26 August 2009

Thrifty souvenirs of summer

1930s quilt
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

One of my family's beloved activities is searching garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and antique fairs for treasures. This summer, we had an absolute bonanza of it, and I came home with some gorgeous bargains. The main event was the Odessa antique fair. It's a huge collection of booths and tents out in a field with everything from furniture to figurines. I have no pictures as I was far too busy searching the hundreds of stalls for something spectacular. But picture a grassy field absolutely stuffed with stalls. Odessa has often been brutally hot and sunny, but for a change, this year it was cool and grey. Just as I stepped inside the small building to finish the few indoor booths, it started pouring rain. But I wasn't too sorry, since I'd already found my Find early on.

This year, I came home with a beautiful, hand pieced and quilted quilt for just $60. Based on the fabric, we figure it's probably from the 1930s. In any case, having worked on a quilt with a machine, I can only have a sense of the huge amount of work that went into this:

1930s quilt
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I saw another quilt, also at Odessa. It was larger, with a pinwheel pattern and some green blocks. I rather loved it too, but at the (fair) price of $335, it was outside the range of my allotted spending money. I'm still boggling that the vender could sell me the above quilt for only $60. I could barely say "I'll take it" fast enough, once he named his price. My mom and I waited until we were several stalls down to let our massive grins shine.

And the thrift stores were just as kind. First, this pretty vintage sheet, which will work well with lots of my quilt fabric leftovers.

vintage sheet
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

This hand-embroidered cloth has a couple holes in it, but for 75 cents, it deserves a second life.

hand-embroidered cloth
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I think each quadrant could perhaps be used for a pillow or totebag. (Apologies for the creases, but this is straight off the laundry line.)

hand-embroidered cloth
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

And, last, but certainly not least... perhaps my most surprising thrifty find to date...

Fluevog boots
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

A pair of Fluevogs! Now, if I'm totally honest, they are a little snug on the toes, but for $2.50, I'm going to wear them and enjoy them... just maybe not for all-day excursions.

20 August 2009

Muffin Formula applied (with time variation)

chocolate marble loaf cake
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I tried another loaf cake using the Muffin Formula this afternoon. It only took 40 minutes to cook and is on the smallish side. This isn't entirely surprising since this one was a chocolate marble and the other one I did was an apple loaf. The extra bulk and moisture of the apple led to a longer cooking time. I just thought I'd mention so that anyone trying out the loaf conversion for a muffin recipe takes this into account and watches the time carefully on the first experiment. For myself, I will just make a bit more batter if I make this again and then I'd expect it to take closer to the full hour.

The Muffin Formula

Lemon-Mint-Thyme teacakes
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I discovered recently that I have mastered the Muffin Formula and now don't need a recipe to make muffins and quickbreads. The idea of throwing together baking is still so exciting to me that I thought I'd share my method.

It all started with the Best Ever Banana Muffin recipe. Now that isn't even the original version of the recipe. The original version had 1/4 cup of butter and no mention of chocolate chips, yogourt, or apple sauce. The name "Best Ever Banana Muffins" comes from a Robin Hood flour recipe that has made its way into many community cookbooks. And it is indeed a great recipe because it's so forgiving of substitutions and experiments. The chocolate chips were an obvious muffin add-in, but getting rid of the butter was the first great discovery. With the banana for moist-ness, the butter really was only adding unnecessary fats. And then there was the time I had no eggs, so I used some apple sauce instead. The muffins were still delicious ... a bit different, but still totally edible.

So how did I make the leap from banana muffins to The Muffin Formula? Well, one day, I decided that I really wanted to make some apple-spice bread. I found some recipe on the internet that sounded okay, but I started modifying it right away for what I wanted to put in, and realised in the end that all I'd retained was the 1/2 c butter and from there I'd actually just followed the proportions of my trusty muffin recipe. (I already knew that muffins and quickbreads are just the same batter, but cooked in different pans). Then, some time later, I had no bananas, but lots of plain yogourt, so I made some muffins with the yogourt as the sole liquid and flavoured it with ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon (sort of gingerbread spices).

The final realisation came yesterday when I decided I wanted some lemony tea cakes. And I just MADE them. I'm sure many a frequent muffin baker has made the same discovery, but in case you haven't, here's my muffin/quickbread method. All amounts are approximate... this is just the basic formula.

Lemon-Mint-Thyme tea cake
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

The Muffin Formula

Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c butter (optional, makes it more cake-like)
  • 1/2 c to 3/4 c sugar or honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 1-1/2 c liquidy ingredient(s) (apple sauce, yogourt, sour cream, juice, mashed banana, milk, etc. Aim for less liquid if it's a thin liquid like milk and aim for more if it's more viscous like banana)
Add the dry ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 to 2 c flour (amount depends on how soupy the wet ingredients are)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Add some special flavourings:
For best mixing, I suggest you add dry things like spices or zest with the dry ingredients, wet things like essences with the wet ingredients, and things in pieces (like most fruit, nuts, and so forth) at the end.
  • spices and herbs (ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, thyme, mint, etc)
  • liquid essences (vanilla, rose water, orange blossom water, almond extract, etc)
  • fruit (apple, berries, raisins, currants, citrus zest, dates, candied ginger, etc),
  • nuts, seeds, chocolate chips
Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes for muffins or at 350°F for 1 hour for a loaf.

Some examples of my experiments using the Muffin Formula:
  • apple-spice bread (small chunks of apple and cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg for the flavouring, used 1/2 c butter and 3/4 c brown sugar, yogourt and milk for the liquid, topped with more chunks of apple and sprinkled with brown sugar)
  • gingerbread muffins (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves for the flavouring, 1/2 c sugar, no butter, yogourt for the liquid)
  • lemon-herb tea cakes (lemon zest, juice of half a lemon, chopped fresh lemon-thyme and mint from the garden for the flavouring, used 1/4 c butter and 1/2 c sugar, 1 c milk for the liquid)
Go forth and discover the joy of experimental baking! Happy eating!

19 August 2009

Guess what I'm doing?

quilting in progress
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I took my unfinished picnic quilt on holiday with me and my Mom helped me pin and baste the layers of the quilt sandwich together. I've started quilting it and boy is it a bit of a beast to manipulate. I'm glad we were so thorough with the sandwich step. I'm feeling quite giddy now that it's finally starting to seem like a Real quilt.

18 August 2009

Back from holiday

Prince Edward Point
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I am back from nearly 2 weeks of holiday in the countryside. It was wonderfully relaxing to visit family and be away from the city for a bit. I didn't miss my computer at all, though I did miss my sweetie who could only join me for part of the trip. Thinking of him, I picked up heart shaped stones along this lovely pebble beach.

Heart Stones
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I absolutely adore the beach. When I was little, we lived just a short walk from a wonderfully rocky beach. The kind that's best for poking about and exploring and turning over rocks to see what's underneath. I can spend ages watching waves curl in and splash, a little differently every time. Something in me, despite having lived away from the seashore for so long, is still inextricably drawn to it. An afternoon at this beach, followed by a picnic on a rock shelf nearby (perfect for paddling one's feet in the water from) was really an absolutely perfect way to spend a summer's day.

Yesterday, my first day back in Montreal, was the usual laundry and errands day that follows a holiday. I bixi'd downtown in the morning, and despite the mostly downhill ride, was melting by the time I got there. Montreal decided to greet our return with the first truly sweltering day this year ... it was 41°C with the humidity. We went to see Julie/Julia in the evening, mostly to enjoy the air conditioning in the theatre (though we both enjoyed the Julia Child part of the film too). We walked home in the cooler evening and paused for some refreshing lemon sorbet. More holiday stories to follow as I upload the rest of my pictures...

Heart Stone
Originally uploaded by allisongryski