November 30, 2012

Knit Lit

Along with vintage Pyrex, I enjoy hunting for old sewing and handiwork stuff. Although I haven't been able to pinpoint the exact reason why I'm drawn to vintage sewing and needlework tools and pattern books, I like to think that it helps me feel connected to the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of yesteryear who also pursued creativity in their daily life.  Their creativity may have been born more out of necessity than enjoyment, but I like to think that many of them still got pleasure out of creating something with their hands.

One thing that put me off knitting initially was simply the price of new needles. When I started looking into knitting more seriously, I realized that a person needed quite a LOT of needles in order to create all manner of garments with various types of yarn. Of course you can knit with one set of needles, but it seemed like every new pattern I wanted to make called for different sized needles and different thicknesses of yarn, but my budget instead erred on the thin size.

I knew I could save a small fortune by collecting used needles at thrift stores. Every time I saw a pair that weren't bent or that didn't have gunk stuck to them (it's true... sometimes you really have to pick through stuff -- and then really wash your hands afterwards), I would snatch them up for 50 cents or even as much as a dollar. 

Soon, I had quite a few needles in all sizes and colors. I thought they would make a fun photo project, especially when I realized I had all of the colors of the rainbow

These three were the best of the bunch: 

I submitted the far right photo into my camera club for a competition, and titled the entry 'Rainbow Bright'. The judges weren't impressed. They gave me low scores because the title had nothing to do with knitting. (I wanted people to guess what the photo was... I didn't want to give it away, but there you go.) 

So, when the camera club held the next competition, I took some new photos and submitted this one for the abstract theme:

I titled it 'Knit Lit' and it tied for second place. I guess this time my choice of title caught the judges attention quicker than my previous shot.

These photos were also some of my favorites of that shoot:

I still search for knitting needles at thrift stores, but these days I'm a little more picky. I have nearly every size I could possibly ever use, so unless they are a really unique set, I'm leaving them for the next knitter-on-a-budget.

November 27, 2012

Pyrex Mania

I have a small confession. Ever since the Sailor and I got our own little apartment, I have been somewhat obsessive about the kitchen. When we first got married, we didn't always have our own place to cook. For a while we lived with my in-laws, then we lived in Cape Town with another family while the Sailor finished his studies; later we lived with my family.  

Sharing a living space is one thing, sharing a kitchen is quite another. I didn't realize how stressful it was until one day I nearly burst into tears as I told the Sailor that I just wanted to pick out my own dumb tea towels.

The truth was, the tea towels were only the beginning. I was tired of using someone else's dishes, pots, pans, and cutlery -- even if that someone was within my family. I wanted my own. Even if I had my own stuff at that point, it's not the same having to share the space with someone else. 

(I do realize how selfish this sounds... and I also know how blessed I have been over the years considering how many people share kitchens all over the world, but hear me out nonetheless.)

Sunset from our flat near Cape Town
Before we got married, I had been living overseas. I never really had my own kitchen. Even in the few years in England where I lived on my own, post-university, I had a slew of guests come and go, and I was using dishes and the like that had been given to me. When I moved back to America, I felt like I had missed the last decade and everyone else moved forward by owning kitchen gadgets they hardly used (at least in my version of the story). I simply wanted my own knives and a few dishes. Maybe I was being selfish. Maybe I was just being practical. But I'll never forget trying to make hash browns from scratch on our honeymoon. They were a flop, but the Sailor simply reminded me that the cooking equipment at our bungalow was inferior. Right then and there I knew I married a man who understood how much a kitchen meant to me, even if I didn't know yet how to wield the equipment with which to cook.

We had some seriously stunning views in the places we lived -- especially in Cape Town, but I was also using the equivalent of an easy bake oven to make our meals. I was pretty proud of myself for learning how to make meatloaf on a hotplate until we got the little oven, and I was even prouder of myself for baking an entire loaf of bread in the thing -- even when said loaf rose precariously close to the top of the oven.

Moving into our own apartment, the Sailor had his say as to where some of the furniture went, but when it came to the kitchen, he told me he didn't mind what I did with it -- it was all mine. 

Because we were nomads for so long, most people gave us money for our wedding. The cash suited our lifestyle at the time, far more than toasters and blenders did. Besides, we never registered anywhere. I couldn't reconcile the idea that I had invited people from at least three continents to our wedding, and it would have seemed odd to me to have people bring breakable china on a plane to our small ceremony. In any case, I had nowhere to put plates or any material gift in whatever kitchen I was utilizing at the time.

When we finally got our own little space years later, I realized that in addition to furniture -- we needed not only dishes but an entire kitchen complement. I caved and bought my knives, my stainless steel pots and my cast iron pans new, but nearly everything else came from thrift stores. 

Suddenly I was drawn to older kitchen stuff. I remembered my mother-in-law had an old glass rolling pin -- the kind you could put ice into to keep dough cold as you rolled it out. Nobody here had ever heard of such a thing, so I took to scouting out antique shops in search of one. I still haven't found a glass one, but I have amassed a small collection of vintage Butterfly Gold Pyrex dishes along the way. 

At first it was just a small mixing bowl -- I thought it would go well with all of the sunflowers in my kitchen. Then I began to realize that this old Pyrex stuff was tough -- I figured if it had already survived 40 plus years, surely it could survive my kitchen? 

I began finding pieces bit by bit. 

My favorite ones by far were the refrigerator dishes. I liked the modern Pyrex glass dishes with the rubber lids (as opposed to their inferior plastic cousins) but there was something about these older ones that really caught my eye. 

I decided to hunt for the full set of the Butterfly Gold refrigerator dishes. I managed to nab the medium sized 'butter' dish and another smaller white one while weekend antiquing

This week, I found the large refrigerator dish. Sometimes, I just have a hunch that I should wander into a thrift store. That day, I went into one on my way to another antique store, in search of some vintage jadeite for a friend. Right as I was leaving, this little beauty stared at me through the glass: 

Can you hear the moment of triumph? The clerk most certainly heard me squeal.

While I don't usually get pieces that are damaged, I made an exception for this one which is only slightly scratched... but totally chip free. For the price, a few scratches were totally worth it. 

So there you have it. The whole fridge family. Happily, I paid less than half of what I've seen lately on eBay and Etsy for all of them. And before you wonder why I didn't just order them online from the start -- for me, it is more thrilling to hunt for them in person. 

In retrospect, if I had to do it all over again, I'm glad I shared so many kitchens and so much cooking equipment with other people. It helped me realize that I can cook anywhere -- in any space and with anything. And I still wouldn't have registered for dishes even if we had our own place back when we got married. (I doubt anyone has a registry for vintage Pyrex in any case.) Far more fun to build the collection this way, I think. The Sailor doesn't seem to mind. In fact, I think he's less overwhelmed when I build my kitchen collection piece by piece instead of all at once.  

And, thankfully, he no longer has to hear me spout off about tea towels. 

November 26, 2012

Leftover Turkey Pie

Thanksgiving yields a bounty of leftovers -- no matter how big or small your gathering is, it always seems like there's at least some extra turkey in the end. 

I make two things incredibly well -- my potato salad and real chicken pot-pie. When in doubt, I make and bring either of these two items to pot-lucks or I make them for guests. People have different ideas of pot-pie though.

I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and the first time I ordered pot-pie in a local restaurant, I looked up from the floating noodles in dismay. My mother must have seen my face, because she calmly explained to me that this was not pot-pie. 

My Chicago-born parents made it clear for me at a very young age that chicken pot-pie has a crust. As the floating noodles were not encased in either a top or bottom crust, it would stand to reason that I never ordered that version of the dish again (although I did finally yield to hometown tradition... and I learned to make the PA Dutch version. It's not bad, but I still don't think they should have called it pot-pie. It's more like chicken noodle soup with chunks of potatoes.) 

Pot-pie to me is pure comfort food, all in one dish. The standard recipe I use calls for carrots, celery and onions, all tossed with chicken broth, milk and a little flour. The recipe also calls for peas, but as the Sailor can't stand them, I always omit them, even when he's not home. This time, I added some leftover spinach that has been staring at me from the fridge for the past few days. And of course, instead of chicken, I used the turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving. Flaky pastry dough tops off the pie. (I'd love to use a bottom crust, but considering the amount of butter that goes into the dough, I usually just put a top on the pie.)

There is no photo of the finished pie because let's face it, it never lasts long around here. 

I still had tons of both white and pumpernickel bread leftover from the stuffing I made last week though, so I decided to make croutons with them while the oven was still warm. The pumpernickel took forever to dry out, and I'm not convinced the cubes are fully dry. They are however, delightful while they are still warm, with a few chunks of cheese. 

(Never mind those mini pumpkins -- they're another leftover on the list...)

November 24, 2012

Holiday Socks

Sock knitting is fantastic. It's portable, fits into the average handbag and if you're quick, you can whip up a basic sock in no time -- grafting the toe seam sometime in the middle of watching Downton Abbey season two for the second time. 

At first, socks scared me. Well, let's face it... knitting in general scared me. I learned to crochet first, so the thought of using two needles instead of just a hook was a little daunting. 

I learned to crochet so I could make blankets... but then I saw all of these cozy sock patterns and decided to learn to knit. I panicked slightly though when I realized that socks are generally knit on four needles instead of two. How was I supposed to wield so many sharp objects at once while dealing with the yarn at the same time?

But after a while, I got the hang of it and using four needles became just as easy as two.

Remember all of that extra yarn that was leftover from Lawrence? Enough to make a friend some warm woolie socks over Thanksgiving, just in time for the winter.

November 21, 2012

Stuffing and Stuffed Apple Pies

Tonight was a baking feast, even though I'm not even the one making Thanksgiving dinner. My mother has the whole dinner planned out, but ever since last year and thanks to a Food Network magazine mix-in recipe, I've declared the stuffing to be the tradition that I make and bring every year. (Mom never made stuffing in any case, so it's not like I took anything away from our Thanksgiving... I just added to it...)

Tonight there was stuffing prep: 

More stuffing prep:

And yes, even more stuffing prep. This stuffing rocks. Seriously.

Sometime after that, I got around to the dessert. My mom already has the pumpkin pie sorted, but since I had leftover dough from a meat pie I made when the Sailor was still home, I thought I'd make individual apple pies -- easier to freeze in case there are any leftovers. (But realistically, who said there would be leftovers?) I've already devoured one (not including that mini leftover test chunk in the middle of the tray...)

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2012

Sew Neat

Even though I am what some would consider a professional nomad, I realized a few years ago when I returned to America's shores, that I needed to plant a few roots somewhere. Anywhere. 

So, I joined a local camera club. The first meeting I thought I was in the wrong room. I literally thought the presenter was speaking Greek. He talked about the latest software patch for some photo program I had never even heard of. The camera club's website hailed people of all skill levels, but despite my own experience taking photos for years, I didn't feel skilled at all.

It took a while to figure out the workings of the club. I eventually realized that I joined it to learn more about photography and to meet new people. I also joined to challenge myself to take new and different photos -- even if it meant I didn't always understand the technical stuff. I still loved to take photos -- I wasn't about to let someone with more expensive equipment or a better knowledge of software I'd never heard of tell me that I couldn't compose a picture. I simply decided to learn what I could, filter out the rest, and take some photos. Occasionally, I still hear Greek, but gradually I'm becoming a little more fluent.

This week, we had our first competition of this season. I tied for second in the color category with 'Sew Neat': 

I thought the title was appropriate, a symbolic celebration of my sewing machine getting fixed and finally being able to seam a straight line.

November 18, 2012


The Sailor left today -- en route to a port on the other side of the world for a new sailing adventure. He was supposed to leave last week and then a visa glitch delayed him for another seven days. 

I didn't complain (although I did feel a bit bad for the guy at the other end who was supposed to be relieved last week...) It's always nice when we get a bonus week together. It makes up for the times that the Sailor has to work an extra week, or when his ship is still out to sea and nowhere near land on the day he's actually supposed to fly home.

another last supper before another flight

Having extra time together doesn't usually make goodbyes any easier though -- in fact it sometimes makes the departure even harder. Even so, I know the quicker the Sailor actually sails, the quicker he will fly back home. 

And arrivals are infinitely better than departures, in my book.

November 16, 2012

Bullion Beach Blanket

During our recent epic road trip (the one where I decided I needed to start blogging again), I decided to crochet a blanket. I had a stash of pink, green and cream cotton yarn (acquired during a stock-up sale). I also had an issue of Interweave Crochet, purchased especially for this Bullion Beach Blanket pattern. I decided that the colors -- crazy as they are -- actually looked great together. I piled the stash into the car and proceeded to make the motifs both in the car and everywhere we happened to stay. 

I blitzed through motif after motif and stacked them into piles as I completed them. They started to look like neon pancakes after a while. I wish now that I had taken photos of them on a breakfast platter. 

But then they all came together... 

And here again...

And wouldn't you know, I still had a TON of leftover crazy-colored yarn.

I go to a local knitting club once a month where I live. Every once in a while I seem to have something quite spectacular to show the other members -- a month ago, I brought in this blanket for my own version of grown-up craft show and tell. 

This past week I had nothing to show the group. One of the ladies sidled up to me to see what I was actually working on -- and then she chuckled. I was knitting a basic dishcloth. It's my go-to project when I'm in between big projects. It seems that every other meeting, I'm making a dishcloth. (They do make great gifts... and really, you never can have enough for your own kitchen.)

Then I realized that none of the gals at the meeting actually saw me working on this blanket... maybe they thought I didn't really make it...? 

Regardless, I know I actually made it. The Sailor witnessed the whole process too and even went so far as to ask, 'Where are you going to put that thing?'

Isn't it obvious? We're taking it on the next trip to the beach.  

November 14, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Ever since I picked up a copy of the The New Covent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups (say that with a mouthful of creamy tomato...) over a decade ago in London, I have loved making and creating soups. Veggies that will soon spoil? Too much rice from dinner? An extra cooked chicken breast? Throw it all together and make soup! 

I think my love of soup also stems from so much time spent in Ukraine -- there soup is a staple. Even so, I never tired of it. 

Tonight's offering -- Butternut Squash Soup. In early October, just as the Sailor and I returned from our month-long road trip, I went to a nearby farm and bought up a bunch of butternut squash to turn into soup. I went crazy that week... a month on the road and I was ready to get back to my kitchen. I knew this was my favored soup of last fall and even into winter, so I wanted to whip up enough to stash for later. 

Sadly, tonight's dinner was one of the last of that batch! There is one more single serving left, but I don't think that will even make it through November. Oh well, there is always leftover pumpkin. Stay tuned.

Full disclosure: this photo was actually taken during the Butternut Squash Soup cooking craze six weeks ago. I also made croutons with leftover bread that week. Tonight's dinner made due with crackers from the cupboard.

November 12, 2012

Weekend Antiques

Ever since I was a child, I have loved the hunt of going to thrift stores. By necessity, it's where we shopped, even through my teenage years. Although I sometimes yearned for a brand new pair of jeans, most of the time I was thrilled with the idea that I could get an entire garbage bag of used clothing for the same price. 

I loved flea markets too. We would travel to an old drive-in movie theater that converted to an outdoor flea market nearly every weekend. 

Auctions were even better -- but as a child I was often a little fearful of even scratching my nose, in case the caller thought I was bidding on something. Sometimes they had flea market finds for sale too. I liked those. No bidding involved -- no potential for nose-scratching-accidental-purchases. 

Once, I bought an old cigar box that had tiny seashells glued to the cover. The old man selling it looked at me quite seriously after my purchase and said, 'Now you take care of that box, honey...

I felt responsible for that box. This man had entrusted me with something that had been special to him -- now I was the keeper of the box. 

I had that box for years. It held trinkets, pens, anything small enough and special enough. I got a little nostalgic when I finally realized I no longer needed it and should just give it away. I thought about what little girl might buy it for a dollar at Goodwill and what she would decide to store in it and then I happily added it to the 'giveaway' pile. 

We never really went antique shopping though. Antiques to me symbolized people who had money... and we didn't. It would be years before I realized that while many antiques are worth a small fortune, there are plenty to be had within budget -- many of them can be found at those same flea markets and thrift stores, disguised under the label: 'junk'. 

Nowadays, I love to poke around antique malls and stores. This past weekend, a friend and I spent the entire day wandering through endless shelves of old stuff. 

There were old toys...




Cookie cutters...

And much more.
I walked away with a few vintage hankies, a sock darner, some refrigerator pyrex I had been on the hunt for (more on that later...) in addition to a few blisters. The Sailor had warned me that the boots I put on that morning probably weren't made for walking. He knew his prophecy to be true when I came home and crumpled into a heap on the sofa.

Sore feet aside, I also scored these fabulous 1940s dish-towels: 

Perfect for my often mismatched and rather kitsch kitchen. 

November 11, 2012

Stories to share

Often, if I haven't done a particular craft for a while, I start to get antsy --  like I need to pick up the glue stick and scissors and start making something different to what I've been working on -- anything. 

This week, I pulled out some forgotten projects and I got to work. 

I forgot how thrilling it is to see blank pages in a blank book and to just stuff them full of thoughts. Who cares if anyone sees it. Don't over analyze. Just write. Maybe glue a bit of stuff in between. 

Sometimes though, once those blank books are filled, they are actually meant to be shared. 

November 9, 2012

The Singer

My sewing machine and I go way back. My mom took me to Sears over 20 years ago and together we picked out a basic Singer. I had been using an old knee-pedal machine to learn how to sew, but it was time to move up to a more modern model. Mom told me at the checkout counter that no matter where I go in life, that machine was mine. 

I was a little giddy. We didn't really have a ton of money for extra stuff when I was growing up, so the thought of having something that cost $100 be mine -- all mine -- was pretty amazing for a 16-year-old.

Although I didn't take it with me to college, I sewed when I came home for breaks. When I moved overseas, I sewed when I came back across the pond. And when I moved to a ship off the coast of Africa, I purchased a machine from another crew member who was leaving. I didn't get overly attached to it though. I knew I'd have to resell it when I left the ship. I made curtains for my cabin and a few dresses with African fabric.

I still missed my Singer. 

Whenever I was actually home, I made fleece jumpsuits and jackets for my friends' babies. Fleece creates fuzz. The fuzz collected in the bobbin area. I took apart the bobbin box one day, to see if I could clean it. I'm fairly handy -- and ever since the Sailor bought me a fabulous mini (pink) leatherman, I have been fearless about trying to fix things on my own.

For a while, the fuzz seemed to have disappeared. Over the past few years I haven't sewn quite as much as I used to. Our tiny apartment doesn't have the space to leave the machine out for days on end (hence the obsession with more compact ways to create garments... like knitting!) I kept the Singer in the box, in a closet, and pulled it out when I needed to hem jeans or fix the curtains. 

But everytime I did, the bobbin would just jump out mid-seam. My hems looked like I sewed them by hand, with my left hand (I'm right-handed), blind-folded. They were a disaster. 

I knew the Singer needed help. Serious help. 

I got the number of a sewing machine repair man a few towns over, from my former home economics teacher. For a mere $30, and in only 48 hours, this elderly man took my machine apart properly and cleaned it. 

Then he politely scolded me for trying to do it myself in the first place. Apparently my little experiment in cleaning the machine myself caused the problem in the first place. The screws needed to be properly adjusted and callibrated -- otherwise the machine won't work right. 

The sewing maching isn't going back in the box. Nor will it ever. The sewing machine master put a metal spool holder on the top of my machine, since the plastic one I had was removable (and therefore fell off all of the time) in order to get it back into the box. But now, the machine won't fit in the box. 

That's probably a good thing. There's a pile of fabric waiting around the corner. 

November 6, 2012

Central Park Hoodie

It's finally cold enough to wear my Central Park Hoodie. I finished it over six months ago -- just as the temperatures hit a scorching 85 degree mark. I had the yarn stashed since last year this time and couldn't wait to tuck into it, but I had multiple other projects going and I hadn't yet decided which sweater I would be making with Kraemer's Perfection worsted.


The Sailor suggested I knit a zip cardigan with a hood. The Central Park Hoodie won. I even added these pockets, because really, what's a hoodie without a place to stuff both my hands and my tissues? 

It's not often that I finish a project and think: 'let's make that all over again!' Usually by the time I've completed something big like a sweater, or a blanket, I'm pretty much done with that particular pattern. (This is why I was both a successful and terrible seamstress all at once... in high school I wanted to make my friends' fancy dresses in one night. Usually it took several nights, and by the time I got to the hem I was DONE with sewing and wanted to throw the machine out the window. True story.) After big projects, I'm ready for instant gratification. I want to make a dishcloth or even a hat I can complete in one night. 

But as I cast off the sleeves and put the final finishing touches on the pockets, I was already plotting Central Park Hoodie gifts for people. I think I may have found my favorite pattern ever.