Cross-stitch and Embroidery

“Familiar”-ity doesn’t always breed contempt

Yes, that’s a bad pun, if it even qualifies as one.  (I’m sure dads the world over are shaking their heads and taking an extra step away from me: “We’d never make a joke that bad.”)

This is just a short one, because I have no real backstory for this, but: just in time for Halloween, I managed to complete “Cat in the Moon” by Handblessings.

Cat in the Moon 1

This stitched up fairly quickly thanks to the negative space for the moon and the half-cross stitch.  I debated leaving the witch charm off because its shiny silver-like finish detracted (in my opinion) from the cat and everything else.  In the end, I painted on a thin coat of black enamel paint: light enough that you can still see the relief on the charm, but dark enough to almost “match”.  It’s just a shade larger than 4″ square, and makes an excellent addition to my minimalist Halloween décor.

Thanks for looking – I hope everyone’s having a happy Halloween! 🙂

baking

For when your blood type is pretty much “pumpkin spice”…

It’s one of those terribly “basic” things to admit, but my heart beats a little faster when pumpkin spice latte season rolls around (it must be all that extra caffeine).  In my defense, my infatuation is strictly with the latte, and not the hundreds of other pumpkin spice-inspired items available.  I’ve carefully researched the coffee options, so you don’t have to.  From worst to best:

4. McDonald’s Caramel Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Their pumpkin spice latte used to be good, but the current iteration is far too sweet.  Add to that the general chaos and lousy service, and this is a hard pass.

3. Starbucks.  I think this might have been the original one, but it’s also really sweet and something else – I almost want to use the word “sludgy”, which is something your coffee should never, ever be.

2. Tim Horton’s.  This is saying something.  I’m not a fan of Tim’s overall, but their allegedly handcrafted latte is not wretched.  It doesn’t have a terribly strong pumpkin or spicy flavour, but it’s not gag-inducingly sweet, either.  If you want something warm, creamy, and soothing, this will take the chill off.  (Bonus: The Pumpkin Spice Iced Capp is surprisingly decent, if you can get past the idea of a cold pumpkin drink.  Just stay away from the whipped topping; that stuff could probably survive a nuclear bomb.)

1. Second Cup.  The ne plus ultra of pumpkin spice lattes.  I only wish there were more locations so that I didn’t have to brave the mall every time I want a fix.  These are flavourful and not too sweet, and if you haven’t tried one, you must.  You’ll never drink Starbucks again.

Ahem.  Given that kind of attention to these drinks, it’s probably not surprising that the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes from the Brown Eyed Baker called to me.  I cheated just a little bit and used my pumpkin cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as the base, only with the coffee and spices recommended by the BEB.

I used instant coffee instead of instant espresso powder because that’s what I had on hand.  I also used a bit more than the 4 1/2 teaspoons called for, because it’s not as strong as the espresso.  And although you certainly can dissolve 7 or so teaspoons of instant coffee in 1/4 cup of milk, you certainly should not taste it unless you want to never touch coffee again.  Bleh.  Luckily, by the time it’s mixed in with all the other ingredients, it just lends a nice coffee-ish flavour to the cupcakes without overpowering them.

PSC1

I topped them with the cream cheese whipped cream as suggested in the recipe, and oh: you can’t go wrong with that stuff.  It’s light and fluffy, but doesn’t deflate if it’s out of the fridge for longer than a few minutes.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but if you have leftover whipped cream, it’s also excellent on toast or gingerbread, or eaten straight out of the container with a spoon.  I don’t judge.  Some caramel sauce and Saigon cinnamon sprinkled on top sealed the deal.

PSC2

They also release really nicely from their liners and stay moist.  Dry cupcakes are the worst!

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I made these over Thanksgiving weekend, and although I associate with a band of cookie fans, I have never seen a batch of cupcakes disappear so quickly.  This is one recipe that stays in the roster for next year – or, you know, next weekend. 🙂

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery, Other Crafts

Where my witches at?!

I’ll skip the whole “Ooh, Halloween!” preamble, because anyone who’s been reading this for a while knows how I feel about it (and if you don’t, check the Halloween tag).  Spoiler alert: I love it!  Obviously, joining the 2018 iteration of the Vintage Halloween Swap on Craftster was a no-brainer.  My partner has received her package, so I figured it was safe to post this now.

My partner’s era of choice was the 1920s-1930s, and “witches” was among her favourite themes.  This might have pushed me just a wee bit outside my comfort zone – my Halloween aesthetic runs toward “cute” and “cats”, and is just a bit more modern – but one of the fun aspects of swaps is trying something you might not ordinarily try.  An Etsy search for “1930s Halloween” yielded, among other things, a high-quality jpeg version of this image:

2018 Swap 4

(This, of course, is a low-quality image courtesy of a Google search.)

She was Art Deco-y and fun, and I decided to interpret her in embroidery.  Using my lightbox, I traced the basic outline in pencil before going over those lines with a transfer pen.  Once the design was transferred to my fabric, I colour-tinted the image before starting the actual embroidery.

2018 Swap 5

Naturally, I didn’t think to take a picture after transferring and before tinting.  This will be a recurring theme.

After setting the crayon, I used a simple backstitch to define most of the image – I had tried stem stitch, because I think it permits more gentle curvature, but it was proving to be too bulky and weird.  I used a bit of satin stitch on the witch’s eyes and mouth, an some French knots to create the polka-dot pattern on her sleeve.

2018 Swap 6

Her hands in the original image reminded me of a Barbie doll’s steel-fork fingers, so I attempted to humanize her a little bit.  Her overall look reminded me of something, too, but I couldn’t figure out what for the longest time, until it hit me: she’s a tad Claudette Colbert-ish,  I think.  Same era, same shot-from-the-left, same well-defined lips…

That’s a regular wood/bamboo embroidery hoop she’s framed in (5″), painted black to really make the colours pop.

When I had gone to Michael’s to pick up the fabric, floss, and hoop for her, I saw a display of unfinished wooden light-up decorations, and lo, they had a witch one.

2018 Swap 1

It did not occur to me to take a “before” picture until after I had started applying yellow paint – I told you that was a recurring issue.

2018 Swap 2

Even after one coat of craft acrylic, she looked pretty good, but this picture definitely showed me the need for a second coat – and that I had to paint the edges black as well.

2018 Swap 3

This picture doesn’t really do it justice – lit up in a dark room, it positively glows.

Consider Halloween crafting season to be officially underway – thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Is there such a thing as too much chocolate and peanut butter? Maybe…

It’s been well-documented in my years of blogging (and even more years baking and not putting it out there on the interweb) that chocolate and peanut butter is a flavour combination that rates very highly with my test audience.  Frankly, I think that the very best cookies contain lots of peanut butter and little to no chocolate, but hey, give the people what they want, right?

I grabbed my Baking Buddy and told him we were going to try the Buckeye Brownies as published on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Even though I don’t typically like having someone else around when I’m baking (seriously, this towel has my name all over it), it was actually a really ingenious if kind of Marxist solution: by splitting the cost of ingredients, each person is only out half the cash, and each person gets half a pan to eat rather then try to work through an entire 9 x 13 pan alone.  Plus, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, and feels productive.  That’s what, win-win-win-win?  I can’t argue with that kind of logic.

Although I’ve got a totally kickin’, never-fail brownie recipe of my own, I took a leap of faith and followed the recipe to the letter.  My devil-may-care attitude was rewarded; those brownies – a.k.a. the ultra-important foundation of this entire endeavour – turned out perfectly.

Buckeye Brownies 1

A lovely, slightly cracked top – what a sight to behold!  Baking Buddy’s mind was blown when I demanded the aluminum foil to line the pan: he had never done that before, and marveled at the ridiculously easy clean-up that followed (eventually).  Waiting the recommended time for these to cool enough to add the next layer was the longest part of the entire process, so if you’re going to try these, make sure you can find some way to amuse yourself for a while.

Buckeyes require peanut butter, right?

Buckeye Brownies 2

Action shot!  (And clearly, we don’t believe in putting our groceries away during brownie-cooling downtime; sorry.)

This part was a lot like the peanut butter frosting I use on cupcakes, only…more.  Lots more.

Buckeye Brownies 3

Only here did I deviate from the recipe.  The recipe called for milk chocolate chips in the ganache/glaze, a thought which immediately made my teeth hurt.  Don’t get me wrong, I love milk chocolate, particularly if it’s got peanuts, caramel, or nougat in it.  But the thought of it smeared on top of a thick sweet layer of peanut butter?  Shudder.  I used semi-sweet instead, a twist heartily supported by Baking Buddy.

Buckeye Brownies 4

As we cut them, my first, stomach-dropping thought was, “They look like Nanaimo bars!”  (Something I would likely never make because they’re far too sweet and rich.)  “Hey, they kinda look like Nanaimo bars,” remarked Baking Buddy cheerfully.  It’s all about agreeing on the important things, folks.

These brownies are lovely, and the layers showed perfectly, and…holy crow, are they ever rich!  I can’t begin to imagine what milk chocolate chips would have brought to the party.  If you’re going to make ’em and eat ’em like this, a cup of coffee or glass of milk (depending on your preference) is strongly recommended…but during the postmortem, we discussed ways to make them better.  Halving the peanut butter mixture?  Halving the peanut butter mixture and omitting the chocolate glaze?  The top two layers almost ruin a wonderfully chewy brownie that stands up well on its own – but on the bright side, I now have a second basic brownie recipe in my arsenal.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Uncategorized

10-Year Anniversary

Ten years ago today, I basically went, “Hey, I made something!” and hit Publish for the very first time.  Nothing like hitting any sort of double-digit anniversary to make you feel old, eh?  😉  In honour of this momentous occasion, I present:

Ten Fun* Facts About The Witty Child

  1. The blog name comes from a Humbert Humbert quote: “Now I do hope that’s all, you witty child.”  Hardly à propos for a cooking/crafting-type blog, but when I first started it, I didn’t really have a long-term plan, and it seemed like a good idea.  Famous last words…
  2. That having been said, I have no plans to change it after all this time.  It’s kind of my thing, now.
  3. I show my inner Bob Belcher, only instead of punny burger names, it’s pop-culturey blog post titles.  I’m always a little disappointed in myself when a title is plainly descriptive.
  4. Sometimes I’m a little too punny/witty for my own good.  Case in point: in my list of blog posts, I kept seeing one called “Tin Roof, Rusted”.  I knew immediately what song the line was from, but couldn’t remember doing anything remotely resembling a love shack (I don’t think there’s any interior decorating on here…yet).  It turns out (spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it!) that I had completed a sewing project dubbed “Love Elephant” by its designer.  That morphed into “Love Pachyderm” and eventually “Love Pach”.
  5. There’s clearly a frustrated writer in my somewhere, because usually as soon as I start a craft project or see a recipe I want to make, I start mentally composing a post title if not the actual post.
  6. This is especially true for my Craftmas posts, and it’s not uncommon for me to pick up a notebook on my breaks at work and start writing out a post longhand, to be edited and typed later.  And for those of you who are curious, that’s exactly how this post came to be.
  7. I do not get social media.  I do have an account on Instagram that was a tie-in to my now-defunct Etsy shop, but ever since I stopped selling, I can’t be bothered to play the IG game.  What you see on this blog are original posts, not cross-posted to five different platforms (excepting, perhaps, Craftster).  Also, I will not take a post from five years ago and give it today’s date when I can’t come up with any actual new content.  (Seriously, why even bother?)  I hate when blogs do this, and the dates on the comments give it away every.  Single.  Time.
  8. When not crafting, blogging, or complaining about these whippersnappers and their social media, I’m an avid reader, and compile my finishes on Goodreads.  It’s not always highbrow, but I’ve made peace with that.
  9. I don’t bake as often as I used to.  Whether this is due to a greater awareness of sugar consumption, changing jobs and not having the same peanut gallery, or simple sloth, I’m not sure.  Sifting through my archives was like, “cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes”, but lately?  Not so much.  I’ll have to work on that.
  10. Normally, I don’t believe in amending old blog posts save for small spelling corrections – I prefer to leave them as-is, like a digital time capsule.  One notable exception: I changed a post title that joked about Bill Cosby.  It was originally written back when he was just America’s Dad and not a convicted sexual predator, but…I just couldn’t leave it.  I like the new title much better, anyway.

Fighting the urge to become sentimental and self-aggrandizing, I’ll leave it at this.  Thank you for looking, and if you like what you see: awesome! 🙂

(*not really)

baking, cooking

Strawberries, cherries, and an angel’s kiss in spring…

…my summer jam is really made from all these things.  (And a lot less likely to leave you hung over and robbed of your silver spurs!)

The very first year the cherry tree in the front yard yielded fruit – honestly edible fruit, and not the kind you leave for the birds to peck at – I was thrilled.  This isn’t exactly the Okanagan, so this was a novelty to me, one that elicited fantasies of making jam and…well, I didn’t make it much past jam.  And when I first tried it using a Jell-o jam recipe a couple of years ago, the results weren’t great.  (What did I expect?  Jell-o is not and will never be a proper substitute for pectin.)

Jam and Crisp 1

It’s not a huge tree, but it’s got spirit and bursts forth with cherries like it’s going through some sort of weird tree puberty.

Last year yielded another large crop.  Since the idea of “real” canning terrifies me and has me convinced I’ll give someone botulism, I looked for a recipe for freezer jam, and found this.  Even though the recipe specifically calls for sweet cherries, it works wonderfully with my tart little harvest, too.  It’s remarkably similar to the one found inside the Certo package, with the small addition of microwaving the fruit-and-sugar mixture for a few minutes to increase the saturation point and help the sugar dissolve for non-grainy jam.  (There’s something a little disturbing about a recipe using so much sugar that the fruit can’t absorb it all on its own, but even the Certo box calls for the same amount.  In any case, that brief heating works like a charm.)

And, sure, the cherry jam was good, but I sighed that I wished I had my late grandmother’s recipe for strawberry jam.  Hers was the best, bar none, and I had spent the entirety of this millennium to date without tasting it.

“She just used the recipe from the Certo box,” my dad pointed out.  Wait.  The same recipe that I had just more-or-less used with great success?  “The very same.”  Suddenly, memories of her retrieving a new jar from the freezer, not the pantry/basement flitted past my mind’s eye.  I could have been enjoying this stuff for the past 15-plus years.

It was past strawberry season when I had that epiphany, but this year, there was no way I was going to miss out again.  Farmers’ markets may or may not be a giant rip-off (case in point: the cherries that proliferate unbidden in the front yard cost $5.49/lb at the market, and they’re tiny and mostly pit, and tart to boot), but there’s no denying that fresh, local strawberries taste only about a million times better than their pale, flavourless California cousins.  It was a challenge to not eat them all before I could puree and mix and jar them.

But I managed it, and was rewarded with this:

Jam and Crisp 6

Keepin’ it real with mismatched and repurposed jars, there – yet another perk to freezer jam.  Even tasting the mixture as I went along to make sure the sugar was dissolved was like a trip down memory lane.

Of course, it’s hard to justify spending $7.49/pint and not use the fruit you can get for free, right?

Jam and Crisp 5

The freezer is full of unlabelled reddish jars now.  But don’t worry; I can tell them apart.

Jam and Crisp 7

(Editor’s note: I could have sworn the line, “I can’t see the difference.  Can you see the difference?” was from some sort of margarine ad, but a quick Google search confirms it’s ABC laundry detergent.  The more you know!)

I still had half a bucket full of cherries after the jam, so I baked the Bourbon Cherry Crisp from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Jam and Crisp 3Jam and Crisp 4

Warm from the oven, it was a bit like a cherryish hot and sour soup.  But ah, at room temperature – heaven on Earth!  The topping is crisp and lovely, and the sliced almonds complement the fruit perfectly.  I’ve still got some cherries in the freezer, pitted and ready to go, so a second batch may be in order.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The Hunt for Red Velvet

I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

RVCC1

They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

RVCC2

And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

RVCC3

This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

RVCC4

(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂