Monday, December 15, 2008

dragonfly quilt complete

the dragonfly quilt is finally finished!
i spent a fair amount of time the past week doing the finishing stitching - both by machine and by hand and i'm so pleased with how it turned out. allow me to share some pictures with you.
i decided to outline the paper pieced dragonfly squares to set them off a bit.

here's the initials piece in context:

marty and i designed a stitching pattern for the middle based on the thunderbolt design of payton's home and the colors of the four directions. i initially did this by machine, but took it out in favor of hand stitching.

here's some of the stippling stitching i did with the free-motion darning foot on my bernette - very fun, it makes the dragonflies pop out in a nice puffy way.

as per marty's suggestion, some of the dragonflies and other bugs got little bee-line trails stitched behind them.
other blocks got outlines inside them.

even the back looks exciting. you can really see the stitching that i did in darker colors to match the quilt top.

here's the bias binding, stitched by hand on the back side, of course.

i was convinced to sign this quilt, something i've never done in previous quilts, but it seemed like a nice idea.

i made two quilted potholders for payton's mama as well.

the quilt and potholders got packaged up and sent out today - hope they like them!

Monday, December 8, 2008

soup to nuts

or rather veggie waste to soup stock.
sele and i share a CSA (community supported agriculture) veggie box from the terra firma farm - check out their website for some cute farmin' bulldogs pictures. meaning we have a sort of veggie subscription to this local farm and they bring fresh vegetables into oakland once a week for us to enjoy.
our household has been greatly improved both by the CSA share and by the addition of our curbside recycling pail (thanks, oakland). and this week i'm excited to share my one step further in the direction of reducing waste and serving up deliciousness in the form of homemade vegetable stock.
i notice that with each meal i prepare there is a fair amount of vegetable matter that goes to waste - those stems and trimmings that are edible but i'm just not going to put in the effort to make them taste good. so i started a tupperware container in my fridge to keep the trimmings in until i have enough to make soup stock. i wasn't sure if they would accumulate fast enough to make soup, so i labeled the container "veggie stock or compost" - i'm a labeling maniac - and figured nothing lost if they started getting soggy before i had enough to make a decent pot of stock. i was surprized at how quickly that container filled up, and today i took advantage of the chill in the air to warm up and aromafy the house with some simmering stock.
over the course of this week i had accumulated: some beet stems (i ate the beets and the greens, but the stems were a little tough), red chard stems, broccoli stems, and cilantro stems, to which i added two small onions, about 6 whole cloves of garlic, some black peppercorns, two carrots (terra firma makes some darn good carrots), and a sprinkle of salt, thyme, and chili powder.
i left all those things simmering in a big pot of water for a couple of hours, and then turned off the heat and went for a walk. when i came back from my walk i was famished and stood over the pot slurping tastes of the stock - which was so good i decided to pour myself a bowl - of just veggie broth! and i thought it was so tasty because i was so hungry, but even after i ate my lunch and was belly full, i went back for more - this stuff is great!

here are some of the contents of our CSA box a few weeks ago - so exciting!

i'm looking forward to having a weekly ritual of veggie broth production and freezing with my vegetable scraps. there's nothing i like more than making something great out of something i would otherwise throw away.
a tip i read in a magazine this weekend but forgot to do myself: make sure your vegetables stay under the water surface level by placing a collapsable metal steamer on top of the veggies in the pot.
and if you've been wondering what the phrase "soup to nuts" means, like i have, here's wikipedia's explanation. my question is: who has nuts for desert?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the cult of domesticity

Charles Dana Gibson, No Time for Politics, 1910

Ulali- Mother
A note on the naming of this blog:
i chose the name “cultivating domesticity” as a play on “the cult of domesticity,” an ideology coined in the nineteenth century that said a woman’s place was in the home. also known as “the cult of true womanhood” this ideology laid out the cardinal values all [white middle/upperclass] women must display: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. the woman’s biological imperative was to create a tranquil domestic sphere for her husband – as women were ill-equipped to do the things men do in the outside world. these ideas pervaded all forms of popular culture at the time, and were buttressed by a lot of pseudo-scientific evidence of female inferiority: we have smaller bodies and smaller brains, more delicate constitutions, and things like menstruation and masturbation make us insane.
i learned all about the cult of domesticity studying at smith college, where generations of (mostly white) women before me had come to buck the system and break out of the domestic sphere, proving their ability to challenge male domination in all aspects of the outside world. which is incredible, and necessary – because we’re obviously not over the belief that women are inferior and incapable of doing certain things men do (physical labor, politics, being decisive, etc), so while i take issue with the white privileged backbone of the feminist movement, i do think the sentiment is necessary and the fight is still relevant.
what i don’t like is the implicit devaluing of domestic work. in a sort of animal farm–ish move, feminism takes on the assumption that traditionally-male work is more valuable and desirable than roles traditionally done by women (and people of color). so i walked away from my feminist education thinking that i ought to get an impressive job and higher degrees to show the world that i can beat men at their own game. and while i do think i can beat men at their own game, i also think that cooking and washing and mending clothes and raising families are some of the most important and critical roles in a society. Unlike some of the best-paid jobs in this country, if someone isn’t making food and babies nobody’s going anywhere.
and i don't think these realms are mutually exclusive, in fact i think the realms are constructed to be separate (and unequal) in order to maintain a system of domination and destructive policy.
so what i’m saying with this blog is that i value those necessary roles as much as i do the flashy positions in male-dominated spheres, and i think it does us good as a movement, as a people, to pay tribute to and cultivate the art of caring for our family, friends and homes, and to bring that energy into our work in our communities and the world.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

form meets function: quilt style

marty and i have been talking a lot about collaborating on artistic/craft projects lately. as is true of our relationship in general, we compliment each other well - our individual talents and qualities fill into each others' spaces nicely. we raise each other up as we stretch our own abilities in new ways together.
right now he's teaching me about aesthetics and form, something i don't have an intuitive sense about when it comes to creating things. and yesterday i taught him to sew on the bernette, and he has now taken on an identity as a "jeans repairman." (meaning he was able to fix the hole in his favorite pair of jeans and it was a great first sewing success). so he's helping me with concept and form; i'm helping him with function and execution.
this collaboration is coming to bear on the dragonfly quilt project, with the final inner square now completed. i made seven paper-pieced dragonflies, since seven is a significant number in baby payton's lakota culture, and we've been planning to fill in the eighth square in the constellation with his own initials, joining payton's presence in the circle on the eastern side. marty drew up the initials, stylizing his letters to mirror the dragonfly shape, and i worked with that pattern to applique the letters onto the quilt block. it's like graffiti style meets quilty craft.

you can see the pattern and its resulting quilt form here; we ended up dropping the "s" of "payton sky" and the heart from the design as it needed some decluttering. and the letters needed a little extra definition, so with marty's help i embroidered a shadow and some highlights into it as well. i'm pleased with how the block came out, and though it's a painstaking process to hand sew all those little angles and spaces between letters i take pride in putting those extra loving touches into my work.

and now the quilt top is complete and i'm ready to sandwich the quilt together with the batting (middle layer) and backing fabric (also dragonfly print) and start machine quilting it. i'm not sure yet what kind of stitching i'll be doing, something subtle i think since the whole quilt is so busy and i don't want to take away from the details already present in each of the dragonfly fabrics. updates on that coming soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

raggedy rug hooking

i am racking up some successfully completed craft projects now.
i remember checking out a book in high school about hooked rag rugs and getting really excited about making one - and while that seems like it was just yesterday, wasn't. and now i finally got around to doing it. i love crafts that utilize trash or bits and pieces of things you already have laying around to make something new, so this project was right up my alley. during my last visit to mom's house she let me go through her fabric boxes and pick out things i wanted to take home. i decided to take all her scraps and strips of fabric - both for this project and another one that i have yet to start (but it will surely make a blog appearance once i get around to it).

so the hooked rag rug project goes something like this: you have a piece of burlap (i cut up an old burlap bag we had kicking around the house, but you can also buy burlap and other loose-weave fabrics for this purpose), and you basically take strips of fabric and pull loops through to the front of the burlap to create the rug pile. so it's sort of like you're sewing the fabric into the burlap, but leaving big loops on one side, and not using a needle. here's what the back of the rug looks like when you're done:

  • piece of burlap the size of your anticipated rug
  • sharpie or other marker to draw out design
  • crochet hook (there are special rug hooks, but i found a crochet hook worked better for me - i think i used size j)
  • fabric scraps, cut into strips about 1.5" wide, the longer the strips the easier to work with, but you can incorporate short strips as well

i think life would have been easier if i had a circular hoop frame to keep my burlap stretched out on, and if i had started from the middle of the piece and worked outward, but i didn't do that and may be on my way to developing early arthritis instead.
for this project, marty drew out the design for the rug, our first initials with arrows. i had a lot of random scraps to work in, with no real apparent color scheme, so i decided to start with the letters and outline them in dark colors and then fill in with a color gradient, greens for the "k" and yellows/reds/purples for the "m".

i recommend doubling over your edges of the burlap and stitching them before you start. i didn't do this and realized that they were starting to fray while i was working on the letter outlines. at that point i stitched an old quilt binding i had leftover from one of mom's quilt projects around the edge of my rug, but this was not really enough to keep it from fraying, you should really fold and stitch. i ended up having to hand sew the parts that were still coming apart on the edges at the end.

the process is remarkably easy and satisfying. this project validated my new obsession with the watch instantly feature on netflix for a week. meaning it's easy to do while watching movies and you can feel like you're still "doing something."

here's the back of the completed rug.
the feel of the rug is great - nice and squishy, and it takes a lot of fabric so it's got a great heft to it. the rug is now positioned in front of the sink, so my feet don't get so tired while i'm doing dishes. plus maybe it will be extra incentive to be doing the dishes with that bright beckonning rug there...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

election night craft project

worried you're going to be home biting your fingernails tonight?
what better form of stress relief than grabbing some crayons and doing a crafty project while watching the counts come in. thanks to elizabeth perry for creating and sharing this downloadable color-your-own electoral college map. there are 538 votes total. a majority of 270 is needed to win.
happy voting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"take it easy, but take it"

in honor of the life and work of studs terkel.
i did my first interviews at the storycorps booth in san francisco this sunday, and having just heard about studs terkel's passing the night before, his life and legacy were on my mind. the idea behind storycorps is to record the stories of everyday people's lives, their lessons and treasures and misstakes and passions. i work with them because i am fascinated with people's stories; i learn so much from the experiences and perspectives of others. this is an oral history project aiming to record history from the bottom up, so to speak, from the mouths of ordinary people. i do the work, also, because i believe it's a service to people. both to those who, like me, value and benefit from listening to other people talk about their experiences and finding threads of commonality with our own lives, and also a service to those who come to record their stories with with a loved one in the soundbooth. i see now that the interview booth can be transformative - it provides a space to start conversations that you just haven't been able to ask about over the kitchen table, and it provides a legacy for people's lives, for family history, in fact for history in general.
studs terkel embodied this purpose with his life's work, from radio to writing - documenting the lives and thoughts of ordinary people, providing spaces for us to learn from each other. the chicago tribune did a really nice piece on his life here.
and i remember hearing his interview on democracy now a couple years ago, an incredible interview for having just been the oldest person to undergo open heart surgery a week or two before the interview.
so thank you, studs, for leaving a legacy of listening, closely and with intention, to each other.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

spooky scary

sele and i jumped on the pumpkin carving bandwagon this week. we both chose this year to go with the stencil pattern method of carving. i downloaded a spooky owl from they hershey's activities website. sele had the brilliant idea of carving the oakland oak tree into her pumpkin. luckily, we didn't discover the yes we carve website until the morning after pumpkin carving. talk about spooky scary.
our choice pumpkin selections came from trader joes, and we made a special trip to long's to buy pumpkin carving tools. i, being the miserly person that i am, was hesitant to spend money on things i sort of already had at home (knives, spoons) but it turned out to be entirely worth it. for one, we found out at the cash register that pumpkin carving sets were on clearance, so we ended up spending $5 for two sets and some requisite chocolate. one of the pumpkin carving tools is a battery powered carving tool, which i was highly skeptical about, but turned out to be the key to quickly and deftly creating our pumpkin masterpieces. and the batteries are replaceable, so it's highly recommended.

here are the carving necessities: plastic-wrapped table, stencils, carving tools, pumpkins, bowls for pumpkin guts, and a drink we created out of whiskey and packets of instant ginger honey crystal tea - kinda like a hot toddy.

when i cut the top off my pumpkin it started weeping this clear liquid. also, the holes i punched in the side as stars developed bruise-like circles around them. i don't know what that's about but i prefer my pumpkins a little less anthropomorphic.

the stenciling process involves poking little holes through your paper to transfer the image directly onto your pumpkin and then removing the stencil and carving away.

here's my little owl looking at its stencil reflection.

and here he is with a removable wing, which i decided to keep propped in there to add another dimension to the carving.
i learned a few useful tips on pumpkin carving during the process. one is that you should cut a "chimney" in the top of your pumpkin where a dark spot starts to appear from your candle to let the heat out. i haven't perfected the placement of my chimney, so my owl's top is a little melty now. another is if you have trouble seeing your dot transfers (i didn't because my pumpkin bruised easily) you can rub white flour over the surface and it will illuminate your holes.

here's sele making quick work of the oakland tree.

which turned out beautifully and should win some sort of city prize.

here's the lit-up version of the owl. i'm quite pleased.

finally, after the cutting was done i got to do my other favorite seasonal activity: roasting pumpkin seeds. beside the obvious satisfaction of feeling like i "used" the entire pumpkin (in the way that putting the whole thing on your front doorstep to rot is putting it to use), those roasted seeds are so tasty. i resisted the temptation to rinse the slimy pumpkin innard juice off the seeds before roasting because i think i did that last time and the water made them soggy. so this time i sprinkled them with salt, nutmeg, paprika,turmeric, and my new favorite thing to add to everything: chipotle chili. halfway through roasting them (at 350 degrees) i realized they were sticking to the bottom of the pan and added about a teaspoon or so of safflower oil. good move, that increased the crispiness factor as well, i think. the sweet nutmeg and savory chili was a little odd, but that's what i was going for and we must have liked it because they were all gone by morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

nasra's hat

here's an update of one satisfied hat wearer

this is the hat i made while in oklahoma this summer. good thing i made the size up for nasra, her head's filling it out nicely now. thanks for the photo, justin. she's beautiful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the namesake dish: kasha varnishkes

my friend hannah of i heart kale sent me an email link to a new york times article yesterday. seeing the subject "kasha shows off with a bow tie flourish" in my inbox made me initially assume that the ny times had gotten creative, if not nonsensical, with incorporating my name into their spam email. but i opened it anyway (please don't send me any email viruses, this apparently demonstrates my lack of self restraint when opening emails), and i literally hooted out loud when i read the first few lines of mark bittman's minimalist food column. it starts out like this:

JUST the other day I was discussing kasha with a grain-loving pal. The conversation went something like this: She: “Kasha. There just isn’t a whole lot you can do with it.” I: “No. It’s actually the least interesting of grains. I’m not even sure I like it.”

for those of you who don't already know, my name is also the name for buckwheat groats. that's not something i try to tell people upon first meeting. something about the word "groats" seems less than enchanting for a first encounter. those of you who've known me for a long time might say that don't really try to bring that one up ever. though i have to say, it's hard to dodge when you have an unusual name that reminds people of a popular cereal. my mother swears she didn't know she was naming me after a grain at the time, and i begrudgingly believe her.
i've never been clear on exactly what a "groat" is, and this article gave me the opportunity to look it up. according to wikipedia, groat just refers to a hulled grain, though it seems to be a term they particularly like to pair with kasha. wheat, for instance, has its own name for the groat form: bulgar. and i was excited to hear that there is a traditional english dish called "groaty pudding" or "groaty dick." the english are great at naming things.
so back to the food column, it's a great recipe for kasha varnishkes - a dish they sometimes served at smith in the dining halls, but i never really understood. seemed like too much grains on grains to me. but mark bittman's mother's recipe looks quite tasty, and the video is really fun. i think carmelizing onions in chicken fat sold me on it.
call me vain, but it was really enjoyable, albeit somewhat disconcerting, to read my own name repeatedly used in odd context throughout the article. For example, here are some excerpts from the comments on the article:

"An excellent video, and a good portrayal of kasha!"
"The reason Mark was never hot for kasha is because he left out an important step..."
"I am shocked that you didn’t include the secret to really light, fluffy kasha..."

"I came up doing the egg in the kasha technique - certainly considered traditional by many."

"Great as a side dish but I’m guilty of eating it as a meal. Kasha itself is quite good for you, so eat! eat!"

weird. i'm trying not to eat things carmelized in chicken fat right now, so someone else please make this and tell me what you think of kasha.