Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Bees at Home: Christmas Edition

It's Christmas Day and we've got a very special post for you! We love showing you what we've been working on at home, and have a chance to hear what you've been up to! These are just some of the handmade Christmas gifts the Bees have put together this year. There's lots of variety, and hopefully some inspiration for you, as we head into a new year full of new crafting opportunities!

First off, Hollie is so very sweet, and made these pin cushions for all her lady friends. They're not your average tomato pin cushions, though - these are heirloom tomatoes. Big difference. They're just so awesome! She found the tutorial in her Martha Stewart Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts.

She's also taking care of a Christmas wish this year. Her brother-in-law has dreams of knit pants, and Hollie (in typical Hollie style) made it happen. Who knew these were even possible?! But I guess with Hollie as Santa, and with the help of a knitting machine...anything is possible.

Mel, one of our dear Scout Bees, was a busy baker this Christmas. She made button cookies and teabag cookies for her mom, and adorable Christmas cookie packs for her neighbors!

Jen had all kinds of holiday parties to attend on the weekend, and put together these amazing gifts for the hosts - she picked up mini potted cypress trees (available from i fiori on James North), and sewed little fabric containers for them. I got to help her decide on fabrics, and with all the amazing options at Needlework, it was a very difficult process of elimination. They turned out so nice, Jen! 

Also...coasters! These are an amazing option for a little handmade gift. You can use your extra scraps, or pick up that awesome fabric you've had your eye on, and just whip them up! Below are the beautiful coaster sets that Kate made!

This Christmas something dawned on me. It hit me that my husband and I get stockings full of treats every year, but his parents don't get stockings! And what's more fun than a stocking!? Kevin's dad loves the Seattle Seahawks, so I used some fabric and Steam-a-Seam to make a little team logo. Who thought my craft adventures would ever turn sporty? Anyways, they turned out really cute and it was so much fun to pick out the fabrics, and to fill them up with goodies from some of our favorite local shops.

Lastly, it's not done until it's ready to put under the tree! Jenna, another one of our dear Scout Bees, hand-carved some stamps and created her own gift wrap with kraft paper and white ink. So simple and pretty!

Making Christmas gifts is such a satisfying experience. You spend a lot of time working on them (at the sewing machine, in the kitchen, wherever) which means you can literally pour so much love into the gift you're giving, and as you make it, you begin to feel more and more grateful for the person you're giving it to. At the same time, receiving a gift that someone has made by hand is such an honor. The idea that someone has chosen fabric, cut, sewn, or mixed ingredients and waited patiently for the oven to finish - all with you in mind, is very humbling. Not to mention, handmade gifts can be completely personalized, and often very cost-efficient. It's just rewarding all around!

If you've posted about your handmade gifts, we'd love to see them! Just post the link in the comments below. Merry Christmas, everyone! :)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Just in Time for Christmas...

Christmas is only five sleeps away! Or if you're on track with your Advent calendar, it's only five chocolates away! If you're looking for a last-minute gift for someone special, there's really nothing better than a beautifully wrapped package of handmade treats. This is the perfect gift idea for a neighbor, a co-worker, or your favorite barista!

We got together a few weeks ago and made an absolutely amazing Christmas treat - holiday brittle! This is not your average peanut brittle. It's flavored with cardamom, which is the same spice used in chai tea. In other words, the taste reminds you of cozy, warm holiday deliciousness. And instead of peanuts, we used pepitas which are hulled pumpkin seeds (and it's just a really fun word to say). This brittle is super yum, and we promise it will be a huge hit with your gift recipients!

We used this recipe, and have no fear - we found the whole process very simple.

Ingredients needed:
2 cups of sugar
4 oz. of unsalted butter
1/3 cup of light corn syrup
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
Have the following items ready and close by:
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups of raw, unroasted pepitas (we got these from the Hamilton Farmers Market)
(mix these last two ingredients together)

Have two baking sheets ready, lined with silicon mats. Just mix the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water over medium-heat until it thickens and becomes "medium-golden-amber". Now, I'd say the trickiest part of this recipe is knowing what "medium-golden-amber" is, but go with your gut. The recipe said it takes 10-15 minutes, but I'd say it took more like 25 minutes before we could confidently say it was the right color.

Take a swig of your warm apple cider - this is the part where things get real. Remove from heat, then immediately stir in baking soda, followed by sea salt (beware of crazy bubbles!), followed by the cardamom/pepita mixture. Quickly pour the mixture on your baking sheets, and try to spread it evenly. Hurry hurry, as it will start to harden immediately! As you can see, we had all hands on deck for this part...

Do some crafts while you let it cool - it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to fully cool. Then go ahead and break it up into pieces! You can store for two weeks in an airtight container, and its very helpful to use parchment paper between the pieces to keep them from sticking. And don't forget about the pretty packaging!

Oh, last thing - Kate really loves cats, and apparently, while we were making brittle, I really liked taking pictures of Kate with cats. I contemplated writing a post specifically about Kate and her love of cats, but I thought I'd spare you...

Merry Christmas, friends!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Wreath Making

Making my own fresh wreath is a project that I've been thinking about attempting for the last couple of years, and I'm so grateful to be a part of the Beehive because I know that they are down for any crafty endeavour! It's always more fun trying new things with friends.

We set a date and ordered all of the greenery in advance from I Fiori on James Street North. Owner Beverly was enthusiastic about helping us and sourced us absolutely beautiful boxwood and rosehip from Ontario and white pine, black cedar and seeded eucalyptus from British Columbia. She provided us with wreath frames and floral wire, and most importantly, a little advice in wreath-making.

Around the holidays I Fiori is usually bursting with fresh greens and would most likely have enough if you're looking to make one for yourself, but if you're looking for something specific or need a little more than what she has in stock, Beverly is always willing to help. It's such a gorgeous, well-curated shop.

We settled around my harvest table one evening with pruning shears, red wine and our task at hand. The process was much easier and satisfying than any of us had expected. We cut our greens into smaller pieces, bunched them together in pleasing arrangements and secured them with wire. We then secured all the smaller bunches in the same direction to the wreath frame with wire until we had covered the circular shapes.

With such an assortment of fresh materials, all of us ended up with completely unique wreaths. We couldn't stop oohing and aahing over everyone's creations. It was a such a cozy holiday craft for us all to indulge in. Now that we've familiarized ourselves with it, I imagine making one every year, maybe even making enough for gifts because a fresh wreath is so lovely and so festive. Next year, perhaps we'll attempt to make our own frames from willow branches, even!

I used only boxwood, rosehip and seeded eucalyptus in mine, and was surprised to discover that my front door had a nail in it that was perfectly placed for hanging a wreath. I attatched some twine, and voila! I'm ready for the holidays.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Homemade Halloween

Halloween always guarantees a long list of projects. For me, it doesn't make sense without homemade costumes. Now that we have kids, it is even more fun helping them come up with costume ideas and being as resourceful as possible putting them together.

This year, our good friend Tanya had a Halloween costume party. She goes all-out with the decorating and food, which means it's only polite to go all-out with the costumes. There was a lot of work ahead to have 5 happy halloweeners ready for the party.

Our almost 5 year old wanted to be a superhero. He wanted a green cape with a yellow lightening bolt, a mask, and a belt. We talked about his design and whipped up his costume pretty quickly, mostly because he put a lot of pressure on me to finish it. Despite what he demanded his costume look like, when asked which superhero he was, his response was always "Spiderman".

We knew that our second born would want to be a princess, and I had big dreams of making a dress with bustles and ruffles... and anything but Disney. I was fortunate to have a beautiful handmade dress on loan, that happened to be exactly her size (and exactly what I had envisioned). My sister made the crown from starched lace and added a few embellishments. I hot glued it to some alligator clips and it stayed-put all night.

Margaret and I were a team costume. I was Cinderella, and she became her little mouse friend, Gus Gus. For her costume I scoured her closet to mix and match an outfit that matched, and then sewed her a hat with some big floppy ears.

My costume had a bit of a twist. Instead of the elegant, princess Cinderella, I chose to be the pre-transformation servant Cinderella.

Jesse was a brave man and sported the Jolly Green Giant costume which I thought was appropriate since he has quite the green thumb, and is also a giant. It was a simple no-sew costume.  I just cut one of his old t-shirts and added a bit of length, hot glued the leaves right onto the shirt, and made a crown of leaves to clip into his hair.

The costumes came together very well. There was a bit of cuteness overload with the kids, although our princess didn't want her picture taken. Jesse's makeup went on a little rough, but we smoothed the green out by washing half of it off when we got to the party. The green on my hands wasn't coming off, so we were a little concerned, wondering if Jesse's face was going to be green for weeks.

To compliment my costume, Jesse made me pose on the floor in the laundry room. At this point, I was really hoping his face would stay green for weeks.

Two days before the party, Tanya and I made chocolate and caramel covered apples (and one onion!)  and rolled them in crushed honey-roasted cashews. We sharpened sticks from a nearby woodlot and stuck them into the apples which gave them a very natural look. A much better alternative to popsicle sticks.

To balance out the prettiness of the apples, Tanya's daughter's American Dolls were wrapped in cobbwebs and hung from the railing.

I made some homemade meringues and piped them into bone shapes and used food colouring to make little colourful kisses. I put a couple streaks of colour up the sides of the piping bag before filling it with the white meringue.

Halloween is always more enjoyable if you skip the branded, mass-produced costumes and put your own together. For us, it's fun to have a costume that's unexpected. We are also happy our kids aren't caught up in buying a specific costume that every other kid in town will be wearing on halloween.

Well, for now...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

That's What She Said.

Last Wednesday evening, the Beehive gathered to make sausages. Oddly enough, the sausage making party may be the perfect ladies’ night activity! Guaranteed fun, deliciousness, and, yes, naughty innuendos aplenty (resistance on this last element is futile). We found this to be a surprisingly simple food craft with extremely gratifying results.

I got a hankering to make sausages during a visit to Joseph Schneider Haus, a German Mennonite museum and gallery in Kitchener, Ontario (mentioned in a previous post) when chatting with resident pioneers about their preparations for a Butchering Bee the following day. In a nutshell, this harvest season Mennonite festival involves butchering whole pigs, creating sausages from the appropriate parts (e.g. the fatty pork shoulder), and smoking them in cotton casings in a smoke shed. The rest of the Bees were equally smitten with the idea of making and smoking sausages, and we decided to start simple, getting the hang of making fresh sausages from ground pork as a first step.

We were lucky enough to have a couple of local connections to get us outfitted for the task. A Mennonite friend’s parents, veteran sausage makers, had an extra manual stuffer - a real cast iron beauty patented in 1889. Ray at Jepson’s Fresh Meats in the Hamilton Farmers Market enthusiastically supplied us with quality ground pork shoulder, natural, dry-salted, tubed casings, and much guidance on preparing the casings and other hot sausage tips. The Market also provided seasonings for an Italian sausage recipe which included fennel seeds, garlic, red pepper flakes and parsley.

After soaking the casings in warm water for two hours, we measured the seasonings into two large bowls - one ‘mild’ with fewer chilli flakes and one ‘hot’ with more. We then added the pork (divided equally among the bowls) and mixed the ingredients thoroughly by hand. It is important to ensure that the seasonings are well integrated to avoid biting in to a dense pocket of garlic or chili flakes!

At this point we formed a patty from each bowl to taste-test the mixture and check that each batch was well blended. We were all pretty blown away by how delicious it was and were excited to keep going on our sausage making journey.

We brushed the removable stuffing horn (inside and out) with oil to ease the passage of the meat, re-inserted it through the stuffer and carefully loaded the casing on to the horn. The casing is fairly sturdy but can suffer some wear and tear if handled roughly. After seasoning the stuffer with oil, we loaded up our first batch, packing down the meat to avoid air bubbles. Employing slow, methodical turns of the crank we eased the meat in to the casing. The key to plump sausages seemed to be lightly pinching the casing on the horn to offer some resistance, allow the casing to fill up more slowly. Otherwise you could be looking at slightly limp sausages, which is a common issue for beginners. ***Just try to read the preceding paragraph without blushing a bit…and you will get an inkling of the level of giggling that went down the evening of our sausage session!***

To form the links, start by twisting towards you 4 or 5 times, and then away from you at the next junction. I will confess that we did something somewhat unorthodox – we twisted our links as they came out of the stuffer rather than filling the entire casing tube with meat and then twisting off links. Our sausages turned out fine, though next time we will hold off on twisting until the end - which may result in more consistent lengths and control over the density of each sausage (looser portions can be made in to shorter links to fill them out a bit more, denser ones can be made longer).

We coiled our sausages on a large tray as they came out of the stuffer, transferring them to bowls in the refrigerator when a length of links was complete. The links can be left in the fridge for several hours or overnight before cutting them to ensure that twists have set.

After giving some to our host, Kieran, (whose open concept kitchen is a dream to work in) we each walked away with about eight succulent, handmade sausages, and quite possibly an addiction to sausage making. We have fried, BBQued, and sautéed them for pasta sauce with delicious results. After trying several more recipes I am confident we will be ready to graduate to smoking and a Beehive Butchering Bee. Stay tuned!

Tools and supplies

Large bowl or bowls for meat and storing finished sausages
Sterile gloves for meat handling (optional – clean hands if you’re not fussy!)
Tray to collect sausage
Sausage stuffer – manual or automatic
2-3 sausage casings (natural, dry-salted, tubed casings recommended)

Italian sausage recipe makes about 80 medium sausages

20 lbs Ground Pork (sausage grade pork contains about 25 to 30 percent fat and is frequently mainly pork shoulder)

8 Tbsp Diamond Crystal Salt
4 Tbsp Fresh Ground Pepper
12 Tbsp Dried Parsley
10-20 tsp red pepper flakes (we used 5 tsp in one batch, 10 tsp in the other. Upon review we felt that for truly hot sausages, the hot one could have used 15 tsp of flakes)
20 Garlic Cloves, minced

Sausage Party Quotables:

"I really like touching meat, guys."

"Time to lube the stuffing horn. Meg! That's all you!"

"They're a little flaccid"... "It's not you, it's me!!"

"It's humongous!" "It's engorged!" "It's accurately sized..."

"Think about a bun..."

photos by Hollie Pocsai, Kate Hunter, and Meg Makins

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Hexagon Wrap Up

Supercrawl is long gone now - and what a whirlwind of activity! We successfully installed our piece, Modular Beauty, and we were so thrilled with the results! We can't possibly say that without a big huge THANK YOU to all those who contributed hexagons to the project, and all the small businesses and institutions that acted as drop-off locations for us and the community.  The Bees are eternally grateful, and we really do think that it was that much more special being a combined, concentrated craft effort.

And silly us, we didn't take one really good, high quality shot of the thing. If you have any to send our way for our records, we'd really love you for it!

We were a little ambitious in our plans - hoping to cover at least six or seven buildings initally. Once we got to installing,  we ended up sticking to one block for more visual impact - in between Vine Street and Cannon on James Street North. Dave from Mixed Media was so pleased with the piece that he asked if he could keep the hexagons up on his building indefinitely! So if you missed Supercrawl, head down to the corner of James and Cannon and check out the remnants of our piece there. They really brighten up the street-scape!

So, what's on the Beehive's plate now that this giant project is done? We're hoping to leisurely envelope ourselves in the slow craft movement, and take it a little bit easy for a while. We formed as a group almost two years ago because of a mutual love for crafting, but we've hardly had any time at all to simply craft together because of all of our endeavours that we taken on since we started. Don't get us wrong, we love the craft fairs, and the workshops and public art installations that we've been a part of, but we're hoping to just hang out as Bees and eat cheese and stitch and knit and maybe have a glass wine while we're at it. We're so grateful for each other, and for the support from the craft community for our work, and you can bet that our hands won't ever be idle for too long. Thanks Hamilton!

(Last two photos via Best of Hamilton)