off to work now - more to come later!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Ducky Cardigan

Is this not the most adorable sweater ever?? Some lucky kid is going to get to wear this! If it were three times bigger, I'd have kept it for myself. Everyone could use a ducky cardigan. I was planning on gifting this first before blogging about it, but I decided I couldn't hold out. So, hopefully the recipient isn't a reader of my blog.

Pattern: Ducky Cardigan by Hannah Fettig in Closely Knit
Yarn: Knit Picks Swish superwash DK, 3 and a bit skeins, plus yarn for the duck detail
Needles: US 8 (and 7 for the ribbing)

I stumbled upon this pattern at the library, in a lovely little book called Closely Knit by Hannah Fettig. The ducks were just so cute that I couldn't resist knitting this sweater. And the yarn I used, Knit Picks Swish Superwash DK, was really nice to knit with - it's merino wool, it's super soft, it's machine washable, and it comes in lots of great colours (including a few nice heathered ones).

This was an easy knit, made interesting by the addition of duck intarsia and pockets (although mind are fake pockets - why would babies need pockets?) and took me less than a month to get through as I worked on other projects intermittently. As usual, my least favourite part was seaming the whole thing up at the end, which, even though it's a small sweater, takes a surprisingly long time. But just check out that sleeve cap setting - not bad!! I battled a bout of indecisiveness with the buttons and finally settled on wooden ones to keep it less fussy and more gender neutral. Man, I love those ducks.

Go out and make your own ducky cardigan, you won't regret it. It's late, and I don't have much more to say. Happy knitting!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Carrot Banana Cake

A little weekend baking inspired by refridgerator-purging and Nope, no fancy decorating here, just a fast slathering with cream cheese frosting. I never thought of doing both carrot and banana together, but it tastes pretty damn good if you ask me. Double your fruit and veggie dose. This recipe makes about two 8" round cakes, a bundt-pan cake, or two 8" square cakes that are a little flatter. Or muffins. The possibilities are endless!!

You can link to the original recipe here, but listed below is the recipe with my changes.

Carrot Banana Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1/2 cup golden raisins

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour your pan(s). Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Whisk oil, sugar, and eggs in large bowl until well blended. Mix in dry ingredients. Add carrots, banana and raisins and blend well. Pour batter into pans, bake until toothpick inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cake stand in pan 20 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack and cool.

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and butter until smooth. Spread frosting over cake.

This morning after talking about deep fried goodies with Z and friend, I now have a craving for something deliciously crispy and golden at the Ohio State Fair, which goes from now until August 10. I'm hoping they have mini donuts. Or a corn dog might even suffice. Mmmm.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Finished Pomotamus Socks III

It's show and tell time! Here's my third pair of the-greatest-sock-pattern-of-all-time, Pomotamus!! I bought this cozy Fleece Artist sock yarn in Halifax around this time last year, intending for it to be a nice fall/winter knit, but instead I finished it just in time for a full week of 90 degree heat. Yep, it takes me at least a year to use my stash. I could wear them just long enough to take a few photos, and then these guys went into the winterwear drawer.

I'm still not sure I'm much of a sock knitter, although I do get a lot of satisfaction in knitting a whole sock on tiny little needles, especially when it's a pretty pattern like this one. I have knit enough socks now to know that I like the cuff-down method, along with a gusseted heel. Even though it makes more sense to start toe-up to get the most out of your yarn, I haven't had any problems with running out of wool yet, and I just use the leftovers to make baby socks.

Now that these are done, it's time to choose another project. What's next on the needles? It has to be something from my stash. Maybe another shawl, or something small like mittens. I have another project to show you soon, but I need to get some buttons for it to finish it up first.

Plans for this weekend: making cream cheese frosting, going to a wedding dress fitting, craft store oggling, cleaning and working. Some flattering news: apparently people have been coming up to the bakery counter especially to remark that the buckeyes look great on the days I make them, and not other days. Ha! Now there's talent.

Stay cool and happy crafting!