07 August 2016

Getting Dishy

I'm a bit weird when it comes to crochet. I don't do it regularly like most crocheters (or knitters), but I get sudden urges to try a project. I taught myself to make granny squares when I woke up one day with the desire to make a blanket like the ones my mom and grandmother used to make. A couple of weeks ago I decided I *needed* to crochet some dishcloths. So, what could I do but give in? Crafting--it's a sickness (a fun, relaxing sickness).

I made one cloth out of each colour and had plenty of yarn left over.

Some Notes:

1. The dishcloth patterns I've looked at all call for cotton yarn (although I wonder if bamboo might also work). They also all seem to use worsted weight yarn.

2. The finished dishcloth does a nice job, but it takes a long time to dry. I need to wring it out really well and drape it over the faucet to encourage it to dry faster. I much prefer a fast-drying dishcloth, so I'm debating whether I want to make more dishcloths in future.

3. The one thing (so far) that these cloths are not good for are serrated knives. The loops keep getting caught on the blades--I'm afraid it'll ruin the cloth over time.

4. If I make any more dishcloths, I'll either wash them a couple of times before using them, or I'll use a natural, unbleached cotton yarn. These ones bleed dye like crazy, turning the dish water blue. So much for cute colours.

5. I found the pattern made very large cloths. Since my preference is for a smaller dishcloth, I crocheted fewer rows than the pattern called for.

This is the pattern I used.

Feel free to share any questions or comments below. Happy Crafting :)

05 July 2016

Making Crème Anglaise

It's been a while since my last post: sorry, everyone. Since I got back from Paris in April (sigh) life seems to be busy busy. Not that it's been all work. I finished a needlepoint, broke out my bead supplies for some necklace making, re-potted plants, worked on a paint-by-numbers, and am still sorting through photos from my trip (I have a tendency to go a bit overboard with a camera). I'm also working hard on editing my novel (stay tuned). And when I can, I do a little cooking.

A few days ago I decided to try making the Sweet Jam Crêpes with Crème Anglaise from Crêpes (edited by Camille Le Foll). The crêpes themselves were just okay, but the Crème Anglaise, a sweet vanilla sauce, was worth sharing.

You don't need many ingredients to make Crème Anglaise: eggs, vanilla, sugar, milk, and cornstarch

The recipe uses only egg yolks; I saved the whites to make meringues

I liked the effect of the steamy edges in this photo :)
Here you can see the Crème is starting to thicken and cling to the sides of the pan and the whisk. I cooked it for a few more minutes after this.

The completed Crème was still on the runny side, similar in consistency to what's shown in the book.

I found the recipe a little vague, but manageable (although I wouldn't recommend this book to cooking newbies). I'd never made Crème Anglaise before and I didn't know how thick it's supposed to be. Using the photo in the book as a guide, I left it on the runny side. I don't see why you couldn't keep cooking until you get whatever consistency you prefer (and if you cook it long enough, you'll end up with a delicious vanilla pudding). Serve Crème Anglaise with crêpes, waffles, pancakes, or fresh fruit (I had some left over and it was excellent with sliced strawberries). I think it would also be good served with cake.

Crème Anglaise

[My notes in brackets]

3 egg yolks
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl with the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract and a little of the milk [I used 1/4 cup of the milk].

Bring the remaining milk to a boil in a heavy-based saucepan. Pour the hot milk over the egg yolks mixture, stirring, and then pour it back into the pan [This is called tempering and the book neglects to mention that you need to add the hot milk **slowly** to the egg mixture or you'll end up with scrambled eggs. You can pour the hot milk in a thin stream while you stir, or you can add the hot milk to the egg mixture a tablespoon at a time until all the milk has been added]. Cook over a very gentle heat, stirring until the Crème Anglaise thickens. [The time depends on how thick you want the resulting Crème. To get it to the stage where it has thickened and clings to the back of a spoon takes about 20 minutes.] (Do not boil or the mixture might curdle.)

Still have questions? Feel free to ask in the comments.

29 March 2016

Misha Collins Is the Fifth Element

I'm not one to gush over actors or celebrities--nothing against them; I just don't generally care about what they get up to offscreen. Occasionally, however, one of them piques my interest and I go looking for more info. That's how I found out about Misha Collins.

For anyone unfamiliar, Misha Collins is an actor--you might know him as the angel Castiel on Supernatural. I'm not really a fan of Supernatural (I'm missing the "Super" in the Superwholock fandom, alas), but I do like a few of the characters, particularly Castiel. Over time I found out through the internet grapevine that Misha is kind of a wacky guy on social media, so I started following him. I wasn't disappointed (it turns out he's a genuinely good person, as well as funny). From there I decided to check out his imdb profile and what I found out about him kind of blew my mind.

Misha Collins:

-Is a published poet (published in respected journals, such as the Columbia Poetry Review). You can watch him sharing one of his poems here:

-Has co-founded an amazing charity organization, Random Acts, which does things like building schools and orphanages, while also encouraging people worldwide to do good on their own. Random Acts has also started a crisis support centre, along with the "You Are Not Alone" initiative, to help Supernatural fans cope with all sorts of mental health issues they may be facing.

-Runs the world's largest scavenger hunt, GISHWHES: the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen, which has helped him break five (!) Guinness World Records.

-Does an online cooking show with his son (I think his daughter might have also joined in more recently):

-Is a certified EMT

-Goes on Buddhist meditation retreats at monasteries around the world.

-Did I mention he built his own house, including cabinets and most of the furniture in it? The pictures here aren't great but you get the idea, and it doesn't suck. 

Bonus: Was the inspiration for "Mishapocalypse" on 1 April 2013, when Tumblr users switched their user (and other) pics to pictures of Misha.

I'm sure further research would uncover more worth sharing, but I'll leave it for another time. And why am I sharing this, anyway? Because awesomeness needs to be shared, so it can inspire and beget more awesomeness. Don't you feel better knowing people like this exist in the world? Actually, the more I found out about Misha Collins, the more I started thinking he wasn't quite your standard human. Which led me to the conclusion that, much like Leeloo in The Fifth Element (a movie you should probably go watch if you haven't already, even though it's Misha free), Misha Collins is at least a, if not the, Fifth Element, which is to say...

20 March 2016

Apron Strings 7

Going through some of my pictures, I realized I'd forgotten to post about an apron I made a while back. Since I can't deprive my loyal readers of the joys of apron making, it's time to share the Reversible Hostess Apron!

I don't know if I've mentioned this before but making aprons is fun. You get to use fabrics you might not otherwise have a purpose for, they can be embellished however you like, and they're forgiving of mistakes. Not to mention that in the end you get a whimsical (or not, if that's your preference) piece of clothing that's actually practical :)

Picking the fabrics is one of the best parts (for me, anyway). I knew as soon as I saw this retro "coffee time" fabric that I had to use it for something. And polka dots are always good.

Reversible aprons are surprisingly easy to make. If you can sew two pieces of fabric together, you can do it. Ruffles are a little trickier but once you have the technique down, it's mostly a matter of patience. The pocket was the problem part on this apron. Not that pockets are inherently difficult, but I decided to freehand the template (dumb) and then experiment with contrasting stitching (meh). I also had trouble finding a good placement for it; I seem to recall having to undo it at least once and sew it on again. Measure twice and stitch once--good advice.

My freehand template and finished pocket. Not my best work.

Pocket: Side 2
Despite pocket issues, I love how the apron turned out.

Side 1
Side 2

Made using the free tutorial generously provided here.

 Photos ©Whimsy Bower

08 March 2016

A Short History of Aspasia of Miletus

Those of you who've glanced at the "About Me" section to the right of this column have probably noticed my name is Aspasia. Yes, it is my real name ;) It came to me by way of my grandmother, who in turn was named after her grandmother. I would love to know how far down the line this tradition extended but, unfortunately, record keeping was pretty much nonexistent in Greece during centuries of Ottoman occupation. Sometimes, though, I wonder if the line of Aspasias in my family could possibly stretch all the way back to the first known Aspasia: Aspasia of Miletus.

Aspasia of Miletus was born in 470 BCE and died in 400 BCE. Although born in Miletus (in present-day Turkey), she found her way to Athens, where she made an impression. At a time when Athenian women led severely constricted lives, Aspasia was independent, outspoken, publicly active, and renowned for her intelligence (she influenced and impressed intellectuals and philosophers, including Plato and Socrates). At some point she caught the eye of Pericles of Athens ("...arguably the most prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during the Golden Age...") and they fell in love. Unable (or unwilling) to marry, they chose to live together as partners.

Aspasia is commonly thought to have been a hetaera, which many people have wrongly interpreted as meaning a prostitute. In reality hetaerae were trained companions, more akin to the geishas of Japan. As an occupation, it would have appealed to a woman used to more independence and freedom than what was allowed in ancient Athens. My opinion on the matter, however, is that whether Aspasia was a hetaera or not, the term "whore" was, is, and unfortunately probably always will be applied to strong, outspoken women by people, cultures, and societies that don't approve of strength and outspokenness in women. Not always popular among her contemporaries in Athens, Aspasia was an easy target for such insults, as well as a number of unfounded allegations. At one point she was put on trial for impiety (she won). She was also accused of being responsible for the Samian War, the Peloponnesian War, and even for corrupting the women of Athens.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to be completely certain of the accuracy of what is known of Aspasia's life. But the fact that her memory has survived at all (particularly through millennia of patriarchal bias and the suppression of Hellenistic culture by the Greek Orthodox Church) is kind of amazing. In some cases, she's even been honoured: a species of orchid, a type of viola, and a butterfly have been named after her. On International Women's Day, Aspasia of Miletus is still a source of inspiration.

Aspasia lunata
Viola 'Aspasia'

Parantica aspasia
To read more about Aspasia, check out these links:






29 February 2016

Goat Cheese with Raspberry Vinegar and Lavender Honey

I'm currently reading On Rue Tatin, a cookbook author's memoir about "living and cooking in a French town."

I'm enjoying the book, drooling over the nun's cloister she and her husband bought and restored, and wishing I had access to a farmers' market like the one in Louviers. On the other hand, the more I read, the surer I am that the French lifestyle is not for me (for a start, the process of buying anything at her local grocery store sounds painful). But one of the best parts of the book are the recipes included at the end of every chapter. When I saw the recipe for Goat Cheese with Raspberry Vinegar and Lavender Honey, I knew I had to try it right away as (for once) I actually had all the ingredients (and have been looking for a good way to use two of the three). This recipe is easy to make and delicious, so a win all around. Serve as part of a cheese platter or as a snack with crackers or a baguette or artisan bread. The author claims she even serves it as dessert sometimes.

Goat Cheese with Raspberry Vinegar and Lavender Honey

2 medium size fresh goat cheeses/chevre (about 11 oz/330g)
2 1/2 teaspoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon lavender honey

Place the goat cheese in a medium sized bowl and, using a fork, mix in the raspberry vinegar. Pack the cheese into a small bowl and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

At least 30 minutes before serving, remove the cheese from fridge. Just before serving, heat the honey just enough so that it liquefies (if it has solidified), and pour over the goat cheese. If desired, you can garnish with a few fresh or dried lavender flower buds and/or fresh raspberries.

6 small servings

EDIT: I made only half the recipe. With the remaining goat cheese, I skipped the step with the vinegar and instead mixed in some freshly ground black pepper and minced fresh basil before pouring lavender honey over the cheese. This was also an excellent combination. I'm sure any good quality honey can be substituted for lavender honey.

18 February 2016

Cushioned, or how to turn a needlepoint into a pillow in a few easy steps

Anyone who crafts knows the heartache of running out of storage and display space. Unfortunately, the joy of creating doesn't come with a TARDIS. Life is unfair. If you're heavy into needlepoint or embroidery, limited wall space is your main nemesis (damn windows taking up prime real estate). One way around this is to turn your needlepoint into a pillow. If you have basic sewing skills, it's actually really easy. This is the first pillow I've made and it took me about three hours total, including breaks and picture taking (but not including making the needlepoint).

You can make a pillow out of any needlepoint, but you can also get kits specifically meant to be turned into pillows. The kits come with a heavier, yarn-like, thread that will hold up better to wear and tear than the finer silk or cotton threads usually used in needlework. My aunt gave me the kit I used for this pillow (as well as supplying the basic instructions for the pillow-making technique). Thanks, Thia Toula :)

Step 1: Have a completed needlepoint on hand.

Step 2: You'll need two pieces of fabric the size of the needlepoint. One should complement the needlepoint design; the other one won't show so the colour doesn't matter. I was lucky and found the perfect red fabric in my stash:

Step 3: Iron the fabric.

Handy tip: if you hate ironing, then sewing isn't for you.
I decided to trim the excess canvas from the edges of the needlepoint.

Step 4: Once the fabric is ironed, pin needlepoint to it with the design facing outward (if you're using two fabrics, use the one that won't be showing):

Step 5: Once fabric is pinned, cut it to the size of the needlepoint. I decided to trim the canvas a bit more and ended up regretting it. Longer edges will be tucked inside the pillow anyway, but super short ones have little bits that tend to poke through the seams once the pillow is finished. Next time I'll leave them about a centimeter (half an inch) long on all sides. 

Step 6: Use the first piece of fabric as a template for the second piece: pin both together and cut the second piece to match the first.

Step 7: Pin the first piece of fabric to the back of the needlepoint again and sew all around the edge, keeping the needle as close to the needlepoint edge as possible. Make sure all the fabric is attached securely.

Step 8: Next pin the second piece of fabric--right side down--to the front of the needlepoint. Leave one end unpinned (preferably a short end).

Step 9: Sew around three sides, leaving the unpinned end open. When sewing, keep the needle close to the edge of the needlepoint, but it's okay to sew onto the needlepoint if you need to. Double check to make sure the three sewn edges are secured and there are no gaps in the stitching.

I left the short end on the right open after sewing the other three sides

Step 10: Now you need to turn the pillow right side out. Do this gently so that you don't accidentally rip a seam open. If you pull too hard, or didn't check your stitching well enough, you will discover something like this:

If you find stitching gaps, you'll have to turn the pillow inside out again, rip out the bad stitches and loose threads, and re-sew it. This is something you'll want to avoid, if you can help it. Once you're all done, you'll have an empty case.

Step 11: Before continuing, iron the whole thing again, paying particular attention to the edges.

Step 12: Have something to put inside your new case. If your needlepoint is a standard size, you can buy a ready-made pillow form. Mine was an unusual shape, so I bought a bag of fiber fill. I don't think the type matters--I got this on sale at Michaels. But if you have an option, it's probably a good idea to go with a brand that's washable and hypo-allergenic.

It's so fluffy!

Step 13: With fiber fill, just grab handfuls of it and place them inside the case. You can fill your pillow as much or as little as you like. I stuffed mine like a sausage, using most of that large bag of filler. I can use my pillow as a blunt weapon now...

The sad remains
 Now it's pillow shaped:

Step 15: But you still have an open end. This will require hand stitching to finish off (and this is why it was best to leave a short end open). If you don't know how to hand stitch, you can check out this tutorial or this video tutorial or Google how to hand stitch a pillow closed. Any of those options will explain it better than I can.

Once you've sewn the final edge shut, you're done! My pillow is actually supposed to be placed in front of a door to block drafts, but that's not happening. An obstacle in front of a door seems like asking for trouble in case of an emergency. Also, who wants to move a pillow every time they open the door? Besides, in this house we have actual cats, so a floor pillow is another name for a fur-magnet/hairball-target. This "draft stopper" is staying on the sofa, where it looks cuter than on the floor and is much handier for snuggling.

Questions? Comments? If I wasn't clear about something, please let me know and I'll do my best to clarify. Hopefully now you can stop fretting about diminishing wall space and start turning your needlework creations into pillows. Just try not to think about where all those pillows are going to go...