February 28, 2010

Seduced by Succulents

Boy do I love succulents! I wish I had a garden like this. (Original photo here.) There's just one problem: I don't have a very good track record with keeping them alive for very long.

Earlier this week I finally laid my little succulent plant to rest. I bought him about six months ago as a replacement for another succulent that I had while still in college. (Wow...that sounds really weird considering that I graduated last May.) Anyways...my mother purchased Succulent #1-- whom I promptly named Howard (I think)--when she helped me move into my dorm room in the Fall of 2008. Howard did quite well for a good amount of time.

I was careful not to over water him and even had to re-pot him due to the fact that he grew out of his first plot of earth. This activity of re-potting Howard because he had grown too big for his first pot brought me a great amount of joy: I was convinced that the green thumb gene that my grandmother possessed had been passed down to me and was finally kicking in. Then things went down hill really quick; I think that a combination of poor soil and over watering lead to Howard developing a terrible condition where part of him was rotting away while the other was drying up. Regardless of my efforts to save him I finally had to cut my losses and wound up depositing him in a flowerbed close to the dorm.

Howard looked a lot like this guy on the right, but more blue-ish.

Fast forward a few months and upon moving into our new apartment I found myself missing my succulent and the companionship that he afforded me. I was really craving the presence and decoration that a small plant can provide. So I went to a local nursery (East Bay Nursery, to be exact) and picked up a succulent that was very similar to Howard. Succulent #2--who I never actually named--was quite smaller and of a slightly more purple hue than Howard.

Glamour shot of Succulent #2, or Echeveria "Metallica" (I think).

As I was quite intent on making it happy I bought a small bag of cactus soil and replanted it into a small pot when I got home. Succulent #2 lasted quite a while, but never thrived as Howard did. Instead it stayed more or less the same size as when I had bought it, and although I watered it sparingly and set it in my kitchen window so it could soak up sunlight, it began to wither. I think that perhaps a combination of poor light exposure and the cold weather lead to its failing health. Things really took a turn for the worse in the past two weeks: I noticed that the roots were really shallow and that the leaves were shriveling. It was very sad and I hated watching it slowly die. I finally retired Succulent #2 to the compost bin this week.

Succulent #2 the day I brought it home form East Bay Nursery. It looked so happy.
I couldn't bear to photograph it in its last stages of life.

The next day, on my trip to Home Depot to purchase a roll of painter's tape, I was seduced by their succulents. I was walking past the garden section when I spied a whole shelf full of succulents. I tried to resist the urge to take a closer look but I soon found myself standing in front of hundreds of succulents, examining each one. I felt awful even thinking about picking out a new plant right after I had killed off my last one, but I couldn't help it. On one level I wanted a replacement and on another I wanted to try my hand at cultivating a more successful green thumb. I had a hard time choosing just one succulent; I really wanted one similar to my last ones but I was also very intrigued by the others.

So I bought three. At under $2 each they where a good deal and I justified my purchase by telling myself that companionship would help with keeping them alive more than 6 months. I have yet to name them but I did re-plant them in larger pots. I also placed them in our closet, which may sound counter intuitive. However, our closet--for some odd reason--has a window that is conveniently located right above my dresser. It is also the only window in the entire apartment that gets direct sunlight. Under the circumstances this spot is the best location of my new succulent friends and I hope that they soon make themselves right at home.

The green succulent at the top is a Sedum burrito, or Burro's Tail, and the lilac one at the bottom is a either an Anacampseros gigantea, or an Echeveria or Aeonium hybrid of some sort...I think. I'm not sure; I recycled the plastic pots they came in and am having trouble identifying it via the Internet.

And this striped fellow is a Haworthia attenuata. Reminds me of an aloe plant with zebra stripes. He gets his own pot because I didn't think that all three would fit into one pot, especially if they were to grow (I know, I'm being optimistic). But he has a little sea shell to keep him happy.

February 24, 2010

Rainy Days and Small Frys

This past Sunday I participated in the monthly Craft Market at Royal NoneSuch Gallery, an awesome little local artist and community geared gallery in Oakland. I whipped up a couple of batches of cupcakes and some catnip buddies for the event. My hopes and aspirations of selling out of cupcakes and the dreaded magnets that I've had for years were quickly dashed by the nasty, rainy weather. For some reason, without fail, the heavens decide to open up and drop buckets of rain during these Craft Markets; while the days before and after each of the past three craft markets have enjoyed perfect, sunny California weather, the actual event itself has suffered from cold, rainy conditions.
Exactly how we felt. Image is from here.

Although the icky weather kept shoppers indoors and drove sales into the ground, it did provide for some quality bonding time with my fellow Craft Market entrepreneurs (...and my knitting!). Which brings me to my point: I am pleased to announce an addition to my plushy animal collection. One of the aforementioned Craft Market entrepreneurs is the creative genius behind Small Fry, a line of plushy, felt animal creatures. Each small fry is an original design that is handmade by the "Mysterious R" with the help from her vintage Singer sewing machine, which she taught herself how to use. She also sells her goods on Etsy, although with not nearly as much success as she deserves.

After lusting after one of her Small Fry creatures for months, I couldn't hold out any longer. I thought long and hard and after nearly four hours of oscillating between resisting temptation and trying to decide between her many Small Frys, I finally ponied up $4 for this Wee Fry:

If you could feel him, then you'd fall in love with him too. He's just so voluminous!

...and I couldn't be happier with my decision.

Even as I plucked him from amongst all the other Wee Frys, I knew that he was "the one." I even knew where he would reside inside my lovely abode: on my nightstand and right next to my Ikea globe lamp. I think that he fits in perfectly with my other plushy buddies, one of whom is particularly voluptuous.

From left to right: Clarence (the shark), Sir Edward and Mango.

In case you were interested: Clarence and Sir Edward are Squishables, and they have tons of giant plushy friends, and Mango is a Build-A-Bear.

February 21, 2010

Creepy Amigurumi means "I Love You"

Meet Amigurumi Cthulhu. Although his forest green complexion and creature-from-the-deep face tentacles may strike fear into your human heart, this rose says it all: love, sweet, love.

He even has wings and at times can be a little bashful.

I made him in complete secrecy for Evan for Valentine's Day. The pattern for this adorable rendition of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu is from Creepy Cute, which has patterns for zombies, day of the dead figures, skeletons, and other creepy, mythological and questionable characters that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley late at night--except in Amigurumi form, that is. I chose the Cthulhu pattern because Evan has been reading the complete works of Lovecraft book that I got for him for Christmas.

Last year I made him the Creepy Cute Corporate Zombie; an amigurumi that I thought was particularly fitting considering the fact that he had just begun working a somewhat corporate job and was sporting a hairdo that was roughly the same style. The hair was the hardest part to make: the instructions in the book were hard to follow, and an internet search yielded few results. But I figured it out and was quite pleased with the result.

I'm not sure what the next one will be...Nosferatu seems like the most likely choice, especially considering his request for his Christmas stocking. But we'll see.

February 15, 2010

Yeasty Goodness

I made bread today!

And this time my loaves turned out A LOT better than the last time. I had been meaning to try this no-knead bread recipe for quite a while. I found it through foodgawker and slowly worked my way towards trying it out. I even went out and bought whole kalamata olives from the olive bar at Farmer Joe's (a lovely Whole Foods-esque market in Oakland, CA). That was about three weeks ago; for some reason I just never got around to working this recipe into my schedule, which took a little bit of effort due to its 20-hour rise period.

But I finally buckled down last night and mixed up the dough (almost) just like the recipe calls for. I did opt for olive bar kalamata olives, rather than jarred. I find that jarred kalamata olives can sometimes be mushy or contain off flavors, so I bought whole olives and pitted them by hand: apply ample pressure with the aid of a spatula and then split to remove the pit (thank you Alton Brown!). I also only used about 1 to 1 1/4 cups olives because I hadn't bought enough. But other than that I followed the recipe exactly up until the very end.

Because I have a mini-dutch oven, I didn't think that I would be able to fit the entire loaf into my enamel cast iron pot without compromising its ability to form a nice round loaf with the necessary hard crust. Rather than halve the recipe or take the risk with one, large loaf, I just split the dough and made two smaller loaves.

I also substituted linen napkins for tea towels and lowered the baking time by a few minutes. Instead of baking for the full 30 minutes with the lid on, I opted for 20 followed by another 20 with the lid off. And good thing too! I think that I would have ended up with a giant olive studded crouton.

I was really nervous about the rolling-the-dough-into-the dutch-oven part. The main concerns that occupied thoughts included burning myself, missing the pot and flinging flour and cornmeal all over the place. Ever wary of making a huge mess, before I attempted to place the dough into my preheated dutch oven, I pulled on one end of the cloth napkin until the still-uncooked loaf was squarely resting on the palm of my hand. I then walked it over to my kitchen sink, uncovered it and let the ends of the napkin fall. Working very carefully, I shifted my fingers around and pulled the ends of the napkin down until nearly all of the excess flour and cornmeal had fallen into the sink. I then positioned my loaf-holding hand a few inches above and in front of the dutch oven and flicked my wrist forward so that the loaf landed in the pot. Success! I was so happy that I hadn't missed.

When the timer sounded for the second time I nervously pulled open the oven door and reached in...to pull out the loveliest, loaf of bread I have ever see. I was so excited when I pulled that first loaf out. It just looked so beautiful and was making the most marvelous crackling noises. After lifting it out of the dutch oven with the aid of a wooden spoon and setting it on a cooling rack, I instantly grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. About 40 minutes later the second loaf came out of the oven decidedly a little flatter than the first, but just as pretty.

And now it was time for the real test: did it actually bake? Did my decision to lower the bake time pay off? Or had I just made a rookie mistake and should I just stick to cupcakes? I took my serrated bread knife to the first loaf and after a few moments of doubt--the loaf felt a little springy--I revealed a perfectly cooked interior.

And it tasted good, too! The insides were quite soft, airy and filled with subtle, yet distinct, kalamata olive flavor. I am definitely making this recipe again: plain, with olives or other seasonings. I'm thinking rosemary is next...

February 3, 2010

More Fun With Felt

I've been having so much fun with felt lately! About three weeks ago I started preparing my Esty shop for Valentine's Day, by which I mean I began making bunches and bunches of heart shaped felt pillows, magnets and pins. I'm quite pleased with what I've created thus far.

I tested the waters by making plain heart pillows in the usual Valentine's Day colors: pink, red, white. Then I threw in a purple one for good measure. The white one with pink accents marks my foray into more complex designs. I posted these on my Esty shop and sold them almost immediately. (I was so pleased!)

Then I decided to make pins. I bought a pack of 60 small pin backs a couple of months ago and thought that now would be the perfect time to make use of them. I also started to use the dark red and and hot pink felt that I had purchased at the fabric store. I especially enjoyed playing around with felt and embroidery color combinations, as well as varying my stitches.

I also found the notion of making conversation heart inspired pins impossible to ignore. My first conversation heart just had a simple "x0x0" stitched on it. The next one I made out of hot pink felt and stitched "sweet" with white embroidery thread. I ended up giving this one to my friend Kimi, because she loved it so much...and because she so cleverly pointed out the visual pun that I had sooo obviously meant to make. (no sarcasm at all in the second half of that last sentence.) These are the two that I made as pins for BoutiqueAliciaMarie.

As you all know, I love, love, love cupcakes. I love to bake cupcakes of all kinds and decorate them with tasty, pretty frostings. Which makes the story behind this next felt buddy so curious: how did I not think of this design sooner? Never the mind, though; I have created him and he is adorable (and for sale).

My latest felt magnet set sports an Under the Sea theme. Inspired by my last trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (so AWESOME), this set includes one peach sea star, one aquamarine sea horse and one seven-legged, smiley faced octopus. By far my favorite magnet set to date.

(on Etsy, too)

One last felt buddy for today. This fried egg was my first felt buddy pin. I created him for much the same reasons as with its fried egg iCozy counterpart: simplicity and amusement. I was particularly pleased with myself for coming up with the title for this listing on Etsy. Egg-cellent...