Monday, October 31, 2011

Rupert Bear

Rupert Bear

Rupert is about 4.5 inches tall, firmly needle felted, with embroidered features, glass eyes, and button jointed arms and legs. Glass eyes are a bit hard to source so I ended up ordering from a company in Britain. I'm super happy with them, but probably should have ordered some larger sizes as well (I got 3-5 mm eyes but I think I could have gone up to as much as 10 mm for the size projects I tend to work on). This was my first attempt at button joints as well. Unfortunately I didn't have 4 of the same buttons so Rupert is a little mismatched in that respect. Otherwise I'm quite happy with the mixed elements of this project. I found a great tip on making button joints--sew the arms and legs to the body first and then sew the buttons on. If you attach the limbs through the buttons only it's hard to make the joints tight enough. I used upholstery thread for the joints, which is much stronger than regular embroidery thread and prettier than the fishing line I've used in the past. Rupert's arms and legs are posable and should stay that way even if the joints loosen up a bit over time. I'm still working on getting a really smooth finish to my needle felting projects. I'm in the process of experimenting with a number of types of wool and will report on how that goes. I recently finished my first sculptural wet felting project and will post pictures and frustrations about that soon!

Rupert 6

Rupert Branded

Friday, October 28, 2011

Adventures in Quince

I didn't know what a quince was until just this week. I had heard the word. I knew that it was a fruit of some kind, but I had never actually seen one until a friend with an overabundance offered to share her fall harvest. This friend had already made quince jam, quince jelly, and quince butter and seemed eager to offload some of her fruit. I imagine she was starting to feel suffocated by quince and I certainly couldn't say no to free, local, organic produce, so I agreed to take a bag. What I received was a few pounds of yellow fruit that looked much like pears with a strange downy fuzz on them and an intense, sweet aroma somewhere between pears and apples. For all who have never seen one, this is what a quince looks like:

Quince. Amaranth Road Studio. 2011.

The quince inundated friend was also kind enough to point me to a good quince jam recipe, so I went home with my bounty and got to work.

Quince are related to apples and pears and generally grow in warm-temperate climates. They are basically inedible raw due to being very hard and sour, but since they are extremely high in pectin they make excellent jams and jellies with the addition of a fair amount of sugar. My quince jam recipe was simple--just grated quince, lemon juice, lemon zest (I actually zested a grapefruit because I didn't have a lemon), and sugar. When the quince flesh is cooked it turns from a light yellow to a bright pink/salmon colour, which looks beautiful when canned in glass jars--almost too pretty to eat in fact!

quince jam 2
Quince Jam. Amaranth Road Studio. 2011

Quince have a grainy texture similar to pears but a stronger flavour. The pectin content was definitely high enough to jell the jam without any added pectin so I was grateful that my friend warned me not to do so. Overall a great success in processing Vancouver's local bounty. A huge thank you to the friend who offloaded her quince and sent me off on a culinary adventure.

quince jam
Quince Jam. Amaranth Road Studio. 2011.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crazy Pumpkin

New needle felting for fall. This startled pumpkin is made of Corriedale wool roving with hand painted polymer clay eyes. He's on sale through my Etsy shop. I used my soft-box again to photograph this project. The longer exposure time definitely helped to blow out the background while still maintaining a lot of detail in the felt. A slight correction in Photoshop got me to an almost complete white, but there are still a few orange reflections off the pumpkin.

Crazy Pumpkin 5 Crazy Pumpkin 3

Crazy Pumpkin 1

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Recommended Reading: Jeanette Winterson

I'm a big fan of Jeanette Winterson. If you haven't read one of her novels you should put one on your reading list. In the meantime I recommend a short "sermon" she delivered about our increasing societal obsession with money and material wealth. Winterson uses Satan's temptation of Jesus as a unifying image for her depiction of Western corruption and development of a throw-away culture that prioritizes material wealth above the soul. She had hope that the recent global economic crisis would cause people to rethink their values but laments our collective lack of reforming action. Winterson argues that:

"Our human needs matter.We need time, rest, creativity, community, relationship. We need stretches of life that can’t be measured by GDP or economic output. We need to ask if weapons are more important than education. We need to ask what kind of people we want to be and what kind of a life is worthwhile. We need to say that life has an inside as well as an outside – and if organised religion has failed to protect us there – and it has – we will have to find new ways of talking about the invisible, the unknowable, and our obligations to what cannot be counted, but is intensely real."

To read the entire sermon click HERE .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sapphire Sweater

Until You Have the Ring
Sapphire Sweater. Amaranth Road Studio 2011. Click image for more photos.
When my husband proposed in 2009 he gave me a sapphire ring. In return I wanted to knit him a sapphire sweater. It's a little odd really that women get gorgeous jewelry upon their engagements and men are not supposed to expect any symbolic offering of love in return.

Knitting a sweater is a commitment. Knitting a sweater means investing in supplies and investing much more in terms of time. I have recently discovered that knitting a sweater for a man means an even bigger time commitment than usual, simply because you need to knit a larger garment! So with that deep blue ring on my finger I picked out blue cotton yarn (my husband can't stand the itch factor of wool). When that yarn arrived I wrapped it up, gave it to him for his birthday, and promised an engagement sweater within a year.

The year came and went. I wasn't done. I wasn't even close to done. A the end of the first year I think I had only the front of the sweater complete and I only had myself to blame. I was slacking off, big time. I can forgive myself to some extent. After all, I was engaged and planning a wedding and generally busy. But if I'm honest there's no real excuse. The pattern was simple. I was knitting the Cotton Classic sweater from  Never Knit Your Man a Sweater Until You have the Ring. It's basic stockinette stitch with only minor shaping and detailing. The gauge was average. I just didn't knit often enough.

The second year of sweater knitting began to slip away as well. At least I can say that I was faithful. I didn't take up any other knitting projects in the interim. I was dedicated to finishing the engagement sweater before taking on any other projects and I did make some progress. Then I got pregnant. And that lit the fire because I wanted to knit baby blankets and baby hats and baby shoes. But I was not going to let myself launch into baby projects without first completing the sweater that symbolized my love for the man I had married (a year ago!). So I got to work and when I actually put in some effort daily the sweater was finished quickly.

My husband actually wears this sweater. And not only for special occasions, or when he thinks I'll notice. He wears it to work. He wears it at least once a week. And there is nothing more lovely to behold for a knitter than the person they love completely wearing something that they made and actually enjoying it. The sweater fits perfectly, though there was some terror about sleeve length for awhile there and I think it will be a pretty durable piece of clothing. So finally, I have the ring my husband has the sweater and our baby-on-the-way has a navy blue and white striped blanket coming their way so that we can all be warm and cozy and loved.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Pragmatic Artist

I have recently discovered a blog by Anna Lidstone that I think will be of interest to a lot of my friends and family. She writes a blog called The Pragmatic Artist and states that:

The Pragmatic Artist celebrates what I call "creativity for grown ups"– the challenges of living as a creative person in the "real world," how to find "art/life balance," what it means to be a "pragmatic artist," and why - when there are dishes to be done and bills to be paid - it all still matters.

Great links, great quotations, and lots of wisdom about wrapping creativity into the mechanisms of your daily life. It's worth checking out. It may also dispel some guilt if you're like me and concerned about all the time you spend making cute animals out of wool. It might be that those cute, fuzzy animals are important in ways you never imagined.

Check out Anna's blog at

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Giving Thanks

Rosehips and Peppers. Amaranth Road Studio. October 2011
Cranberry Pottery This year Thanksgiving happened at my place. With no chance of going home to Ontario for the harvest holiday and with my mother-in-law out of town it became clear that if I wanted a celebration it was going to have to be one of my own making. I looked at this as an opportunity to develop new traditions. With our baby shifting restlessly within me I set out to prepare a meal that would mean something--that would reference Thanksgivings past and create something new in honour of my emerging family.

On my mother’s side of the family Thanksgiving is all about the food. Food is the medium through which we unify ourselves and show our deep appreciation for all the love shared between us. So when I began to plan my own Thanksgiving, food was at its core. A tricky thing indeed since I had to avoid eggs, dairy, and gluten! This is where the newness shone through. I was determined to make all my old favourites in allergy free versions. I leaned heavily on the magazine Living Without. The fall edition included a fabulous collection of Thanksgiving feast recipes. I eventually settled on the following menu:

Turkey. You just can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey. I know that some modern types eschew turkey for more exotic things--ham, lamb, maybe even something concocted out of tofu, but in my book turkey is key. It’s the armature upon which the rest of Thanksgiving dinner is built up. I got a frozen 15 pound turkey on sale from Safeway. I spent over a week worrying about it. I worried that it wouldn’t defrost on time. I imagined myself having to pull Dave-esque tricks, like going at the thing with a hair dryer. I worried that it wouldn’t cook properly, that it would be either raw like the fateful Christmas turkey at Grandma’s many years ago or dried out in the fashion of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To this end I purchased two extra thermometers on top of the two I already owned. In the end I had two oven thermometers to make sure my oven was actually registering 350 degrees, one meat thermometer to leave in the turkey throughout its roasting time, and one instant read thermometer to corroborate the readings of the other one. I wasn’t leaving this to chance and believed that temperature science could help me. It seems to have worked. I was able to note that my turkey was cooking faster than anticipated, respond by turning down the oven temperature, and end up with a perfectly moist but completely cooked turkey at just about the correct time! Insanity paid off this time.

Stuffing: Stuffing is essential. This stuffing needs to be made of bread. While sausage stuffing can be tasty, nothing beats the soft comfort of a bread stuffing slathered in gravy. I used the recipe from Living Without that involved gluten free bread, sausage, and pear. I made it in a pan the day before to save time and my husband gave it rave reviews.

Pumpkin Pie and Coconut Whipped Cream: This terrified me more than anything. I had a recipe from the Allergy Free Baker’s Handbook that would involve making the crust and filling from scratch. I baked feverishly keeping a close eye on my crust so that it wouldn’t burn. I had a gelatin scare at one point. I wasn’t sure if “one packet” was a standard measurement. When my pie still wasn’t firm hours later I was scared that I had used too little. Miraculously it was gelled the next day and I was able to breath a sigh of relief. I highly recommend the Allergy Free Baker’s Handbook for anyone struggling with any of the seven major allergens.

Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts: I simply roasted these with some sea salt and turkey drippings. Simple!

Gravy: I used Living Without again and made the pear and rum turkey gravy and it was amazing.

The three family guests brought salad and appetizers to round out our meal and so we gathered for the feast. My apartment smelled like a holiday. I set my table with great care. I bought flowers. I set out a selection of harvest themed needle felting projects. I really believe in these details. Life is so short on ritual these days. I think that we overlook the importance of holidays and family events. These days are glue. They are the ceremonies that cement us together as family units, even as they come with inevitable mishaps and perhaps even disasters. I wanted my first Thanksgiving to say something. I wanted it to speak a language of culinary love. Food isn’t just for the body, it’s for the mind and the soul. Through food we nourish ourselves and those we feed on a physical and emotional level. Or at least it is so in my idealistic literary world where everything has a meaning beyond the literal. My husband might disagree. Perhaps to him a pie is just a pie. To me it is a manifestation of my desire to care for those I love. My worry over gelatin is a worry about my ability to provide something perfect, something worthy of the people gathering around my table to share the fall’s bounty. As we sat at the table I felt warm. I felt a sense of deep accomplishment. Unfortunately it’s not really socially acceptable to rave about your own creations. You can’t very well dig into your own piece of pie and say “Man! This pie is poetry. This pie is a labour of love. This pie tastes like sweet brown sugary, cinnamon and ginger infused success.” So I enjoyed my meal quietly, enjoyed the assembled company, enjoyed the strange sensation of being poised on the brink of motherhood, transitioning from being the child to being the parent, from the one served to the one who serves, from the one nourished to the one with the unique privilege of nourishing and watching the well fed glow of contentedness spread around the table.
Place Setting
Table Setting. Amaranth Road Studio. October 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Manly Yogurt: Does Food Have Gender?

yogurt panna cotta
Photo by Cookinghow:

Did you know that yogurt is a “girly” food? Neither did I. But after reading a few articles about a new yogurt product marketed directly to men I have discovered that this common pro-biotic food is enmeshed in an ideological system about what makes a “real” man. You can read more in the Globe and Mail.
I have learned that real men don’t eat yogurt. According to Fonterra’s marketing of their new yogurt for men, yogurt is a “sissy” food that your wife eats. Apparently the regular containers of yogurt that you find in your local grocery store are wimpy foods that could hardly sustain the intense appetite of a man. Fonterra’s yogurt, marketed under the brand name Mammoth Supply Co., contains “manly” ingredients like seed and barley and is advertised as “super thick”. Let’s be clear--it isn’t that runny, fat free stuff that your lacklustre and anemic wife would consume. And it comes in containers twice the size of a normal single serving of yogurt. 

I find this entire phenomenon strange. Yogurt is a healthy, nourishing food that already comes in a range of types, from thick Greek style yogurt with 10% milk fat to low fat plain yogurt enhanced with gelatin to fruit filled yogurts containing flax seed and luxury dessert flavours like cheese cake and lemon meringue pie. But apparently a man seen consuming any of these already existing varieties of yogurt risks being something other than a “real man,” something that falls on the more feminine end of the gender spectrum. And I have to wonder--how did we manage to feminize something as completely genderless as yogurt? 

A brief historical investigation suggests that yogurt was eaten by “real men” in the past. In fact tells me that “recorded history states that Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, and his armies lived on yogurt.” I have also learned that “most historical accounts attribute yogurt to the Neolithic peoples of Central Asia around 6000 B.C.. Herdsmen began the practice of milking their animals, and the natural enzymes in the carrying containers (animal stomachs) curdled the milk, essentially making yogurt.”

So how did we go from armies and herdsmen to yogurt being an emasculating food product only fit for upper class women who need a snack before their yoga class? Men are getting the raw end of this deal. It’s men who feel that they can’t order a salad and a glass of red wine at a restaurant without being heckled, it’s men who are pressured to consume monstrous servings of red meat and potatoes in order to prove their “manly” appetites, and it’s men who are encouraged to avoid light, healthy meals in favour of fat laden, rich ones slathered in hot sauce to prove their digestive strength. Women can get away with eating a “manly” meal such as a hamburger the size of your face, but men are less likely to get away with eating a “feminine” meal in public (say poached fish and couscous) without some form of judgment being passed. If my husband orders salad and I order steak our server is highly likely to pass us the wrong meals when it arrives at the table. 

All of this is ridiculous, of course. Men--go out there and eat your pro-biotic, flax seed yogurt. Go out and consume an arugula salad. Go ahead and eat fruit salad or drink an apple martini. Have the chicken instead of the burger. Eat what nourishes you and makes you healthy without worrying about whether or not you look “manly” to your peers. Drink wine instead of beer if that’s what you’d prefer. The saying “you are what you eat” applies only in the literal sense that we are all made up of matter derived from the sustenance we put into our bodies. Food does not have a gender and you will not become more feminine by consuming strawberry shortcake as opposed to a deep fried Mars Bar. I suspect that if men could get away from the foods that are stereotypically marketed to them, they might just be more healthy and consume a more varied diet. One that includes yogurt.

What do you think?