Monday, January 24, 2011

12-Month Cookbook Challenge


I have this odd addiction to cookbooks.

Much like craft supplies, I love the possibilities that cookbooks present. Just leafing through the glossy pages, I can imagine myself sitting down to the perfect provincial French supper or mastering a centuries-old Romanian recipe.

Take this seductive gastronomical fantasy, and couple it with my obsession with printed words in general, and you’ll see why I have stacks of cookbooks and beautiful cooking magazines. There’s only one problem…I rarely make ANYTHING out of them.

I hate to admit it, but I kind of suck at meal planning. I’m an impulsive chef. I have a few key dishes I always have ingredients for, and the rest I make up as I go along. I may think as far ahead as a couple days, but in the end, I rarely take the time to go through my books, make a proper list, and give myself enough time to shop, chop, and cook.

This year is the year that changes! At least, a little bit. I’ve set for myself a 12-month cookbook challenge, where I will plan and make a new dish every month from my neglected cookbooks and magazines.

I started with a cookbook I had long been admiring, but had never been able to get it together enough to use: My French Kitchen: A Book of Treasured Recipes by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde. Harris is a novelist, and as many of her titles can attest (Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange), food plays a huge part in her writing.

The dishes presented are surprisingly simple, calling for fresh vegetables, herbs, and good cuts of meat. There’s nothing too exotic or difficult (aside from the hard-to-find slab bacon), just a bit of time and a lot of chopping required.

 Lentil and Toulouse Sausage Casserole

This weekend I whipped up the Lentil and Toulouse Sausage Casserole. I did have the proper green lentilles du Puy on hand, though I could not find genuine Toulouse sausage at my nearby stores (and didn’t have time to take the bus to the Berkeley Bowl). So, I made a last minute substitution: turkey Kielbasa. Yes, cringe-worthy to many, but for me, it worked out just fine.

I’d never had French lentils before. I’m used to lentils being cooked to a paste, so to see the little legumes holding their shape so beautifully was a nice surprise. The taste was earthy yet herby, and perfectly warming on a cold January night. It was almost better the next day, once the flavors had a chance to “marry” a bit in the fridge.

I already think I know what book in next in the queue, but Valentine’s Day may change that up a bit if we decide to eat in. V-day is always a good excuse to get creative in the kitchen. Especially with desserts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oh, Lydia the Queen of Tattoo

Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady

She has eyes that folks adore so,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady (face detail)

And a torso even more so.
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady (torso detail)

She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet.
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.

Lydia, the Tattooed Lady (legs detail)
Okay, maybe you can't see the ships on her hips. But you get the gist of it!
This is probably the most colorful piece I've every stitched. She's made from the Circus Palooza pattern from Sew Lovely Embroidery, which is chock-full of other beautifully creepy designs.
Most of the design was done with a simple backstitch, though I did improvise some stitching on the more delicate work. The beads I added for a touch of texture and sparkle, reminiscent of retro showgirl costumes.
The color palette for her outfit was loosely based on Laffing Sal's, who, though not sporting any visible tattoos, is the symbol for all things weird, wacky, and side-show for this Bay Area girl. (Next time you're in San Francisco, visit the Musee Mecanique. It's free, fun, and educational.)
Next up on my project plate? I'm going back to my cross stitchin' roots, and testing out a new crafting skill thanks to my mom-in-law: crochet!
[Lyrics used above are from Lydia the Tattooed Lady, sung by Groucho Marx. Quite fitting, no?]

Monday, January 17, 2011

Han Solo Cross Stitch pattern available (finally!)

UPDATE 1/19/2015: I'm sorry, but this pattern is no longer available. You can read why here.

It's been two years in the coming, but finally, FINALLY, I have charted my Han Solo cross stitch! Here! Stitch! Enjoy!

Click on the image to download a JPEG version of it off Flickr.

I also have a fancy PDF version for folks who want the color table.

I have to give a big thank you to amigurl55 at Craftster for sharing the link to the free KG-Chart software I used. I've been looking for cross stitch pattern software that didn't cost an arm and a leg, and now I can finally chart up my old patterns as well as create new ones. I have some ideas for some other Star Wars cross stitch patterns, among others.

Thanks also to the folks who have been so patient for this pattern. I'm sure there's like, three of you left in the world who are interested in stitching this up, but for you three, here you go!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

San Francisco Dickens Fair 2010

Prof. Flockmocker III and friend

Today is the day I put away my Christmas decorations. Which means I have one last chance where I can legitimately share photos of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair without it being completely irrelevant. Yup.

I'll admit, the husband and I were a little skeptical at first. We've been to our share of renaissance faires (both as participants and spectators), and were a little over the historical cosplay scene. Not to mention, neither of us are "Christmas-y" people, and Dickens was never either of ours' favorite author. Three strikes, yes?

Well, one thing trumps that all, and that's family. My brother and his lovely girlfriend have been actively involved in the Dickens Fair for years now, and have all but begged us to come see what its all about.

Refusing to disappoint my one and only sibling for a third year in a row, Lefty and I trekked out to the ass-end of San Francisco in the pouring rain to check out this bastion of Victorian holiday cheer.

The verdict?

We're getting costumes next year. Because this was too much fun not to be an active part of.

Steam Man (front)

It's colorful without being campy, cheery without being obnoxious. Steampunk abounds, and spectators come in creative costumes ranging from the loosely inspired to the historically accurate. The participants are having a genuinely good time, which puts the spectators in a good mood. It was

London Street Rabble 2

Lefty and I spent most of our time down at the "docks" with the riff-raff, quaffing cider, munching hot roasted almonds, and watching some pretty impressive live performances at Mad Sal's.

Phileas Fogg and Archie 2

We also spent a lot of time hanging out with my brother and the guild he's part of, the Legion Fantastique. They portray characters from the works of Jules Verne, and their booth is an adventurer's hall full of treasures and curios. They had shows every hour or so blending "science, exploration, and imagination," including a "live giant squid feeding." You can see Archie the giant squid peeking at the audience in the photo above.

My brother Xander plays Michael Strogoff. His Russian accent is pretty convincing. I'm glad I finally got a chance to see him in his element. Really. How could I say no to this face?


You can see the rest of the photos below.

And now, I decree Christmas is officially OVER. Away with the stockings and ornaments until next season!

Monday, January 10, 2011

355 Days

2010 was an interesting year. It was filled with big events, and yet nothing much changed. I lost my job when the organization I worked for folded, but it ended up being a great opportunity for me to refocus and think about what I really wanted out of my life. I think I figured it out, too.

In a word, the answer is writing.

It seems silly to think that it took me so long to figure it out. I won a school-wide scary story contest at age 9. I wrote for my high school paper. I had short stories published in college, and I taught a writing workshop. My first post-graduate job was working for a magazine. In my filmmaking, screenwriting came first, directing came second.

Yeah. Obvious.

It took my commitment to NaNoWriMo to really bring it to light. I woke up almost every day in November with a big smile on my face, eager to get to work. Even on the hard days, I always felt accomplished when I came away with words on the page. Nothing else in my life gave me such a rush, such a soul-satisfied feeling. Hitting the 50K mark was a revelation. If I could do that, I could do about anything.

So, my number one goal of 2011 is to focus on my writing. Fiction writing in particular, though I’ve also re-committed to my blogging. Ya’ll deserve more than one post a month.

Does this mean I’m done with filmmaking? Not at all. In fact, in refocusing myself as a writer I can finally free myself to simply write a good script. Storytelling is at the heart of filmmaking.

What about crafting? Am I done with that? Hell no. I need my needle and thread (or needles and yarn) to keep me sane, to keep my hands grounded and my mind clear. Not to mention, it’s just too much fun.

I’m excited to see where this year will lead. There’s a lot of work ahead of me, but I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty and burning the midnight oil. I've already made some headway in this, with some classes and some writing pieces scattered here and there like seeds.

I still have 355 days left in 2011. Let's see how far I can get.