fun with watercolor

watercolor1

a bit muddy? yes! a lot of fun? yes!

Painting is something I really admire and try my hand at every now and then.  These days it’s been watercolor, specifically glazing or layering — more about that in a minute.

For me painting can be intimidating so I try to lower my expectations and just have fun, that way spontaneity can hopefully do its thing. The circles, above, were fun to paint but were also a great lesson in what not to do when glazing — more about that in an upcoming post.

I’ve got myself set up with the basics.  There are some very pricey paints, papers and brushes on the market but the word on the street seems to be that — for a beginner anyway — a good old Prang oval set offers decent smooth pigments for just a few dollars.  I decided to go with their 16-color set and so far it’s been perfect.

watercolor2

I spent a bit more on paper because when using a glazing or layering technique a thin paper will curl like crazy.  So I went with Bee’s 140lb cotton paper and I’m very happy with it so far.

When I began researching watercolor techniques online, I instantly wanted to focus on glazing because to me the amazing beauty of watercolor is its wateriness!  Glazing is basically watering down the pigment to a very sheer shade, adding other sheer layers on top of one another to create subtlety and depth.  When done right it is truly spectacular; here’s a quote from an artist named Birgit O’Connor who describes it way better than I can:

“Glazing is a term for layering or stacking color, for instance think of different sheets of colored glass or tissue paper one stacked on top of the other. You are able to see through the transparent layers to the ones below, glazing in watercolor is the same idea but instead using thin washes of transparent color. For the cleanest color mixing and purest glazes use only the most transparent color. The reason is these colors allow light to pass through and reflect off of the papers surface leaving beautiful jewel-like effects.”

Birgit’s site is chock full of info.  I also found a lot of great tips and inspiration from Sandrine Pellisier.  Her landscapes are beautiful and she was very gracious to show exactly how she achieved it.

More to come soon ~

pickled beets

beet

It’s the time of year for canning one of my favorite pickled foods ~ beets!  Last year was my first attempt and, although the recipe and instructions at pickyourown.org are fantastic, this year I roasted the beets rather than boil them.

I just tossed the unpeeled, halved or quartered beets in olive oil/balsamic vinegar {2-to-1 ratio} with a pinch of brown sugar and s&p, placed them in aluminum foil packets and let them steam in the sealed packs for 45 minutes at 400F.  Then I gave them a stir and left the packets partially open so they’d caramelize ~ another hour was needed but your time may vary.  They’re done when a fork easily goes all the way through, like butter.

After peeling, and fixing up the pickling solution, it was canning time.  Into quart jars this year rather than pints ~ I find that once a jar is opened it rarely lasts long anyway.

canned pickled beets

tomato canning day

tomatoes

Canning day is a good day to me for many reasons.  Aside from the practical, it’s just fun and rewarding and pretty simple ~ if I follow the directions all is well.

Rather than copy and paste all the steps, I’ll say click on over to pickyourown.org where she kindly provides amazing instructions and pictures.

Basically I sanitize the jars in the dishwasher, and while that’s going I get the big water canner on the heat.

In a medium stock pot I drop the tomatoes into boiling water until their skins pop, about a minute or so.

canning tomatoes

Then it’s into an ice water bath so the skins are easily peeled off and the tomatoes are ready to be halved or quartered.

tomatoes for canning

Once they’re all in jars it’s important to add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart-jar, to ensure there is enough acid for the water bath canning method I used.  Add boiling water to jars of tomatoes, filling to 1/2 inch of top ~ then use a plastic spatula handle to release trapped air {important step, see recipe above for details}.

After lids and bands are on, it’s 45 minutes in the boiling water bath.  Then I carefully lift them out with a jar lifter and set them on a tea towel overnight.  The next day the lids should be dented down, concave, which says the jar is sealed.

canning tomatoes

All done and ready for the pantry!

essential oils: lemon

photo:  growingagreenfamily.comLemons seem to be a fruit that’s been taken for granted.  I speak for myself when I say that lemons are often a highly under-rated fruit.

In cooking the lemon works quietly behind the scenes ~ it enhances most savory dishes, in many instances without taking center stage or even getting mentioned.  Yet without its inclusion we’d feel that something was missing.

image:  botanical.com

Lemon essential oil ~ which is the oil from the peel ~ is also extremely valuable but sometimes overlooked in favor of other oils.  In perfumery, its cousin bergamot is considered a more sophisticated top-note than lemon.  In cleaning and disinfecting the trendy lavender and/or powerful tea tree oils are what might be preferred these days.

photo:  ehow.com

Lemon essential oil is a great addition to any cleaning regime, leaving everything smelling fresh and bright.  And to me it lends its subtle beauty to many if not all perfume blends.  It’s like the scent of happiness!

essential oils: chinese rose

photo: sequoiagardens.wordpress.comA while back I decided to branch out from my favorite rose oils ~ Bulgarian and Turkish ~ and try Chinese rose essential oil from Mountain Rose Herbs.  The little bottle arrived and I didn’t know what to expect; turns out this more economical option to Bulgarian or Turkish rose oils smells amazing.

image: wikimediaLike its Turkish kin, it doesn’t smell typically “rose”.  But wow does it smell incredible:  honey, cinnamon, some kind of floral ~ really lovely.  This rose oil lends itself nicely to many different perfume blends.  It’s also amazing on its own and would make a great room spray when diluted in water.  Delightful!

essential oils: lavender

photo: lavenderconnection.comIn one of my earlier posts I mentioned that, other than cooking and baking, a keen interest of mine is making essential oil blends for perfume.

When I first began to learn about essential oils, certain ones stood out ~ lavender being an important oil because not only does it smell amazing it bridges other scents together very well.

image:  botanical.com

As a “bridge” note, it helps lighter and heavier-scented oils to blend well together.  Although having a very distinct aroma, I find that it isn’t overpowering and its addition makes for a more well-rounded fragrance.

homemade perfume

So as the warm weather hits and I’m doing a bit less cooking, I turn my focus to blending these lovely oils together and create little bottles of happy scent-sations.

ease into canning with pickled beets

pickling beetsWith growing season coming up, I thought I’d post one of my first canning projects from last year:  pickled beets.

It was late summer and as the farmers’ markets were winding down I bought a bunch of red and gold beets.  I had purchased the essential canning equipment and read the instructions; after referring to several websites I got to work.

Since it was my first attempt at the hot pack method, I selected one website and stuck to their step by step instructions.  I highly recommend following along with the folks at pickyourown.org; they’re very knowledgeable and generous with their time, making sure every step is detailed with photos.   Thanks to them my experience was enjoyable and successful.

This recipe will make about 8 pints of pickled beets:

ingredients:

  • 7 or 8 pounds beets, preferably similar in size
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 cloves, whole ~ about 1 teaspoon
  • 12 allspice nuts, whole ~ about 1 teaspoon
  • canning equipment ~ see here

directions:

  • Sanitize jars and lids ~ jars can go through the rinse/sanitize cycle of a dishwasher; keep them in there until ready to use so they stay warm; lids and rings should be heated but not boiled in a small pot of water on the stove
  • Fill the canning pot, with rack inside, with water and begin to heat over low flame, following manufacturer’s instructions
  • Trim the beet tops, leaving about an inch of stem to prevent color bleeding
  • Scrub beets under cool water, then place in a large pot and cover with water
  • Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes or so
  • Drain and discard the liquid; put beets in an ice water bath to cool
  • Cut off the roots and stems; peel beets and quarter them or slice as desired
  • Make pickling solution ~ combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a large pot; place the spices in a doubled up square of cheesecloth or a spice bag and add to pot
  • Bring to a boil, then add beets to pot; simmer for 5 minutes, then remove spice bag
  • Remove jars from the dishwasher; remove lids from the hot water pan; set on counter
  • Fill jars with the beets to within 1/2-inch of jar rim; pack snugly but don’t go over the 1/2-inch headspace
  • Carefully fill each jar with the pickling liquid, again making sure to leave 1/2-inch of headspace; be sure the beets are all submerged beneath the liquid
  • Wipe the mouth and top of each jar; top with lids and screw rings on snugly ~ not too tight, just snug
  • Using jar tongs, carefully place each jar into the rack of the canning pot; make sure tops of jars are covered by at least an inch of water ~ have extra boiling water on hand in case you need more
  • Process for 30 to 35 minutes, according to manufacturer’s instructions {processing time begins when water returns to a full boil}
  • When done, lift jars out with tongs and place on a tea towel to cool completely, preferably overnight before touching or moving
  • The next day test each seal with finger on center of lid ~ it should be dented inward and not move when pressed

canning pickled beets

Some people suggest wearing plastic gloves when peeling and slicing the beets, so that’s what I did.  I’m sure purple fingers wear off eventually but I didn’t want to chance it.

The process was a lot of fun.  It does take the better part of an afternoon, but having organic beets in the pantry without spending gourmet prices makes it worth while.

vintage home accents

wild cherry blossom fairyWhen I was younger and got into decorating, I had little knowledge of things vintage.  My style had always been eclectic ~ juxtaposing different styles together ~ but a lot has changed.

Back then I chose teak wood furniture from Denmark and mixed it with Native American rugs and Georgia O’Keefe prints.  Then Rachel Ashwell’s shabby chic exploded onto the scene and I was greatly influenced ~ soft, feminine with weathered wood and washed ivory linen.  Being more of a minimalist than Rachel, I looked and learned and kept some ideas for future use.

My taste has since morphed into a blend of American farmhouse, English cottage and French country.  One thing I love are vintage illustrations like the fairy shown above.  Dating from the 1930s to ’50s ~ flowers, trees and herbs were drawn with their particular fairy.  This and many other beautiful prints can be found at Collectors Prints, out of London.

I also love this antique pen drawing of a deer {complete with “real pen-work” stated in the background} available as clip art at The Graphics Fairy.

spencerian pen flourished deer illustrationThe image on my About page is part of this series ~ apparently they are from an early calligraphy book.  Some of them, like the one above, are large enough to print out and frame.

She also offers wonderful vintage botanicals like this adorable pear.

vintage pear illustrationAgain the link contains a large image that can be printed out.  Thank you Graphics Fairy!  She has loads of great stuff ~ highly recommended.

Besides illustrations, another type of vintage decor I became fond of is carnival glass.

carnival depression glassThe above photo is from an Etsy shop with a large selection of depression glassware.  I discovered orange carnival glass not long ago while photographing inventory for a second hand store.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

carnival glass

Usually described as “marigold” orange, I love how the iridescence doesn’t overwhelm the softness of the peach and pink tones.  Most of this type of glassware was made by Anchor Hocking, a name well known in the vintage collectible world.  Here’s one that’s a bit more bold.

carnival ribbed tumblerNot my style for drinking out of but they’d be fun accents, maybe holding teaspoons or wooden utensils.

I could really imagine these style elements working together in a kitchen ~ functional pieces in fun off-beat colors alongside old world prints of nature.  Tres eclectic!