Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Pie Diaries: Month 4

December: Cognac Cinnamon Blueberry Pie

As per the request of my family, December's pie continued the apparent tradition of alcoholic pies. (The choice was between the blueberry and a Creme De Menthe pie suggested by my friend Brece, which is sure to be January's pie!) The blueberries were hand picked and frozen by my mother and, working with what we had in the house, I decided to use Cointreau instead of proper cognac which I haven't drunk since having a particular experience one Tuesday evening in London. (Roskos, I'm looking at you. And I totally won that game of Rummy even though I think we lost most of the cards that night.)

(Twinkly liquor.)

As for this month's gluten-free pie crust solution, I used the often fabled, never before seen, store bought gluten free crust.

(Gasp! It's like catching a UNICORN!)

Here's the recipe:

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
5 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp cognac (Cointreau is nice as well)

Preheat oven to 350*. In a roomy bowl, mix together the blueberries, sufar, flour, cannamon, salt and cognac. Stir until thoroughly combined. Pour in the pie crust, top with the ipper crust and bake at 350* for 45-60 minutes or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling over.

Note: Cool overnight for the best setting up, but this pie is juicy. Uding the tiny berries it might set up nicely; with the larger berries it stays pretty saucy, in which case, you might as well cut it after 2 hours when it is still a bit warm and enjoy the delicious juiciness with ice cream!

Prep. time: 40 min
Baking Time: 45-60 min

There was much skepticism in the making of this pie. Firstly, we all had our doubts as to whether or not all five cups of blueberries would even fit into the shell. Next, 1 1/2 cups of sugar seemed an awful lot. Since there was no indication that I should thaw the blueberries, I added the sugar (and the rest of the ingredients) directly into the frozen berries. Well, the sugar was very resistant to being mixed up evenly... I let the mixture sit on top of the heated oven, hoping the rising heat would help everything blend, but eventually I just gave it one last stir and dumped them into the pastry shell. Lo and behold! They all fit. A miracle! Less of a miracle was what happened when I tried to use a second gluten-free pastry shell as a top crust.


The thing about gluten is that it actually functions like it sounds: as a glue... holding together flour and the other elements of pastries. Sooo... when you take the gluten out, even if you replace it with something similar, the resulting product tends to be a bit, uhm... crumbly? As demonstrated by the above photo. There was NO sculpting the ugly out of that pie. Every time I tried to reconfigure it, the crust simply broke off. I opted to stop trying and stuck it quickly in the oven as-was.

(Galaxy pie!)

It baked down to something at least a little bit prettier. (Thanks, mostly, to my mother's ingenious sprinkling of distracting cinnamon. Kudos, mom!) But, I have to admit that this pie did not live up to my expectations. The frozen crust wasn't all that tasty. As is common with gluten-free products that are primarily made with rice flour, the texture was kind of sandy... gritty, even. I wasn't sure whether it was the overwhelming texture of the crust or if the sugar never really had set in but the even the texture of the fruit filling was a little rough. Delicious, undeniably, but the texture was ultimately distracting. Also, you couldn't really taste the Cointreau at all. Bummer. Ahh well... not every pie can be a perfect success. Better luck next year!

**Anyone have any flavor suggestions, favorite recipes or events to which you would like to request the presence of a pie? Let me know! 2010 is gonna be the year of creative cooking. That... and, y'know, other stuff.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on Renegade '09

A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to share a booth at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago! The weekend was stupendously cold and surprisingly full of motorcycles (not AT the fair... just between us and the fair...) but totally awesome!

(Us and other vendors setting up in just one of the rooms.)

We could tell almost at once that, for many of the vendors, this is was they did for a living. Their booths were beautifully cohesive- with background curtains and large logos. Our booth.. in contrast... looked more like all three of our studios all exploded enthusiasm:

(Too much stuff? Never!)

It was funny, actually, 'cause it ended up being kind of hard to see us sitting behind that mountain of brightly colored objects. So we had to position ourselves so that we could see customers and then JUMP OUT! at them and try to convince them to buy things.

(photo stolen from the Renegade Flkr of the event!)

(Sexy view from our table. Note the sun pouring in and BLINDING us.)

The fair was held at the Pulaski Field House... somewhere near Wicker Park. The space was great! There were five HUGE rooms, spread out over two floors, full of vendors. It was actually kind of overwhelming. So much of the stuff was really expensive (which didn't stop me from coming home with some choice purchases.) But it was really awesome to see so many people hand-making and selling their wares for the holidays... and even more awesome to see people shopping for them!

(The craft fair in full swing!)

We estimated that over a thousand people walked by our table! (Of that thousand.. somewhere around 200 picked up this one orange wallet I made without buying it. Lame! But hilarious.) Every room was packed! It was awesome.

And, of course, hanging out with friends made the weekend all the more better!

(The gluten-free cupcakes didn't hurt, either.)

As a first craft fair experience, I'm glad I got to participate in one as monumental, and as established, as Renegade. There has been a lot of conversation over the past few years about the nature of the so-called Handmade Nation and it's place in the DIY movement. One of the main goals of these movements is to connect individual artists to buyers while at the same time endowing everyone with the permission that is often deemed necessary for making. It is about the power of the individual and the momentum that is made possible through community. And I was really looking forward to experiencing some of that at Renegade. But I have to admit that I'm not sure I really did.

Perhaps it is the pervasive nature of professional branding (in the style of corporatization) or perhaps it is the competitive nature of sales events but I noticed that, especially on the first day, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the vendors to not interact. (Except for the six year old daughter of a vendor in our room who adopted us immediately. She sparkled, we sparkled... it seemed like a good match.) It really wasn't until a few hours before packing up our wares that we even started to interact with the vendors in our immediate vicinity. Ok ok, I guess I can't place all the blame for this separation outside myself; I had as much agency to strike up conversations with other artists as they did with me... but there was this sense that, as professionals, there was a strict customer/vendor relationship that was to be adhered to. And there was no getting around the intense sales mentality. I found myself slipping easily back into the sell-sell-sell mindset as I talked to customers, which is something I have intentionally abandoned since working retail. I very much prefer to use my making as a tool for building connections: sewing needed objects for friends and if possible, trading them for it instead of asking for money. Now, I know Mr. Obama would call me a "rabble rousing anti-capitalist" for such behavior... and most of my friends would point out that I actually love making money and selling stuff but... I don't know. It's just something I think about kind of a lot.

So... in conclusion... although I had a total blast at the craft fair, I don't think I'll be doing another one in the near future. (Unless Lucy and Nellie ask me to 'cause I just can't say no to those ladies.) Instead, I'd rather be part of the conversation: what is the role of the handmade object? What is the role of the hand-making? What does this say and how can we use this momentum to bring people together? Mmm... sounds like a good craft night convo to me.

*** Oh! And on a related note! I have a ton of leftover merch that will be for sale on my etsy after the holidays! I wanted to get them up there in time for Christmas but seeing as I leave for MA tomorrow that doesn't look too possible. But come January I promise riches of make-up bags, belt bags, wallets, and post-cards galore!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair, Chicago: This Weekend!

Hey there friends and family- It's that time of year again: the Walmart and Macy's have opened their doors to the thousands of screaming (do they scream?) Black Friday shoppers, "Cyber Monday" sales have been perused, and economists are already calculating the profits. But this holiday season, wouldn't you rather support individual artists by purchasing their handmade goods? Of course you would!! Which is why you should all take the time out of your busy weekends to come to the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago! Now, I know that some of you will claim that you live "too far" to come all the way to Illinois to buy my pretty things... but that's no excuse. (Well, actually, it's a pretty fair excuse but I'm feeling unforgiving.) So, those of you who are able to make it will have to make up for all of you who can't by buying even more. :0)

"Over 150 of today’s finest indie-craft and contemporary design talents will be setting up shop at the Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Sale on December 5 + 6 from 11am – 7pm at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse!

Those looking to shop handmade and support small business this holiday season will surely find something for everyone – from jewelry and clothing, to ceramics and stationary, with everything from bath products, housewares, posters, comics and plush objects in between – at this large-scale, free-to-attend art, craft and design extravaganza!!"

See? All of your shopping needs met in one location!

I will be bringing a bevy of beautiful bags in all shapes and sizes: grocery bags, make-up bags, pencil cases, fanny pack (yes, just one), mini zips, hip/belt bags, i-pod cases... you name it, i've sewn a bag you can put it into. And each one made out of super cute printed fabric and durable, hard-wearing cordura. (Or recycled canvas, in the case of the grocery bags.)

(belt bags with birdies, cute little french animals and robots!)

I'll also be selling pre-ribboned sets of my handkit postcards! (Spoiler: there are still a couple of sets up on Etsy in case some of you non-chicagoans want some...)

I'll be sharing a table with the totally amazing fiber artist extraordinaire, Nellie Kurz, and illustrius author and comic artist, Lucy Knisely! Rock stars! And, to top off all of that excitement, I'm happy to announce a collaboration between Lucy and myself: a series of limited edition bags made by your's truly out of printed fabric designed by Lucy!

(When our powers combine...)

So good, right? I bet you have something tiny that you're just dyin' to put into that baby bag...

So come on down to the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse and see us on Saturday or Sunday! Lucy will be doing little watercolor sketches and Nellie and I will do our best to be equally as entertaining, we promise!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pie Diaries: Month 3

October: The Rinehart Family's World Famous Kahlua Pumpkin Pie

Counter-intuitive to the nature of Kahlua pumpkin pie, believe me when I tell you that the members of my family are not big drinkers. Which is why we were all the more confused when, one year, my mother expressed such delight at a Thanksgiving Kahlua recipe book that fell out of the Sunday paper. "Look!" she said, "Kahlua Glazed Turkey! Kahlua Glazed Winter Squash! We could have an entire Kahlua-themed Thanksgiving!" Crickets chirped. The family blinked at her in confusion. Although we managed to talk her down from converting the entire meal, we were adventurous enough to try the Kahlua Pumpkin Pie. (Probably because I was in high school and the allure of alcoholic beverages was still so tantalizing.) The pie a was complete success and has since been an integral part of our Thanksgiving holiday experience! Thus, it seemed an obvious choice for the third installment of The Pie Diaries.

Kahlua Pumpkin Pie

Makes 1 (9") pie
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 40 min

1 (9") pre-baked pie shell
1 cup undiluted evaporated milk
1/2 cup light brown sugar (packed, lump free)
1/4 cup Kahlua
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin
Kahlua cream topping (recipe follows)

Beat milk, sugar, Kahlua, corn syrup, spice and salt together until blended. Stir in eggs and pumpkin until mixture is smooth. Bake pastry shell in hot oven, 450*F, 7 or 8 min, until it begins to brown lightly. Stir filling. Pull the oven rack part way out and slowly pour pumpkin mixture into prepared pie shell. Reduce heat to 325*F, and continue baking until filling is barely set in center, about 40min. Cool pie on wire rack fro 20 min. Serve with kahlua cream topping.

Kahlua cream topping: Beat 1 cup whipping cream with 1 tablespoon each powdered sugar and Kahlua, just until stiff. Turn into serving bowl and drizzle. 1 table Kahlua on top.

Full disclosure: this pie is in no way vegan or gluten free. Had I a little more energy, I would go the extra mile and make a crust but, what with it being vacation and all... I let my mother buy a frozen crust. (*Gasp! I know, I know... but I'm tired!) I have, however, made it vegan in the past. There's a pretty easy evaporated milk conversion using powdered soy milk, and the egg-replacer works fine. The biggest loss when going vegan in the whipped topping- but if you spend the extra $$ to get soy wipped cream you can still drizzle the Kahlua over the top for much the same effect. Also, (*Gasp again!) I'm totally using canned pumpkin. (OH, the shame!!) Apparently my mother didn't bake enough pumpkin to last until Thanksgiving. But seriously! What is a good American Thanksgiving without store-bought crusts, pumpkin from a can and alcohol!? Sounds like a Patriotic Pie to me!

(Plaid on plaid apron experience... A must for the holidays.)

(Pie noir?)

The Kahlua taste in the pie is super super subtle- it's just a little extra sweet- so my favorite part is the whipped cream.... I mean, how can real whipped cream get even better?? By adding alcohol. Clearly.

(My mom and dad- in the foreground- with members of the Wick-Sailor Clan.)

My parents live in a co-housing community in Florence, Mass; right outside of Northhampton. Thanksgivings here can get huge; especially when all 33 families join together. (Sooo much foooood.) This year is a little quieter with only 2 families in attendance. The pie will be my contribution to the feast.

(Feast of pies! Pumpkin, pan-apple, and blueberry!)

Mmmmmm... soo worth all the gluteny goodness! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Deep and Undying Affection for Postcards...

I. Love. Postcards.

I love them. I love sending them, I love receiving them... and there are many, many reasons for my deep affection.

I started sending postcards regularly the first winter I lived in Philadelphia. It started, jokingly, as a way to keep from sending drunk text messages. Instead of getting an incoherent text in the middle of the night, wouldn't a totally illegible postcard be better?! The diagrams alone made them worthwhile... Slowly, I established a pretty good group of postcard pen pals. My summer travels afford me the opportunity to grow those ranks and to start a solid collection of my own...

(One card away from 50! Thanks to everyone who sent me cards!)

So amazing! And all the while, being the good little artist that I am, I was thinking about why I was so enamored with postcards... what about them was so enchanting? I think there's something so... lovingly ambiguous about them. They exist in this hilarious space between public and private- written for one person but open to the world. (Especially postal workers. I keep meaning to ask a postal worker if they read people's postcards...) They are also sort of outdated. We live in a technological era; one of email and text messages and facebook comments.

I was at Haystack when I knit my first postcard. And then I became obsessed.

(Artist Statement:) "The era of love letters has passed. We used to deliberate over affectionate and expressive letters, page after page filled with handwritten expressions of our emotion. But the days of receiving an actual letter, carried to our homes in the hands of a local postal worker are almost completely gone. Today we send text messages- embarrassingly misspelled words in abbreviated sentences- and we think they can successfully communicate complicated emotions.

This series of hand-knit postcards explores the nostalgic nature of mail and the contradiction of the material object with the ambiguous texts they display. The phrases, although easily recognizable as something you might see on a postcard, indicate a slight longing or desperation in a writer who might be veiling their feelings through pithy rhetoric. In the same way that post cards and letters are something of the past, hand knit objects imply a similar sense of tactile nostalgia and emotional devotion. The fact that the post cards were each knit by hand, laboriously stitched to read these words, exposes the writer’s/knitter’s intensity all the while being contradicted by the brevity of the words and the truncated sentiments. "

The objects are hilariously fun.. but, although I haven't tested one out, I have my doubts that the USPS would deliver them... But to deny them the chance to be sent through the mail would be terrible, right? And so...

I had them made into paper postcards.

(oooh, sexy rounded corners!)

Sets of all 6 postcards will for sale at the rapidly upcoming Renegade Craft Show in Chicago! (And then on my etsy account.) Very Exciting.

I'm making more and more stuff for the fair everyday, so all of y'all who live in Chicago, you best be putting that date on your calendars so you can stop by and give me your moneys. I'll trade you amazing things like recycled canvas dropcloth grocery bags and other stuff! And I'm sharing a table with two astounding artists: Lucy Knisley and Nelly Kurz! Come by and say hi!

(I totally stole this AMAZING comic from Lucy's livejournal, so now you all have to go read her super awesome comics! Also, you have no idea how excited I was to be cartoon-ized!!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Pie Diaries: Month 2

Community Apple!
(A Culinary Collaboration)

After eating all 12 of last month's Mini Peach Pies by myself I came to the conclusion that an entire months-worth of pie is simple too much to be eaten by one person. So this month, I decided to open the pie community!

The first stage of October's Apple Pie Experience was the procuring of the apples!

(Amy's nose, myself, Elliot, Dexter, Allison, Sarah.)

Every fall a bunch of my friends go apple and pumpkin picking! It's a great time... a chance to get out of the city and commune with nature. (Uhm.. a sort of super cultivated pseudo-nature, anyway.)

(Me: "how many of those small, screaming children do you think we'll have to beat up to get a seat on that hay-ride?" Dexter: "I dunno, but I bet we can take 'em.")

(Me: "What do you mean these pumpkins didn't actually grow here and that they were driven up and scattered in the pumpkin patch?!? Ali: "Who cares?! Pumpkins!")

So... in theory, apple trees are a great place to get apples. But unfortunately, due to an overly rainy fall, the annual trip embarked a little late in the season and all of the apple trees were completely bare! We spent a good 15-20 min wandering the orchard in hopes of stray, abandoned fruit, but to no avail. Fortunately, there was enough decent fruit on the ground (and at the farm stand) to guarantee pie.

I got a little carried away and ended up with quite the harvest. 1 Pumpkin for baking, 1 pumpkin to carve, an acorn squash, a mini pumpkin for decorative purposes, a butternut squash (yum), and assorted pie apples.

And on to pie! I used a basic filling recipe- 10 C. apples, cinnamon, nutmeg- and to soften the apples and get all the good stuff all mixed up, the recipe suggested heating the apple mixture in a pan until everything was almost mushy. It worked like a charm and made my house smell DELICIOUS. For this month's gluten-free crust experiment, I decided to use this recipe. (Thanks, Carrie Ann, for finally giving me some xantham gum!) It worked pretty well, except that the recipe didn't make quite enough crust to fill the pan AND cover the pie... but I made do ok.

(Yum... but I couldn't eat it quite yet...)

With so much conversation about pie going around since the inception of my year long pie-commitment, my friends Mary and Justin suggested we do a collaboration: I'll make pie and they'll use the ice-cream maker they got as a wedding present to make a complimenting ice cream. (A delicious, delicious collaboration... Anyone wanna get married? I'll do it just for the ice cream maker...) Since this month's pie is apple, they provided the most delicious vanilla-cinnamon ice cream and it was AMAZING.

The pie was pretty darn tasty, although I think if this I use this recipe again I'll add another small apple... more filling would have been nice. And the crust was pretty darn tasty, too! Nice and flaky.. not like the usual gluten-free cardboard consistancy. I do suggest, though, that if you're going to use this recipe add a dash of white sugar and salt for a little extra flavor. Mmmmm...

(Lisa, Mary, Justin, Pie, Ice cream. Mmmm, friendship rules.)

Yay! 2 Months down, 10 months to go.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall Projects and Announcements!

So... in all that free time I've had lately- what with the full time job, a psuedo-social life, and working on my grad school applications- I've somehow also managed to keep up with my crafting! ("Somehow" meaning that this is how I've been procrastinating from doing all that other stuff.) Here's what I've recently finished working on:

Chunky Braided Scarf!

After the craziness that was the knitting at Haystack, I was sincerely looking forward to starting fall with an easy, fairly thoughtless knitting project. So, I grabbed the handspun I had bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool fest and hit ravelry in search of a super-simple scarf pattern.

The yarn, made by Folktale Fibers in Maryland, was this great combination of cotton and soysilk in brilliant purples and muddy browns. I knew that I probably wouldn't have enough for the entire scarf but, deciding to maintain the integrity of the handspun, I opted to make it a half and half scarf. Also, because the fibers in the original yarn were vegan (not that I am, but, y'know) I decided to hold true to that while choosing my contrastisting finishing yarn. So, the light purple and brown that make up the second half of the scarf are both Blue Sky 100% cotton!

Although the pattern looks complicated to those who aren't used to knitting cables, knitting the scarf was really quite simple. On the first row of cables (3) the cable is knit in front of the work, causing the cables to pull in one direction. The next row (2 cables) is knit in back of the work, causing the cables to pull in the other direction. (Actually, each of the purple and brown stripes are one repeat of the pattern!) When repeated, and knit without a purl border, the work looks like a giant braid. Like challa bread! Remind me to knit up some challa some time.

All cozy and ready for fall! (Any day, now, fall... feel free to get cold any day.)

Spool Swap Quilt!

Since April, I have been participating in a quilt square swap at my local fabric store, Spool! Every month, members of the swap made and exchanged 12 9-blocks measuring 6". Seeing as I already have more than my body weight in tiny Viv Pickle scrap fabric, I decided that I wouldn't buy any new fabric for my squares! So, I only used recycled and salvaged materials. (It meant that some of my squares didn't even really match themselves, which I think made some of the more uptight quilters a little twitchy but, it was an important statement for me to feel like I was making.) We started with an inspiration fabric with the hopes of keeping the fabric selections at least a little cohesive but...

I guess it might not have been such a great choice to pick one of the Kaffe Fasset paperweight collection as inspiration! So many colors! Actually, I loved all the amazing colors and patterns that I was getting every month... and I had a blast laying them out in different arrangements; searching for the perfect chaotic composition. It had seemed obvious to me to put all the colored squares together, medallion style, and work with a border to make up the extra space, but I went through a period of quilt-anxiety after seeing Spools swap quilt. Instead of grey fabric, Laura chose a cream color and bordered each individual square by 2" on all sides. The forthcoming quilt is sooo different from mine! Much cleaner and more proper looking. But... once I was finished I got over my anxiety and really started to love it! (Hopefully we'll get a chance to see how some of the other swap-members decided to design their quilts.)

It's on my bed and Ripley loves sleeping on it as much as I love sleeping under it! Everyone should be so lucky as to have a hand made quilt on their bed. Love love love.

And, because Allison Smith's mom says that you should always sign your quilt somewhere, mine got a signature and date.

Renegade Craft Fair, Chicago 2009!

Ok, so this isn't as much a finished craft as it is a crafting announcement! It is now official: I will be sharing a table at this year's Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago with the illustriate comic artist Lucy Knisely and maker-of-beautiful things, Nellie Kurz! The fair will be held on December 5th and 6th, from 11am- 6pm, in Chicago's Pulaski Park Fieldhouse. I will be selling more of the usual: wallets, belt bags, ipod cases (with belt-loops!), computer cases, and small zippy bags out of a fantastic collection of fabrics. How fantastic, you ask? Well.. here's some of the coool stuff i've collected so far!

Yeah,that's right. That last photo included birds, mermaids, gears, robots, ray-guns AND concession stand snacks! You know you're going to want this year's stuff. Just saying.

I'll also be selling a hilariously ecclectic collection of shrinky-dink buttons and a top secret postcard collection soon to be released.... curious? Yeah, I know you are. I'll send out more information about the craft fair as it gets closer!

Amazing! and busy. Whew! Allright, now I gotta go get some more stuff done. Thanks for reading!