Handmade Holidays: Food Edition
Here’s the gift I best remember from last Christmas: Two jars of pickled quails’ eggs that my sister gave me. I also remember—with longing—the orange Bundt cake she made for our grandma and the ceviche she gave our dad. If you like to cook, then you know the pleasure of feeding someone else: Food is love in one of its most elemental forms. And food gifts are also great because you’ve probably got a good idea of what the recipient likes to eat—the same cannot necessarily be said of knowing, for example, how the recipient likes to smell. Once you’ve realized that, yes, food makes a wonderful gift, you’ll probably come up with plenty of ideas of your own, but I’ve scoured the web to find a few recipes that look delightful to me. Here they are
Let’s start with pickles. So easy! So delicious! Martha Stewart has a nice pickle primer with recipes that might inspire you to experiment. From pickles, it’s just a small step to stuff preserved in oil. If you search for “preserved in oil” or “conserved in oil,” you’ll find a ton recipes. These mushrooms look pretty awesome to me, as do these peppers. After oil, of course, we turn to vinegar. This balsamic glaze is gorgeous, and infused vinegars are simple and pretty. And, while we’re on the topic of infusing, I would like to mention homemade liquors and cordials. If you try this honey and saffron liquor, please make a bottle for me.
Candy is classic. Again, Martha Stewart is a great source for ideas. Check out her basic bark recipes if you want something easy and sure to please. The grownups on your gift list might appreciate some no-bake rum balls. Brown sugar-rosemary walnuts sound like a glorious combination of sweet and savory. And these gum drops! Just look at them! Imagine them in unexpected flavors—herbal, maybe?
This list would obviously be incomplete without cookies. This Santa cookie wins the prize for sheer adorableness, but Martha Stewart’s holiday icebox cookies are pretty sweet, too. I’m a big fan of icebox cookies, especially when I need a large quantity of cookies. The other thing that’s great about icebox cookies is that you can give someone frozen or chilled dough so that they can make fresh cookie themselves after the holidays. I can personally vouch for the wonderfulness of these chocolate-black pepper cookies. And, as long as we’re turning on the oven, both Heidi Swanson and Nigella Lawson have incredibly enticing gingerbread recipes.
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Handmade Holidays: Etsy Edition
You want to give beautiful, one-of-a-kind handmade gifts. Of course you do. But maybe you’re insanely busy this season, or just not feeling crafty. Etsy to the rescue! I’ll be posting some more handmade ideas soon, but today I’m introducing you to some of my favorite Etsy shops. It’s an odd little mix, and you won’t find something for everyone here. But you might find something perfect for someone—maybe even yourself.
Eleneetha Aromatics is my preferred purveyor of handmade soap, and possibly my favorite shop on Etsy. I love Anastasia’s scents because they are deep, earthy—sometimes even a little dirty—and thoroughly grownup. I generally have at least one bar of her Old Whore soap on hand. I like to let it cure on my bedside table before I use it. My bedroom smells like a seraglio—or, I guess, what I imagine a seraglio might smell like. But that’s what Anastasia’s scents are like: They inspire. Just read a few of her product descriptions and you’ll see what I mean.
Hand-carved rubber stamps are my new little obsession. I like making them myself, but I also like to see what other folks are up to. Tyr at This Is Just to Say has a wonderfully eclectic mix of imagery, and the quality of her work is excellent. I’ve purchased the moon set which is—obviously—fantastic. I also bought Huginn and Muninn, which is mounted on a piece of tree branch and really satisfying to use. It is, alas, a little late to be ordering Christmas presents from Sweden, but Tyr also does kickass custom stamps—portraits, pet portraits, Lego guy of your choice—that you can purchase now, give as a gift, and let the recipient send Tyr the details—kind of like a gift certificate. (I checked with Tyr, and this is totally cool with her.)
Swoon Fibers offers the kind of luxury that’s hard to buy for oneself—even for me, and I’m pretty good at buying luxuries for myself—so it’s an ideal place to choose a gift for the yarn-crafter on your list. This is the only place I’ve ever seen mink yarn. I bought a few skeins to make a scarf and it’s delicious. (Like I said, buying luxuries for myself is one of my special talents.) The baby camel is also divine, and the skein of yak-bamboo I have in my stash is one of the softest, springiest yarns I’ve ever handled. And if you’re thinking “Minks! Baby camels! Jessica, how could you?” I can assure you that these supersoft fibers are brushed from living animals—just like collecting angora. UPDATE: Mink and camel yarns are 10% off until December 25!
A couple of years ago, I went looking for moonstones, and I found Puffluna. I’ve probably made more purchases from Julie than I have from any other seller on Etsy. I just love her mix of vintage findings and semi-precious stones. Her pieces are charming—even a little whimsical—without being fussy or too-cute. I would link to my favorite necklace currently at Puffluna, but I think I might just buy it for myself...
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Handmade Holidays: Bath and Beauty Edition
A couple of years ago, Frances and I made scented bath salts to give as Christmas gifts. Frances chose the essential oils and mixed them up with the sea salt. I packaged the finished product in hand-stamped glassine envelopes, and everybody loved them. This year, all the ladies on my gift list will be getting homemade bath and beauty products.
The web is full of recipes—some of them as easy as our bath salts, some of them a little more involved. If you have a natural foods store in your area—or even a well-stocked supermarket—you’ll probably be able to find most of the supplies you need. The rest you can get online (Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for all kinds of organic ingredients, and Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies has a great selection, too.) After considering a lot of options, I’ve decided to make six products, many of which call for the same ingredients, which makes shopping for supplies a little easier and a little more economical.
I posted my sugar scrub recipe here not too long ago. I’m thinking of playing with some new fragrances this time—neroli, black pepper, and vetiver, maybe? I’m also omitting the coffee grounds, for two reasons: It seems kind of rude to give someone the gift of a really messy bath tub, and some ladies might not be too excited to get a present that says, “Hey, girl, thought you might like to do something about that cellulite!”
Exfoliation gets rid of chapped skin while it stimulates circulation in the lips, and the honey found in this recipe is a wonderful humectant. I’m thinking of adding a little cinnamon-leaf essential oil for extra plumping.
Like sugar, salt is a great exfoliant, and sea salts are full of minerals. I’ll probably opt for Dead Sea salt, because it mixes well with other ingredients. I’m going with avocado oil—rich in fatty acids and a whole lot of vitamins—and I’m leaving out the coloring. I’m thinking a bright, citrus oil will be nice as fragrance. (Recipe here.)
This body butter looks great, and I’m excited to try it out myself. Jojoba oil is a fantastic moisturizer, because it’s chemically quite close to the moisture produced by the sebaceous glands. I’m thinking I’ll make a custom scent for each recipient.
There are a ton of lip balm recipes online, and a number of shops sell kits. I chose a recipe that uses many of the same ingredients in the body butter. I’m making cardamom lip balm for the grownups (including myself). I’m not adding coloring, but Bramble Berry has some pretty interesting options, including mica if you want a little sparkle. I’m pretty sure Frances will approve of this chocolate lip balm for the kids (NB: I really don’t recommend using “an old candle” for lip balm. Food-grade beeswax isn’t hard to find.)
This is a great way to get beneficial herbs into the tub without making a huge mess. Heat-sealable tea bags are available from several sources online. I’m planning to use calendula and chamomile petals for their anti-inflammatory properties, and Dead Sea salt.
Packaging and presentation can be as fancy as you want. Mountain Rose Herbs sells some nice tins and glass jars, and you can reuse jars destined for the recycling bin as long as they’ve been carefully cleaned and sterilized. You might also think about using a food-storage container, so that the recipient can repurpose the container when the beauty product is gone. Mountain Rose Herbs and Bramble Berry both sell tubes and pots for lip balm, and, as much as I hate disposable, plastic pipettes make lip balm production a lot easier, and they also prevent a great deal of wasted beeswax and cocoa butter. I’m probably just going to hand-letter paper tags for most of these items, but I plan to get waterproof printer paper to make my own lip balm labels.
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Happy Father’s Day
Frances and I worked on this project together. Instructions for origami shirt-and-tie card here.
Martha Stewart’s Prison Poncho Pattern
It breaks my heart when people come to my site and don’t find what they’re looking for (except when they’re looking for something nasty, in which case it doesn’t). Because I have blogged about handmade ponchos and Martha Stewart, hundreds of visitors seeking a pattern for the inmate-crocheted wrap Ms. Stewart wore on her release from prison have arrived here only to be disappointed.
Luckily, I’m not the only person who has noticed the flood of crafty ladies desperate for this pattern. The kindly folks at Lion Brand Yarn are offering a facsimile pattern for free on their site. It’s, as they say, a good thing—but I’d still rather have Martha’s Birkin bag.
Anatomically Correct Knitting
I’ve been knitting at the beginner level for a few years now, and I think I can safely say that I have crafted enough mufflers and ski caps to keep pretty much everyone I know quite warm about the head and neck. I just completed a shawl sort of thing for myself, but, as it required only one stitch and no increasing or decreasing of any kind, it differed from my past projects only in size.
I think I’m ready for something new—perhaps an adorable knitted uterus. You can find the pattern for this cuddly reproductive organ at Knitty, and the webmistress at Citizen Skein has combed the ether for similar, anatomically correct knitting projects. I think a pair of breasts would make dandy throw pillows, and wouldn’t a fuzzy penis make a great Valentine’s Day gift?
[THANKS TO TED FOR THE CITIZEN SKEIN LINK.]
Nothings Says “I’m Sorry You Got Busted for Lying to the Feds” Like a Handmade Greeting Card
I assume that you, like me, are simultaneously morbidly fascinated by and lingeringly irritated about the fact that Martha Stewart is actually in prison. I also assume that you, like me, are a basically nice person, so the mild outrage wins out over the schadenfreude. I just sent her a nice handmade greeting card, and I urge you to do the same. She's having some trouble adjusting to incarceration—who wouldn’t?—and, as she says at marthatalks.com, she appreciates the support. She also asks that you please not send money. Yes, we all want to make sure that she is able to buy smokes in the prison commissary, but the wardens just take the cash away. She asks that you make a donation of the American Cancer Society instead.
Martha Stewart, No. 55170-054
Glen Ray Road, Box B
Alderson WV 24910
Make Your Own Poncho, Cont’d.
Not long ago, I posted an entry that contained a variety of poncho patterns. Some of them were for the seasoned knitter; some of them were quite simple. Last night, however, I saw the easiest poncho ever. It was, I am fairly certain, a thrift-store baby blanket with a hole cut in the middle. I always admire a DIY project that combines economy, simplicity, and design success, and this thing had it all: it was a pretty pink; it was a lovely, soft knit; and it was the perfect size for a gal of slim-to-average build. So, if you want a poncho right now, and if you think you will want to be wearing it for approximately this fashion moment, this is an ideal solution.
Make Your Own Poncho, Please
It’s only been autumn for a couple of days now, but there’s one fall fashion trend that I’m already sick of: the poncho. I have nothing against the garment itself; I’m just tired of seeing the giant doily that seems to be its most popular iteration.
I’m aware that not everyone who wants a poncho can afford the gorgeously crafted version, spun from the finest cashmere. I know that, when one can’t have Prada, sometimes Zara will doindeed, sometimes even H&M will doand I suppose that if one has no plans to wear a trendy item beyond the season at hand, there’s little point in spending a lot on that item. It’s just that a crappy poncho looks so very, well, crappy.
In a perfect world, all clothes would be well-constructed, perfectly fitted, and made from beautiful fabric. Most of the time, we have to settle for one or two of these attributes. The poncho, though, is basically nothing but a piece of fabric, so, when it’s made from bad fabricacrylic yarn, for exampleit’s just bad. And because the poncho is so simple, it’s really, really easy to make one that doesn’t look like shit. If you have basic knitting skills, or can sew a straight seam, you can have a lovely poncho you’ll be delighted to wear this fall and beyond.
The poncho is pretty much the easiest knitting project there is. It’s really not much more complex than a scarfjust biggerand if you knit in the round, it’s actually easier. There’s an absurdly simple poncho pattern in The Knit Stitch, a great book for beginners. I’m working on this poncho right now myself. Basically, it’s just a big tube. I’m using a wonderful hand-painted yarn, variegated shades of sage and turquoise and soft brown in a merino blend.
For the more advanced knitters, there are snazzy poncho patterns in Debbie Stoller’s awesome Stitch ’N Bitch and Big Just Got Bigger by Rowanthe latter is an especially good resource because it contains projects designed especially for big, fat yarns, so they knit up fast. The web is also a great source for poncho patterns. A Google search immediately turned up this saucy little number at Yarn Harlot. The redoubtable Knitty.com offers a couple of new poncho patterns, too.
The world is full of scrumptious yarn, yarn spun from luscious fibers dyed elegant and exciting colors. If you’re not blessed with a great local store, there are virtual shops aplenty. I’m fond of Yarn Market.
But you don’t have to knit to have a poncho. If you can cut out a couple of rectangles and stitch them together, you can have a poncho in minutes. As with the knitted poncho, the key is fine materials. Even the most rudimentary fabric store should have some nice drapey woollens and elegant knits, and, since a poncho should only require a couple of yards of fabric, you can splurge a little. If you really don’t find anything you like at your local Jo-Ann, look online at stores like Fashion Fabrics Club. If you feel like you could use a little guidance, there are poncho patterns for sewers, too. This McCall’s pattern has ponchos and capelets attainable by even the least experienced seamstress.