Screw Needlepoint

Ok, so I think I took the wrong approach with needlepoint. I thought it would be beneficial for me to try every single type of needlepoint stitch on a practice swatch while also creating a visual library of my options. That became… what would I call it…overwhelming! And did not fit with my irrational need to be constantly productive (creating the swatch with all types of stitches was taking far to long). That being said, I did find a great site with a ton of picture demonstrations of stitches and may come back at a future date. In the mean time, I’ve started crocheting. This is far more satisfying. It goes so fast. Way faster than knitting and much easier, which are two reasons why knitting never stuck with me either. That make is sounds like I’m quick to quit on things. Er, I guess that’s true, but only because there are so many other things I want to try, that if something doesn’t resonate with me, I’m not going to force it and will move on to the next. That happens to be crocheting at the moment. I taught myself over Thanksgiving weekend. It took me three days to understand that when the websites wrote “yo” they weren’t trying to be ironic, but were referring to the phrase “yarn over”. By the following week I completed my first piece; an oatmeal colored wool cowl. Even with all the fans and details, the concept of creation was easy and quick. I’ve moved on to a star-shaped baby blanket for my good friend, Aynsley, who just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. With two more friends who are pregnant, everyone gets baby blankets this year!

Over the holidays I also did a ton of baking. The first year of owning a house has left me short on funds so everyone received baked goods for gifts this year. Holiday cookies were, of course, essential and I baked pumpkin molasses cookies and chocolate dipped peppermint biscotti. But since everyone and their grandmother bakes cookies for the holidays (then brings them to the office to make other people fat) I also decided to make granola and spiced chick peas for the health conscious. And, of course, let’s not forget the pooches out there. All my dog owner friends also got peanut butter dog treats. Over achiever much? Yeah, that won’t happen again next year. So much work. I was in my kitchen all weekend and so tired by the end of the day that all I wanted to do was go to bed. Next year everyone get’s the same thing. But in all, I think they were a success, especially the cookies. Which is probably why that’s the item everyone makes. Who doesn’t love the person who brought cookies into the office?

Here are links to the recipes I just listed:

Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Biscotti (I used regular chocolate when they asked for white)
http://traceysculinaryadventures.blogspot.com/2011/12/candy-cane-biscotti.html

Spiced Chickpeas
http://willowbirdbaking.com/2010/09/02/snack-attack-2-chili-lime-roasted-chickpeas/

Pumpkin Ginger Cookies
http://www.ahealthypassion.com/2011/10/23/pumpkin-ginger-cookies/

Pistachio and Cranberry Granola
http://www.sweettreatsmore.com/2011/12/holiday-granola.html

Peanut Butter Dog Treats
http://acozykitchen.com/homemade-dog-treats/

Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Biscotti

Spiced Chickpeas

Pistachio and Cranberry Granola

Jolie snooping Around

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Two Hits and a Miss

Since buying my house last September, I have found that weekends are now a time to play catch up instead of just for play. Cleaning has to be done, cooking, errands, gardening and home improvement. I don’t see friends nearly as much as I’d like, and I go to bed on the weekends the same time I do on a work night. Throw a new dog into the mix and time simply disappears. That is why last week I took a couple extra vacation days and committed to completing some neglected projects. This allowed Saturday to be a play day!

It was a beautiful morning and I had plans to go raspberry picking with friends in Carnation, WA. I was excited not only to spend some time with a new and old friend alike but also for all the possibilities there were for raspberry recipes. That morning we got an early start to beat the crowds and get the best berries. The drive was lovely, the company was lovely, but when we reached the family owned farm we hoped to pick at there was already a sign out saying “picked out for the day”. This at 9 am! Luckily, Biringer Farms was just down the road and had plenty of berries left for us. We were there for two hours and left with over seven pounds of raspberries each!

Raspberry picking at Biringer Farms.

Raspberry picking at Biringer Farms.

Now, I should state that I’m not the best cook by any means. I’m cheap, impatient and rarely follow recipes closely. In fact, I try to only cook once a week if possible, making enough of whatever it is to last me for the rest of the week in lunches. That being said, most every Sunday afternoon I’m dedicated to whatever dish it is I’ve planned. This week I had already blocked out my entire Sunday afternoon for three recipes using both the raspberries I picked the day before and veggies from my CSA box.

I had scoured the internet looking for just the perfect recipes and the first one I attempted turned out better than I could have possibly expected. Raspberry and Apricot Upside-down Cake with cardamom batter. I feared that the Mango and Cashew Upside-down Cake recipe I used as my model would not translate well but, I must say, it was a roaring success. To bad I had no one to share it with, except you of course.

Ingredients:
2-3 apricots, thinly sliced
1 1/2 – 2 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter

Cake Batter:
6 tbsp softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a pie dish lightly with cooking spray.
2. Combine raspberries, apricots and lemon juice.
3. In a small bowl combine brown sugar and butter and sprinkle evenly in the pie dish. Arrange the raspberries and apricots slices and set aside.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom in a bowl.
5. In another bowl, whisk butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until incorporated.
6. Add half of the flour mixture to butter mixture and whisk until incorporated, next add half of the milk and mix well. Repeat with remaining flour and milk.
7. Pour the batter evenly over the prepared raspberries and apricots.
8. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
9. Cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a plate.

My second recipe used ingredients from my CSA box: Wheat Berry Salad with Fennel, Orange, Endive and Roasted Beets. Here I used two recipes to shape this one because neither one offered exactly what I wanted, which was a little sweetness, some grains for beefiness and the combined beets, fennel and orange. The endive was a last minute edition I would definitely do again.

Ingredients:
3-4 medium beets (any variety. I used a mixed bunch)
1 medium fennel bulb
2 endives
2 navel oranges
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked wheat berries
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Dressing:
1 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°
2. Clean and chop beets into 1 inch cubes. Place in the center of a 16 x 12-inch sheet of foil and coat with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 10-20 minutes or until tender
3. While beets cook, peal and cut oranges into manageable sizes, and cut up fennel and endives
4. Mix together dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. I prefer something with a lid that seals so I can shake the dressing instead of mixing it with a spoon.
5. In a large bowl mix together cooked wheat berries, fennel, endives, oranges and dressing.
6. Spoon wheat berry salad onto plates and divide beets evenly on top.
7. Enjoy!

Unfortunately, the last recipe I made was a dismal failure so I won’t even bother including the recipe. It sounded so promising. Raspberry and Ricotta scones. Not only was the batter too gloppy and had far too little sugar (this from someone who doesn’t like much sugar in muffins and scones), but after leaving the scones to cool for less than five minutes, I returned to find them flat as pancakes (thick pancakes, but still very flat). They didn’t look or feel like scones, they where completely pink because the recipe had me mix in the raspberries half way through the process instead of at the end, and they just didn’t taste good.

In all I guess I can’t complain too much about two out very good recipes out of three.


Creation

Last weekend I attended the How Design Live conference in Chicago and left with a load of renewed inspiration, not only for my work as a graphic designer, but also for creation in my free time. I always have at least 5 five projects going on at one time (most recently involving my house and garden), but also involving jewelry, handicrafts, and other this-and-thats. However, as of late my projects have felt more like chores than like fun. Perhaps the responsibility of owning a home has an added pressure of NEEDING to accomplish things rather than GETTING to accomplish what I like. Don’t get me wrong, gardening and home design are fabulous projects with tons of opportunity for personal style, but they are involved, expensive and it’s hard to live in a state of “renovation”.  That being said there are two other reasons for why I think my desire to create has been diminished.

One is that I lack focus. So many things interest me from day to day that I don’t always know what to work on. I’m so torn between arts and crafts or reading; fashion or gardening; writing or cooking; not to mention my desire to simply collect trinkets, pictures or quotes. These images and objects, whether created by me, other people or nature, sometimes define me better than I can define myself.

But, I digress.

The other reason why I’ve lost interest in creating is that I have no one to share my work with. I’m running out of wall, floor and storage space in my home, and I get bored before I can create enough of any on one thing to sell it (see above paragraph). I did once manage to create a series of artwork a few years ago and even showed in a couple boutiques, but nothing sold. I want my stuff to be easily accessible and see if other people enjoy what I create and find it as interesting as I do. That is why I’m starting this blog.

Finding Focus has two purposes. One is to keep me accountable for the projects I start and to help me find some sort of pattern in what interests me. The other to share my thoughts, creations, obsessions and personal gems with a larger audience than my 900 square foot home can attract. I’m interested in hearing constructive comments from anyone who happens to take interest in the things I share.

I know there are lots of blogs out there. Thank you for viewing mine.