Av's office received a kit from the state for this year's tourism theme, 'Outdoor Alabama'. Last year, it was the 'Year of Alabama Food'.
Inside the packet this year is a book of activities in each region of the state, the new 2006 vacation guide, the 2006 calendar of events, a fold-out brochure of activities, and a softcover book of activities listed by region. The book is pretty nice, and it lists not only things like lakes and caves and state parks, but also things to just sightsee - like covered bridges, homes to tour, and driving trails.
I was flipping through the book to find the things I've already done, and more things I'd like to do, and one of them was Dismals Canyon. Oh - I've wanted to go to Dismals Canyon *forever* - the neat thing about it is that inside the canyon are these little insects (called 'Dismalites') that actually glow in the dark - and they're supposed to look so neat at dark against the canyon walls. The canyon has these wonderful-looking cabins for guests (here)....I would really like to stay there for a couple of days this year!
One of the other things that the book lists is Alabama wineries to visit: Bryant Vineyard in Talladega, Morgan Creek Vineyards in Harpersville, Perdido Vineyards in Perdido, White Oak Vineyards in Anniston, and Wills Creek Vineyards in Attalla (you can also buy muscadines and muscadine jelly from them - yum).
I just looked for a listing of vineyards in different Southern states, and this site has a good listing. How neat would it be to do a Southern Sideways and take a week to drive all over, visiting different wineries?
Av's office received a kit from the state for this year's tourism theme, 'Outdoor Alabama'. Last year, it was the 'Year of Alabama Food'.
I've got short hair (short to me!) now. I love long hair, and I've had it the vast majority of my life - but last week I went to my stylist to ask her to cut about 10" or 11" of my hair so I could donate it to 'Locks of Love'.
It's so different to have short hair - it's still long enough to put in a ponytail, but it's nice in that I think it will look cute with pretty barrettes...and I'll be able to curl or straighten it without the whole process taking a good hour each time! hahaha! Best of all, it makes me feel good to know that this will really help another person. That's the *very* best part.
The last time I donated to Locks of Love, I got a sweet postcard from them in the mail a few weeks after I sent them the package, which is nice.
More information about donating to them can be found here.
Av had some work to do in Montgomery this past week, so I spent a little time at the state archives in Montgomery. I've been there before, but it's been a few years. All the pics are here in my Flickr photostream.
I went to The Knit Shop in Montgomery this week and picked up all kinds of neat yarn:
Karabella Yarns in Loops, color 2607
Berrocco in Quest, color 5813 (this ultra-great dark, dark copper), which I'll be knitting with:
Trendsetter Yarns in Joy, color 1329, which has a very similar copper color with a very vivid turquoise
Cleckheaton Gusto 10, color 2083, which I'll be knitting with:
Trendsetter Yarns Coconut Perla, color 10 and Berroco Lazer FX in color 6001 (the gold sequins)...I'm not sure this combination will work, but I'm going to try it....
Crystal Palace Yarns Mikado Ribbon in color 9241, which I'll knit with:
Adraifil Liberty Trends, color 74
The Knit Shop is *great* - the owner has sooooo many things - and she's really fun to chat with. Nice!
Sundance has released 50 of the shorts at this year's festival to be available online to anyone, including those of us not lucky enough to be in Park City right now, through June 20th.
The webpage to choose which shorts you'd like to see is here.
I like the way that film festivals are catching on more and more...there's a list of many of them here at this site. Two of the best shorts I ever saw were four or five years ago - one is Lee Lanier's Mirror (you can download it here at their site, or buy the dvd), and The Electric Heartbreaker (an ode to Casio keyboards and weird dance moves), which I thought was *hilarious*!
Now that Av and I have Netflix, we get a lot of documentaries - our last one was The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia, in which the film was great but it made me really not like him so much...and it killed my (probably ultra-naiive) idea that the pictures he takes are natural - instead, they seem to be largely *very* staged - you know, not so much of-the-moment but rather photographs that are sometimes entirely choreographed. That movie left us with many questions and doubts about the sincerity of his motives. Bleh.
Next on our Netflix queue, though, is something much lighter - Schoolhouse Rock! Conjunction Junction...what's your function?.....hooking up words and phrases and clauses... Yay!
I had no idea that the magnolias that line many of the highway exits in Mississippi are available to be sponsored at $25 each, in memory or in honor of someone you love. Once you send the State a donation with the form, a new tree will be planted, and your donation will be recorded at the state archives. What a lovely idea - I'm definitely going to do this...
A PDF form for the program is here.
Like probably 99.9999% of other American households, we have a jar for coins.
I saw in the grocery store the other day one of those coin machines (that I've never seen anybody use, because who wants to pay something like 8% of their total just to get their coins turned into cash?) - but this time, I noticed that it had this big sign on top of it, stating that there was no 'counting fee' if the total was turned into an Amazon.com gift certificate. Ah-hah! Besides the fact that we place an almost-weekly order with Amazon, rolling coins isn't something I ever seem to think of or set aside time to do.
Av and I brought our coins in to the grocery store, went to the Coinstar machine, and turned all that change into a $43.45 gift certificate to Amazon! How neat is that?! So now on the way are a few books I've been wanting, including This is Blythe by Gina Garan - yay!
This is Blythe is the book that sort-of 'rediscovered' the Blythe doll. Blythe was originally sold here in the US in 1972, but it didn't do very well, so it was only sold for about a year. After Gina Garan's book came out, the dolls were released in Japan, where they were a huge hit - and now they're being sold in the US again (you can even buy a couple of them at the Hasbro website). I finally broke down after wanting one for probably two or three years, and ordered my favorite Blythe - Velvet Minuet (VM was made to celebrate the first anniversary of Blythe in the Korean market - she has this ultra-cute pom-pom dress and cape, with bunny (!!) accessories). *So* cute. I'll post pics of her later. BTW, there's lots more about Blythe here and here.
In the December issue of Southern Accents, they had a feature about shopping in NYC - and one of the places that was mentioned was Tinsel Trading Company, who specializes in 'tassels, frings, buttons, beads, and more.'
I went to their website, and they have this really great selection of 1940s vintage flowers that they bought out of a barn that was housing the contents of an old millinery shop. The flowers were from Chechosloslovakia, Italy, the Soviet Union, occupied Germany, and occupied Japan. They are *beautiful*! I can just see some of them pinned to little granny sweaters or sewn onto skirts, etc. One of my back issues of Living Etc (from the UK) showed using flowers like this pinned to upholstered headboards - so pretty.
Hancock had their trims on sale 40% off this weekend - so I went and picked these five up:
Okay, I had to put my new travel bag Av got for me a couple of weeks ago in this pic!
He had it embroidered with my name and everything! Soooooo cute.
Since I'm going to be redecorating our bedroom next month, this was the perfect opportunity to go ahead and buy some of the trim pieces I'll be using for pillows and other little projects. I can't wait to get started!
Also - my cupcake plate is back from the paint-your-own pottery shop. This is how it turned out after firing:
It's really so much cuter in person, though! Leslie - I picked your soup cup up too, and it is *so good* - I'm not putting a pic of it here because I want to surprise you!
The Project Alabama website doesn't yet have up their Spring 2006 catalog, but I noticed that in a previous catalog there was a link for a new program called 'Planting Stitches'.
Planting Stitches provides Project Alabama (and others) with the resource of women who can do hand-sewing, and the really neat aspect of the program is that it's based in the part of the state that really needs new opportunity - the Black Belt.
There used to be more jobs there in the garment industry, but companies have left, and the women that used to have those positions still have an incredible skill that Project Alabama (and other companies) can really utilize. The program was started by Brian Taylor, a Bama grad student, and it's a nonprofit that:
"provides women, living in disadvantaged rural areas of the South, the training, financial and mentoring support they need to emerge from poverty with dignity and pride."
The website for Planting Stitches is here.
I've seen the promotions for the new Martha Stewart dvds, so I added them to my Netflix queue. The first one I got was 'Martha Stewart Homemade Holidays' which is geared for Christmas and Chanukah (I know, I'm a little late!).
The dvd has seven main categories - Christmas supper, baking recipes, decorating ideas, ornaments, a Chanukah section, and sections for homemade gifts and gift wrapping.
The Chanukah section has three things: a gelt bag, a recipe for her latkes, and Claudia Roden making zalabia. The handmade gifts section has five different projects: a velvet frame, polar fleece hats (which are *so* cute), a button necklace (which I made - pics from that project below), a magnetic chalkboard, and a candy wreath teacher's gift.
The 'special features' on the dvd are just links to direct your internet browser to the page on the MS website where they have instructions for the different projects - and I *think* that these projects are maybe all from the older Martha Stewart Living shows...so it's not entirely new content (so I'm glad I put these on my Netflix queue rather than buying them).
The button necklace that's demonstrated on the dvd is so pretty...I went to Hancock Fabrics (for the buttons, but I found these pretty shell-like pieces and used those instead) and Hobby Lobby for the supplies.
The supplies for the necklace are: nylon beading string, pretty buttons or shells with holes (around 60-80), crimp beads, clasp closure, jump rings, and needle-nose pliers.
Note: this is my first time making a necklace like this...the directions for the button necklace can be found at the Martha Stewart site here, so if you like the way this turned out and want to try it yourself, definitely print out and go by their directions as well - mine *so* isn't perfect - but I don't think anybody would ever know! hahaha!
First, cut the beading string into five strings that are at least 40" in length (I liked 44" better).
Fold each of the strings in half, and at about 2" from each string's end, tie a knot:
Slip a button or shell down one of the strings, and tie a knot...you want these knots to be about 1" apart.
Keep slipping buttons/shells and tying knots until you get until about 2" from the other end of the strings, and make one final knot. Now, do this same thing to the other four strands (you don't have to do five strands - just however many you think you'll like best).
Grasp the ends of the five finished lines and crimp them with your crimp bead using the pliers. Do the same thing to the other side. I added a jumpring to both ends, then added the closure to one of them. All done!
Tonight I was just *so* in the mood to make something with Sculpey. My Tivo had recorded the DIY Network show "Jewelry Making with Jackie Guerra" - and today's episode had three people on who made jewelry with Sculpey clay. One lady made these really pretty flowers with Sculpey, and as she was describing some of her techniques, I was thinking about how I could use some of her ideas to make my favorite sushi roll - the bagel roll - out of Sculpey and turn it into a magnet (there are some pictures of professionally-made sushi replicas on Flickr)!
Here's how I made the Sculpey sushi magnets:
(above:) To get the color of the salmon, I just took mostly red, some yellow, and some orange Sculpey, and mixed the colors together in my hands, then ran them through the manual pasta machine several times. Once the color was right, I shaped it into a somewhat square shape.
(above:) I made several incisions all the way through the square with my craft clay razor and inserted pieces of white sculpey that had been conditioned in the pasta machine between each section (I made six or seven cuts total, so finished it would mimic the look of salmon). Once that was done, I cut all sides of the salmon piece so that each side was neat. I then rolled that between my hands to make it a longer piece.
(above:) I've taken the salmon piece, and next to it I've put just a solid white 'snake' of pure white (to mimic the cream cheese) about the same length as the salmon piece. Around all this, I've wrapped a sheet of black Sculpey.
(above:) I rolled this all together to get it to be longer.
(above:) I wrapped a piece of transparent Sculpey around that, rolled it a little more, then cut off just the very tip of each end to make a neat surface.
(above:) The transparent Sculpey is a very good color for the rice, but I wanted the sushi pieces to have the texture of rice, too. I just took a thin sheet of transparent that I had conditioned in the pasta machine, and pinched off tiny little pieces, rolled them between my fingers, and made tiny rice shapes. I rolled the sushi through my little scattering of rice a few times and filled in any empty spots too.
(above:) Once all that was done, I just took my craft clay razor and cut six even slices.
(above:) Here they are, ready to be set in the oven.
(above:) These went in the oven at 275*, and were done in about 18 minutes.
(above:) They only take a little while to cool off. Once they were cool, I glued a magnet onto one side of each of the sushi pieces with my hot glue gun.
(above:) All done! They're so neat - Av was super-impressed and thought that they really did resemble bagel rolls without me even telling him what I was trying to do! I've got them on my refrigerator now, and I'll probably give a couple of them away to friends as tiny little no-special-occasion surprises.
I think these sushi candles are neat, too!
After I gave Leslie my favorite scarf in the *whole wide world* (the pink one, with the tinsel and sequins), we were totally in the mood to go look at yarn - she promised she would crochet me something and I promised I would knit her something (hey, I think she owes me two things now!). It was too late to go to the really neat yarn shop - they were already closed - so we went into Hobby Lobby just to take a look and see what they had.
We spent all kinds of time in the yarn section...got compliments on the pretty pink scarf I'd made, Leslie swapped crochet tips with another shopper who had on this *amazing* black scarf (it had a big slit where she could fit one side of the scarf through the other side, which looked really sophisticated), and somehow I got some free knitting lessons from the super-sweet lady that worked the yarn department; she just brought out some yarn and needles and was like "you do this, and then this" and I picked it up in no time - Leslie got the hang of it, too.
I wish that we'd been able to go to the yarn shop that I'm used to, because it's locally owned and small (see, I feel guilty for going to the big-box place now), but since it was closed for the day, I picked up the yarn below - which was something like 50% off - and some yarn that Leslie picked out for me to make her a scarf with. She got some really cute things to crochet scarves with.
(above:) I heart these colors in this eyelash yarn!
Now I've got so much yarn! I really-really-really want to get good enough to make what's on the cover of the Winter Knitty here. How sweet is that!?
Av and I decided that this was the perfect time to make our bottle tree. We figured that right after Christmas, when our neighbors were putting their trees on the curb, we would take one and use it (after all, Christmas trees are manageable-size trees, with many limbs - perfect for bottle-hanging!) for our project.
We laughed when we wondered what on earth our friends would think if they saw Av picking up a Christmas tree in early January and bringing it back to our house! Now, that would be hard to explain! :)
(above:) Av brought the tree over to the yard....
(above:) we went to K-Mart and bought this tree stand at 50% off (hoping we wouldn't run into anybody! No, really - this is for a bottle tree! Sure... hahahaha!!)
(above:) We took pruners and chopped the branches down to a few inches each. This took no time at all...
(above:) here's the tree about 75% done...
(above:) We just placed the tree in the holder (later we'll make the base more secure with a concrete, but for now, this was perfect)...
(above:) Av topped the tree with a bottle of Abita Restoration Ale...
(above:) Here's the bottle tree, almost finished! The blue and red bottles look the prettiest.
We're really wild about the bottle tree - it's in the side yard, where we plant the garden each year, and we can see it from the dining room window, which is a plus too. I know they're not for everyone, but they're a big part of traditional Southern folklore, and I love it when we're driving around and see them in other people's yards. BTW, Eudora Welty took pictures of them when she was doing WPA work, and mentioned them in her short story, Livvie (her picture of some of them can be found here at an Ole Miss site).
I've always thought about how much fun it would be to own a paint-your-own pottery shop...Leslie and I were talking about it, and she said what would make it really neat would be to make it a place where you could do all kinds of crafts - not just pottery or mosaics, but other things like soap-making, candle-making, beading, scrapbooking, knitting, crocheting, etc. That is a *great* idea...I can just see it - a huge open space with lots of worktables, then some smaller spaces, where people could come in and lounge around on a couch and work on their knitting projects.
...maybe a daycare area so people could bring their kids...
*So* neat! I think she came up with an awesome idea! Now all we have to do is actually do it! hehehehehe! Seriously, though...hmmm.....
here), which is full of similar projects.
(I just enjoy kitschy little projects for informal parties, which I think are really funny and lighten everything up!)
My mother-in-law loves snowmen, and I made this for her -- it was **so** kitschy and tacky -- a huge joke that everybody got a big kick out of!
On Flickr, I ran across pics of fun mini-cakes - they're made by a man in California, and are intended to be given to each guest at a wedding or birthday party, etc. His website is here, where he has a gallery of other mini-cakes he designs and sells. Neat!
Av *loves* peanut brittle (I like peanuts but not peanut brittle), so when I was flipping through the December issue of the Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine, I noticed they had what looked like a super-simple recipe for it.
I asked Av to stay out of the kitchen for thirty minutes so I could make him a little surprise - enough for him munch on and to share at the office (as it turns out, his dad likes it so he got half!).
Here's the recipe for peanut brittle:
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light Karo syrup
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 c. peanuts (or the recipe says you could use mixed nuts if you like)
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. baking soda
I took a sheet of parchment paper, put it on a baking sheet, then rubbed butter all over the parchment paper so that the peanut brittle would be sure not to stick. The recipe in the magazine says to use non-stick cooking spray on a plain baking sheet, but I think I like my method a little better (I don't like those sprays).
In a bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, and Karo until it's mixed really well, then microwave on high for four minutes. At that point, add in the butter and nuts and stir really well again - then microwave another 4-5 minutes (mine was perfect at 4-1/2 minutes) - it will look a little brown on the top, then as you stir the mixture it will turn a really pretty shade. Take it out of the microwave (carefully - it's super-hot) and add the vanilla and baking soda, mixing really well. Pour it as soon as it's all mixed together into your baking sheet. I didn't need to use a spoon or spatula or anything to spread it out, it was so hot that it sort-of did that all on its own. The brittle takes about 20-30 minutes to harden, then it's ready to be broken up into pieces and to be eaten. Av *loved* it!
Well, one of my friends, who is a *very* accomplished knitter (she even makes things that are auctioned off at charity events!) taught me how to knit in just a few minutes, but somehow I haven't figured out how to purl. I have another friend, who is also a very good knitter AND crocheter (is that a word? I guess!) - who I've been meaning to ask, but yesterday, I found this site that has illustrations of how to purl - and after that, I found this site, which even has a short video clip of how to do it!
Anyway, I wish I had figured out how to do it about a month ago when I started a baby blanket (my first non-scarf project) for my new neice, who will be here later this month. The last time I was in Mobile, I visited the YarnHaus, and -this is how beginner I am - I asked the very nice lady that was working there this:
A blanket is really just a big scarf, right?
And the answer was...yes! I just needed to buy some circular needles so that all my extra knitting (the width of the blanket) would have somewhere to go. She gave me a free pattern that showed how to do it with both knits and purls, but I explained to her that I really only knew how to knit, and she said that, by all means, just to knit the whole thing and it would turn out beautifully anyway. Well, if I do say so myself, it is looking really pretty. It's just 56 knits per row using five balls of Plymouth Yarn Heaven, which is sooooo soft, perfect for a baby!
I'm really happy with it, and I'm almost done with the third ball of yarn, so I just have two more to go and the blanket will be finished.
Once I finish, I'm going to practice my purling technique on one more scarf, then I'm thinking about branching out to other things....I'd love to learn the techniques I'd need so that I could make what's on the front of the latest Knitty - how cute is that?!?! Hmmm....I don't think I'll ever get into making socks, but maybe some neat sweaters, or pillows, or hats, or....
We had the most wonderful Chanukah / New Year Day party last night! We got and gave lots of great presents, supper was awesome, and we all laughed and giggled all night.
Everything we made last night turned out really great. We started with a chicken and beef sausage gumbo, then had lamb chops, collards, black-eyed peas, deviled eggs, and latkes, and for dessert I made cupcakes and Southern sufganiyot - beignets.
The best thing I made for supper was my chicken and beef sausage gumbo.
First, you start with a roux, and this gumbo needs a dark roux (the pic below is about 75% of the way there). The dark roux is 3/4 c. vegetable oil and 1 c. flour (I always use White Lily). Heat the oil until it's very hot, then add the flour little by little until it's all incorporated. Put the heat down to medium-high, and keep stirring - you have to stir the entire time, no stopping for anything. The roux starts out an ivory color, and several minutes later, when you're sick of stirring, it will change to tan, light brown, brown, and when it starts to look like the shade of a Hershey bar, take it off the heat, stir for a while longer, and you're done. The roux will be about 8 zillion degrees hot, though, so be super careful when you pour it into a bowl to use a bit later.
Here are the ingredients for my chicken and beef sausage gumbo:
2 cans chicken stock (or if you have homemade, same amount, even better)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
okra - as many or as few as you like, chopped
1 package beef polish sausage, chopped into small bite-size pieces
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small bite-size pieces
the roux (above)
cayenne, black pepper, and salt to taste
rice (cook separately, for serving with the gumbo)
* Saute the chicken in a little oil, cook and set aside in bowl.
* Saute the beef sausage in a little oil, cook and set aside in bowl.
* Saute onion, bell pepper, okra, and celery until onion starts browning. Add chicken and sausage back to the pot.
* Pour chicken stock into pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Season well.
* Add the roux a bit at a time so it gets incorporated easily. Bring that to a boil, then simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get more concentrated. Stir several times over the course of the hour.
* Serve over rice.
Yum! This was a *huge* hit.
Av made the lamb chops with a rosemary/parsley/garlic rub, and it was great, as were the latkes he made. I made the black-eyed peas and the collard greens. The collards were sooooo good...that Av even liked him (I would have encouraged him to have them anyway, since traditionally you eat black-eyed peas on New Year Day for coins in the new year, and collard greens for cash)!
Here's how I made the collard greens:
1 package beef bacon, chopped into good-size pieces
2 red onions, chopped into good-size pieces
1-2 cans chicken broth (homemade is even better)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 bunch collard greens (I just fold each leaf in half and tear them that way, by hand - the ribs are thrown out)
salt, pepper, brown sugar, cayenne to taste
In a big pot, add all the bacon, and cook until done but not yet crispy.
Add onions to pot and cook them through.
Add the broth, vinegar, and collards (I just tear the leaves right over the pot)
Season with the salt/pepper/brown sugar/cayenne once it's cooked a while.
Put the pot down to simmer, and let them cook however long you like - some people like them more firm (30 minutes or so), but I cook them for two or three hours, because I like them really soft and delicate.
Everything was *so* great, and we had a nice time covering the living room in giftwrap taken off all the presents. I've still got four more loads of dishes to do, but after such a great time I sure don't mind! BTW, I spent all day cooking to my new cd, the Our New Orleans 2005, A Benefit Album. It has Allen Toussaint singing 'Yes We Can Can' (I can listen to that ALL DAY LONG!), Preservation Hall Jazz Band (doing 'Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans'), Davell Crawford, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Irma Thomas, Wild Magnolias, Randy Newman - who we saw in concert a couple of months ago - doing 'Louisiana', and a bunch of others. It's at Amazon here.
I hope everyone had a great New Year's Day, and to all my friends and everyone that reads my blog, I hope that every single one of your wishes for 2006 come true.