February 27, 2014

Roadtrippin' and Knittin'

Once upon a time in July 2012, I went on a week-long road trip with my mother to explore the Northern California coast. Aside from my shotgun navigation duties as we twisted along Hwys 1 and 101 all the way up to Oregon, I was also the residential knitter. After making over 150 baby hats over the past few years, I decided to treat myself and make a hat for myself. I didn't even own a handmade hat at this point, which is kind of ridiculous considering how many I've made for others. 

So the night before we left, I picked out a cute beanie pattern. I also packed about 200 pony beads that have been lying around the craft closet for almost a decade to make the hat more unique. They were an assortment of sparkly, metallic, solid, star-shaped, and heart-shaped beads, and they really popped out against the darker purple yarn in the hat. 

I used circular and double-pointed needles to make the hat. The only pattern difficulty was the fact that I had to thread the beads onto the yarn before I started knitting. I will admit that I didn't count the number of beads correctly when I first threaded them all on, so I had to break the yarn several times to thread extra beads. But otherwise, it was a very easy pattern and only took a few hours. 

So this is what I was working on from San Francisco to Mendocino, California. I was just getting started when we pulled into beautiful Gualala on the first night,


but finished it right in time to wear around Mendocino.

Pattern adapted from Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, by Debbie Stoller (2003). 
"Sparkle Hat" by Sonya Laska.
But we still had five more days of driving, and while the views were gorgeous and maps sometimes hard to juggle (we only used paper navigation--what's GPS?), my fingers were still restless. Fortunately, I packed enough supplies for a second project. 

I presumed correctly that my first semester of junior year would be too busy to make a bunch of handmade holiday gifts, so I tried to get as many projects done during the summer. The road trip was a perfect time to make my sister's gift because she wouldn't accidentally notice me knitting it. So, with 100g of Patons Classic Wool in "Birds of Paradise," I started her cat hat in Mendocino, worked on it as we drove through the tallest trees in the world at Redwoods National and State Parks, Gold Beach and Ashland, Oregon, and down Hwy 5, finishing in the Davis area. I learned how to I-Cord in a tent in Jedidiah State Park, and fitted the cat ears on in a Red Bluff Motel 6 room that reeked of fresh paint on a blazing 103F night.  So, Ruth, this hat was really a work of love. I traveled hundreds of miles to make it!

Pattern from Stich 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, by Debbie Stoller (2003).
Pattern: "Adults-Only Kittyville Hat" by Kitty Schmidt
Not pictured: Pom-pom
s at the end of cords.
It has never been harder for me to keep a gift secret. My excitement had settled down by the time the holidays popped up six months later, and was quickly replaced by my sister's upon her opening it up. I guess I'd call this a success! :)

So, while hiding inside hollow redwoods, swatting mosquitoes, lounging around Lithia Park in Ashland, and beach-hopping, I was also busy knitting and navigating. What a great trip. 
Thanks for roadtripping with me! Until next time,

Happy Crafting!!
--Elizabeth

February 23, 2014

Tangelo Corn Tortillas


In elementary school, I would look forward to the fresh tortillas we made every year on Cinco de Mayo. They were fresh, delicious, and always a great treat. I haven't made tortillas from scratch since.

That is, I didn't make any tortillas until today, when I had a sudden desire to try to make them from scratch. I looked briefly at a recipe from Joy of Cooking, realized how easy it was, and made a mad dash to Piazza's to buy some masa harina corn flour.

If you are to look at the ingredients of a standard bag of corn tortillas (Mission brand, for example), lime is often one of the flavoring ingredients. I decided to put my own spin on it by adding some fresh tangelo juice for a hint of sweet goodness in the tortillas. (Tangelos are a cross between tangerines and oranges.)


The first step is to make the dough, which can be done in about two minutes. Then roll the dough into tortilla-sized balls.


The next step is to press the dough between pieces of wax paper with a tortilla press or rolling pin. 



Then cook the tortillas in a frying pan with some olive oil and tangelo juice, and then you're done!

Tangelo Corn Tortillas
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Makes 12 six-inch tortillas
Preparation time: ~20 minutes


Ingredients
2 cups masa harina corn flour
1-1.5 cups warm water (100F)
1 tsp salt
Juice from one tangelo
Extra virgin olive oil for cooking

Cooking Equipment
Tortilla press or rolling pin
Wax paper or empty cereal bags of a similar material
Medium frying pan
Spatula

Instructions
1. To make the dough, mix flour, water, and salt. Make sure the dough is not too sticky or too crumbly (dry). Split dough into twelve pieces and roll them into balls.

2. Take one ball and place it between two pieces of wax paper. Push down on the ball with your hands slightly before completely flattening with a tortilla press or rolling pin.

3. Heat up a medium frying pan with some olive oil under medium-low heat. Cook tortilla evenly on each side, sprinkling tangelo juice on each side. 

4. Enjoy with beans, cheese, and other taco toppings, salsa, or as is. You can refrigerate any extra tortillas in an air-sealed bag for up to one week.

I guess Sunday has become the "extras/food" blog day lately. Tune in on Thursday for a more crafty adventure!

Happy Crafting,
--Elizabeth

February 20, 2014

Thermal Headband

Back in December when it was actually cold enough to be, like, winter, I noticed that some of my peers were wearing thermal headbands to stay warm. This was during that week where a sweater and Uggs just weren't quite enough for us hard-core winter Californians. Thermal headbands seemed like a great new project idea to me, so I wandered around on Ravelry for a few minutes later that day. I subsequently found enough patterns to see that I was not the first person to think of making one of these (surprise)! 

One of my goals for this year is to get to know my cables better, so I decided to cable the headband. I came across this braided cable pattern, grabbed some yarn, and knit ferociously. The cables were not hard at all, but were very repetitive and frequent. I messed up a few times, but didn't rip it out because it was at least ten rows before I even noticed that I had erred, and I wanted to finish the project. This could be a great beginner cable project for the patient soul. 

Before Christmas, I had this cabled thermal headband ready to give my sister. I made it to match the hat I made her the year before (featured in next week's blog post!). Unfortunately, I made the headband just slightly too long, so for next time I would recommend making it on the small side so it can stretch to the right size.

Thermal Headband, December 2013.
Pattern: Braided Ear Warmer
Yarn: About half a skein (50 g) of Patons Classic Wool in "Birds of Paradise" 
I was going to make a few more headbands with increasingly difficult cables, but our spell of sub-40F weather subsided too quickly. So maybe I'll make a couple next year.

Stay tuned next for another original recipe on Sunday night!

Happy Crafting,
--Elizabeth

February 17, 2014

Stir-Fryin' Every Day and Night

I am not a very skilled cook or culinary connoisseur, but I do appreciate my healthy California cuisine all day, every day. My father has raised me to possess a gourmet palette, but until recently, this palette was only cultivated at the dinner table. However, three new factors over the past couple of years have shoved me into the kitchen more often, and since then, my enthusiasm for cooking has steadily increased.

The first factor was when I was told that I was not eating enough fiber or iron a couple summers ago. I was also told to lighten off dairy, rice, and bananas, which at that point were being consumed excessively on a daily basis. Overnight, I had to change my diet and become aware of what I was eating. And even though I thought I was a pretty healthy eater before, I realized that the pretzels and white flour tortillas weren't doing justice for the nutrients I could have been getting with healthier alternatives. At this point, I also wasn't eating any red meat, but I had to change that when I realized I was anemic. Since then, however, I've tried to reduce my meat consumption, although I don't think I'll become a vegetarian anytime soon.

The second factor was my new year's resolution from 2013, which was to learn how to cook something beyond pasta, box cakes, and bread machine bread. I figured that I should know how to cook enough dishes to live on by the time I get to college, and while I never expected to enjoy the process (or keep my resolution), I enjoyed baking my own bread, undercooking stir-fry after stir-fry, and learning about spices beyond oregano, pepper, and cinnamon. 

The third factor was somewhat simultaneous with the second: the launching of Kinsey Cooks! My friend Kinsey started a cooking blog that inspired me to try some of her recipes. Thanks to her, I acquainted myself with lentils, Cookie Monday, and stone fruit clafoutis. We also started to talk about food more, which inspired me to learn more.

Out of everything I ever cook (besides cereal and sandwiches, which hardly counts as "cooking"), 95% of my dishes are stir-frys. They are my go-to dish because they are delicious, nutritious, and pretty quick. I used to just saute veggies and add rice, but lately I've been making variations of my new favorite: lentils and couscous. The vegetarian concoction I made today was especially successful, so I thought I'd share it!

Hearty Lentil & Couscous Stir-Fry

Serves 4-6
Preparation Time: If you are a slow chef like me, about 45 minutes)
Ingredients:
3 cups water
1 cup boiling water
0.5 cup red split lentils
0.5 cup green lentils
1 cup whole wheat couscous
2 large carrots
8 mini bell peppers (or 1.5 normal sized bell peppers)
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
Juice from one lemon, lime, or clementine

The following ingredient quantities are approximations. Add as desired.
~2 teaspoons white wine
~1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 
~3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch ground Italian oregano
~3 teaspoons cumin
1 dash ground turmeric 
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (Trader Joe's)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions: 
1. Heat up a cast-iron pan with some olive oil and low heat. Then add red and green lentils and 3 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered while stirring occasionally until lentils are cooked and most of the water has evaporated (about 20-25 minutes). Add cumin, turmeric, some olive oil, and spread evenly. 

2. Meanwhile, cut carrots, squash, and bell peppers. Saute in a separate frying pan under medium-high heat with white wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, oregano, and sweet chili sauce. You may want to add the veggies gradually so they will all be cooked at the same time (carrots, then squash, then peppers), adding spices when you see fit.

3. When the lentils and vegetables are almost done, in a separate bowl, pour 1 cup boiling water over couscous. Add citrus juice, then cover until all the water is absorbed.

4. Combine couscous with lentils, and then add veggies (if your pan is big enough). Stir together well, serve hot, and enjoy!  

Finished sauteed veggies.

Finished lentils and couscous.

On another food-related note, if anyone would like to buy any Girl Scout Cookies from me, identify yourself by commenting below or otherwise contacting me by Friday, February 21, 2014. They are $5 a box, and you can find more information about all eight varieties here

I also just created a Facebook page for my blog! You can find it here

Stay tuned for the fourth February post on Thursday, where I'll be sharing a new seasonal piece I made recently. 

Happy crafting, eating, and living,
--Elizabeth

February 13, 2014

Quilt

One of the top items on my craft bucket list has been to make a quilt. I've made several imitation quilts (surfboard, baby patch), and started a few that never amounted to much, but I have never made a true quilt with piecing, batting, backing, and quilting. 

The problem with me and crafts is that I am incredibly lazy and frugal, but also very inconsistent. I like to do all of my projects within the confines of my room (and an Internet connection). I am always trying to craft new projects that might somehow combat my spontaneously-growing yarn and fabric collections without going to the store to buy more stuff. And I also craft in binges.

Instead of, say, knitting for one hour every day, I'm more likely to knit for six hours straight for two days and then not touch my needles again for the next month. I'm very much a project-to-project person. And because I knit intensely over large blocks of time, I tend to grow weary as the completion of a project grows near, where frequently catastrophic shortcuts are taken, projects are never completed, and my insanity index grows exponentially overnight. But enough excuses, now. 

The Fiber Arts class I took last semester was a very unique crafting experience for me because I was forced to spend only one hour a day working. The fact that showing up to my next class prevented me from working "overtime" showed me what working on a craft project consistently and in small chunks feels like. I've never worked on a major project feeling refreshed and energetic all the way to the end without my typical dose of headaches and crazy eating schedules. It was strange to feel good throughout the entire process.

The first of two major projects in the Fiber Arts class is an embroidered pillow, and the second is a nine-patch quilt. This project is designed to be a first quilt for students, as it is about as simple as it can be.

The first (and hardest) step is to buy the fabrics to be used in the quilt. It literally took me four hours over two days to decide on all my fabrics. I decides to go with a rich ocean color theme, and picked a dreamy batik as my theme fabric. I purchased all the materials at Eddie's Quilting Bee, which is more expensive then a generic place like Jo-Ann, but offers a bigger variety of high-quality fabrics and has a staff that is very helpful for a beginning quilter like me. 

This quilt is a little bigger than a crib-sized quilt. I would have made myself a twin-sized quilt, but I was not sure how much of each fabric to buy for this size. The instruction sheet was horribly cryptic and unreliable both to me and the Eddie's staff, and I didn't want to spend a ton of money on fabric that I wouldn't end up using.

The next step was to design the blocks. For this beginning quilt, each block ended up being 12.5" square, and only consisted of 4.5" squares, quarter-squares, half-triangles, and quarter-triangles. This restriction certainly limited the number of block designs to choose from. I used five different block designs, although three out of my five designs ended up being variations of the traditional star pattern. 

I had about two months to make the quilt. The bulk of the time was spent piecing, or sewing together the blocks. I managed to piece about two blocks in three hours, which may sound tediously slow, but it was still faster than the class average.

The next step was to attach the sashing, which are the purple strips between all the blocks in this case. Since I had a little extra time, I also added an additional border around the perimeter. I'm really glad I did this because it tones down the harshness significantly. 

Then I sewed together the backing. Unfortunately, after making the "extra credit" border, I didn't have quite enough fabric to have that fabric be the complete backing, so I had to use a strip of purple in back as well. Then the batting and backing was sewn to the topquilt like a pillow. The last step was the actual quilting, where I "stitched in the ditch" over all the blocks and borders. 

Nine-Patch Quilt, made October-December 2013. 
Size: about 60" square.
Cost of materials: about $65
Hours to complete: 30-40 hours
You can see the back of the quilt, as well as some of the quilting (stitching on the back).
Now that I am done with the Fiber Arts class, I can't say that I will miss it much. I will allow that I learned more from it than I initially expected, and I also finally realized my decade-long dream of making a quilt. I'm happy now to have two preps at school and to work on my own crafting adventures (unfortunately, on my own wonky schedule).

I hope to improve my quilting skills this semester and summer by working on a more advanced, twin-sized quilt. Second semester of senior year is notorious for not being nearly as freeing as we'd all like it to be, and I still have a lot of stuff I have to do before I have time to start working on a new quilt. And then there's the whole "should I try to make my own prom dress?" temptation. But hopefully I'll get to it this summer, if not earlier. If you have any pattern suggestions, etc., let me know in the comments!

If you have any suggestions for a name for this quilt, let me know in the comments below!

Stay tuned for the third February post on Sunday, where I'll be sharing a one of my favorite things to cook!

Happy Crafting!!
--Elizabeth

February 6, 2014

Cabled Cell Phone Case

Long car and bus trips into oblivion can be the ultimate agent of inspiration...at least when it comes to designing cell phone cases. Something about the addiction nearly all of us have to our rectangular electronic devices--from outdated MP3's to new iPhone 5c's--becomes especially apparent during bumpy, understimulating road trips. And, given that most of these devices are fragile specimens that need protection from the elements of real life, especially in places like "oblivion," a cell phone case is a perfect quick back-seat project.

Amidst my recent efforts to improve my skills in cabling, I designed a phone case last week based off of a trending sweater cable. I combined two scrap yarns I had lying around: an acrylic purple from Patons, and an ancient blue multicolored mohair I recently retrieved from my grandmother's yarn stash. I didn't have a pattern to refer to (because I was on a bus) so I tried to configure it myself. I'm not the best at designing my own work from scratch, though, especially when it involves cabling. I ended up ripping out my progress and starting over at least four times (by this time, I'd lost count), so perhaps a pattern might have been a good idea. But at least I figured it out eventually. :)
Diamond Cabled Phone Case, designed and knit in January 2014. Sized to contain an iPhone 5c. Front (left) and back (right).

I've also knit a few other phone cases on my way to Lassen Volcanic National Park a couple summers back. Let me see if I haven't thrown them away yet.

...After some searching around, I can conclude that they're gone to Narnia.

Thanks for reading! Come back every Thursday night in February for a new crafting adventure! :) 

Happy Crafting!!
--Elizabeth