W.I.P. Wednesday : Let’s Tie One On! An apron, that is.

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It’s time to Tie One On! Amy Karol of Angry Chicken fame just loves aprons, so much so that she also has a blog devoted solely to aprons, Tie One On. There you will find all things apron-y like great apron links, apron books, apron resources…you get the idea. Amy also runs an event where she announces an apron-making theme every couple of months, and the kids at home can play along, making an apron from the pattern of their choice, using the criteria Amy announced.

May’s theme was “the no money apron”, and it required making an apron but not spending anything to make it. I thought this was the perfect theme as we just celebrated Earth Day, and using things we already had or upcycling fabric and giving it a “renaissance”, is about as earth-friendly as we can get.

I’ve been wanting to make an apron for myself, mostly because I’m one of the biggest slobs ever. No, strike that. I’m just very passionate and into what I’m doing and can’t be bothered by things like splatters and drips and finding a towel to wipe my hands on. The thing is, I just couldn’t see squandering my little fabric stash on myself, and each time I thought I had something I could use for an apron for yours truly, I instantly came up with four other giftable projects it could be used on.

Enter this month’s Tie One On. I decided I would use fabric that I couldn’t possibly use for someone else – you know, “rag bag”-worthy stuff, that way, I was giving some un-loved fabric a second chance, and I wouldn’t be “wasting” otherwise beautiful fabric on a project for me. Win-win, really.

I give you a few examples of the stained, the torn and the ugly :

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Can you see that big coffee stain?

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I think this is a tomato-y sauce one.

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Snags & Tatters – nope, not a rock band. My fabric.

This 80′s big-flowers fabric was used to cover my sister-in-law’s Mother’s couch. When I got my sewing machine last year, she gave me a few pieces of nasty fabric she had lying around her house for me to practice on and play with. I gladly accepted them, but never got past their obvious imperfections, and in the fabric pile they sat. A well-loved apron is going to become stained and get lots of tough love, and I reasoned that these big flowers could help hide new stains. The sweet and talented Amanda made a gorgeous apron for my mother using Amy Butler’s “Easy Apron” pattern. When I saw how beautiful Amanda’s apron looked I was inspired by the pleats and thought they would be an excellent way to dissimulate stains!

Here’s a picture of the apron in Amy Butler’s In Stitches :

amy-butler-patternNice pin cushion, hey? Thanks again, Sophie!

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Ta da! This picture just doesn’t do it justice, which is really too bad because my new apron is just gorgeous! I absolutely love it! The fabric I used for the trim is also from my SIL, and it’s got these horrible sun-bleached spots on it, but they are folded into the inside, so you can’t see them. I also couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed the two fabrics worked so well together before.

I’m still a bit of a novice in the apron department, but I must admit, I just love making them! My first one was back in June. Next, I made this apron, a 30th birthday gift for a friend and my first Tie One On participation. Then I made another nearly just like it (since I had enough fabric) for my sister’s birthday in October.

I can’t wait to see what everyone else has been up to! Whatever your endeavours, have a crafty week, and don’t forget to see what the other Wipsters are up to, and to check out our W.I.P. Wednesday Flickr Pool, too.

I Just Love Cheese Cake! A very “Sweet” Daring Bakers Challenge (and a 60-Day Project update)

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Before I get to this month’s delicious Daring Bakers challenge, I’d like to say thank you to three wonderful bloggers and participants in the 60-Day Project for my mother’s 60th’s birthday: Tacha of Haines, Jessica of Awesome. Vegan. Rad, and Miss V of Miss V’s Vegan Cookbook. It would be impossible for me to articulate the joy this project has brought my mother. Her fragile health has really isolated her from the “outside” world, and these bits of happiness coming from all over the world are such a ray of sunshine.

I wish I could make you each a lovely vegan cheese cake to thank you. I could make you a vegan cheesecake, but I doubt it would survive the post from France to you! I guess I could eat it for you, too (yes, I would do that for you. I’m a giver). If I did make you a vegan cheese cake, I would want to make you the most delicious, and healthy cake possible, because I like you and I want you to have your cake and be healthy, too.

Making a delicious vegan cheese cake isn’t really very difficult : you can make any number of tofu variations, mouth-watering raw “cheese” cakes, and if you don’t mind the hydrogenated oils, you can make vegan cream cheese versions, too. When this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was announced, I was rather excited, because I love cheese cake. It’s one of my very favourite desserts, and I’d like to thank Jenny of Jenny Bakes for offering us such a straight-forward and honest challenge. A cheese cake is like a blank canvas – you can make it as elaborate or as basic as you wish.

I considered many possibilities to fancy this up : key lime or lavender flavoured cake, or maybe an elaborate coulis to add a touch of sophistication, finally settling on one of my family’s favourite cheese cake recipes, by one of my very favourite bloggers (and good friend) Ricki of Diet, Dessert and Dogs. This recipe makes a beautiful, “genuine” cheese cake in all it’s authentic-tasting glory. It’s like a good friend or your favourite pair of jeans : it just feels right. It doesn’t need any fancy sauce or flavouring to state it’s case – it stands on its own two feet with grace.

sweet-freedom-cheese-cake31This luscious vegan cheese cake usually has a lovely lattice top crust, but my sous-chef (a.k.a. Guppy) thieved my reserved dough and ate it. Sigh.

I first made Ricki’s cheese cake last summer for my family when I was visiting them in the United States. They have very high cheese cake standards, because my mother’s Omni cheese cake is nothing short of phenomenal. Suffice it to say they were all “bluffé” as we say in French – bluffed – by the light as chiffon texture in tandem with the deep, rich, lemony cheesy taste this cake has to offer. This has become one of my family’s “classic” cheese cake favourites and easily found a home in the rotation.

You can find the recipe here, and it will be appearing in Ricki’s up-coming cookbook Sweet Freedom, available May 15th! Sweet Freedom is more than just another vegan dessert book! It’s about the freedom to enjoy desserts even if you normally can’t due to allergies and dietary restrictions, with about a quarter of the book featuring gluten-free or grain-free recipes! Ricki shows you that you can snub refined flours and sugars and still rub elbows with mouth-watering treats – yippie! You can read more about the cookbook here, or visit the official Sweet Freedom blog to drool over the amazing photos and check her Diet, Dessert and Dogs blog where she has shared some of the upcoming recipes.

Now do go check out all the Daring Baker loveliness around the net, and let’s not forget the official lingo of the month :

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Who would have thought? (Martha Stewart, this blog post is especially for you!)

Life is so funny sometimes…

I’ve said it before, my transformation into a Craftyfish is recent. Looking back at my adolescence, and even my 20′s, I never, ever, thought the words “I really want this book” and “Martha Stewart” would be found in the same sentence coming from my mouth…but go figure.

I really, really want this book!

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Martha, please feel free to send me a copy and I’m sure I’ll have soooo much to say about all the amazing crafts and ideas you’ve managed to compile into this invaluable book that every crafter should have.

Please?

The Easiest Caramel Popcorn In The World

I’m going to fess up right now : I’m not really a popcorn fan. I have probably made popcorn a whopping 5 times in my entire life. In fact, my mother taught me how to make it last Spring when she came for a visit (and I’m counting the time we made it together in my grand total, FYI).

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That being said, I don’t dislike the popped-stuff, it’s just that it’s never really interested me. Except for that neon-orange used to be 99-cents for a huge bag at the gas station kind of popcorn. I bet I still have radio-active insides from loving that stuff up each time I found enough pop cans to turn in for a refund, meaning 10 cans, meaning 1 dollar of spending money. Ooohhh, the good ole days…hopping on my bike, riding around the baseball fields in search of cans to feed my 7-year-old junk food habit.

Oh, sorry. Caramel popcorn.

The weekend is often synonymous with my baking up a little something special pour le goûter, for the afternoon snack. When the baking ban was in place, it meant being creative and finding other ways to have a little lovin’ from the kitchen, because I wasn’t going to simply buy pre-made goodies. As if.

Enter the popcorn.

People do eat salty-buttery type popcorn here in France, but popcorn is more often a sweet treat, covered in caramel. When I suggested making popcorn, Monsieur Fish instantly asked, “Sais-tu en faire sucré? Manger salé à quatres heures, ça ne se fait pas!” (You know how to make it sweet? You just can’t eat salty for our afternoon snack!). “Bah, ouais, bien sûr!” (Duh, of course!) was my reply. Then I went into the kitchen to find the books that would show me how. Duh.

So here’s the deal, I found three recipes in my various vegan cookbooks, and each of them are probably delicious, but they were very time consuming – like an hour of baking and turning over popcorn and being careful not to burn it- and required vegan butter to make the caramel.

Huh. There must be an easier way.

Then I remembered the quick caramel technique I learned during this Daring Bakers Challenge, and I was all over it. We made a hazelnut praline paste and used this super-quick caramel sugar technique and I’ll be a monkey’s aunt, it’s come in so handy! I love adding tools to my box!

This is approximate, so just let go of the measurements if you will. It’s also hot and sticky and can be dangerous, so be careful!

I popped up my popcorn – a big salad bowl full – and then I got out my favourite heavy pan and set the burner to med-high. I poured in probably about 1 cup’s worth of sugar, maybe more, maybe less, I have no idea. Then, you wait. Don’t stir, don’t go get a drink of water, and don’t take a nap. Stand next to that pan, because in a matter of instants it’ll turn into the most lovely caramel. Do be vigilant because it can burn really, really fast. Once the centre starts to melt into caramel you can swirl your pan around if you find the sides aren’t catching on. Then just carefully pour this over your popcorn, tossing with a big wooden spoon because it hardens fast.

Repeat if necessary.

I repeated.

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I suppose you could add a little salt if you like that kind of thing, too.

If this isn’t clear, please let me know and I’ll try to elucidate you my dear reader, because this is totally worth trying. There are pictures of the process in this post, so check it out if you’re not sure!

W.I.P. Wednesday Earth Day Links!

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In many cases, crafting, sewing and other such endeavours are ecological by nature.  I find myself saving bits of everything for use in future (maybe very far future…I confess) projects, saving the buttons and fabric from shirts which are more fit for the rag bag than the garment bag…you get the idea. Here’s a little extra Wipster goodness for Earth Day – a few project links to inspire making and creating with sustainability in mind! Enjoy…

We use cloth napkins, and I was just thinking I should make some new ones, you know, for when guests have to use them…Skip To My Lou has a great little tute on how to make your own cloth napkins. Great timing!

Do you need some organizing help, but hate to buy more storage boxes (even if Ikea has some cute ones!). Consume less, and use things you probably have at home to make some cute storage boxes!

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photo from PinkPenguin

I’d really like to try to make these fabric storage boxes over at Pink Penguin with some fabric left-overs. Cute, practical and not buying something new. Earth friendly indeed.

Crazy Mom Quilts has a great fabric storage cube tute that uses former cereal and cracker boxes to keep them sturdy – great idea, and very pretty, too.

There are even some no-sew boxes if you’re sans machine at Wink Designs.

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Would you like to try to print on fabric, and not even have to use a drop of ink? Well, Painted Fish Studio shows you how to make the most lovely Fern Prints using, well, ferns and a hammer. Talk about non-toxic!

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Photo Grosgrain

Using hankies may seem a little outdated, but I think it’s a great way to cut down on buying disposable tissues, and really I think there’s something romantic about having a hankie. Maybe I just like saying hankie? Anyway, Grosgrain has a great monogrammed handkerchief tutorial that I’ve been meaning to get to…I think these would make a great gift!

Have you come across any specifically Earth-friendly tutes or crafty ideas? Leave me a comment or send me an email – I’d love to give them a shout out!

W.I.P. Wednesday : A painting lesson with Maria Rose and the W.I.P. Wednesday Theme Song

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Hello Wipsters! Are you feeling artistic? Well, today is your lucky day because the lovely, the talented, the vegan and the pregnant (ok, that has nothing to do with anything, but it’s still exciting!) Maria Rose of Little Things Are Big has got my second painting lesson up (my of course being the operative word here people…ha!).

This sweet woman has battled morning sickness, and packing for a huge move to get this lesson up for me, and can you believe I haven’t had a chance to get my brushes dirty? I do have my materials ready though!

For me, drawing the sketch was difficult. I have no drawing experience, but I really want to make the time to learn. Maria Rose explains in the first lesson that it really needs to be a sketch – not a drawing – just something that’s representing the painting. It took me a few tries before I allowed myself to believe her, and once I let go of the approximativeness of what I was drawing, it just made sense :

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Super-cute Monsieur Fish found me this easel on Ebay for a song (well, a 25 euro song). I feel so cool having it in my bedroom…here, look

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I just thought that was sweet. So I wanted to give him some props here. Ok, moving on.

I’m hoping to carve out some time to paint soon – but if you’ve got the time you can to crazy right now. Lesson Number 1 is HERE and Lesson Number 2 is HERE. You need to scroll down to press play, kids. Just telling you now.

Her lessons are cute, funny and have most excellent sound tracks, so even if you don’t think you’re ready to break out your acrylics, you should check them out – they are highly entertaining.

Have you seen this? I mean, good gravy Marie, let me get dressed up with my posse and sing fun songs that I write about my life – please. I first saw this last Wednesday over at Kittee’s blog, and I can’t stop watching it. I mean, this woman rules! This is the official W.I.P. Wednesday theme song people – now sing along!

Craft Talk
Please send a representative, I have just made the world’s largest gem sweater, in the world.
You’re sure looking crafty (crafty crafty)
You can make a raft out of pencils and foam
You’re sure looking happy (happy happy)
‘Cuz you make it snappy and not very crappy
Do you want to paste together
Something we can use forever
I’m thinking key chain
Scratch me with your hot designs
Dribble me in neon lines
Use that walkie-talkie and talk to me some crafts
Let’s go walking (walk walk)
Let’s get talking (talk talk)
Let’s craft talk (craft talk), craft talk (craft talk)
You can build me whatever you want
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
Work through the pain, work it through the pain
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
I cherish these moments, I can’t wait to see it
When you’re makin’ crafts your spicin’ up the world
Face it pretty girl, you’re craft-tastic!
You’re following no plans, you’re building it with hands
Let’s do a dance ‘cuz you’re craft-tastic!
Let’s get together and share supplies
Your craftsmanship deserves top prize
Glue it, cut it, stitch it, felt it,
Paint it, bead it, dough it, dye it,
Embroider it, solder it, hotter it
Let’s go walking (walk walk)
Let’s get talking (talk talk)
Let’s craft talk (craft talk), craft talk (craft talk)
You can build me whatever you want
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
Work through the pain, work it through the pain
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
I cherish these moments I cant wait to see it
Build it fast, built to last,
When in need place a bead
Rubber stamp my number, ‘cuz I want to get you tips
Look for sales in town
Take them home, move them around
Love it when it shines, want to make it mines
You make stuff that I desire
All I want to do is acquire
(you’re so crafty–craft-tastic!)
Craft talking craft talking craft talking craft talking
Craft talking craft talking craft talking craft talking
Let’s go walking (walk walk)
Let’s get talking (talk talk)
Let’s craft talk (craft talk), craft talk (craft talk)
You can build me whatever you want
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
Work through the pain, work through the pain
Now make it make it make it make it
Faster faster faster faster
I cherish these moments, I know that I’ll love it

I’m now officially in love with Mother Gem, and if she ever wants to come to France on tour she can sleep on my couch – promise!

Are you trying something new this week? Whatever your endeavours, have a crafty week, and don’t forget to see what the other Wipsters are up to, and to check out our W.I.P. Wednesday Flickr Pool, too.

Jessy’s Butter Bean Burgers & a 60-Day Project Update

You 60-Day Project People are all just amazing! I can hardly keep up with all your generosity! Huge thank yous go out to: Maria Rose of Little Things Are Big, Sophie of Her Heart, My Hands, Amanda of Walking The Vegan Line, Carmen of About a Girl, Jessy of Happyveganface, Meg of Becoming Whole and Amanda of Gemusings! It would be impossible to show you all how grateful I am for you and your helping my mother’s 60th birthday the best yet! I’d also like to wish Maria Rose a very happy (late) birthday (again)!

If I could, I would make you all delicious and healthy veggie burgers like these :

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I regularly sing the praises of Jessy’s culinary creations, but have I told you how amazing all her burger recipes are? A few of us are trying to convince her she needs to write a Veggie Burger cookbook, because she is just so talented!

Jessy’s Butter Bean Burgers recipe is easy and delicious and everyone agreed they were fabulous! We ate them with regular buns and “the works”, and the next day the left-over patties were a fun lunch just served on a bed of fresh baby cabbage leaves. If you’re ever in a slump and you’re not sure what to make for dinner, head over to Jessy’s most excellent recipe index – you’ll find the inspiration you need to get your dinner on!

Now I really need to get cracking on Guppy’s brithday gifts…I have less than two weeks to get things done! She’s going to be 4! Aaarrrk!

Sweetness & Light Saturday

My Jumblefriend has a running feature on Saturdays where she shares the things that made her smile during the week, and today I thought I’d join in.

These two videos have been viewed sooooo many times, I’m guessing you’ve already seen them. Me, I sometimes live under a rock, so I actually didn’t see them until just today. The first one was sent to me by my sweet mumma, and Guppy was just hypnotized. She absolutely looooovvvveeedddd it. I also thought it was cute when she told me that Mary Poppins was singing (she has seen the movie a few times, but still).

And like I said, I live under a rock, so I only just saw this… and it blew my mind. I’m not a reality television person at all (unless the X-Files can be considered reality), I’ve never seen an episode of Nouvelle Star or American Idol, but this got me choked up. This is probably the most touching piece of video I’ve seen in, well, forever.

We must celebrate the underdog EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Taters & Wingz : Friday Fun Food !

Sometimes there are blogger food favourites that circulate tirelessly, popping up again, seemingly just taunting you with their deliciousness.

Enter “Katie’s Wingz” and “Crash Hot Potatoes“, two tasty items that I had yet to meet, culinaraily speaking.

Two very snappy women with unquestionable taste, Jessy and Guava, have been talking up (and eating up!) the crash hot potatoes for so long that I finally decided to stop fighting and make some myself. I am such a fan of the humble potato, being as it’s full of vitamin C and super-affordable and all. A food of the people. Let the proletariat eat their pomme de terre, apple of the earth, damn it.

But what to serve with my crashed spuds? I had about 220g firm tofu in the fridge (two soy yaourts, jar of tahini, mustard, apple juice…huh, better get shopping…). Katie’s Internationally-famous wingz are usually made with tempeh…ha! Forget convention, who says I need to use tempeh? No one, that’s who!

I pressed and fried the tofu crispy in some oil, and then just pretty much stuck to the recipe. I admit to playing with the spices, but that’s just normal after all.

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We were a very thrilled Fish Family, though I must claim ignorance as to the authenticity of the wingz. I have of course had chicken, but I’ve never ever had those ity bitty baby wing things people eat in bars or order in with their pizza. My first memory of seeing the marketing coup of wingz in play in my rural hometown was after I’d stopped eating animals, and this was a looong time ago. A Bush was in the Oval Office, and hey, there was also a war on Iraq…humm…funny how things change, yet stay the same.

Monsieur Fish, however, has had the wingyness, and he was smitten with the re-capturing of the saucy-spiciness and gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up!

I’ll have a 60-Day Project up-date for you next time, kids. You rule, and Mammafish is one happy chica.

Lenten Confessions : WWRD? (What Would Rita Do?)

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Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf, aka Easter Weekend Breakfast

I guess it’s time for confession, which is a rather Catholic thing to do, is it not? I’m not Catholic, but as you know, I decided to give up baking during the Lenten Holiday to honor the memory of my grandmother (a practicing Catholic). I was a very good girl during those long weeks of Lent, and I’m feeling rather proud of myself, too (which somehow negates the good behaviour, right?). Random urges for baking powder biscuits to go with homemade soup? Denied! Cookie cravings from Guppy and Monsieur Fish? Ignored. Thankfully I live in the country of the baguette, so at least fresh, cheap and tasty bread made up for the yeast-ban chez nous.

Besides being a positive way to honor her memory, this little break from baking was a wonderful reminder for me to ignore my “inner three-year-old”. Though I’ve only been baking (or cooking, or preparing food requiring more complex food preparation than slicing bread and boiling water) for a hair under two years, I’ve really taken to it. I relish in the DIY aspect of home food preparation, feeling like an artist, a craftsman and a renegade against the machine of forced consumerism. And it’s tasty. And so much healthier.

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Check out that cinnamon-sugar layer!

However, even those of you who like me have but a rudimentary understanding of physics know : energy doesn’t just disappear. Equal and opposite reactions and all that – sound familiar? When I broke my foot/ankle last November, something rather strange began to happen. The time and energy that I so carefully poured into my training had to go somewhere, and it seemed to find its way into the oven. I wasn’t actively aware of this happening initially : for me it was about recipe testing, holiday baking for gift-giving and get-togethers, etc. but as the holidays came to a close I still found myself wanting to bake. Needing to bake.

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You can see the cinnamon-sugar layering magic here, too

In retrospect, I believe that baking helped me reclaim a feeling of control I felt I’d lost. I couldn’t control my leg being in a cast or incompetent physical therapists, but I could control proportions of flour to sugar to yeast. Healing times eluded me, but baking times became as natural as my running rhythm.

I’m thankful that I didn’t chose a more self-destructive outlet for that pent-up energy (says the former smoker), but I felt like it was time to gently step away from the oven mitts and remember what brought me to wanting to bake in the first place : a desire to create healthful deliciousness for my family and friends.

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Oh delicious Molasses Bar, just unwrapped and ready to be eaten!

Lent technically ended on Easter Sunday, but I admit to ending my Lenten baking fast nearly 5 days prior. That being said, I don’t feel guilty or ashamed about breaking out the cupcake tins. Guppy was having a party at school, and I was having Spring parties for two of my children’s English classes. The idea of purchasing pre-made baked goods for these events briefly flashed before my mind – and then I just laughed out loud as I often do when I think about my Grandmother, known as Rita Pita. I found myself asking the question : WWRD*?

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Whole Wheat “Quickish” Bread with a slab of Chocolate-Agave Frosting.

Just typing the words makes me smile, because I knew Rita Pita, and I know how ridiculous she would think my not baking would be. Don’t get me wrong, she’s looking at me from somewhere and is touched that I honored Lent for her (and secretly feeling puffed-up for all this blog attention), but she was the last person on earth who would condone calorie restriction, or not eating sweets, in her name. She would have scolded me for not baking, probably asked to “just lick the spoon” (a no-no as she was a long-time diabetic and fought against weight problems her entire life) and a cupcake making we would have gone.

So I made. I left the camera in the other room, and decided to only make enough for the parties, meaning for Guppy’s school and for my students. If you’re still deciding if I “sinned”, do weigh in the fact that I made them, and taught/hosted the parties, with a 38.5c fever, so it’s like it was a big punishment anyway (ha!).

As the drugs began taking effect, I decided that it was the long weekend, and I wanted to make something fun and tasty for us so on Good Friday I made the Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf. And it was Good. I also made some Molasses bars that I wrapped up and froze to use as quick breakfasts for me. The last of the holy trinity of baking was the “Quickish” Whole Wheat bread that was so easy to throw together and bake it felt sinful. Just be be sure I made up a batch of Chocolate Agave Frosting, using hazelnut flavouring and we slathered this “faux-Nutella” all over that wholesome Whole Wheat loaf. So good to be bad.

In case you haven’t guessed, the Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf, Molasses Bars, Whole Wheat “Quickish” Bread and the Chocolate Agave Frosting are indeed all recipes which you’ll find in the up-coming 500 Vegan Recipes, to be released in less than a year! Testing is almost done, and now I shall find myself also asking WWSE? What will Shellyfish eat?

Oh the extetentialist ponderings of the universe…

(What would Rita do for those of you lucky enough to have dodged this little phrase which to me was the epitome of the hypocrite’s guide to religious marketing “What would Jesus do?”)*