Yarn Bombing in Cianfrani Park

I’ve written about yarn bombing before. Yarn bombing is a joyful form of street art that takes knitting and crocheting from the fireside and the easy chair and the knitting circle outside to trees and fences and telephone poles and anything that’s standing still for awhile and can be covered in colorful granny squares and pom poms and stockinette. Always surprising and delightful.

Spring’s Blossoms

Every Spring for a week or so, the flowering trees in Philadelphia burst into bloom all over the city.

The view from my bedroom window

Everywhere you look, the trees are showing off their blossoms like they’re in a competition to see who can be the showiest.

The party lasts about a week and then it’s over. Enjoy it while you can.

Want to see more? Check here and here.

Inspiration Makes a Clasp

I haven’t been making much jewelry lately, but when I do, it always comes back to clasps. I love clasps that are elegant, simple to use, and reliable. I don’t like to struggle to put on and take off a piece of jewelry and I dislike losing it even more. A good clasp doesn’t call attention to itself because it is part of the design. By that, I mean it doesn’t stick out like someone who crashed the party. Even if it functions as the focal in a piece, it should be a working part of the design.

Sometimes, I start a piece and then consider what the clasp should be. Sometimes I start with the clasp and build the piece around it. And sometimes, someone’s else’s jewelry inspires me to create something new. The following necklace is a case in point.

This necklace belonged to my mother-in-law who loved midcentury modern studio jewelry. I think it’s made of onyx and it’s got a lot of heft. The beads are about 25 mm and the necklace is about 18″ long including the clasp. I think the clasp is the best part of the necklace.

The clasp is silver. Note that the open ring to the left it slightly open and ajar. The closed ring slips right onto it. You can put on the necklace with your eyes closed. The weight of the beads pulls in a manner that the open part of the clasp remains on top so the necklace is secure.

Here’s my take on this clasp with a polymer necklace.

Again, I have very big beads. In fact, most of them are bigger than the beads in the onyx necklace. Except they aren’t heavy because they’re hollow. Can you see the clasp? It’s on the right above the red round bead.

The polymer beads are strung on 16 gauge dark annealed steel wire and connected with loops. The back of the choker-length necklace is 16 gauge wire which works because the beads are so light that it doesn’t bite into the neck. This piece of wire is permanently fastened on one side of the necklace and finished with a tiny hook on the other side that slips into the loop coming out of the round red bead. The opening on the hook points to the side and holds the necklace closed and secure.

Here’s a picture of the polymer choker. The wire is rigid enough to hold the beads in place but not so rigid that it’s stiff. The onyx necklace keeps its shape by virtue of the weight of its beads. It’s a heavy necklace and not everyone would feel comfortable in it. My mother-in-law was not too concerned with the comfort of what she wore, as long as it was fashionable. But the clasp is very comfortable and makes up for the weight of the beads.

And here’s a picture of the polymer choker with the onyx choker. As you can see, they are about the same size.

Spring is Here.

The crocuses are peeping up in Bob’s garden. What more proof could we need?

What is it About Tofu?

What is it about Tofu that brings out such passion in people? Tofu is, after all, a bland soy product that takes on the character of whatever food it finds itself associated with- a veritable Zelig of gastronomy.

My husband didn’t exactly recoil at the thought of eating tofu. He loves Asian cuisine which uses a lot of it. But he never ate it at home. I didn’t care. I can cook anything (Ok, I was not successful when I tried to make phyllo dough from scratch. I don’t mean Baklava, I mean the dough. It is incredibly difficult to make.) but I don’t cook that often. As a child, I listened to my mother complain every day about how she hated to cook. It wore on me. I don’t iron either. (Same reason).

Which brings me back to tofu. My husband started eating it for health reasons. So I started looking for a good recipe which, to me, means something he’ll eat plus it has to be easy and fast.

All of the recipes I saw contained directions for draining the tofu and getting the water out. Yikes, what a bunch of messy chemistry experiments! I was directed to wrap the tofu in paper towels which I don’t use, or cloth towels, to soak up the moisture. Some directions recommend strainers and colanders in addition to the towels. What a waste of time.

Here’s how I do it to make oven baked tofu nuggets. I open and drain four 1 pound packages of extra firm tofu. I grab two loaf pans. I place two, 1 pound blocks of tofu into each loaf pan. I nest the pans and place a third pan on the top. Then I place a 5 pound dumbbell in the top loaf pan. If you don’t have a dumbbell, use something else.

I let the tofu sit for a few hours and drain off the liquid.

Next, I line a pan with parchment, spray it with cooking spray, and sprinkle it with a layer of tofu coating. This is kind of like a Shake-n-Bake for tofu. There are a lot of recipes on the Internet, like this one and this one. If you want your tofu crispy, I recommend you use cornstarch as your base ingredient. A little baking soda helps add crispiness too, but not too much. You can add spices to the mix. I use powdered garlic, onion flakes, and a wonderful salt-free mix from Pensy’s Spices called Mural of Flavor. You can add sesame, flax, or poppy seeds, red hot pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, seasoned breadcrumbs and panko-use your imagination. I’ve also used leftover rice from takeout meals. It gets crispy when you bake it.

Add the tofu cubes, sprinkle on more coating and toss to cover. I like to bake at 400 F for an hour. You can stir the tofu after 30 minutes to insure even cooking. I turn off the oven after an hour and let the oven’s residual heat crisp up the tofu even more. Store in refrigerator in a covered container.

WANTED!

I have a bad cat. Yes, Boris is wanted for Destruction of Furniture. This is a Felony in my house, but cats and small children get automatic immunity.

Exhibit “A”

We have some storage hassocks that we use as foot stools and coffee tables in our living room. When you live in a small (916 sf) house, every piece of furniture has have more than one function.

Boris keeps his sleepy pad one one of the hassocks where he hangs out with his stuffed mice. The little monster does not deserve a new cover on his hassock (never mind that he has three scratching posts on the first floor, plus a cat tree and he uses them all) but I decided that a pandemic sewing project might be interesting.

I used some heavy canvas fabric I got in a free bin at a house sale. I added a design with some fabric paint. The hassock was an 18″ cube, so I measured a strip of fabric 72″ long (the material swatch was huge. I could have also cut and sewn a strip 72″ long) plus an extra inch, and 22 inches wide. I made a giant tube snug enough that I had to finesse it over the hassock. The bottom of the fabric was already hemmed.

The fabric pulled over the hassock. I stapled it to the inside.
The finished hassock

So, what’s to keep Boris from destroying this? And I also decided that I didn’t want to make three more covers for the rest of the hassocks. And I’m not crazy about the fabric. Light colors don’t work to well for a foot stool. Replace the hassocks? And have them destroyed again? But I think I found a solution.

To be delivered this week. I hope it’s Boris proof!

Procrastination

When I was in the first grade, my father promised to build me a desk. He finally started building it my senior year in high school. He completed it and painted it in my room while I was in bed, violently ill with the flu. I didn’t dare ask him to finish the desk when I felt better because it might have become one of my wedding presents.

My mother painted our whole house except she stopped in the upstairs hallway and never did finish. You could see where the paint just stopped. And we never get the house fully furnished because she had a hard time making up her mind.

My brother had a hole in his dining room wall for months. During one visit, my father asked him when he was going to fix it. My brother didn’t answer. I remembered the desk and felt smug enough for the both of us.

My niece gave birth to a little boy a few months back. My brother let me know she was expecting a few months before she was due. I found out she had a little boy after the fact. Better late than never.

By now, you have probably realized that I come from a family of procrastinators. The trait runs sluggishly through my blood. Nothing to get upset about once you accept it. It’s there like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Which brings me to the baby dishes. I made them after my great nephew made his entrance in October. Or was it September? Anyway, the pottery studio closed because of the pandemic and they went unglazed until 2021. Then I packed a box with the baby dishes and some other items I thought my niece might like, and found her address. Next stop, post office. Here are some pictures.

Another Post About Bread

I wrote a post about baking bread a while back. Well, I’ve found another recipe that I think is even better than the one I’d been using. It comes from FiveHeartHome although I’ve seen similar recipes elsewhere on the Internet. What I like about FiveHeartHome’s recipe, which you can find here, is that blogger Samantha explains how the recipe works and provides plenty of helpful pictures of the dough mixing process-always helpful when you’re learning a new bread making technique.

So, what’s so special about this recipe? You mix your sponge, let it rest 10 minutes, add the rest of your ingredients, mix, knead, and it’s ready for the pans. Just like that.

Dough after kneading

You let your dough rise to the size you want your final loaves to be. And then you bake it. No fussing about “oven spring.” What you see is what you get.

Dough after rising before baking

I’ve doubled the FiveHeartHome recipe to make four loaves and it works great. I don’t have a stand mixer. I use a sturdy Hamilton Beach hand mixer like this one to incorporate all the ingredients before I start kneading. The kneading doesn’t take long; the dough comes together beautifully. I don’t use a thermometer to determine if my bread is done. The old “thump the loaf” test works fine for me. And I run the hot water from the tap.

The unusual ingredient in this bread is the lemon juice. (I substitute cider vinegar). It helps the yeast work and makes the bread rise nicely. Don’t be tempted to dump all the ingredients into the bowl at once even if you have a professional stand mixer. Follow the instructions in the order given. You won’t be sorry.

Out of the oven
Out of the pans
A nice crumb

I do improvise a little with this bread, throwing in some sunflower seeds and rolled oats when I mix the sponge into the rest of the ingredients. What I really think would be interesting would be a Challah type bread using this recipe as the base. Maybe I’ll try that next.

Clayathon Goes Virtual

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Normally, the articles I’ve posted after the annual Clayathon conference are heavy on photographs.   But this year, we took Clayathon online because the pandemic made gathering at the Stockton Seaview an impossibility.  None of us had ever hosted an online conference before.  There was a lot to learn!  In the end, we went for three days and had more than 300 people in attendance via Zoom from all over the globe.  That’s 300 people at one time watching our guest artist Carol Blackburn in two live streams from London each day and our end of the day presenter Syndee Holt, live each day from San Diego, California.  That’s an 8 hour difference for those of you who are wondering. Carol shared a screen in Zoom with her work surface.  Everyone got a clear view. People could ask questions in the chat box.  After Carol’s demos, there were pdf handouts for paid registrants

Pit Crew including
Meeting of the pit crew

In the middle, we had presenters from the Eastern Standard time zone:  A panel discussion with Lindly Haunani, Laura Tabakman and Kathleen Dustin on the impact the pandemic has had on their art,  a live tour of Kathleen Dustin’s studio in the woods of New Hampshire and a presentation by Loretta Lam on her book (which I highly recommend) Mastering Contemporary Jewelry Design.  In the afternoon, we had breakout rooms in Zoom where people could mingle, socialize and trade ideas. 

My work station

None of this happened by accident.  We’ve been planning virtual Clayathon 2021 for months.  We had great people on the crew.  For more information, go to our web site where you can read all about Clayathon.  Be sure to visit the shop where you can buy art from many of the teachers who taught workshops in the days before and after Clayathon.

Clayathon in full swing with screens and screens of participants
Valentine’s Day morning.

Pottery in Progress

Clayathon starts this Friday, so I haven’t had much time to go to the studio lately. Today, I decided to decorate a set of nesting bowls with underglaze.

I think I’ll be better able to concentrate when Clayathon is over, although it should be lots of fun. If you’re curious about the polymer side of clay, check us out at Clayathon.org.