25 October 2014

Review: Coffee Obsession




I have a confession: I love coffee but I don’t drink it. At least, I don’t drink the kind that coffee snobs would approve of. I will have the occasional cup of regular drip-filtered coffee if I’m desperate for caffeine, but what I really like is a rich coffee flavor embedded in milk, sugar, and ice. Lots of ice. My current favourite is Tim’s Iced Capp with a Creamy Caramel flavour shot (addictive).




This time of year I’ve also been known to go for their Pumpkin Spice shot, which happens to be the current subject of mockery of a series of commercials that urge viewers to respect the (coffee) bean. While I think people should have their coffee in whatever form they please (with or without pumpkin), there is something to be said for respecting the bean. DK’s book Coffee Obsession is all about respecting the bean, along with the coffee traditions of cultures around the world. Best of all (for cookbook fanatics like me, anyway): there are recipes. Whether you’re a purist or prefer a little coffee with your milk and sugar, this book is an awesome resource. 

Coffee Obsession features info on the history of coffee; coffees of the world; café culture; species and varieties; growing, harvesting and processing; cupping (the coffee equivalent of wine tasting); choosing and storing your beans; home roasting; equipment; and, of course, making the best possible cup of coffee. There’s even a section on making latte art.

COFFEE FACT: Marsabit is the only area in Kenya where wild Rubiaceae has been found. The study and conservation of the coffee gene pool in these forests will benefit coffee all over the world.

Besides all the information packed into this book, it is visually stunning. DK really does excel at including great photos in all their books, and Coffee Obsession is no exception. There are also tons of illustrations—the book is fun to look at, as well as read.

COFFEE FACT: Guatemala is the 10th largest coffee producer in the world, with about 2.5% of the world market.

Recipes cover everything from the basics (Cappuccino, Mocha, Café au Lait, Americano), to more exotic and creative concoctions (Sassy Molasses, Caffe Touba—Senegalese coffee, Cherry Almond Latte, Ca Phe Sua Da—Vietnamese iced coffee, Espresso Martini). There are also recipes for syrups and flavourings, for those so inclined. As I was looking through the pages of recipes, I got more and more enthused about trying them all. I clearly have some experimenting to do.

COFFEE FACT: Nobody knows exactly how many coffee species there are, but to date, around 124 have been identified—more than double that of just twenty years ago.

One concern I did have with the book was with the editing: just flipping through I immediately noticed “Banana Split” was misspelled as “Spilt.” Besides being annoying, it does raise the concern that there could be bigger mistakes, particularly in the recipes (quantity errors, for example). Hopefully that’s not the case, but when trying recipes, keep an eye out for anything that seems off.

COFFEE FACT: Hawaiian coffees (eg Kona) are some of the most counterfeited in the world.

While Coffee Obsession isn’t exhaustive (and to be fair, it’s unrealistic to expect any book to be), overall it’s a great book on the subject, and a worthy addition to any coffee-lover’s cookbook collection. You’ll find tons of knowledge and inspiration here, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a whole new appreciation for this eternally popular beverage. You might even discover a new favourite way to enjoy your daily fix. DK sent me my copy, but you can get your own here (it’s on sale too). Or, click the badge to see other foodie-friendly books currently on sale:

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 Coffee Obsession by DK.

08 October 2014

Review: Cooking Season by Season




I love eating seasonally. Who wouldn’t? It’s a way to ensure you get the best local produce at its peak, and usually at a better price than at any other time of the year (unless you grow your own, which is better still). With farmers’ markets popping up everywhere (in Toronto, every neighbourhood seems to have one—even City Hall has a weekly market out front), it’s even easier to get seasonal fare. The only problem is figuring out what to do with it. If fresh clams are suddenly everywhere, or venison turns up at the market, do you buy them and hope for the best? Or when you’re confronted with luscious piles of peaches or zucchini, what do you do with it all? Everyone’s probably got a couple of standard recipes for their favourite seasonal foods, but you can only eat so much clam chowder or zucchini bread before you get bored. Or what about those foods you see year after year and would love to try, but aren’t sure what to do with them? That’s why DK’s Cooking Season by Season is perfect.

This massive book is filled with information, photos, and recipes, all organized seasonally (I also love that early summer and high summer are split—perfect for gardeners). There’s even a section at the front featuring foods available year-round. Throughout, certain foods are singled out with a focus on varieties, as well as buying, storing, cooking, and preserving info (I just wish there were more of these special focus pages). The recipes are the real stars, though. There’s a great variety, simple to execute, with delicious results. For this review I tested four of them (all Fall recipes, of course):

Cajun Sweet Potato and Bean Soup
Even with a fair amount of chopping to do (my least favourite cooking task), this soup was a pleasure to make. With all the colours, it was like autumn in a pot. Besides being pretty to look at, the soup is delicious. It’s spicy and flavourful—even the SO agrees, although he deemed it too beany (knowing his bean aversion, I added only 2/3 of what the recipe called for. The beans were still quite prominent, although I didn’t find them overwhelming, so adjust according to your own tastes). Not only is the soup satisfying and filling, but it’s also super healthy; you can easily make it vegan by omitting the chorizo (add a hot pepper or extra chili flakes and a touch of liquid smoke to compensate).

I did have a slight issue with the directions, which instruct to partially puree the soup. We prefer our soups chunky in this household, so I’d skip this step anyway, but it does seem somewhat unappealing to puree meat and beans. Maybe that’s just me. But if you plan on pureeing the soup, I suggest cooking the sausage separately, then adding it and the beans after the rest of the soup has been through the blender.

Seared Halloumi Cheese with Figs
OMG—I loved this. The dressing ingredients (a combination of red wine vinegar, cilantro, hot pepper, and garlic) scared me a bit—at least the thought of them combined with figs and cheese did—but it was fantastic. Everything melded together brilliantly—this is probably one of the best salads I’ve ever had. It was so good that my SO—who claims to hate cheese, salad dressing, and wilted/cooked veggies—thought it was great. Part of its appeal for him might have been that the dressing reminded him of Thai flavours. Whatever the case, this was easy to make and will definitely become a regular addition to our table. Even better, if you want to omit the cheese and figs (which can be pricey and hard to find), the dressing would still be fantastic with plain greens (or maybe greens and different types of fruit and salad veggies). This is worth making and experimenting with again and again. I’m including the recipe so you can try it for yourself:

Seared Halloumi Cheese with Figs

10 oz (300 g) halloumi cheese, cut into ¼” (5 mm) slices
8 large ripe figs, cut into quarters lengthwise
Large handful of mixed salad leaves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 red chile, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Drizzle of olive oil, to serve

Put the halloumi and figs in a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until they start to brown. Once cooked, place on a platter with the salad leaves [I placed the warm cheese and figs on the salad leaves, which is how I got the wilted effect.]
Pour the red wine vinegar into the same pan and increase the heat slightly. Add the cilantro, chile, and garlic and simmer over med-high heat until the sauce has reduced in volume by three-quarters. Pour sparingly over the figs and cheese [I poured it all over the entire dish]. Splash the salad with the oil and serve immediately.
Serves 4

There’s also a seared pancetta and feta variation, but I’ll let you get that with the book :)

Stuffed Mushroom with Herbs
Stuffed mushroom are something of a pain to make (although it’s much easier if you use a food processor) but well worth the effort. These ones were no exception. Herby, nutty, garlicky, and lemony—they’re tasty and pleasantly light. The SO wasn’t as thrilled with these, though—he wasn’t a fan of the lemon or the lack of meat (he’s the real reason I can never be a vegetarian). I, on the other hand, had no trouble polishing off four of these babies. The wild mushrooms are a nice addition but not strictly necessary, so if you want to make these at a different time of year, just use cremini or even white button mushrooms instead of the wild ones.  I think next time I might also try toasting the walnuts first.

Crispy Sweet Potato with Zucchini and Chive Mascarpone
Unfortunately, the last recipe ended up being a disappointment. The sweet potato was nice (and it did get crispy) but the zucchini was meh and the cheese is super bland (the addition of salt and maybe garlic might have improved things). It was an easy dish to put together, though, and if you like really simple flavours, this could be the recipe for you. I’ll probably make the sweet potatoes again, but I’ll skip the other components.

I didn’t plan to make mostly vegetarian recipes, but as a vegetable lover (yes, we exist) it’s nice to know there’s a good variety of veggie-focused recipes in this book to choose from. To give you an idea of what other types of recipes you can find in Cooking Season by Season

Spring: Pork and Clam Cataplana; Cheesy Bacon and Spring Onion Muffins; Thai Fish Cakes; Roasted Quail and Pea Shoot Salad; Pan-Fried Ham with Pineapple Salsa; Rhubarb and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

Early Summer: Battered Haddock with Lemon Mayonnaise; Herb and Garlic Artichokes; Curried Vegetable Pies; Chicken Fajitas with Tomato and Avocado Salsa; Strawberries and Cream Macarons; Cherry Jam

High Summer: Mini Chicken Burgers with Tomato and Chile Sauce; Spicy Sausage and Tomato Skewers; Brandied Lobster Chowder; White Fish with Spinach and Pine Nuts; Peach Tarte Tatin; Plum and Rum Jam; Green Bean and Zucchini Chutney

Fall: Beef with Beets and Spinach; Grilled Squid Salad; Rosehip Soup; Venison Wellingtons; Butternut Squash Stuffed with Ground Beef; Black Olive and Pepper Ciabatta; Blackberry and Apple Cake; Spiced Pear Pickle

Early Winter: Mussels in Coconut and Lemongrass Broth; Roast Pork with Bacon and Chicory; Shredded Turkey, Mint, and Pomegranate Salad; Stuffed Roast Goose; Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta; Salsify Fritters; Chocolate Orange Truffle Cake; Apple Butter; Cider (that's right--it’s a recipe for how to actually make cider)

Late Winter: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Saffron and Thyme; Crispy Bacon and Avocado Wraps; Chicken and Cornmeal Cobbler; Wasabi Beef and Bok Choy; Fish and Leek Pie; Lemon Cheesecake; Rosemary Jelly

Of course there are way more recipes in this book than I could possibly share here, everything from appetizers to pizzas, to desserts, drinks, and preserves. Basically, you’ll never again be able to use the excuse that you don’t know what to do with X veg/fruit/fish/meat. I owe huge thanks to DK for sending me this book to review. I highly recommend it, and lucky you—it happens to be on sale right now. Click on the button below and go on and get cooking!

http://cn.dk.com/static/cs/cn/11/nf/features/food-and-drink-boutique/index.html

30 April 2014

Review: Mediterranean Cookbook

http://cn.dk.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,11_9781465417619,00.html#

When DK contacted me about reviewing a book from their Mother's Day boutique, my first instinct was to say no. Ever since my mom died, Mother's Day hasn't exactly been a happy time for me. But I decided to take a look at the books anyway. I was happy to see a good selection on offer, and when I saw the Mediterranean Cookbook it immediately reminded me of my mom, an amazing Greek cook. So in honour of her I thought I'd go ahead and review the book, after all, and test a few of the Greek recipes while I was at it.

Before I get to that, let me first say that the book has a satisfying heft to it. It's well designed, has plenty of lovely photos, and tons of tempting recipes from all over the Mediterranean region (albeit a tad heavy on Italy). I liked that it also includes special sections on the cuisines and foods of the different areas; the Greek one brought up pleasant memories for me (the others were just fun to read about).

The first recipe I tried was Revithosoupa, a chickpea-potato soup with rosemary and lemon that's apparently a specialty from Corfu. I actually had never had this soup before (maybe because my family hails from Sparta), which is unfortunate because it's really good. It's delicious (fresh and bright), filling (but not heavy), healthy, and easy to make. One bowl was a great light meal, but it would also be good as a side. It's also vegan (I suspect it originated as a dish for Lent). This is something I'll be making again.

Next I made the Saganaki, a classic you probably know from your neighbourhood Greek restaurant. This version does not get flambeed, but as my cousins like to point out, that's just for the tourists. It might not be authentic but it is fun, so if you decide to flambe the dish anyway (shouting "Opa" is optional), remember to do so with caution. Try explaining to the insurance company that your house burned down because your flaming cheese got out of hand. In any case, this was another easy recipe, taking all of ten minutes from start to finish. Maybe not as healthy as the soup but just as delicious: crispy and salty with a tang of lemon. Even my cheese-hating SO approved, stating, "That's a very inoffensive cheese" and likening it to a lemony grilled cheese sandwich (minus the bread). High praise indeed. For your eating pleasure I've included the recipe below.

Lastly I made Keftedes Tiganites, which translates as Fried Meatballs. My mom made these all the time (often serving them with rice and a red sauce), so I'm quite familiar with them. At some point over the years my mom switched from frying the meatballs to baking them, so I did the same with this recipe. They're good either way, but I prefer to skip the extra fat. The recipe in Mediterranean Cookbook differs from the one I'm used to, and--no surprise--mom's wins. Although the book's version is easy to make (this seems to be a common theme), the SO and I both agree that the meatballs were only okay. Of course, we're prejudiced. If you get the book, give them a try for yourself and see what you think.

While I stuck to testing Greek recipes in honour of my mom, she was always happy to try new things. The Mediterranean Cookbook offers all kinds of tasty possibilities, including:

Middle East/Turkey/Lebanon/Israel: Marinated Olives, Mujaddara (rice, lentils & crispy onions), Kibbeh Samiyeh (spiced meat dumplings)

North Africa/Morocco/Egypt/Tunisia: Beid Hamine (spiced eggs), Tagine bin Hout, Bstilla bil Djaj (savoury tart)

France/Provence/Languedoc: Sardines Farcies aux Epinards (stuffed sardines), Tomates Confites, Daube (beef stew)

Portugal: Pasteis de Bacalhau (cod fritters), Rojoes de Porco (potatoes and pork), Acorda de Mariscos (bread and seafood stew)

Spain/Andalusia: Arroz a la Cubana, Atun (tuna) Escabeche, Churros

Italy/Sicily/Tuscany/Sardinia: Acquacotta di Funghi (wine & mushroom soup), Ravioli alla Fiorentina, Risotto Primavera, Pizza Napolitana, Cannoli

Balkans & Pyrenees: Tarator (garlic-walnut soup), Omelet Basquaise, Piperade Sauce

My big complaint with this book? The Moussaka recipe. Now, since moussaka (a layered dish of meat and vegetables with a creamy topping) is my absolute favourite food, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not forgiving of versions other than my mom's. I will tolerate reasonable facsimiles; however, the recipe in this book is absolute sacrilege. The filling seems passable, but the topping is the real problem: under no circumstances does Greek yogurt or feta cheese belong in moussaka. Ever. Moussaka has to be topped with Bechamel. Perhaps the author wanted to make a lighter version of the dish--that's still no excuse. If I had access to my mom's recipe right now I'd share it because it really is the best moussaka of all time (perhaps I'll do a future post on it). In the meantime, I suggest that anyone wanting to make Moussaka using the Mediterranean Cookbook use the topping from the Pastitsio Makaronia recipe instead of the one given for the moussaka (it's at least in the ballpark of what the topping should be).

Other than the moussaka issue, I think this is a great book. I can see myself using it over and over, and many of the recipes becoming favourites. I think my mom would have liked it too, and that is the best seal of approval I can think of.

Saganaki

2 x 8 oz (250 g) packages halloumi cheese [I found it in the deli section of my local supermarket]
flour, for dusting
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 handfuls of thyme or oregano leaves [I used dried because that's what I had]
juice of 2 lemons [I found 1 lemon to be plenty]
1 lemon, cut into wedges to serve [optional]

Rinse the halloumi cheese before using to rid it of excess salt; dry well on paper towels. Cut the halloumi into 1/2" (1 cm) thick slices and lightly dust with flour [I dipped mine into the flour and shook off the excess.]

Heat the 1/2 cup oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat and cook the cheese for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Remove from the pan and sprinkle with the thyme/oregano and lemon juice. Serve immediately with a little oil drizzled over the cheese and with lemon wedges on the side [I skipped the extra oil and lemon wedges and didn't miss them, but the book's way is more traditional.]

The book suggests serving with crusty bread and a spinach and red onion salad. I think it would also be great served alongside tomato wedges and cucumber slices (lightly salted, sprinkled with oregano, and drizzled with olive oil).

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.


Want to buy the Mediterranean Cookbook for your mom (or yourself)? It and a bunch of other DK books are on sale now--just click on the badge and get cooking...


http://cn.dk.com/static/cs/cn/11/nf/features/mothersdayboutique/index.html

Mediterranean Cookbook, edited by Marie-Pierre Moine. Published by DK.

13 April 2014

Review: The Kitchen Garden Cookbook


I'm a fan of cookbooks. I enjoy reading them, drooling (figuratively) over the illustrations and photographs, trying out the recipes, and basking in all the potential they offer. My interest in cookbooks has led to a nice collection of two hundred-ish books (and a somewhat ridiculous collection of loose recipes gleaned from newspapers, magazines, and the internet). Some might be satisfied with that number but I'm always on the lookout for interesting and creative additions to my collection. The Kitchen Garden Cookbook has turned out to be a great one.

On the practical side, the book is well designed and organized. Conveniently divided by season, each section offers recipes featuring the fruit, veggies, and herbs that are ripe during that particular season. This works well if you're a gardener with a glut of produce (and what gardener isn't?) or just want to eat store-bought food when it's at its peak. Although the food at the grocery store will never be as good as homegrown, even the big box stores will have tastier tomatoes in August.

As each new food is introduced in the book, a sidebar is included with info on picking, storing fresh, preserving and freezing that food. Even better, there are special features throughout on various methods of preserving and storing your bounty, from preserving vegetables in oil, to making pickles and relish, bottling fruit in alcohol, making jelly and conserves, and storing root crops in boxes. This info is invaluable, especially if you grow your own; being able to save part of your harvest for later is nearly always a necessity, and there are some ideas here I haven't seen elsewhere. Big thumbs up.

There are also tons of tempting recipes (most with pictures) in The Kitchen Garden Cookbook. A few I can't wait to try include: (Spring) Braised Cauliflower with Chiles and Cilantro, Swiss Chard Cheese Tart, Rhubarb and Custard Ice Cream; (Summer) Warm Tomato and Garlic Vinaigrette, Papas Arrugadas ("wrinkly potatoes"), Basil and Vanilla Custard, Fresh Mint Cordial; (Autumn) Butternut Squash Tagine, Pumpkin and Orange Spiced Jam, Portuguese Apple Fritters; and (Winter) Spicy Spaghetti with Broccoli, Wasabi Beef with Bok Choy, and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Saffron and Thyme.

I did get to try three of the recipes from the book. Confession: the recipes I made were all out of season. Unfortunately, we're still staying at the insurance-provided condo while our house remains in unlivable condition, so our pantry is severely limited right now. That, coupled with a choosy (some might say picky) co-eater meant having to stick with recipes approved by him, which also required minimal ingredients and equipment. I managed to find three.

The first recipe I tried--Baked Ricotta with Roasted Tomatoes (Summer)--was disappointing. Not to get all Food Network on you (although I have been watching way too much of it lately) but this dish seemed one-note to me. I think some fresh basil would have made all the difference (I'd also skip the roasted red pepper and put in more tomatoes). Luckily, I had better luck with the next two recipes.

I really enjoyed the Leek and Potato Soup (Winter). It was easy to make, healthy, and tasty. I liked the technique of mashing the potatoes and adding them back to the broth, which resulted in a nice texture that was neither too chunky nor too smooth. I also appreciated that it's served warm (much preferable, imo, to the cold versions out there).

The final recipe I tried was our favourite: Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts (Summer). Another easy, healthy, and tasty one. If you don't like hazelnuts you can substitute almonds or pecans. In any case it's one you should try:

Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts

8 oz (250 g) green beans, trimmed
sea salt
2 tbs butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped [We didn't skin ours and they were just fine]

1. Put the beans in a pot of salted water and boil [or steam over the water] for 5-6 minutes, or until they are cooked but still have a bit of bite to them. Drain and then refresh under cold water so that they stop cooking and retain their color.

2. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the butter and toasted hazelnuts.

[If you want to go to slightly more effort, you could stop boiling/steaming the beans a couple of minutes early and transfer to a frying pan over med-high heat with the butter and chopped nuts. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. This results in the beans getting nicely coated in the nuts.]

The recipe recommends serving this dish with lamb or chicken. We had it with chicken, but I think it would work well with any protein.

Want your own copy of The Kitchen Garden Cookbook? Lucky you--it's on sale now (along with lots  of other awesome reads) at DK Canada:

http://cn.dk.com/static/cs/cn/11/nf/features/earthly-pleasures-boutique/index.html

The Kitchen Garden Cookbook by DK.

05 April 2014

Apron Strings 6

Every time I finish making an apron, I inevitably think: "This is the best one yet." But the utility apron I just finished really is the best one.

To start, how awesome is this fabric?




The background here looks grey but in reality it's more of a soft aqua (the colour shows up better in the next photos).
Secondly, the apron was easy to make. I could have probably knocked it out in an hour (two, tops). But not only was it simple, it's practical and customizable. And you get to channel Batman with your own (much cuter) version of a utility belt.

I made pockets to hold my sewing scissors, a pen, and my phone, as well as two large pockets (in the middle) to hold odd-shaped items or anything else I might need (like the magnifying glass in the photo).


I really love the scissors pocket. When I'm sewing, my scissors never seem to be handy. No more!


Cute apron, easy to make, comfortable to wear, and customized to your needs. Best apron ever? I think yes.

I used this tutorial (big thanks to Rosey Corner Creations for sharing).
Fabrics from Dragonfly Fabric.

Photos ©Whimsy Bower

26 March 2014

Apron Strings 5

Lately my SO has taken to asking me how many aprons I think I'll want. I guess he's worried we won't have enough storage space for them all if I keep making (and buying) them. Now, I'm the first to admit I'm a bit apron obsessed, but I don't see a problem with having an extensive apron wardrobe. They manage to combine the often mutually exclusive characteristics of practical and cute. They're fun, both to make and wear. And if you do make your own, aprons are also a great way to use smaller pieces of fabric you may have lying around (or an excuse to indulge at the fabric store).

I'm thrilled with my latest completed apron. I used this tutorial as inspiration and ended up with a pretty, flattering addition to my collection. I also have fabric ready to go for my next two projects. I guess I'd better let my SO know that I don't see the apron acquisition slowing down any time soon. Sorry, sweetie.

(For anyone wondering, all fabrics are from Along Came Quilting.)







Photos ©Whimsy Bower

10 March 2014

Review: Get Started Crochet and Get Started Knitting


DK's Get Started Sewing is one of my favourite sewing books (and it really did get me started), so when I was given the chance to review the Crochet and Knitting books in the Get Started series, I didn't hesitate. What I particularly enjoy about the Get Started books is that they methodically take you from the basics to more elaborate techniques and projects in a natural progression. As you complete one project and move on to the next you'll painlessly pick up new skills until you've mastered the craft.

For those of you unsure what the difference is, Knitting and Crochet are both ways of turning yarn into decorative objects, blankets, clothing, and other items. The main difference is that knitting generally uses two needles (sometimes more) to complete projects, while crochet utilizes a single "needle" with a hook on the end instead of a point. The tools used affect technique and results. Both Get Started Knitting and Get Started Crochet feature similar information and chapters, though obviously specific to each craft. The books aren't interchangeable, so don't get one expecting you'll be able to apply it to the other skill as well.

Both books have some great projects. Personal favourites that I'll be making include a phone case, leg warmers, a stuffed monkey, and nifty cushion covers in Get Started Knitting; and towel edging, toy balls, a clutch bag, and a lacy scarf in Get Started Crochet. There are cute baby projects too, for those of you who want to tackle booties, hats, and wee cardigans. Bonus: there are numerous fancy stitch patterns also offered in each book, including lace, filet, and fair isle. These can be used for a variety of larger projects but I could have fun just making swatches of them.

Where I felt these books dropped the ball was in the how-to for basics like casting on. As a mostly self-taught knitter and crocheter I know the importance of clear instructions and good photos, but I found the photos in these books confusing. Not enough close-up shots and annoying squiggly arrows (attempting to show what you're supposed to be doing) just gave me a headache as I tried to figure them out. The written instructions, luckily, were clearer, and using those along with the photos as a reference, I could probably manage. My recommendation to anyone who has never tried knitting or crochet is to find someone who can show you the first steps. Once you've actually made a slipknot or knit a few stitches, it becomes much easier to decipher more complicated directions. Besides, it's more fun to have someone with whom to share a love of crafting. 

Other than that quibble, both books have plenty of good information on types of available materials and tools (including the wide variety of yarns). There are also yarn weight charts (with helpful photos), conversion info (a size 6 needle does not mean the same thing in Canada, the US, and the UK), pattern abbreviations, and stitch-symbol charts. Basically, whatever your ability level (except maybe for the pros) these books have you covered (and if you can figure out the instructional photos better than I can, then you won't need any further help to learn how to crochet or knit).

I'm happy to add Get Started Knitting and Get Started Crochet to my shelf, and I expect to be consulting them frequently and having a great time making the projects. If you've been wanting to learn knitting and/or crocheting, or if you want to expand your skills or get some new project inspiration, these books are a solid choice. Even better, DK is having a March Break sale. If you have some free time, why not grab yarn and a pair of needles or a crochet hook and save money while getting started on something new.

http://cn.dk.com/static/cs/cn/11/nf/features/march-break-boutique/index.html

Get Started Knitting and Get Started Crochet by DK.

08 March 2014

Apron Strings 4


Before I get to my latest project, an update: the SO, the kitties, and I are still living in the condo our insurance company set us up in (we've been here since late December). It is too small, too beige, and too dark. We're all desperate to leave, but since the insurance company is dragging its feet on actually fixing our house (now that the emergency measures are all complete) and the sale is still unable to close, we're stuck here for a while. As for my beloved house, it turns out that not one but three pipes burst during that wretched ice storm. I think the house was trying to commit suicide. Maybe it's for the best, given what I found out about the plans the buyers have for it. Every unique and beautiful detail that's been there for a century (and wasn't destroyed by water), from the leaded windows to the only remaining gumwood trim, is going to be removed. Typical Toronto--buy an amazing old house and gut it to get a generic modern look. I cannot wait to leave this city.

So how am I keeping myself going while I wait to finally be able to move? Crafts, of course. I have two ongoing projects: a sky scarf, where every line of the scarf corresponds to the colour of the sky each day for a year; and another blanket I'm crocheting (this time for my cousins). I'm also sewing whenever I can. I used this post as inspiration for a reversible cafe apron, which was lovely to work on and I can't wait to use. Bonus: it actually adds a bit of colour to this place.

Sky scarf. The more recent lines are at the top of the photo. Thankfully, I'm having to use less grey lately.

Completed granny squares for the blanket-in-progress. When I asked my cousins what colours they like, they both simply said "bright." Done.

The fabrics for the apron I just completed (all from Dragonfly Fabric). The two on the left were used for side 1, the two on the right were used for side 2, and the fabric piece in the middle was used for the waistband and ties.


I really love all the fabrics I chose, but the tangerine and aqua fabric makes me happy every time I see it. Orange was always my least favourite colour, but lately I'm finding myself more and more drawn to it. Funny how that happens.
Getting ready to attach two pieces.

Side two, pieces attached.

I added a line of ribbon to cover the seams between fabric joins. I also discovered that satin ribbon is a pain to work with.

I originally had picked out green ribbon for side two but it blended too well. Turquoise ribbon provided much-needed contrast.

The apron is folded so you can see both sides, as well as one of the ties.


I added a button to each corner of the turquoise ribbon on side 2. Because I didn't like the way the corners turned out and buttons are cute :)

Side 1

Side 2. Because of the way it's folded you can't see that the green accent fabric goes along both sides of the apron, as well as the bottom.
 Photos ©Whimsy Bower

01 January 2014

Before the Dawn

Photo from freeimages.co.uk
First I'd like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and generally fantastic 2014!

Now on to the less pleasant side of life...

For those of you who know me or have been following my posts, you know we've been trying to sell our house. Well, we did it. On 20 December, with much happiness, we accepted an offer. On 21 December, Toronto was hit by an ice storm. And then we were hit by official incompetence and apathy. I won't get into details but I will say that if proper and sensible measures had been taken by those in charge, a lot of suffering across the city would have been avoided.

After several days of freezing temperatures and no heat or power in our house, and despite the SO's valiant efforts, the inevitable happened. A water pipe on the top floor of our house burst. The SO had checked on things at midnight and did what he could to warm things up. We stayed at his dad's place, since he at least had heat. When the SO returned to the house at 6 am he found our house had been destroyed.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. The cats, the SO, and I are healthy, safe, and coping. But two floors of our century home need to be completely gutted, which leaves me gutted emotionally. The top floor will also need repairs. Miraculously, damage to our belongings could have been much worse. The bookcases took the brunt of the water and nearly all the books remained dry. On the other hand, the piano my now-deceased father gave me when I was eight was right under the main gush of spewing water and most likely can't be saved. It's just stuff, but some stuff means more than others.

The insurance company has been fantastic--moving lightning fast and being so supportive. Workers were in there almost immediately drying things out and beginning demolition. They're packing and storing what wasn't affected and doing their best to salvage whatever can be saved/refinished/restored. They've also put us up in a nearby condo, so we have a place to call home in our own neighbourhood while repairs proceed. I'd also like to add that if your insurance company offers you the option of paying a little more yearly in order to restore a historic house to historic standards should something devastating happen, take it! I'm so glad we did. The original details might be gone but something just as good (or as close as possible) will be returned to us. That will make all the difference.

Our sale is now up in the air. The buyers are debating whether to cancel the whole deal or to take advantage of the mess and have the house renovated to their liking. If they cancel we'll just have to try again as soon as the house is ready. If they decide to go ahead with the sale then we need to figure out where we're going to go (the deal closes 24 January). Unfortunately, when this happened my excitement at going to Nova Scotia evaporated in a haze of panic. The thought of something like this happening while I'm alone in an unfamiliar place (the SO would be staying behind to work and tie up loose ends) horrifies me. Yet my dream of living by the ocean hasn't died. Clearly we still have a lot to figure out.

Right now life is about staying positive and hopeful while looking forward to the future, which really isn't a bad way to start off a new year.