Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Adult Coloring Craze

Hello! I've been hearing about the adult coloring craze for quite awhile, and it doesn't show signs of waning yet. I encounter adult coloring books just about anywhere books and magazines are sold. I've heard of bookstores arranging adult coloring book parties. Coloring classes have been formed. And I've read numerous articles in which the anti-stress benefits of coloring are proclaimed. 

I have to admit, I'm amused that these products are being presented as some new thing - they're not. Adult coloring books have been around ever since I can remember. The difference now is that since so many are now being produced, there's a lot more designs out there. The hype and emphasis on stress reduction seem to be new too.

Some of the new coloring books are really cool, but since I already have some on hand, I decided I ought to use them up before I buy more. I'll show off what I currently own:

I've had this one long enough that I don't recall where it came from, possibly from a remaindered books catalog I used to order from. 

Above, a completed design from the book. 

I purchased the above book online, at a very low time in my life. I figured I certainly was in need of more power and energy. I can't say that coloring in the mandalas shaped my life in any particular way, but there's some cool designs in this coloring book. The designs themselves come from many different cultures and time periods, so this book is a bit of a world history lesson. The authors also discuss the symbolism of each mandala,  so there is some food for thought as well. 

For example, this one:

This design is called "Four-Fold Knot" and was sourced as such: "Celtic wicker pattern on a sacramentary (book for the liturgy) in the Cathedral of Rheims, France (12th Century)"

The authors explain "The forms, which might appear confusing at first, eventually, with longer observation, dissolve into two structures that are twisted by 90 degrees. Therefore, this figure is well-suited to bring about clarity and reorientation in times of confusion."

Well, I guess that's my problem - I wasn't confused when I colored this page (I know this because I dated the finished mandala, six weeks ago). But it was still fun to bring to life. 

Now older and wiser, I suppose, I approach mandala designs merely in a spirit of color-combining creativity. Thus, this purchase from a thrift store:

This kit was intact, so its book, colored pencils, decorative pencil sharpener and 80 pages of mandala patterns are all in the box. The colored pencils are nothing special, and I haven't bothered reading the book, but there's many designs to work with, like this one:

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned I haven't bought any new adult coloring books because of the ones I already own and have shown off here. However, I did buy this last month:

You see, it's not a coloring book - it's a coloring calendar! Several years ago, I had another artsy-type page-a-day calendar, one for painting a small watercolor every day. It was a lot of fun, so I thought this calendar would be in the same spirit. I'm looking forward to using it, especially during the dark, cold days of winter. A daily dash of color work will be very welcome then, I'm sure!

Here's the page that will open 2016:

This calendar features the artwork of Thaneeya McArdle. I don't know who she is, but she must have been very busy to create all the designs. There's a nice variety!

So you see, I have a lot of coloring possibilities on hand. Thus, I really should avoid the temptation to buy the coloring book featuring mid-century designs that I spotted in a local bookstore...it would be a nice change from all those mandala designs!



Friday, September 25, 2015

Thrifty Acres: A Few Fun Finds

Hello! Have been too busy lately to do much secondhand shopping, but I do have a few recent purchases to show off. 

I purchased the above as part of a set of four of these electric candles. I don't know if the candles work, but when I opened one of the boxes the candle appeared to be in perfect condition. I almost would have thought it'd never been used, but I saw a small masking tape label affixed to the cord, indicating into which window the candle should be placed. Found at a local bazaar.

I bought the set of candles because I liked the graphic on the box:

A nice old-fashioned scene, I thought. According to eBay, it appears that these electric candles date from the 1950's. Needless to say, none of the sellers there were listing these at four/$1.00, which is what I paid. 

Feed sack fabric, found at a thrift store. I didn't realize it was feed sack material until I got home and undid the rolled-up bundles. How could I tell the feed sack origin? The striped pieces had lines of small holes along one edge, which indicate where a seam had been. The floral piece still had two seams sewn together - not the usual clothing seam, but the kind of string-like seam that closes off the top of the "critter mix" bags I buy to feed my squirrel pals. 

According to what I've read, feed sack material became very popular in the 1930's and 1940's, with countless garments, aprons and the like made from it. These fabrics fell out of favor when other forms of packaging became popular. That's too bad, because the pieces I found are of very nice quality. (This stuff had to be strong, obviously, to hold the contents therein.)

My last find came from an estate sale:

I already have a set of whisks, but I couldn't resist this when I saw the handle:

This was obviously a promotional item for the Holland Furnace Company, with the slogan "OUR SERVICE CAN'T BE BEAT" above it. I don't know if that was the usual slogan for the company or if they thought it made sense to use that phrase on an whisk. 

I noted the phone number: 3845 - proof that this whisk was made decades ago. That explains why the handle looks slightly beat up and why some of the lettering is worn. But this little whisk (it's 7" long) still does a great job of beating eggs - in fact, better than the whisks I already owned do! Well worth the quarter I paid for it. 

My recent buys may seem small, and their price tags certainly were, but I still think of them as fun finds! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Eats: Roasted Tomato Salsa

Hello! This time of year, our local farmer's market beckons with piles of tomatoes, and I oblige by purchasing Romas for making salsa. For several years I used a recipe from an old Organic Gardening magazine. The salsa turned out well, but a good half-hour plus of cooking time was required. 

That's not a huge chunk of time, but a couple of years ago I came across a recipe for roasted tomato salsa in a Martha Stewart publication that was even faster. Basically it called  for putting cut-up Roma tomatoes, onions, garlic and jalapenos on a baking sheet. After seven minutes or so under the broiler, the vegetables are left to cool, then pureed until smooth with some salt. The only thing skinned before pureeing is the garlic. 

I put the recipe to the test and made a batch. It turned out fine, but I discovered I wasn't crazy about the finished appearance - the charred skins of the tomatoes, jalapenos and onions made the salsa darker than I preferred. 

So I made another batch. This time I cut the Romas and jalapenos in half before roasting for easier removal of the charred skins later. After broiling and cooling, I took the skins off all the vegetables. Broiling had loosened them enough that they slipped off easily. I liked the finished result better than batch #1.

The recipe yield is approximately 4 cups (amount is affected by the size of the veggies you start out with) - a good amount of good salsa with very little effort! When I make a batch, I set some aside to eat fresh and the rest is stored in the freezer. It keeps very well there. 

Just made some salsa earlier today:

Under my oven's broiler, this is how the vegetables looked after seven minutes. Think I'll let them get a little darker next time. 

Above, the finished salsa. I like mine smoother rather than chunkier, but you can puree yours to whatever texture you prefer.

After all that chatter, now it's time for the recipe:

Roasted-Tomato Salsa (adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

9 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (see notes below)

1 large white onion, quartered (see notes below)

3 jalapenos, more if desired (see notes below)

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste (see notes below)

1. Preheat broiler. Place tomatoes, onion, jalapenos and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until tomatoes and jalapenos are charred, about 7 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Peel the roasted garlic. Transfer to a blender along with the charred tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and 1 tablespoon salt. Puree until smooth. For a thinner consistency, add water as needed. Season with salt to taste. (Salsa can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.) Yield: 4 cups. 

Notes: I cut the tomatoes and jalapenos in half and place them, cut-side down, on the baking sheet. After broiling and cooling, I remove the skins off all the vegetables before pureeing them. 

I use half the salt specified in the recipe, and don't feel the need to add more to taste later. 

Of course, the heat level of the salsa depends on the chilies you use and how many. I would personally make this much hotter, but I have my husband's more delicate taste buds to consider, so I stick to the three jalapenos listed in the recipe. 

I used the blender the first time I made the salsa, but now have switched over to using the food processor. It seems to puree the mixture more evenly.

If you use another salsa recipe and it calls for other ingredients, such as cilantro, I'm sure you could try those seasonings in this recipe. This is a basic salsa as written - but it is easy and good. No more stirring and cooking down like I had to with my older recipe. Instead, the broiler does most of the work. That's fine with me!




Saturday, September 12, 2015

Made It: Toy For A Baby Boy

Hello! A neighbor family just welcomed a baby boy into the world, and I wanted to make a gift for the little guy. I looked over various baby-gift patterns I've collected over the years. Almost had settled on sewing a tiny pair of slippers, but came to my senses. Under my hands, the slippers could have ended up misshapen and too small to boot. 

So instead, I chose this:

Simplicity 5767, a pattern set for simple stuffed toys. For me, that's more like it! The pattern dates from 1964, but was unused when I found it in a thrift store. 

The elephant toy caught my eye:

I don't know what the little thing is that's dangling from the elephant's trunk, but it's not part of the pattern. 

Naturally, for a baby boy I used blue gingham instead of pink, and here's how it turned out:

I think I did pretty well, considering how brief the directions were. Every step for making all eight toys - including embroidery instructions for each - had been condensed onto the back of the pattern envelope. Still, it wasn't hard to figure out. You know this had to be easy when I looked up info on the pattern online and read a woman's memory of making these when she was in Girl Scouts. The toys were then distributed to children staying in a local hospital. What a nice idea! 

I also thought it was nice idea to put a jingle bell inside the elephant as I was stuffing him so that it would make a little sound when the baby shook it.

Sewing for babies means that certain precautions are necessary. The embroidery was done carefully so that the baby wouldn't pull out the floss and try to swallow it. And I tied double knots in the bow so that the ribbon couldn't come off. 

I made a card to go along with the gift. I'm more experienced in this craft, so I think my creation turned out nicely:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • scrapbook paper piece
  • blue art paper piece
  • off-white art paper piece
  • baby boy illustration cut from 1940's craft magazine
  • "A very young child is a baby." and "baby" cut from 1960's children's dictionary
  • "it's a boy" stamped in black ink
A close-up of the boy's face:

How sweet is that? Older craft magazines are full of great illustrations such as this. These drawings were meant to entice readers to send away for patterns, since the fictitious people were modeling the finished results.

Like with the baby slipper pattern, there's no telling how my effort at sewing a onesie would have turned out - but at least my baby gift and card turned out fine! 



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Eats: Easy Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket Recipe

Hello! I'm sure that many people celebrated the recent Labor Day holiday with a cookout, but not me. I found an easy way to get a close-to-cookout taste with very little fuss and effort: a recipe for slow cooker barbecue beef brisket. 

Beef has gotten rather pricey, so I rarely buy it. But when I see a cut with a reduced-price label on the package I'll give it a look. Last week I came across a beef brisket that was now as cheap per pound as the turkey breast lunch meat I usually get. I'm sure the turkey is better for me, but a little variety is good now and then, and I like a good deal.

I've had a couple of barbecue beef brisket sandwiches at restaurants and decided to try that preparation at home. But feeling rather lazy, I wanted something with a quick prep time. 

And thanks to Amy Wisniewski's recipe over at Chow.com, I found just the recipe. Granted, as it's a slow cooker recipe, there's an all-day cooking period, but the actual hands-on time is very minimal. All one has to do to mix up the barbecue sauce ingredients (this can be done directly in the slow cooker). Next, a spice rub is prepared and, of course, rubbed onto the brisket. The brisket is then placed into the barbecue-sauced slow cooker and cooked on low for 10 hours. 

And here's the end result:

Above, an awesome sandwich indeed! I added all sort of fixings (I like "the works" on my sandwiches) but I think you can still see the barbecue beef brisket in there. 
But if you go here  you'll see a better picture of how the brisket turns out. You'll get the recipe too. 

A few recipe notes:

The barbecue sauce recipe calls chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Well, I have ground chipotle powder, so I used that instead. 

I noted that many of the recipe commenters mentioned the barbecue sauce was too thin when the cooking time was up, so they thickened it with cornstarch. I did the same, but first cooked the sauce down a bit on the stove (to concentrate the flavors of that thinned-out liquid), then added about a teaspoon of cornstarch. This worked well and added maybe about 15 more minutes to the recipe. 

I got distracted toward the end of the cooking time and so my brisket cooked for about an hour more than the specified time. Consequently, I ended up with shredded instead of sliced brisket. But this was fine with me. 

I liked the flavor of the barbecue sauce, but like the sauce recipe I usually use even better. So, if I come across another sale-priced beef brisket again, I'll follow the same cooking method but with a different barbecue sauce. 

Feel free to use the barbecue sauce and spice rub of your choosing if you want to try this recipe yourself.

Of course, with Labor Day's departure, summer is supposedly over. But thanks to this recipe, I have plenty of barbecue beef brisket in my freezer. Now I can pretend it's summer no matter what the weather! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy Anniversary And More: Squirrel Decor

Hello! Despite their tendency to raid my vegetable garden of cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes, I still have a fondness for squirrels. I have a small collection devoted to this critter, which becomes the highlight of my fall decor. 

Therefore, it was perfect timing that my husband gifted me with this on our anniversary a couple of days ago:

A close-up of the print:

So cute, just like my four-legged pals outside. 

The print is from Berea, Kentucky, and in this post I discussed meeting the artist who created it. I had wanted to buy the print, dismissed that thought, and then later on regretted it.

But shortly after visiting the studio, my husband wanted to go off on his own. I was annoyed at the time because I'd wanted us to visit Berea College's farm market store together. Then I realized he probably wanted to take off to go back and buy that print for me as a future gift. 

And I was proven right, of course - though by the time my husband presented it to me, he forgot that I'd actually wanted it. He just remembered that it was a squirrel print and so I was bound to like it. Which I do!

It had come unframed, but that didn't bother me - as the print fits a 5x7 frame, I just headed to a thrift store and picked up a nice one for fifty cents. 

My now-framed squirrel print is currently on display near the tabletop feather tree in a corner of our dining room. This tree's decorations change with the seasons, so the summer theme has switched out to fall.  Three new stitched squirrel ornaments have been added this year:

Don't recall where this came from, maybe from a friend's pattern set. Simple embroidery. 

More simple stitchery, this time counted cross stitch from a vintage Christmas-themed counted cross stitch book. 

My favorite design of the three, from a vintage counted cross-stitch booklet. 

All three stitcheries were lightly stuffed and sewn with vintage fabric backings, then hung up with vintage brown-and-white crochet cotton cords. Easy to stitch and turn into ornaments. 

For now, I have one more squirrel counted cross-stitch design to make, from yet another vintage booklet. Like the sources of the two counted cross-stitch designs above, the latest find was from a thrift store. 

And as inexpensive as counted cross-stitch books and booklets are at thrift stores, I can afford to buy any with squirrel designs that I see. You might not think there'd be such a variety of  squirrel designs to stitch up - but obviously I'm not the only one fond of squirrels out there!



Friday, September 4, 2015

Get Carded: Happy Anniversary

Hello! Our wedding anniversary was yesterday, so of course I made a card for my husband for the occasion. He's not a fan of overly sentimental cards, so I've often made them with a lighter theme. 

I was just plain tired yesterday, due to a number of physically-demanding activities earlier in the week. I wasn't feeling whimsical, so instead I came up with this design:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • scrap from piano music workbook page, circa 1886 (paper with black vertical line on left side of card)
  • image of hearts cut from 1980's graphic design book
  • image of couple dancing cut from vintage magazine
  • altered page from 1950's cookbook underneath dancing couple image
  • SEP from monthly budget divider set
  • 3 cut from 1920's card game set
  • 32 cut from 1950's card game set
  • sparkly piece in upper right corner from bag of costume jewelry purchased at an estate sale
As you can see, there's a mixed bag of materials used, ranging in age from 1886 to card stock bought last year. In other words, the card represent a span of 128 years.

But of course, the number 32 is there for a reason on the card - it represents how many years we've been married. 

We've never celebrated our wedding anniversary in a big way, but we did enjoy a nice dinner out and an exchange of small presents. I got my husband one of the pricier craft beers he likes (he's too cheap to buy it for himself) and a batch of his favorite homemade candy.

In my next post I'll show off his gift to me.