Bumpy Ducky

Duck PatternThe sweetest little white duck I have decided to knit is causing me some difficulty. I drew out the pattern first and decided it would be a very cute motif in the middle of baby sweater #3 (for baby #3 due in June!).  While I have followed a multi-colored pattern of my design many times in the past, I usually only dealt with repeating snowflakes and the like, and so the odd shape and vast expanses of white in this one were new to me.

Alas, my tension is off and the duck is literally jumping out of the sweater!  I think I’ve learned that I need to leave some more “give” as I carry the yarn over and behind the stitches in the second color.  Perhaps I’ll attempt some sort of matching hat or blanket and give it another try.

On a sidenote, I thought the duck theme was a nice way to add some character to a gender-neutral baby gift.  I am thinking about making a stuffed little duck to match with the remaining yarn.  I found a couple of great free patterns here and here.

Duck Pattern & KnitDuck Bumpy

Basic Crêpe Recipe

CrepePanWe celebrated Mardi Gras with crêpes; not necessarily a French mardi gras tradition, but it seemed like a festive meal for the occasion nonetheless. I was curious about the pre-made buckwheat flour “galettes” (the traditional crêpe from Brittany) that I see in the supermarkets here, but after trying one I vowed to stick only to the home-made variety, buckwheat or not.

The key to crêpe batter is using a mixer and letting it sit for at least an hour. Now if only I could master the one-handed flip!

Basic Crêpes

Makes about 10 crêpes

Ingredients:
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all the ingredients using an electric mixer or a blender. Cover and let sit 1 hour (in the fridge is fine, but I’ve been known to leave mine on the counter at room temperature). Over a medium-hot flame, spoon about 1/2 cup of the batter onto a nonstick crepe pan (if it’s not *really* nonstick, melt some butter in the pan first). Wait until the sides seem to detach by themselves (about 1-2 minutes), then flip and cook another minute or so. Fill the crepe with grated cheese, cooked mushrooms, nutella & banana, or really anything you’d like, and cook another minute, until the fillings are warm or the cheese is melted. Fold over and serve.

Doisneau’s Paris

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I stood in line and froze my toes to finally see the free Robert Doisneau exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville (a show that ended yesterday, helas). It was worth the frost bite to see other works from the famous photographer of “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville.”

Doisneau’s vision of Paris is beautiful, touching, and at times downright hilarious. He has shown in his photographs that a very human Paris exists; a Paris filled with love and serendipity. The Paris that I want to live in and perhaps help to create.

A long weekend in Madrid

Mosaic Madrid 1Mosaic Madrid 2Madrid is just a quick 1.5-hour flight from Paris, but it feels like a far-off place. From the moment we exited the metro station, we were surrounded by sunlight and color.

We enjoyed the late-night schedule, eating tapas and walking around the city from 10pm on. That didn’t mean we missed out on mornings, however: we just couldn’t pass up the churros dipped in thick hot chocolate and delicious coffee.

The highlight of our tour was the Reina Sofia modern art museum, famously housing Picasso’s Guernica, which is presented in the context of the Spanish Civil War. Also of note were many other masters of modernism and new realism, with a focus on Spanish artists with which francophiles like myself should become more familiar. We also particularly enjoyed the Chuck Close exhibition, which was a retrospective of his portrait art from the 1970s to today (last year MoMA had an exhibition of his self-portraits).

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Despite the high elevation and resulting chilly winter weather, the Spanish sun lit each day, amplifying the rich colors of the city. We probably had more ham than was good for us, and the prices for shoes and clothing were irresistable. In all, we were captivated by this cheerful city and look forward to discovering more of Spain in the future.

Tartiflette

TartifletteThe name is cute and light-hearted. Your stomach probably won’t think so, however, once you’ve eaten this winter dish!

Containing Reblochon cheese from the Savoy region, the tartiflette is a variation on a potato gratin, and is the perfect meal to warm you up on a chilly day. I usually accompany it with a plain green salad with vinaigrette, and sometimes a grilled chicken breast, although the tartiflette can stand on its own as a main dish. The original contains lardons (thick-cut bits of pork resembling bacon), but I like to keep mine veggie-friendly and lower in fat (ha).

Tartiflette

Serves: 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total cook time: 1 hour

What you need:

5 white potatoes, cut into very rounds (as thin as you can)
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup cream or half and half
1/2 round Reblochon cheese, pulled into bits as you work
What to do:

Prepare a buttered casserole/lasagna pan.

In a small sauce pan, cook the onion and garlic clove in about 2 tablespoons butter, until soft. Remove from heat, add the cream, and mix.

Place one single layer of potato rounds onto the bottom of the pan. Spread out bits of the cheese onto it (the bits will be clumpy – that’s okay) and pour a little bit of the cream and onion mixture onto it.

Continue to layer in this way until all the ingredients are used up, ending with cheese and cream on top.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are softened. Remove the foil and bake a further 5 minutes, or until the top is brown.

*Note: I have seen this served in restaurants and the cheese has just been sliced and layered throughout. Using slices, with the cheese crust still on, probably saves a lot of time and is more neat, but I don’t like the texture of the crust, so I get my fingers goopy and break the cheese up into bits.

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Basic Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt, to taste

Mix vinaigrette in a salad bowl and add the lettuce/watercress/spinach leaves on top. Toss just before serving.

Reception Details 2: Votives

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Votives are an obvious choice for reception tables. They are small, so they don’t compete with centerpieces or cross-table conversation, and the burning time is usually at least four hours. An inexpensive addition to decor, votives add ambiance without major cost.

This is no news to most, so why post here about it? We did something a little different from the standard clear holders from Ikea or Michael’s: We spent months eating delicious French whole-milk yogurt – risking Lose Weight Exercise gain and a change in dress size – so that we could use the glass jars it comes in as candle holders. These jars are commonly used in France for various occasions, notably the December 8th festival of lights in Lyon. My favorite craft magazine, Marie Claire Idees, often features projects using the jars. My favorite was a vase of knotty branches with beaded jars hanging off of them (you’ll have to just picture that – I can’t find a photo of something similar). This site shows other design ideas for the jars.

For our jars, we chose simplicity: a single painted band in one of three colors (light pink, deep red, and gold). It’s important to buy paint that is meant for glass, which I purchased in the craft section of the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville (refered to by its initials, “bay ahshe vay”). Other paints easily chip off: I’ve been known to use nail polish on jars when a crafty urge struck me late at night… When using glass paint, two coats are the minimum (in my book), to hide the brush strokes and really show off the paint color.

For some jars that I’ve kept around the house (too labor-intensive to repeat 80 times for the wedding), I added a design to the band: using a cut-out piece of a paper doily, I stenciled the doily pattern onto the jar with a contrasting paint. It gave it more of a Moroccan tea glass look.

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Finally: a DIY travel (life) guide

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When I travel, which is what I like to think of as simply living, I usually carry a custom, home-made “guide” of sorts. For the past year or so, I’ve carried around a graph-paper filled Moleskine journal, which is perfect for writing dissertation notes, drawing knitting patterns, and jotting down other notes and diagrams. The back pocket is a temporary holder for my stash of business cards, recipes, post cards, and sudoku puzzles (to name the objects in there right now). I’ve taped in a metro & bus map and a small French calendar (with all the saints’ days, of course) that I got for free at an antique jewelry shop on the Ile Saint Louis.

My organization system is pretty primitive: I take dissertation notes beginning in the front, and starting from the back, I jot down all my phone numbers, knit patterns, “favorite wines” lists, random monthly calendars I’ve drawn myself, and notes. I even have our wedding reception seating chart in there somewhere. The organization is a mess, but still better than I could do with a plain old paper journal, which is often wide-ruled and doesn’t usually have a pocket or a handy elastic band to go around it.

When preparing for a trip, I have been known to create my own book – binding and all – to include all the pockets, blank pages, lined pages, and maps I require (that’s what I did for our 2003 Trans-Siberian adventure and our 2005 trip to Costa Rica). Why couldn’t a book publisher do this for me? Am I the only one who wants to do more with a journal than just write?

Moleskine has read my mind, and answered my question. The company that brought back the legendary journal of Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, and Andre Breton (and surely many other famous white men) has just come out with City Books. I bought the Paris version yesterday at the Centre Pompidou and have been drooling over it ever since.

At just 5.5″ tall and 3″ wide, it is compact in size, making it an addition to (not a replacement of) my beloved grid-patterned Moleskine. It begins with a metro map and station index, followed by tables of measures and conversions (including really useful information like shoe and shirt sizes), and even a page that has a ruler at its edge. Next are the glossy, colored pages of city maps with a complete street index. In the middle are 96 blank pages for notes or sketches or whathaveyou, and at the end are tabbed pages divided by visual symbols into categories like restaurants, wineries, cafes, sleeping, people, information, shopping, books, music, and film. There are six tabbed sections that you can personalize with stickers they include with the book. At the very back are two pockets, tracing paper, and small detachable notes. If it sounds like too much to keep track of as you flip between sections, there are three ribbon bookmarks to hold your place, instead of the standard single strand.

I would have included a couple of other things: a page of sticky dots to attach tickets and other paper souvenirs to the pages, and several sturdier plastic envelopes for other findings. My dream journal would also have a place to keep 12 miniature colored pencils, but that is really asking a lot of a company that is appealing to a wider market than Ms. CraftyRachel.

With all of the features of the City Book, it’s easy and fun to make my own Paris guide as I live here, including only the places I enjoy and frequent and for which I’ve received recommendations. We’re spending this weekend in Madrid and I just may have to go buy the City Book for that Spanish capitol!

Reception Details 1: Favors

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Yes, it’s been over a month, but I thought I’d share a few how-to’s for our reception. I’ll start with the fun stuff today: favors!

Ever since I received some for my birthday one year, I have loved the look of marble magnets. These shiny, candy-like little jewels offer endless possibilities for a party theme, be it certain colors, tiny pictures, or other little graphic bits. Not Martha has several examples of the beautiful ones she made, as well as an excellent tutorial.

I wanted to use vintage maps and did a disappointing trial run. I envisioned bright, little magnified street layouts or colorful country borders and ended up with monochrome mush. It was time-consuming cutting out all of the little circles and the magnet sheets I cut to size and glued onto the glass were not even strong enough to hold a sheet of paper on the fridge. I was ready to give up and, well, pretty much did.

Thankfully, my artistically-inclined and very patient sister, Monica, took over the project. Since the maps I was using were on too big a scale, she bought a small (about 8″x8″) calendar of vintage maps that were reduced enough to show many little details in a small 1-cm round. She also saved tons of money by using quality color photocopies of the images instead of purchasing several calendars…and she can still use the calendar.

She further improved on my trial by using a small circular punch tool (available at scrapbooking and craft stores) to quickly create the rounds to be glued to the glass marbles.

She made about 300 in one night of videochatting with me from Minnesota. They looked great on my screen and I couldn’t wait to see them.

Left to be decided was the container in which they would be presented at the wedding reception. I absolutely loved the idea of Altoids-sized tins (the magnets stick perfectly to the bottom and a personalized label would give it a finished look), but thought I may want to include some sort of edible treat in there as well. Monica purchased some ribbon and a bunch of take-out boxes (the ones at Michael’s are expensive – next time, we’ll just ask to buy some from our favorite take-out Chinese restaurant).

I ordered custom fortune cookies, but the company I used was closed between Christmas and New Year’s and therefore could not process my order. Not thrilled with the communication of this information (there wasn’t anything written on their website!)…but luckily we had brought to Florida bags and bags of French papillote chocolates. They are a holiday candy from Roanne, France (where I lived in 1996-1997) that have little sayings inside. OK, so they’re like a fortune cookie: only more unusual, so more exciting for our guests, right? …and you just can’t go wrong with chocolate.

We used our “R [palm tree] S” embosser plate from WG press to emboss one of the top flaps of the box. We placed the magnets onto a cut piece of magnetic sheet (that stuff was useful after all!), 2 on each side, so that they would be presented nicely and face-up, not sticking to each other and rolling around in the bottom.

We tied ribbon around the boxes and voila! An unusual but useful travel-themed favor that was very much “us.”

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Mittens For Cécilia

MittensCeciliaWholeToday is Cécilia’s birthday and we’re celebrating with an “apero-dinatoire” at her and her cheri’s place. I thought for quite a while about what to get her, and finally decided that I could never go wrong with hand-made mittens.

This pair is a stash-buster project: As a base, I used a thin yarn, 100% wool, in cream, and then doubled it up with leftover yarn from the peach baby sweater (wool) and camel yarn from some fingerless gloves I made for Seth.

The project took about 4 hours (or about 5 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy). I made a quick label with washing instructions and tied it on with more of the peach yarn.

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Rouault-Matisse: Correspondances

MatisseJazzMiserere19The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (that’s a mouthful) is currently showing an exhibition on Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse – two students of the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. The show begins with late 19th-century oils by Moreau and some early works by Rouault and Matisse while still students of the great maitre. The exhibition continues through several decades of art spread over five rooms.

I have a bias towards Rouault, since my work involves visual representations of religious subjects (and I gave a talk last spring on his Miserere series of prints from the 1920s). I must say, nonetheless, that I thought the Rouault pieces outnumbered the Matisse ones. A variety of works are presented, from woodcuts to pastels, gouaches decoupees (notably Matisse’s colorful Jazz) to book illustrations (both artists illustrated Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal at different points in their careers). These represent a half-century of artistic production on the part of the two artists with similar artistic beginnings and quite divergeant paths.

The exposition runs until February 11.