backgammon for boardgamers

Hope ya'll had a great holiday! Now that the presents have been opened, I can show you what we gave my brother and his wifey...

I knit them a backgammon board. I think it's pretty cool that the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Romans, and Iranians all played a game similar to the modern backgammon. Like Go and Mancala, it's a simple game with enough strategy to keep you playing.

And it's a short enough game that you can afford to challenge "best two outta three!" if you happen to lose the first round. :)

the details --
* pattern in Weekend Knitting - uses intarsia
* yarn is Cotton-Ease, an aran weight cotton/acrylic blend
* container holding the pieces is a spice tin I covered with yarn


mint snow-top cookies redux

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy the holiday festivities, taking time to stop and smell the tree.

I'll be back after Christmas with some spoiler photos of my handmade gifts. In the meantime, if you find you need a bit more sugar in your system, allow me to recommend the chocolate mint snow-top cookies.


colourful quant

With the focus on sewing these days, all knitting projects have been at a standstill. That is until I got this beautiful wool from my friend in the mail (belated birthday packages filled with all sorts of goodies are one of life's most awesome surprises.) I promptly dusted off my needles and cast on something new...

The pattern is Quant, from Knitty's winter 07 edition. I love the way it is turning out, but I'm not gonna lie -- the entralac technique involves continuous counting, which is my least favourite part about knitting.

Just several more inches (and a few more hours) to go and I'll have a complete headscarf!



I spent this last weekend almost entirely inside, and I can't even blame the weather. Both Jeff and I ventured out into the world once, on Saturday night, for a long walk. Although perhaps a bit more exercise is necessary to remain happy and healthy, every once in a while a couple of cozy days don't hurt.

However, I was not a complete sloth. I made things. And since I can't show any holiday-related wares just yet, I'll round up a few little sewing projects destined to stay right here at home. Inside, all the time.

1) This is, as my dad would say, no silk purse. It is, in fact, a laundry bag.

I tried to wing it, to make a simple drawstring bag out of an old corduroy curtain without any instructions. Well, let's pretend that all seams are straight (oops!) and that I didn't not think through how the drawstring would go all the way around the top (Um, yeah).

But after a bit of fixing, I have a snazzy red bag to cart our dirties down to the washers. (And it'll make a great Santa Bag for packing presents over to the in-laws.)

2) I swear our apartment building is responsible for wasting a ton of energy -- the balcony doors are all still original to the 1960s and any insulating material has long-since worn off. Since I can't seal our balcony door shut with caulking, I made a draft snake.

The pattern is from Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing. It's kind of cute... for a snake.

3) And lastly, a runner to cover up our hideous metal filing cabinet disguised as an end table. It definitely needed some beautification action. Enter: plain little runner made of old duvet.

An improvement, no?


chock-full granola bars

I love granola bars, but most of the ones you can buy in the store are just too darn sweet.

Enter homemade granola bars -- as sweet, crunchy, healthy, and chocolaty as you want 'em.

granola bars
makes 9x13 pan

2 C rice krispies
2 C quick rolled oats
2/3 C dried fruit -- a mix of raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, golden raisins, etc
1/2 C roughly chopped nuts -- try a mix of peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C light corn syrup
2/3 C peanut butter
1 teas vanilla extract
1/2 C milk chocolate chips

Combine rice krispies, oats, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and syrup to a boil over med-high heat. Stir frequently so the sugars don't burn. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir until blended.

Pour peanut butter mixture over cereal mixture. Stir until coated. (I tend to use my hands at this point to blend everything together well.) Let stand a few minutes to cool, then add chocolate chips. Press into 9x13 pan. Once completely cool, cut into bars.

This year, my Santa is getting a granola bar with milk.


let the patchwork begin

I'm in love with patchwork. It's such a great way to make use of awesome fabric -- one little bit at a time.

I gussied up a couple of plain ol' kitchen towels with the help of this easy tutorial -- thanks SupaFine!

One of these towels will be packaged with some Canadian maple syrup for Jeff's grandparents this Christmas. They love calling attention to the fact that he's living in Canada -- peppering their speech with ehs and abooots. So in good fun, we're gifting them something actually Canadian.

Ready for some close-ups...


soup n' salsa

You know how sometimes you try a new recipe, even though you aren't sure how good all the ingredients will be together? I'm not talking about if a recipe calls for beets, hazelnuts, and goat cheese, 'cause you know that will be good. No, I'm talking about when you can't really taste how it's going to turn out, but you make it anyway.

Well I was pleasantly surprised -- no, downright shocked -- at how well the ingredients in this soup and salsa recipe came together. The beans, the hint of pepper, the basil, the creamy feta, the texture of the orzo, the lemon -- oh the lemon adds a very special something, so make sure to use a fresh lemon and not the bottled stuff -- I will definitely be making this again.

white bean soup with salsa
(modified from this Real Simple recipe)
serves 3-4

1/2 C orzo
1/2 red onion, diced
1 ripe & tasty tomato, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
5-8 leaves fresh basil, julienned
1/8 - 1/4 C feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teas dried red pepper flakes
1 15-ounce can white (navy) beans, rinsed
2 C low sodium chicken broth
juice of 1 lemon (a few tablespoons)

In a small bowl, combine tomato, red pepper, basil, feta, a dash of vinegar, and a dash of olive oil. Toss to coat well and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute red onion for a couple minutes, then add garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute for a few minutes, until the onion is quite soft. Add beans, 1 3/4 C of the broth, and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a minute before ladling hot soup into a blender or food processor. Pulse until a chunky puree.

Return to pot and add last 1/2 C broth. Return to heat and bring to a simmer. Finally, stir in orzo and season with pepper, and salt if necessary. Ladle into serving bowls and divide salsa among the bowls, spooning it on the top.


non-cheesy free knitting patterns

Before we all start twiddling our thumbs (since the 30 days of sewing ideas are over), we must head on over to Garnstudio and cast on some yarn -- we now have 24 days of great knitting patterns! (Thanks for the heads up, Glenda!) I'm loving the wrist warmers and will be finding some suitable yarn asap.

And because I'm now a member of Ravelry (yay!), I can put these little warmers in "my queue." Since Organization and I are long-time friends, I think Ravelry and I will get along fine.


book totes for the kiddies

For xmas this year, two special kiddos in my life are getting a Robert Munsch book (the author of one of my absolute favourite children's books, The Paper Bag Princess), and a little tote bag.

The totes were so much fun to make! I didn't use a pattern -- obvious by the lack of fancy techniques and tricks -- but I think they turned out pretty cute.

I guess if I ever advance to sewing for adults, I'll have to let loose my inner perfectionist. But for now, I'm enjoying learning by doing, and being content with the results.
The x makes it look almost pro, don't you think?!

I love Marimekko fabric


holiday postage

Before too long, I'll be sending these off with love & cheer.

- one of my favourites -

- and one based on this gift tag tutorial by A Little Hut -

If you aren't up for making your own cards,
check out these, these, and these.


a stocking a day...

I think I made it clear last year how much I adore advent calendars. And I love that there are so many creative ways to count down the days -- with jokes, walnuts, matchbooks, or my new favourite, these Danish elves. They are so stinkin' cute!

The mini stocking calendar I made this year was much simpler to make than last year's model, because well, I didn't really make it -- I just kind of put the parts together.

The stockings are gift card holders, which I hoarded during the post-holiday sales last year. I attached them together with a knitted i-cord, and dated them by stamping little metal-rimmed tags.

Although I'm experiencing an odd little guilt for cheating on a handmade gift, I don't think my cousin's kids will notice that their daily sugar fix is coming from a store-bought stocking. :)


johnny cakes

The name for these cornmeal pancakes comes from VQ -- a little chichi restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Their breakfast menu is superb and the best thing going is their pancakes -- or rather, their johnny cakes.

This recipe is only slightly modified (I swapped oil for butter) from the one found on Bob's Red Mill cornmeal. That means my recipe is from Oregon too.

johnny cakes
serves 3-4

1 C boiling water
3/4 C cornmeal
1 1/4 C buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C all purpose flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 C unsalted butter, melted

Pour water over cornmeal. Stir and let sit until thick (2-3 mins). Add buttermilk and whisk in eggs. Sift flour, powder, salt, and soda into cornmeal mixture. Stir in melted butter. The batter should be slightly lumpy and will be runnier than other pancake batters.

Bake on ungreased griddle. Serve with warm fruit and yogurt or creme fraiche.


blue bag it

Everyone seems to be on the bandwagon to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in landfills.

In our house, even though we cart our groceries home in our own bags, we invariably end up with a stash of plastic ones. We reuse them for garbage bags and Jeff had been using them as lunch bags...until now.

Now, Jeff has a cloth version of the ubiquitous plastic bag thanks to this tutorial by SupaFine, my old duvet from college, and my new sewing machine.


vegetable soup with parmesan toasts

After a rollicking day of cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping, this simple fall-inspired soup settled the weekend. Try it next time you need a good settle.

Ack! Pardon the picture. I suppose I shouldn't have tried to get a picture of the orange butternut squash in my mustard coloured bowl under poor lighting.

vegetable soup with parmesan toasts
(modified from a recipe in Real Simple March '06)
for 3-4

2-3 bunches of baby bok choy -- cleaned, trimmed, and cut lengthwise
a few Tbs olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 medium butternut squash (about a pound) -- peel removed* and cut into 1/2-in pieces
1 C white wine
1 C chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
9-12 1/2-in slices of baguette
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese

*Be careful when removing the peel of the squash. I now see why most recipes have you cook butternut squash before cutting it too many times -- it's a bit of a challenge.

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic until fragrant. Add squash and season with salt and pepper. Saute for a couple minutes before adding liquids. After adding wine and broth, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until the squash is tender (about 15 mins). Add bok choy, stir, and cover. Steam until tender (another 5 mins).

While the squash is simmering, place the baguette slices on tinfoil. Brush slices with oil and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake until golden (10-15 mins).

Ladle the soup into serving bowls and top with parmesan toasts. This isn't a soup of swimming veggies, as there's only a bit of liquid for each dish. Enjoy!


pears and apples

There's something about canning -- simmering pots, paring knives, and gold lids -- that makes me feel particularly domestic. Wear-an-apron domestic.

So every year, I put on my apron, and "put up" several pints of something. This year, that something was pear-applesauce. Using two varieties of tart apples, three varieties of sweet pears, and a dash of cinnamon, I now have ten pints of yummy sauce.


leaf print cards

Depending on whether you eat your pumpkin pie in October or November, these Happy Thanksgiving cards may be a bit late or a bit early. I'm sending these cards to some folks south of the border.

A big thank you to Courtney Russell of two straight lines for sharing her sixteen different leaf prints (available for free download via lulu). The leaves are beautifully detailed.


a slew of sewing ideas

If you haven't already seen this, Sew, Mama, Sew! is doing their part to encourage Handmade Holidays. For each day this month, a new theme. And for each theme, several tutorials of great sewing projects.

My list of wanna-do projects is growing fast (with this, this, and ooh this too) -- my new sewing machine and I had better get busy.


settling in with orzo, zucchini, and toasted hazelnuts

Zucchini has become one of my comfort foods. I know this because when all else was hectic (e.g. unpacking a household, looking for work, uncertainty in general), I found comfort in zucchini. Mind you, it was mixed with yummy orzo and toasted hazelnuts. That may have had something to do with it.

Except for these cookies, this dish was the first real food my new stove and I turned out (I don't count frozen pizza). It was grand. And served with turkey and chicken sausages, it made this new apartment feel like a home.

Allow me to show off my new bowl -- one of my many dish purchases from Finland!

orzo with squash and toasted hazelnuts
(a recipe from Gourmet magazine circa 2002)
serves 4

3/4 C orzo
1 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 C finely chopped shallot (I subbed in some sweet onion too)
1 medium zucchini, cut into medium dices
1 medium yellow squash, cut into medium dices (it's good with just double the amount of zucchs if you don't have squash on hand)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (if you want, you can remove the skins first by rubbing toasted nuts in kitchen towel)
1/4 C chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C chopped fresh basil
1 teas fresh lemon zest

Cook orzo in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve a bit of the cooking water, then drain orzo.

Meanwhile, heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over med-high heat until foam subsides. Saute shallot, stirring, until golden (about 5 mins). Then add zucchini and squash. Season with salt and pepper and saute, stirring occasionally, until veggies are just tender (another 5 mins). Remove from heat and stir in toasted chopped nuts, parsley, basil, and zest.

Add cooked orzo to the skillet and gently combine. If mixture is a bit dry, add a bit of the reserved pasta water. Best served warm, but would be good at room temp too.

Enjoy, and happy fall!


I'm back...kind of

Four countries, seven weeks, one fabulous time. We're back in the land of reality (one foot in it, anyway) and we're hunting for new jobs and a new home. Exciting.

I don't have any picts to post though 'cause we took old fashioned film (16 rolls of it!). But the photo book is done, and if I ever find my digital camera I'll share a page or two.

Since I haven't yet unearthed my camera yet (and I have a sneaking suspicion it's tucked away in storage), this may be a particularly long blog break. In the meantime, I'll point you in the direction of some talented people --
how about orange
angry chicken
two straight lines
(they're now up on the sidebar)

And check out these folks who are doing some interesting environmentally-minded things and who are great sources of info--
sew green (community blog)
nomoregarbage (a Torontonian attempting to live garbage-free)
grist (environmental news and comment)


see ya' later, alligaattori

We're moving across the country, and then going on an extended vacation! So, take care, so long, aidaa (Estonian), hyvästi (Finnish), sveiki (Latvian), sudie (Lithuanian), and see you in September!


toque number three

And for my final trick, a soft blue toque with some fun yarn woven in...

That is, I'm waiting for a magical transformation, because the yarn isn't even on the needles yet. I've been distracted as of late -- packing for the move.

Who was it who said you can never have enough books??


merci, thank you, grazie

I am totally indebted to one of my friends for all of her help this past year, and I wanted to give her a token of gratitude that could be enjoyed over an extended period of time. This book of gifts has ten envelopes, each of which is filled with a little something (I can't tell you -- I don't want to ruin her surprises!) She can chose to open them all at once, but I've given her a little clue on the outside of the envelope in case she wants to open them individually on a fitting occasion.

This kind of book of gifts would be fun to do as a wedding present or bridal shower gift too...


the first of many galettes

Why have I not made a galette before? It's so rustic and delicious (translation: easy, messy, and you're tempted to eat all of it.) Galette just sounds like it couldn't be that simple, but perhaps that's just my fear for the French language in general.

Last night at 10:14pm I was craving something sweet and fruity. I unrolled my thawed puff pastry, peeled and sliced a few apples, took a couple handfuls of berries from the freezer and voila! -- a full-fledged dessert was baking in the oven!

apple & berry galette
serves 5-6 (or fewer if it is serving a late-night craving...)

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 C frozen berries -- optional
squeeze of fresh lemon juice (I didn't use any in this one, but my apples may have suffered for it)
3-4 teas granulated sugar
ground cinnamon
2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven 375. Unroll puff pastry (about 10" square) and put the parchment paper it comes wrapped in on a baking sheet. Place puff pastry on the lined baking sheet.

In a bowl, stir together apples, berries (if using), butter, lemon juice, a dash of cinnamon, and a couple teaspoons of sugar. Mound in the middle of the pastry square, leaving a 2" border of pastry around the fruit. Pull pastry border up and over the edge of the fruit, leaving the fruit in the center bare. The pastry will kind of pleat as you work your way around the fruit.

Brush the pastry with the beaten egg. Sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of sugar over the whole galette. Bake for about 30 minutes, until pastry is golden and apples are tender. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving (some of the juices will get reabsorbed).