Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Missed You So Much

Hey! Long time no see. I wish I could say that is because I've been sooo busy the last week or so, but I really haven't. Actually, I'm proud to say that I let myself take a little break. No, I didn't need a break from you, but more a break from all the Etsy craziness that has been happening this November and December. The Etsy project went really well. I made 12 online sales, 6 custom orders, and one large retail sale.
On its own I'd consider the Etsy sales to be relatively modest. Had I pushed myself to make more visits to Tech Shop (where I cut the wooden ornaments) I might have made more online sales, but I wasn't overly motivated to keep the snowflakes stocked after I sold them all to a local boutique. The goal was to sell, and that's what I did!
A friend I've made in the last year owns a beautiful boutique in the vibrant business district of Sewickley, PA. Her store, Lex and Lynne, opened in 2011, and she now has a total of three stores in two buildings on the main drag in Sewickley. Anyway, she bought all my stock and I didn't try very hard to replenish the Etsy store. That was totally on me. I felt like I had done what I intended to do, and now I'm ready to move onto new projects.
The first new project is creating drawings that I plan to make digital copies of and sell as prints both locally and on Etsy. Here's a portrait of a fawn I'm currently working on.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Your Grandma Could Make This Sushi

Sushi is one of those things I always want, but don't really have the money to get it every day. Seriously, I'm on a sushi kick like once every 6 months where I just can't get enough. So what do I do when I want something but don't want to spend a lot? Well for me the immediate answer is almost always to make it myself. However, I've loved sushi for a long time and I've been a maker for a long time, so why I never attempted to make sushi till this year is beyond me. I made it once in April with some success, and I made it once in June or July and it was pretty awful. This Monday I made it while I was at home sick from work. Let me just tell you, I really surprised myself this time.

Guys, look at this sushi. Just look at it. I made (from left) a salmon roll, spicy salmon roll, and a California roll. Also, today for lunch I made a shrimp roll at work with the remaining supplies.

I want to tell you how I made the sushi. This is my favorite kind of tutorial because it's something that I guess I just never tried because I thought I couldn't do it, or do it well. It's weird the things we put into that category... things we can and can't do. For some reason I also put Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop in that category, but I'm using them this year too. I also thought I couldn't learn to make my own iPhone app or sell on Etsy successfully, but I was wrong about that too. I guess we should all just stop using the word can't about ourselves and others. #preach

Moving on... The important thing to remember about making sushi is that even if you do a shit job they will still taste the same. This is of course, UNLESS you mess up the rice. The rice is seriously the only thing you can mess up on the taste side of things, because it's actually the only ingredient you make, unless you smoke your own salmon. If you do smoke your own salmon, please let me know immediately, as this is something I'd love to learn to do. I'll tell you about what I know about making rice in a minute. First you need ingredients.

Before you make sushi, a grocery trip is probably necessary, unless you keep kelp at your house.

This is the kind of seaweed/kelp/sushinori (they all mean the same as far as I can tell) I like to use. I picked it because It's the cheapest at my grocery store. Maybe not everyone's grocery store will carry this, but Market District, if you have one, will. Otherwise you might be able to find a specialty store in your area or online. Let me know if you need help. I'll find it for ya at a good price. I'm a saver.

You also need a special kind of rice. You can't use just any. The rice for sushi has to be short and fat. Long grain is out. Minute rice is out. The best way I know how to buy sushi rice is by looking at the actual grains in the package. First of all if it's in the section with the other sushi supplies it's probably right, but also I noticed a lot of the short grain rice containers, no matter if its plastic, cardboard, or a bag will have a clear opening somewhere so you can see the look of the rice. I don't know of a lot of other rice types that will have that. I think maybe there is a secret club that you're in if you're looking for short, chubby rice. The manufacturers seem to know that if you're looking for this specific type of rice that you, the chef, will want to see first hand that you have the right stuff. I also think Pandora, the radio station, is paid off by record labels to get new music to the masses faster. Those are the only two conspiracies I will entertain. Here's a picture of some good, chubby rice.

The last things you'll need are:
  • some rice vinegar (not rice wine)
  • a sushi mat (which I also got at Market District, but you can probably find anywhere you find the kelp)
  • sugar
  • salt
  • whatever you want on the insides of your sushi - I chose smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber. Sometimes I use avocado or shrimp or crabstick/imitation crab if I feel like it.
  • mayonnaise
  • siracha
So here's the disclaimer, because we are talking about something you will probably ingest. I have not yet tried out this recipe with any raw meats. I'm not sure if I ever will because food borne illness is at least unpleasant and at it's worse, possibly deadly. Don't die from fish. If you try this recipe with anything other than fully cooked ingredients, you better be absolutely sure it's safe.

A few times at the grocery store (guess which one) I have checked out my raw fish options. The first time, the woman at the fish counter seemed confident I could eat any of the fish in the display case without ever cooking it. I did not trust her judgement. The second time I went, the guy behind the counter suggested that if I were going to try to eat raw salmon that I make sure it is two things: one was to be sure it is wild salmon, and to make sure it was caught in the United States. Like I said, don't eat raw fish from the grocery store.

Moving on to the steps... The first step is called: Make the Rice and Don't Screw it Up -or- Patience is a Virtue, Minute Rice is Not. I gave this part a title because I'm about to write a book. I'm going to go into pretty full detail on the rice for reasons I already went over, but also because other than making the rice, you just roll the roll and that's it.

SO, this is the recipe I used to make my sushi rice. It is the third recipe I've ever followed because every time I've made the rice so far I have never bothered to write down the recipe I used. This one was successful, so I'm keeping it. The one change I made was I used the quantity of rice printed on the bag. In Alton Brown's recipe he called for equal parts rice and water. Last time I made sushi rice there wasn't enough water and a lot of the rice stuck to the bottom and it was crap. If you have to choose, err on the side of more water to rice. I believe my bag said 1 and 3/4 cups of rice to two cups of water. I think this makes a difference.

The rest of the recipe is spot on. The vinegar, sugar, and salt quantities are perfect. Follow the directions exactly. Rinse the rice till the water runs clear. In the recipe it is 2-3 times, but I rinsed it 6 times before the water was actually clear. Another thing the directions don't say is not to stir the rice. You can maybe stir it a few times when its boiling, but once you put the lid on, do not touch it. This will be hard for you. Just don't. This is something I remember from my first, most successful rice attempt. The recipe went into great detail about how in Western culture its harder for us not to stir the rice and in Asian cultures they are more patient or something. The article told me I couldn't, not stir it, so I didn't stir that shit.

Here's the cloudy water the first time I rinsed the rice and swished it around.
This is the water on the SIXTH RINSE after I swished it around. I wouldn't call that perfectly clear, but there is an obvious improvement. 
While the rice is sitting in the pot being ignored by you, it is a good idea to prep your other ingredients. I peeled and julienned the cucumber and sliced the cream cheese. The cream cheese will cut just fine as long as you cut it while it is cold. For this recipe I cut it into strips and then put it back in the fridge until I was ready to use it.

The next steps are easy. You lay out a piece of seaweed and take the rice (once it has cooled to room temperature) and smush it all over the piece of seaweed. The rice will be sticky, so keep a bowl of water around so you can keep your fingers wet and the rice won't stick to your hands. I also suggest you cover your mat with plastic wrap. I read this suggestion the first time I made sushi and it has been pretty helpful during cleanup. Sometimes when you make sushi you can smush the rice on the seaweed, then flip it, so the rice is wrapped on the outside. In that case, I would definitely use the plastic wrap. I've heard that called an inside-out-roll.

Next you'll lay out your ingredients. You can use the picture below to get a sense of how much I'm using, but in this situation, trial-and-error is your friend. Also, this is very important, I spread the ingredients out for this picture so you could see all of what I used. When getting ready to roll the sushi I moved the salmon on top of the cucumber and cream cheese in order to be able to roll your sushi tight, like a sleeping bag. When choosing where to place the ingredients, I choose one of the shorter sides of the sushi sheet. While it seems like a square, the sheets I consistently use have two sides that are slightly longer than the other. If you line your ingredients against the short side, your roll will have more opportunity for the end to seal against the roll itself. This makes for a more sturdy roll. Today at lunch time I lined my ingredients against the longer side and I got more ingredients, but now that I'm talking to you about this I am realizing this may be why today's sushi rolls were a tad more difficult to keep together. This is speculation though. Using the longer side technically gets you a longer roll for potentially more cuts. Try both and tell me which you prefer.

It's hard to explain exactly how to roll the sushi, so I filmed myself rolling it for you. You'll basically be completing three movements. The first is folding over the edge with ingredients on it with the goal of enclosing all the ingredients on your sheet using the least amount of the sushi paper. The smaller you can get your initial roll while still holding all the ingredients, the tighter your roll will be, and it will also stay together much better when cutting. Here is where you'll want to squeeze back toward yourself and drag your fingers inward to pull any stray ingredients into your initial roll. The second movement is to roll the sushi forward so the starting end is no longer visible and you have made your first outer-sushi-paper-to-inner-sushi-rice contact. Squeeze here too. Ew. Squishy sounds. Your last move is to roll one last time to get the other end of the sushi paper flush against your roll to create a cylinder. Squeeze one last time and you're done.

The last step is cutting your sushi roll and presenting it on a dish. You will definitely want to have a sharp knife for cutting sushi. Wetting the knife will help tremendously to get a clean cut. I re-wet my knife before each and every cut. It helps to get even pieces if you cut the roll in half first and then cut the two halves into thirds or quarters.

A great addition to your homemade sushi is some shrimp sauce. All you need is a bit of mayo and siracha. I don't have the exact measurements for this sauce, because I mixed it based on color. I put about 3/4 a cup of mayo in a bowl with about a tablespoon of siracha (if i had to guess). If you've ever been to a hibachi restaurant, you want your mix to be the same color as the shrimp sauce they spoon into tiny dishes for you before dinner. Here's a picture of the shrimp sauce below. The color of the sauce on the left is yellow-y I think because of the light but if you look at the color in the bowl in the photo on the right, that is about the color you want.

For the spicy salmon variety, I shredded a bunch of tiny pieces of the smoked salmon and mixed it in with about a tablespoon of the siracha-mayo mix (above, right). Be careful you don't add to much sauce, because it can get hard to roll if the salmon won't hold together.

If you love sushi I hope you try this tutorial. It's nice to be able to make sushi at home and make it however you want. If you know a person who thinks they don't like sushi because of seaweed, you can try using soy paper. This is also a great option if you know any vegetarians or vegans and are bringing a dish to an event. You can just roll another roll up without any fish or meats in it to include everyone. Did I mention that sushi is a really impressive dish to bring to a gathering? Let me know in the comments if I missed anything or if you try this tutorial.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving Post In December - You're Welcome

Guiseeee. I didn't even get to tell you about how my Thanksgiving pies turned out yet. I am super late on this. I know. So here's what happened:

This is the Mile High Apple Pie I made the crust for in the last pie post. On the left is the photo from the Martha Stuart web site, and on the right is my pie. You can see the top of my pie popped open a little. My cuts on top might have been to close together. My sister suggested that maybe I put the entire pie in the freezer one more time before the oven to make sure the dough stays put as much as possible. I'll try that technique next time I make the pie. Maybe next year?

This is the Buttermilk Pie I made alongside the apple pie. It might be safe to say that the buttermilk pie was actually more of a hit than the huge apple pie. Maybe it was less intimidating to the people who say they only want a little piece and make a face when I actually cut a little piece? I'm not sure, but it was more than half eaten before we even left Grandma's on Thanksgiving day, and was gone only two days later. There is actually one piece of the apple pie left in the fridge right now. Maybe I'll finish it off tonight at dinner.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Birthday Brewery Tour

I've been wanting to post about my boyfriend's birthday trip for a little while now, but with Thanksgiving prep and all the posts I have lined up on the pie topic, it's been on the back burner. 

This is Rob. He turned 28 almost two weeks ago on the 20th. To celebrate we decided to go on a self-guided brewery tour that we've been casually planning for a while now. We like to go to breweries, sample beers, and get free tasting glasses as souvenirs. We are not hard to please.

As you can see in the beautiful visual aid I made for you below, all we had to do for the most part was drive in a straight line north to hit all five breweries. I wish I could say the plan all along was to go to all five, but the night before the trip I had a thought. I've heard that Erie is the third largest city in Pennsylvania, so I thought there must be at least a few breweries there. As long as we are going all the way to Voodoo in Meadville, we might as well hit one in Erie too. I found Erie Brewing in about five seconds and added it to the list. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Pies

Last night I had a dream that my little sister Liz had been using my stash of unsalted butter. Do you remember my butter stash in the basement mini fridge next to my Dad's beer?

I don't remember the specifics of the dream, but I remember thinking afterward that this would be a good start to a movie about my life. It left me wondering if the situation in the dream had actually happened in real life... who would be in the wrong? Yes, butter is readily available at the store, but I got that butter ON SALE, and butter is actually kind of expensive if you're buying enough for 25 pie crusts. Plus I stashed it in the basement fridge, away from everything else for a very clear reason. On the other hand, do I really want to fight about butter? My life is a constant struggle over what to worry about and not worry about. Sometimes I exhaust myself. Yes, we are still talking about a dream.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lessons in Etsy Sales

I learned a lot of lessons last week about selling on Etsy. One of those lessons is: don't sell things that don't exist. It's pretty clear that you don't want to be deceitful about your listings, and obviously if you're selling an item, make sure you have the item. In my case I had the item, but only theoretically. I had all the supplies to make 10 gift bags, but for the listing I had only painted one pre-made craft paper gift bag that I got at the store.

It was actually a very nice holiday pattern. Here's the main photo from the Etsy listing:

Thanks, I like it too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blog History

I have to tell you something.

It's not a big deal, but since we've been together for a little while now, I thought you should know.

This isn't my first blog.

It's not even my second or third blog.

This is actually my fourth blog.

Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest.

So anyway, I'm telling you this because I want you to know that there's something that all those other blogs had in common. None of them were really that successful. And when I say successful, I'm not talking about the number of subscribers or viewers they brought in. What I mean is, they didn't do for me what I always thought a blog should do. They weren't fun to write. They never supported who I was. They didn't say what I wanted them to say. We were always running out of things to talk about. That's why what you and I have is so special. This is my fourth time around, and I think I'm finally doing something right.

Really? You're sure you want to know the details of the other blogs that came before? I don't know... that should probably stay in the past.

Alright, alright, but once I tell you about them, you can't un-hear it, so you'd better be sure.

It all started with my first blog. I'd like to say it was a magical first time, but it wasn't. It was short lived, and to be completely honest, I can't even remember it's name. I know, tragic. It was a blog on WeightWatchers.com where I thought I would chronicle my experiences in weight loss. Journaling has always been something that helped me cope with things, so I thought I could apply it to a weight loss blog. The problem was, trying to lose weight is a lot of work. I was learning so much about various lifestyle options, and working very hard to make those changes. Losing weight was exhausting, so at the end of the day, writing about it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Next there was another healthy lifestyle/weight loss blog. This one was on blogger and I actually, sort of, remember it's name. It believe it was called "Weight Loss and Marathons." It was a boring-ass title with an even more boring topic... running. I have decided to become a runner about 10 times in my life and this was probably the 5th time. (I am an actual runner now. No blog necessary.) So while I loved what running did for me, I actually hated running. Still do. I know you know this. You know me so well. That's why I love you.

Lastly I had an art blog. I'm actually still in contact with this blog. It said "we should be friends," and I was like, "Ok, sure. We can try." We had a lot in common. The problem was I always thought I had to post only perfect posts in the art blog. I couldn't really be myself. I tried really hard. One time I posted a poll and two, actual people responded to it. The poll was about as candid as I thought I could get. I was sharing this blog with a lot of other art professionals (who weren't reading) and I wanted it to come off like I was a professional too. I guess I wanted to come off like a lot of things. Looking back I probably could have done a lot of things differently. I could have done a lot of the things I'm doing now, actually. I probably still could. Don't get me wrong. I am SO glad it's me and you now and not me and the stuffy art blog. I'm serious. If you don't believe me check for yourself. Last time I wrote in the art blog I actually told it about you and how we were starting to get serious.

So that's my blog history. It's not that exciting, but the important thing is: what I have now is better than any blog experience I've ever had. You're the best blog-thing that's ever happened to me. I have, for the most part, found my voice. I don't feel judged by an imperfect project, rocky tutorial, or whatever level of mundane I can reach in a particular day. I feel excited to share with you the nearly failed projects that end up better than I had originally planned. I love to take you out and show you off to all my friends. I think one of the reasons we have been so successful is because this time around I have no perceived limits. This is a lifestyle blog. Not an art blog only, or a running blog only, or a weight loss blog only, or any other category only. With you, the category is "anything," and that works because I am a hobbyist - a person whose hobby is "hobbies," and I can't be tied down by just one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pie 03 - Triple Chocolate Pumpkin PIe

Last night I made pie number three from the 25 Perfect Pie challenge I committed to a little over a month ago. In case you are lazy or busy and haven't read back that far, the goal is to make 25 pies this year in the hopes of becoming an expert pie maker and to add some impressive, go-to desserts to my repertoire.

Here are the preliminary results of the Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie:

Six out of six people who tried this pie either liked it or loved it. This is a big improvement from the last pie, the Honey Pie, which four out of five people disliked or strongly disliked, and one out of five definitely lied about liking it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Costume Tutorial With A Serious Disclaimer

I made my Halloween costume this week, and of course having this awesome blog I thought "what a great opportunity to make a tutorial for my blog." What started as a "mostly" thought out plan to make a very simple replica of this bumblebee masterpiece my mom made in the early nineties...

... ended up as an entire evening of crafting a striped shift dress with a lined bodice. So while I would love for this post to be a sweet and simple tutorial (my fave kind) on a bee costume, unfortunately for everyone involved, it is anything but that. It is basically me talking about how to make a dress, that you would normally make from a pattern, out of thin air; aka a very "correct" but scrappy way to make a dress. I am no sewing master, but I would definitely not take this project on unless you have a few sewing projects under your belt.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TechShop Day

So today I am taking a vacation day from work to kick start my Etsy shop. I haven't mentioned the store yet because so far there isn't a lot to see. If you don't know what Tech Shop is, I explained it in detail on my art blog last year. In a nutshell, it's a maker's paradise.

The only downside to Tech Shop, and this is probably my fault, is it's insanely boring here! A lot of the techniques are automated once you set them up, so you end up with some downtime, especially if your project is large. Ex: each set of 24 Christmas ornaments I make today takes about 35 minutes to cut. The rabbit shapes I printed last year (that can be seen on my art blog) took 4 hours EACH to print. So today I hit a button, hang out for 35 minutes, and repeat.

Luckily I have you to talk to. Blogging has its perks.

Here are some videos of the laser I'm running. It took me about a half hour to remember how to use it, so you can see the faint ghost lines of failure on the board where the laser is cutting.

I'll be posting the finished ornaments and the results of the rest of my time at Tech Shop in a later post. Keep an eye out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Silicon Mold Making for Anyone

Last night I made molds in preparation for a planned visit to Tech Shop Pittsburgh. If you're not familiar with Tech Shop, I described it and everything I was learning to do there on my art blog last year. The molds are bell shapes that I plan to vacuum form poly carbonate sheets onto to reproduce many clear, plastic bells for Christmas Ornaments I am making. It sounds complicated, but it's really not once you break down the steps. There will be more on the details of that project in a later post.

Right now I just want to share the process of plaster casting using a home made silicon mold. It's actually surprisingly easy and, I think, very cool.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Everything Hurts

So I ran a half marathon on Saturday that I wasn't necessarily prepared for. I actually ended up kicking some major ass for the first ten and a half. Around eleven things started to fall apart, but that works out to about 80% of the race being a success. I'm good with that.

So here are my stats: 

Here you can see the clear decline in performance by miles eleven and twelve, and the shit storm that was mile thirteen. Believe it or not, the photo to the right was taken during mile 12 or 13. I was walking as I approached the photographer and asked him to take my picture while I was running. I mean... I ran for ten and a half constant miles. Where were you when I was passing people? Come on, photo man.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Winging It

On Saturday I am running my first half marathon. The furthest I've run is 10 miles; and you might know this, but any runner will tell you "if you can run 10, you can run 13." I skipped my 11 because I got burned out; and I basically skipped every run since my 10, except for a few, because I got burned out. Also, I'm sort of lazy. One thing I have never said is "I love running", because I don't.

This is what I look like when I'm running.
You're welcome.
So what about the 13 miles I paid 50 dollars to run? Well, I am just going to wing it. I told my best running buddy, Beckey, that "I'm just going to be zen about it." Sometimes I crack myself up. You know, I'm going to show up in my comfiest running shorts that don't fall down in the front, wear my most supportive shoes (and socks), get a lot of sleep between now and Saturday morning, drink a ton of water, make sure I do a number 2 before the race, and just basically try to hit that exact spot of "everything about me feels right" before I cross that starting line. Easy enough right? I'm going to go ahead and say that the answer to that question is probably. And probably is about all I think I need.

After the race I'm taking a nap and going to a party, so even if the race sucks, ya know... whatever. 

Wish me luck.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pie 02 - Honey Pie

I'm sitting here while the honey pie bakes. Let me tell you, the smell is TO DIE. It basically smells like a butter bomb went off in our entire house.

Anyway while we wait for the finished product, let me tell you about the experience of making a Honey Pie. First of all, I never knew that "honey pie" was an actual thing. I always thought it was a pet name that I sometimes use when I'm drunk.

With half of the Pate Brisee left from last week's Banana Cream Pie I had to figure out which recipe's assigned pie crust I was going to skip making. Remember the plan? Each pie has it's own recipe for pie crust and I'm making all of them to gain experience. Well the honey pie's crust called for leaf lard, which is the fat from around a pig's kidneys. I didn't necessarily feel like trying to acquire leaf lard or eating leaf lard in general so this was the perfect pie crust recipe to skip.

Also I didn't need to make a trip to the store to get anything on the list so this pie was a clear winner. #lazysunday

When Rob and I went to upstate New York we got local honey. I used a blueberry honey from Ithica, New York for this recipe.

I learned a lot today about crust. First I learned to crimp the pie correctly. Check out that beautiful crimp job.

Then I learned the true use of pie weights. I bought some weights and used them on the last pie thinking their purpose was to keep the bottom of the crust from bubbling. Turns out you also need the weights to fill the pie enough to keep the sides from slouching. Today, even though the crimping came out exactly how I wanted it to, it basically melted the moment it went in the oven. I realized this and in a rush, tried my best to fix the sides, and filled in the pie pan with the first thing I could think of... oats. Basically the crust got deformed. Now I know for next time.

Making the filling for the pie was pretty easy. In case you were wondering, this is what butter looks like melting into hot honey.

This is the pie right out of the oven, and then about 20 minutes later after cooling.