August 30, 2013

Sew Cool

A few weeks ago, I found THIS: 

Sooooo cool, right? 


I posted the story on The Thrift Collective* -- you can read all about it right here

(The Thrift Collective has about 50 contributing members. Remember that if you browse the site, you will be reading various posts from different people --  not all of the posts are mine. In fact, today was my first post there. Contrary to popular belief in our household, I don't thrift THAT much!)

August 28, 2013

Simply Wine and Cheese, Please

My last post about tea reminded me so much of living in England that I thought I should explain how I got there. At the end of my third year of college, I was offered a 10-month internship overseas. Of course I said yes.

Having already volunteered two summers in Scotland, and decidedly blasé about postponing my college graduation for a year, I picked a flatmate and before I knew it, I found myself bashing around London as they say. 

I hardly knew how to cook, and the internship stipend proved meager at best. Luckily, the office where I worked had a cheap canteen and enough staff who recognized a foreigner living on pennies, that I got invited out often enough.

Young, impressionable, and thirsty, I spent a good portion of my time overseas in British pubs with my new friends. (I also lived in a house with no heat, so over the winter and when friends were too busy to accompany me, I bundled up and trudged the few meters up the road to my local establishment and spent hours writing in my journals, on my own, while nursing a soda. True story.)

When we weren't at the pub, often we gathered at someone's home for a wine and cheese evening.

It was the thing to do for any sort of event: house-warming party, a leaving-do or anniversary. Sometimes people hosted them for no reason at all except to hang out with friends. People came and went as they pleased, and in between we all drank wine and ate cheese. 

Simple as that. 
This week, a local friend had a birthday and I volunteered to host a wine and cheese gathering on her behalf. It's been a while since I've done a soirée of sorts (last December actually) but I was confident I could pull it off quickly and easily. Besides, I've moved into an apartment with a kitchen that is made for entertaining.   

I gathered the necessary nibbles and drink, and then the night before proceeded to Google 'wine and cheese party'. You know, in case I missed something.   

Clearly I had, because that day, when I mentioned that I was hosting a party, the wine clerk said he'd be terrified. He wouldn't even know where to start -- he had a hard enough time picking out cheese, let alone trying to pair them with the wine. 

Driving home, I started to panic. What was all of this pairing nonsense? I said I would host a wine and cheese -- is a wine and cheese in America different to all of the ones I've been to in the UK?! In all of those years, had I never been to a PROPER wine and cheese party? 

I didn't actually know everyone on the guest list. More panic. Maybe they're really posh... what if they think I'm a total wine and cheese dunce?

Google affirmed my fears. Every site I pulled up listed ways to pair the wine with the cheese and how to arrange the cheese on a board. I saw list upon list of which wines went with which kind of cheese and I got a little dizzy. Then they all said 'make sure to label' each cheese. And above all, only have 3-5 cheeses.

Forget that, I thought. 

The day of the party, I set up a lovely spread -- it was my friend's birthday after all, so I made the same coconut cake* that I made this past Mother's Day. I used the thrifted vintage snack sets (they were a huge hit) and I decided to do things the way I learned in England years ago.

I opened a few bottles of red and white, put some non-alcoholic beverages next to them, and unwrapped more than the recommended quantity of cheese and crackers. Of course I arranged everything nicely, but I didn't worry about which cheese was at 12 o'clock and which one was next to it. 

I certainly didn't worry about which wine went with which cheese.

Admittedly, at one point, I had both printer labels and toothpicks in my hands and I contemplated writing out the names of the cheese. The moment was brief. There would be no sad little white flags skewered in my cheese. 

When the time came for people to actually tuck in, I simply pointed to each cheese and said what they were. I figured that anyone coming later could ask me (I'm usually the one hovering by the food table in any case) or they could ask someone else. What better way to meet new people than to strike up a conversation with the person standing over the cheese?

I added a few chopped veggies, hummous, grapes, olives, nuts and dried fruit to the table spread. Chocolate also made an appearance, as did some summer sausage. But the cheese was still central -- so was the wine. 
And the only word I heard all night over the din of party chatter was 'delicious'.  
So, there really was no need to panic. My wine and cheese was a success. 

Now that it's over, I'll share my secret rules with you: 

1. Eat cheese
2. Drink wine
3. Be merry

Seriously. It's not that complicated. Don't be scared off by what Google says you should or shouldn't do. You can have an elegant wine and cheese, casual wine and cheese, or anything in between. Generally, no matter what you do, unless you're serving wine aficionados who misread the invitation to read: 'wine tasting', you'll be fine. 

Above all, make sure you have enough for leftovers, because the only thing as nice as a wine and cheese party, is an encore with a few friends a day or two later. 

(* I altered the recipe for the coconut cake by using sweetened coconut instead of unsweetened and then halving the sugar.)

August 25, 2013

Tea Time

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that I had been playing along with #7vignettes on Instagram and I promised to show you the photos. I had so much fun styling photos for the online 'event'. The theme for the first day: coffee/tea. 

Having caffeine running through my veins daily, of course I went with the coffee theme. 

Here's what I posted:

 And here's the story behind it: 

Coffee symbolizes some of my favorite things -- not only the drink itself! My thrifted vintge whole bean grinder, my Italian stovetop espresso pot (wedding present from a dear friend) and gifted Transcarpathian cups and saucers to remind to return to Ukraine someday. (All but one has survived several Transatlantic moves.)

Soon after I posted the photo, I started to realize how much tea I'd been drinking as well. 

Maybe I've been missing the British Isles lately, or maybe it's because I sipped so much tea while I was under the weather a while back. 

Or perhaps it's simply that I have so many cute tea cups and despite having a larger kitchen now, I'm still sticking to my small kitchen rules: everything must be fully functional.

Or maybe it's because I promised myself over New Year's, that I was going to have a Chilled-Out 2013, and this has turned into one of the craziest years of my life. Tea seems to have a calming effect on me when I need to chill out. 

Whatever the reason, I'm definitely having more tea these days. 

I still drink coffee like it's going out of style -- we'll always be friends. We were together long before tea introduced itself to me and if you told me I could only have one or the other for the rest of my life, coffee would win hands down.

But since I don't have to choose, there's room for both in my life (although the mug cabinet is definitely getting crowded.) Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go and boil the kettle.

Which would you choose? 

August 21, 2013

Talking Squash

I know it's still summer, but let's talk squash for a minute. Before you know it, fall will produce a bounty of butternut squash and if you're anything like me, you'll be swimming in soup and stuffing rather than in the pool. 

Here's a treat that can be enjoyed anytime of the year: knitted squash. I recently whipped up a pair of gourds to turn into Veggie Tales characters for a friend's daughter. She apparently is enthralled with brothers Jimmy and Jerry Gourd from the TV series. 

While there is no shortage of vegetable patterns available on Ravelry, there aren't many specifically for Veggie Tales. Instead, I found this free pattern for butternut squash online. 

I made the Jerry doll using the pattern and a small amount of leftover yarn from my stash. I added crocheted eyes with a french knot in the middle, a crocheted nose, and then I embroidered a little smirk. I also gave them both some eyebrows.

Since Jimmy is slightly plumper, I simply increased a few extra rounds at the bottom, and then made him shorter than his brother.

There's no chance these guys will get turned into soup, but I'm going to bet they'll be squashed and cherished in a toddler's hands for quite a while.

August 19, 2013

Fig Frenzy

I think I have fig fatigue -- brought on of course by this weekend's fig frenzy. 

In my entire life, I've eaten fresh figs only a handful of times. They are intrigueing little bundles of goodness though, so naturally I jumped at the chance to go fig picking with a friend. Within 30 minutes, I had a bounty of figs (and mosquito bites!)

Motivated by the fact that figs go bad very quickly, I set off to make the most of my fruity finds as quickly as possible. 

I tried my hand at canning years ago when I lived in England. My raspberry jam was a gooey mess that needed to be consumed within a week. Looking back, I'm sure I didn't use pectin, or even proper canning jars. I don't remember ever sealing anything. I've never bothered to can jam since. Besides, I usually receive a stash of yummy homemade jam over the holidays from other friends and since the Sailor and I don't eat it everyday, I don't really feel the need to make my own batch. 

Chutney, however, is in high demand in our household. It really is such a versatile condiment, in my book. You can serve it with meat, use it on a sandwich, or simply eat it with a nice cheese.

I made peach chutney the other week, and this weekend, I tried my hand at fig chutney. I found this recipe from David Lebovitz and it turned out fig-fantastic. 

One pound of figs makes about two cups worth, so you can easily just keep it in the fridge and consume it right after making it. I kept a little bit out to eat that night, and then canned several small jars worth to save for later. I have a feeling they're not going to last very long though. 

Apparently I wasn't alone in my preserving party -- this past weekend was National Can-It-Foward Day. Even if you missed it, there's still plenty of time to can all kinds of good stuff. Ball has a great PDF on the basics of canning here.

{I see you eyeballing my Pyrex bowls at the top. The small Gooseberry pink cinderella bowl cost me a whole $1 recently, as did the Town and Country mixing bowl at a local thrift store. I already have the same small Gooseberry bowl in my collection, so I'm thinking that perhaps another giveaway is in the blog's future? What do you think? In the meantime, you can see more Gooseberry goodness here.}

August 16, 2013

Keeping it Fresh

Every few weeks, I try to add a few extras to my blog, besides simply new posts. A few months back, I sorted out my virtual chaos and joined Bloglovin'. Then I added an Instagram tab where you could follow me through photos I take using only my iPhone. 

Today, I added the LinkWithin widget to the bottom of my posts. I've seen it on multiple other blogs that I've stumbled across, and I liked it since it was easy to see related posts, rather than scrolling through the archives. I hope it's helpful here, too! 

I also (insert drumroll) finally entered this decade and joined Twitter today. I figured it was finally time to see what the fuss is about. The jury is still out on whether I'll use it as much as I do Instagram, but if Twitter's more your thing, you can find me there: typingsunflower. (Apparently Twitter doesn't want me to be a bouquet -- they limit their user name to only 15 characters, so I'll be a solo sunflower there. I'm a little late to the party, but I'm sure I'll catch up soon.)

In addition to all of that excitement, I decided it was high time to give you a little more information about The Sailor. I've added a tab above, to give you a whiff of salty sea air.

And, lest you think I've forgotten all about that gorgeous green yarn that I mentioned last week, I haven't. I found myself busier than usual these past few days with non-crafty projects and I haven't had the chance to cast on for my new knitwear yet. In the meantime, I did at least find a new container to keep it all organized. You can see my latest post on the Pyrex Collective III, along with more pics of that fun summery 1961 Bride's Promo here

Finally, I've had a few people ask me how they can follow my blog, without signing up for Bloglovin'. If you'd like to get email updates each time I post to Typing Sunflowers, you can sign up in the box on the right where it says: 'follow the story by email'. Once you enter your email address, hit submit, and then you'll receive a message from Typing Sunflowers. You'll need to open that email and click on the link to verify that you would like to receive updates! (The email may end up in your junk mail folder if your privacy settings are high, so be sure to check there if you don't get an email within 24 hours. That last step ensures that you actually signed up to receive updates in the first place -- otherwise anyone could enter any email address willy nilly.) The emails usually go out early the next morning, after I've posted a new entry.  

Have a great weekend, wherever you are! 

August 13, 2013

Vintage Snack Sets

Despite my love of dishware, I don't actually have a full set of dinner plates. The Sailor hinted at throwing a housewarming party at some point now that we're settled in, but I certainly don't have enough of any one style plate to serve more than two people at a time.

I'm still searching for a few more of the turquoise plates (oh plates, why do you elude me?!) But since they seem to be scarce, I figured I'd better have Plan B ready because I well and truly despise plastic plates and cups. (They have their place at a picnic, but for most occasions, nothing says 'you're not worth the risk of breaking my dish or my extra time for clean-up' to your guests than getting served on a throwaway plate.)
Never mind the plate problem: while my current kitchen could easily swallow my old one, I only have a four-person table. Seating is still a challenge. Obviously, one can mix and mingle at a party without formally sitting down at a table, but frankly, most guests also like to eat -- and drink. And there's no getting around how awkward it is to hold both your beverage and your plate while trying to eat with your hands. 

Then I discovered these vintage snack sets. I've noticed them before in my travels, but I've always passed them up. Apparently, though, they are quite popular in the South. Perhaps I'm simply noticing them more since there's not as much Pyrex to look at here, but they are EVERYWHERE! And fairly cheap, too. 

What better way to throw a party, where guests can mix and mingle? I certainly could have used them for last year's holiday party.

Over the weekend, I found a mix of 16 Federal Glass and Anchor Hocking trays and cups at both thrift stores and antique stores, for about $25 total. I'm sure you can get them even cheaper, but I thought less than $1.50 per set was a bargain. In some cases, single plates were even cheaper at antique stores than the thrifts! You can't even get plates at a department store that cheap. (Besides, if you did, would they be this cool?)

While some of the glasses aren't the original ones that matched the trays, they still look wonderful together -- if you are a purist and want to start collecting them yourself, there is certainly no shortage of them on eBay in their matching set boxes. It's fairly easy to figure out which cups match which sets.  

These snack sets would be grand for any party -- I've never been to an event where I've seen them in action, but I hear that people still use them for baby and bridal showers and meet and greet gatherings. I plan on using mine for sure! 

What about you? Have you seen these lovelies in action in the past or present?

{Total side note: This tray befuddled me at first since it has two indentations. I couldn't figure out why anyone would carry two glasses, but then someone pointed out to me that one is an ashtray! There's even a lip on the side for a cigarette. I don't smoke, but I could imagine a gaggle of gals in a different era, playing a game of Bridge under a cloud. Non-smokers -- that extra indentation would be perfect for dip, sauces, or anything you want to keep separate from other food!} 

August 9, 2013

Green Goodness

I have been off the grid for most of the week with a bad cold. Thankfully, the Sailor was still around to bring me chicken soup and hot tea. I feel a little spoiled sometimes because I get to have him around for two months at a time. (Nevertheless, summertime sickness stinks!)

I didn't even have the energy to knit anything (!) this week. I'm feeling much better though, so I'm eyeballing this delicious green cotton yarn and planning on sitting on the porch and starting a cardigan over the weekend. 

 What are your weekend plans?

August 6, 2013

Global Love

Awhile back, a friend asked: 'If you could get a free round-the-world ticket, what five cities would you stop in?' 

I love games like that. 

The past few days, I've been staring at maps and all manner of travel paraphernalia, not only because I'm missing my friends in Scotland. On Instagram, I've been participating in #7vignettes. (In a nutshell, Instagrammers the world over create stunning vignettes according to themes over a week-long period.) Of course, no matter what the theme, most of my photos have some sort of nod to travel in them. I'll be sharing the photos a little later on the blog.

I have always loved to travel -- even the idea of it makes me giddy. Long before I ever took my first international flight, my father traveled internationally for work. He brought home in-fight magazines in German and Italian... and I tried to decipher them word for word with his European phrasebooks. I never made sense of any of them, but I hoped that someday I'd get to travel too.

It took me 19 years to go on my first transatlantic flight, and while it was also to an English speaking country, I had my share of miscommunication along the way. A year later, I made my way to foreign countries where the languages sounded like Klingon to my ears. Despite my lack of understanding, I became hooked on travel. I've never stopped for very long since.  

Bearing in mind that I could get off the plane at these cities and travel further, my five cities were Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Vladivostok, Lisbon, and Reykjavik. (This list is by no means exhaustive...)

So, if you could get a free round-the-world ticket, which five cities would you stop in? Go on, I dare you to play the game! And if you're on Instagram, be sure to check out #7vignettes.

PS: Can we just talk a little bit about that splendid globe pincushion in the photos?! It is one of the ONLY vintage items I've ever purchased on eBay. I actually saw one for sale on Instagram, and when I found one for MUCH less on eBay, I nabbed it.

August 3, 2013

Books and Burgers

One of the first things I try to do whenever I move somewhere new, is get a local library card. Libraries are a wealth of knowledge -- for FREE! I credit my insatiable book appetite (as well as my obsession with the Titanic at the age of 9...) with my mother's willingness to haul me to school library sessions over long stretches of the summer. 

Understandably, I have a new library card already and I was excited to see this library stocked full of crafting books I'd never read or even heard of before. I grabbed this one off the shelf and promptly made the crocheted amigurumi cheeseburger from leftover yarn from these sheep as soon as I got home. I added the pickles myself, because really, what's a cheeseburger without pickles? 

Back to school sales are upon us here, but I do believe there are quite a few grilling weekends left in the summer season. And if the weather isn't cooperating, whip up a batch of these crocheted burgers and order a pizza, instead. If you're in need of grilling tips, check out the Sailor's Braai Rules, here. Better yet, head to a library and check out a barbeque cookbook.