Saturday, 29 March 2014

FO: Kidsilk Creation Scarves

All these time-consuming colorwork mittens and lace socks kind of take a toll on me.  Occasionally, I need some instant gratification.

It this case, with novelty yarn.


Have you seen this stuff?  It's been out for a while now, and I found some on sale at Janette's Rare Yarns, so I couldn't resist.  It's called Kidsilk Creation.  It's the same luxe yarn as Kidsilk Haze, except the fine strand of silk and kid mohair has been pre-knitted into a giant tube.

There's not a whole lot to do with yarn like this.  I mean, you get a ball of it that retails at £17 and it's only 11 yards long.  On the inside of the label (and plenty of sources free online) you can find the pattern for the Kidsilk Creation Scarf in both knit and crochet versions.  Even if you've never done any crafting before, you could totally make this as it requires no skill and is very forgiving as far as mistakes go.  Basically, you start at one end, push your needle through the tube to make two stitches, and then knit them with more yarn picked up a little further down the tube, while pulling the tube open to make a fishnet ruffle.  It quickly makes a spiral, and it keeps spiraling around as you go.  Depending how spaced apart your stitches are, you can have tight corkscrews, or big, lofty ruffles.

I made two of the knit scarves right away.  They took me about an hour a piece.  They make for lovely gifts, as they look far more complicated then you should get credit for.  If I could find an appropriate project, you could also make a knitted border for, say, a cardigan front or a collar, to give it a fun ruffled edge.  They make for a fun, flirty scarf that is light and airy and super feminine.

That was a fun little break.  Now, back to the grind.    

Friday, 28 March 2014

Vintage New York

These pictures have been all over the internet lately.  Or, at least, if you subscribe to a lot of vintagey new yorky things in blogland, then they have been all over the place.

Did y'all see these yet?

They are street photos by Frank Horvat from the early 80's.

I love them to death, as they have that gritty punk feel to them that gives you a good mix of New York being a great colorful place to live/New York will suck your soul out and leave you an empty shell.

I especially loved this death glare of the rush hour subway commute.  We've all been there.

There's more of them over at Retronaut (one of my favorite internet haunts).

Thursday, 27 March 2014


London doesn't have that romantic beauty that Paris exudes.  The uniformity of the old buildings, the orderly little squares and gardens, the old-world charm of strolling along the Seine, the gothic churches at every turn.

London has been razed twice:  in a multi-day fire in 1666, and during the Blitz in WWII.  There's not a lot of architecture that has survived both events, so there are lots more new, modern buildings here.  Because of this, it has a newness to it that radiates energy and innovation, rather than aesthetic beauty and charm.  

Walking along the North bank of the Thames is always a treat, especially when the sun is low in the sky.  In the right lighting, pretty much anything can be charming and pretty.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Caffinate me

It's amazing what realtors will try to sell you on.  I've heard a lot of weird assumptions...this one guy was determent to sell me on the fact that it would be pretty awesome to live in the suburbs of London next to a mall.  Yeah, maybe if you liked shopping malls, but I'd rather stare at the sun for ten agonizing minutes then step into one, let alone go shopping in one.  There's just something about the uniformity of mall-shops and the blandness of it all that really makes me long for a root canal.  Ugh, can you imagine if I had to go to a dentist office that is in a mall?  No, just no.

One things realtors all over London kept trying to sell me on was the Starbucks.  'There's a Starbucks close by, it's right near a Starbucks, you must love Starbucks, it's from America!'  While I've totally broken down in major caffeine withdrawal (hello, my desperate moment in Prague) it's not a chain that I frequent or support.  I'd much rather find someone doing something unique and with care and inspiration, and not a minimum wage worker with only real aspirations to clock out at the end of the shift.  Coffee is important, yo.  Starbucks over-roast their beans, giving the coffee too much of a burnt taste for me.  It makes my day when I've started it with a good cup.  I'm a headachy miserable wreck without it.  Frequently, there's a cute small cafe in the same vicinity of a starbucks, and I much prefer to hang out there, have a scone and a flat white and people-watch for a bit.

I was hustling to the office one early morning when I noticed a small ring of food tents set up in a church yard just outside of Waterloo station.  One had a sign that said 'Fresh Roasted Ethiopian Coffee', and I could smell it wafting streetwards, which is much more inspirational than the coffee pods they dole out at the office. I stopped for a cup.

I am so happy I did.  The whole 'fresh roasted' thing was not a lie.

The guy who worked there was having a blast, grinding beans for each cup as it was ordered while blasting happy Ethiopian music and dancing around.  Wow, a real live morning person!

The best part was that he was ROASTING HIS OWN BEANS ON A FIRE.  Right there, in a little cast-iron pan over some coals.  It was totally multitasking madness, and he was super enthusiastic and fun to boot.

The coffee?  It was pretty good.  A little thin maybe, but totally drinkable and enjoyable.  

I am so happy I found my coffee guy.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

FO: Snowflake Mittens

Hey now, it's springtime.  I should get some mittens on.


I don't know what inspired me to make such wintry-themed mitts so late in the season- maybe it was east-coast empathy!, but, eh.  There's always the sunny optimism of  next year's winter, and I will always have friends with cold hands.


The yarn is KnitPicks Palate, a fingering-weight rather affordable wool yarn that comes in many, many colors.  The pattern was also from KP, although, I can't recommend it highly.  The adult sizes run so small that I had to go up three needles sizes from the recommended gauge just to be able to get a good-sized mitt happening.  Still, they are pretty and worth the effort.


I love the wintry colors.  Those are words no one has ever said in March ever.  

Monday, 24 March 2014

South Brooklyn Craving

I'm finding that in London, it's easier to find a lot of fairly exotic ingredients.  In France, I would get a pang of homesickness every time I had to search for peanut butter and good bourbon and hot sauce, and trying to improvise American recipes with french cuts of meat and substitute ingredients was always an adventure of sorts.  I once paid the equivalent of $12 for a wee bottle of Angostura bitters because I had found a jar of Morello cherries soaked in Brandy and I HAD TO MAKE A MANHATTAN even if it meant shelling out for ridiculously overpriced bitters that I only needed a few drops of.  Irrational, I can be.  Eventually, I switched to more traditional French recipes once I was able to read the language well enough, and that made life easier, and I never ever found broccoli rabe, even in Italian markets.  Still, when I got a craving for something from home, it became a multi-arrondissement wild goose chase as I tracked down ingredients.  Many an American has visited friends in Paris with suitcases full of junior mints and chocolate peanut butter cups, baking chocolate, black beans and wild rice .

Now that I'm in London, it seems I only miss things that I used to be able to get so readily and cheaply in Paris.  Slightly sticky-rinded pungent Munster, small-producer Roquefort, the orange-rind goat cheese the farmer would bring to market every week, bottles of cherry liqueur and funk-laden normandie ciders, and of course, wine that I threw down pocket change for and was delicious.  Oh, and the bread.  It's just not the same, although I did find a French bakery that was decent, if not a little out of the way.  Something that I was warned about: Move to France, spend the rest of your life picking cardboard off your sandwiches.  I did find a nice carby replacement in sourdough crumpets- 'english muffins' as we call them in the states.  Those little bastards are basically melted-butter-sponges, and slathered with raspberry jam you've basically got yourself an impromptu pastry.

I was unable to resist purchasing a cookbook recently.  I try really hard not too buy books, as they are heavy to lug around, impractical to ship, and take up a lot of shelf space.  I stopped being a curmudgeon for a minute and caved to commerce.


It turns out that the food thing I miss most about the states now is my favorite neighborhood Middle Eastern restaurant in Brooklyn.  There's a fantastic cookbook-only book shop right off Portobella Road, which just happens to be across the street from the ultra fragrant Spice Shop.  It was fate that I ended up going home with the secrets of Tanoreen under my arm, and my handbag filled with little tins of spices.

Frenchie will have to wait, as I'm not quite as homesick for a fancy Pot au Feu quite yet.  Still.  Want.


The cookbook is the UK version, so I had to recruit my yarn-scale to be the new kitchen scale, as like France, they forego cups and teaspoons for the more accurate grams and ounces.


It is filled with promise though.  While nothing beats sitting around a table with friends fighting over the last yogurt-coated caramlized brussel sprout, I can at least try to replicate part of the experience.

But, this is what I'm most excited about:


I have tried Knaef every single time I've seen it on a menu, and nothing has come close to this version.  It's a sweet gooey cheese pastry, topped with shredded wheat and pistachios.  It's a toothsome and satisfying comfort food that I will ignore the calorie count on always.  

Oh, and did I mention that I have a grill now!  It's a no-fuss gas grill and I'm actually really disappointed in myself that I haven't fired it up yet.  As long as it's not cold enough to have to wear mittens while 'manning' the grill, I should be out there.  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

FO: Les Misérables

A friend gifted me a spectaularly special ball of yarn last year. Filatura Di Crosa Superior, a cashmere-silk blend, soft and lofty and fine, in the most alluring color of lipstick red.


I got to work right away on an appropriate pattern- something lacy and lovely.  I found this pattern online and got to work.  Although it called for 900+ yards of yarn for a large scarf, but I figured I would just sew up the scarf to make a cowl when I ran out of yarn as I only had 330 yards.

So miserable.

The pattern is easy- a series of yarn overs with dropped stitches lined up, to give it a carelessly destroyed and distressed look to it.  Still..It's cashmere silk blend!  You can't make it look bad.  Once you were done, you give it a good felting to firm up the fabric.  I did this rather ingeniously, as I had finished it while I was living in a hotel with no real way to felt it or let it dry....I used it as a bath puff for a couple days.  Soap, water, agitation, et voila.  It felted it perfectly evenly, it's super soft and surprisingly warm for something so full of air bubbles.

Friday, 21 March 2014


The weather has been brilliant lately.


That's a shade of blue I am always happy to see.


People here seem to dress rather foolishly.  Instead of easing into a spring wardrobe, they shed their winter coats to reveal so much skin.  It's slightly hilarious- the first day where it hits 60, people dress for the beach with no real though about the late afternoon chill that is bound to set in, and I've seen more crop-tops and tube tops than I did these past couple weeks than two years in Paris combined.  The men automatically switch to shorts and t-shirts and flipflops, which just seems odd granted that it's really not THAT warm out.  It's very casual here.


Despite the warm early-spring breezes and squint-inducing sunlight, I ducked into the Victoria and Albert museum, if only because I was in the neighborhood and it's a fantastic place.  I haven't been in years.


The museum is art and design textile-oriented, and it is packed with treasures.  Kind of an arts-and-crafts greatest hits collection.



It's so much bigger than I remember it.  There's beautiful embroidery, decorative glass, sculpture.  There's a huge costume section that I couldn't even find.  The Islamic section was full of iznik tiles and carpets that would just have looked stunning in my new pad.

They also have an amazing gift shop, with lots of crafty material.  Special-run of Liberty Fabric based on pieces in the collection, reproduction jewelry, a library of books that makes me re-think the 'no books' policy I have, and just lots of unique little enviable treasures to browse through.  Rather fortuitously, I bumped into a friend from Paris in the gift shop.  It's super crazy to bump into people randomly in a big city, but to do that when I have only been here for two month was kind of spectacular.


Afterwards, a walk through upscale Kensington, stopping in their rather awesome charity shops every chance I got.  Upscale neighborhoods have much better overall stock, and I've been on a hunt for a spring coat that is cute and classic.  No luck on that front so far, but it's never a waste as I've found loads of vintage buttons, and sometimes even fancy gift boxes of French cosmetics I use (Nuxe, Caudalie) for just a couple quid, plus my kitchen is for want of nothing.  Paris had brocantes, big flea markets, overpriced hipster vintage and bric-brac sales, but they don't have networks of charity shops like they do here.



Afterwards, on to Hyde Park (or is it Kensington Gardens I was in?  I haven't figured that out yet).  I didn't quite make it to my goal of seeing Kensington Palace, but I was just overwhelmed with the color and the springyness of it all.



Everyone loves springtime.


Thursday, 20 March 2014


Life has been…busy, but in the most excellent sort of way.  Making new friends, discovering new places and traditions.  I’m adjusting to my new home, the new ‘hood, and a new job.  Squeezing my feet into pumps and teetering around like a stilt walker is like riding a bike for me…it never quite leaves you, but you will probably hit the pavement once or twice and need a bandaid. 

Something I’m not in love with:  the wine here. 

1.        I spent a bit of euro on a lovely hand-crafted Laguiole corkscrew before I left Paris, as I am slightly obsessed with their knives.  A practical momento of sorts, as I’m still sentimental about my time there. 

2.       I have yet to use it.  Every bottle of wine I can find that is under £20 is a screw-top.  Tragic.  It seems that wine made for export to the UK Market gets a screw-top slapped on.  

3.       This aforemention wine gives me a headache instantly, without fail.  If I have more than one glass, I get insanely pissed off, dehydrated and achy.  It’s literally drinking poison.  And the impossible has happened:  I’m not ever drunk, but I identify as an angry drunk.  It's true what they say:  the French keep all the best stuff for themselves, they export the swill.  

4.       I need to find a source for non-lethal wine. 

Until I do, there is cocktails. 

One of the things I’m loving about the 9-5 is the excuse to have a cocktail as the sun is dipping below the horizon.  It just feels right in a way that I’m not quite comfortable with exploring the psychie of too deeply.   I found myself flush with bourbon recently, and after making this chicken (which was fairly delicious, you should try it), I had a big-ass bottle of pomegranate juice that needed some help to swig.  By itself, it’s bitter and puckery, but smooth it out and it’s de-lovely. 


Oh, and look what I got!  An adorable little set of bitters in a vintage travel tin.  I travel light, but I’m starting to think I need to start traveling much more stylishly. 

While I made the mistake of ordering a cocktail shaker off Amazon (along with a bottle of Scotch and some hard-to-find Cynar) and it never quite got here.  Improvising is my middle name, and making due with a measuring cup, while not as satisfying as the shake-shake-shake-shake of a glowing orb of cocktail mixing goodness, got me the approximate proportions.    

And it’s delicious, in a slightly exotic sweet-tart sort of way.  Just what you need to melt away your day into a lovely puddle of uncaring. 

The PomBourtini
(adapted from Serious Eats)

·   1/4 ounce pomegranate molasses (which is crazy cheap at the Mideast grocery store, mega expensive everywhere else)
·   1 ounce pomegranate juice
·   1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
·   3 ounces bourbon (or a bit more if your day is shite, but I think 3 makes for good sips)
·   Dash of Angostura bitters
·   Orange twist.  Or, if you are uncivilized, by all means, go without the garnish.

Throw the whole mess into a shaker, give it a good jostle with some ice.  Pour into a highball and garnish.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


I thought I had outgrown furniture made so lovingly by IKEA.

I just always had the association of it being so cheap, so flimsy, that it’s the go-to for anyone fresh out of college, in need of a fully-furnished apartment pronto, and not a lot of original design sense. 

I mean, the stuff is ingeniously designed and packed, and I am one of the few who takes near-perverse pleasure in following the step-by-step instructions to creating my own allen-wrench created masterpiece. 

Don't you just hit a point in your life where you outgrow the stuff and start collecting nice pieces?  

Not when you are an expat with no idea with what the future holds!

Still…the new flat came fully furnished with fairly solid furniture that was fresh from IKEA, and I can’t really complain- I’m pretty sure that aside from the Billy bookcase, everything else was from the upper price range of the warehouse.  I think this might be the first time I've had rooms full of matching lines of their furniture as well, and altogether, the place looks pretty sharp because of it, if not a little sterile. 

One thing that makes me sad is how disposable people consider flat-pack furniture.  Not a day goes by where I take out the trash and I am faced with the garbage bay that is filled with remnants of an Ikea-lived life.  Most of it is truly rubbish- broken down, splintered and unstable- but I've been rescuing pieces here and there that are perfectly good, solid, clean furniture, either from the garage downstairs where the bulk rubbish is picked up, or off the street if I see someone dragging out to the curb for pickup.  I was even able to salvage a Malmo bed for hardware parts that the that was missing off mine, probably as the result of one too many moves on my landlord’s part.  Frequently, this stuff isn't designed to be taken apart and put back together multiple times, and that is when it really starts to disintegrate. 

No, I am not becoming a hoarder.  No, I’m not living in filth and squalor, itching my bed bug bites and being plagued by a mystery rash.  

I am the savior of unloved Ikea furniture.  The patron saint of unwanted Swedish goods.   Bask in my holy glow, listen to the angels sing my praises.  Yeah, that’s right. 

The flat having a lovely outdoor space to enjoy once the weather gets a bit warmer was a real selling point for me.  A grill, a little vegetable garden hanging off the banister, a place to dry laundry in the sun.  All very nice.  How about a place to sit then, and a table to eat at? 


Yup, dragged that right out of the garage.  It was hideous, but it was a solid piece and quite heavy despite there being a big wear mark from maybe a plant or a computer monitor.  The metal legs gave it an ugly industrial chic look.  No wonder why it was discontinued by the Swedish overlords. 

First; an adventure to the hardware store.  This went horribly wrong. 

There are dozens of little hardware stores all over London, but very few who specialize in paint and will mix it for you to match a colour you want.  I found one after much searching, and showed up one lovely Saturday afternoon with my paint chips and ideas of splendour dancing in my head. 

The cheif who helped me out with the paint mixing was fairly young and clueless, and didn’t quite know how to gracefully mix the paint.  Before the lid could be secured into place to give the paint can a ride in the super-shaker, he spilled a great deal of the paint on the floor, along with  most of the raw dyes, which was really effecting what color the final product would be.  Part of this was not entirely his fault, as there was a bat-shit crazy woman whose remaining teeth were growing horizontally out of her mouth who was hovering over us, asking all sorts of questions that had nothing to do with hardware supplies or paint, and neither one of us really knew what to do about her as she just seemed lonely and wanting to have a chat desperately, about cats and the weather and the end of the world and god, and she was clattering her teeth so rapidly, I couldn’t get a moment to think clearly, and all the paint fumes were making things woozy.  I was getting as agitated as that paint was supposed to be.  Plus, the floor of the hardware store was starting to look like an oozy Jackson Pollack reject.

The third time we tried for the paint, the guy managed to spill a bit on the floor anyway.  I stared in alarm and disbelief.  Was he high?  Have I been here for six hours trying to buy paint?  WTF, why can he not stop spilling my paint!  This was worse than a Marx brothers movie.  His boss came over and assured me, oh he didn’t spill dye that time, we’ll shake it up and it will be perfect.  Foolishly, I agreed, and I went home with a gallon of paint that ended up being all wrong from my original vision when I saw it in daylight, and the outside of the paint can was streaked with dye and threatening to yellow anything I put it near.  What I wanted was a deep, mossy green.  What I got was a yellowish mint. 


UGH.  At which point I was trying to re-negotiate, and they pulled the ‘once it’s mixed, you own it’ card on me. 

I hope they encounter some paint-encrusted cement boots soon.   This sainthood is just not working out for me.

It’s really easy to re-finish furniture.  Sure, it takes a little time, but way to make something generic and beat-up look like you love it.  And you will.

I had four things to finish:  the table for outdoor use, a set of side tables for indoors, and a good old Ikea chair for outdoors.  Everything, salvaged from the dumpster.

First, it’s important to give it a good sanding.  Even if you have a primer that says ‘no sanding needed’, call it on its bullshit and get to work.  Roughing up the surface gives the paint something to grip to, and if the furniture is laminated, you won’t have a chance in hell to get a coat of paint to stick.  I used a medium-grit paper and it took me about a half hour for each piece. 


Now, on to the priming. 


I used a water-based primer.  Anything else you need to buy brush cleaner to clean up, and that stuff is just toxic and I can’t be bothered.  I generally just throw my paintbrushes away once I’m done anyway- wasteful, I know, but I just don’t have storage space for things like that.  If you are dealing with something with a dark coat of paint on it to begin with, you can ask the hardware store to tint it for you to give yourself a darker basecoat to work with.  When I asked, they looked at me like I was an escapee from an asylum of sorts, and eventually pulled out a huge jug of paint tint and tried to sell me a gallon of it.  No, I just need a few drops.  Most places will do this for you, but I persevered and  went home with glaring white, and I probably was given that nickname at the hardware store to boot. 

I got a mini-roller as well- this is key to have nice, smooth coats.  Brushes, especially cheap ones, can leave lots of DIY evidence. 

Wipe off all the extra dust from the sanding, and start priming.  I used two coats and completely coated every piece.  I let it try overnight before slapping on the second coat. 


Then, the paint.  I ended up purchasing some pre-mixed stuff since the yellowing mint was making me depressed every time I looked at it.  I think it might have been the same colour the interior  walls of my high-school was painted, and that place was a dump.  Still, I had an idea brewing, and painted the table pissy puke mint colour  anyway.

Pretty, right? 

The red side tables gave me the most grief.  The paint didn’t have great coverage.  I ended up doing five coats on each one.  Everything else took three.  Dark colours are harder to work with as you will start to notice all sorts of flaws in coverage. 

This whole process took most of a week, but maybe an hour each day.  I’d put on my painter clothes, go outside paint, clean the brush and roller and wait until the next day to do it all over again until I was happy with the coverage.  Letting things dry overnight will keep you from getting too many dents and blobs in your paint job. 

Now, for the finish touch.  Or in the case of minty unfresh table, several finishing touches. 


I ran out to the craft store and got a jar of modge podge and some short-bristled brushes.  I hunted around for bits of paper and postcards that I had been uselessly saving- some pretty wrapping paper, maps, some really awesome postcards that I bought at the Lomo store in Budapest that I never got around to sending, some stationary from Musee D'Orsay with Japanese prints. 

I glued the whole mess on to the table.  I haven’t decoupaged since I was a kid.  Yes, it’s overtly kitschy.  But look, all the pretty bits of crap I’ve been saving now has a home where it can be admired/stared at with alarm/shit on by pigeons.  I decluttered AND I cluttered a table with piles of paper permanently.  It’s a miracle!  And it hid a great deal of the awful green truth!

After another 24 hours of dry-time,  it was time for a couple of coats of varnish.  I had to buy two wee cans- one for outdoor use and one for indoor.  Both claimed to ‘dry clear’, but they totally darkened all the things.  Lies, cans of paint are full of lies! 

It’s good to do this last step outside (well, I did everything but the decoupage outside) because varnish gives everyone an instant migraine.  It’s terrible stuff, and it’s hard to apply, and it is hard to clean up if you get it on anything you don’t  want it on.  It starts getting tacky right away, your brush strokes show, and I got an alarming amounts of bubbles in the finish with every pass.  Most of those went away, but I was having a new adventure, as mosquitoes and blackflies were attracted to the varnish, and now I have dozens of them permanently embalmed in the finish.  If I tried to pick them out, they would take out the paint down to the primer, leaving worse-than dead bug carcass divots in the paint.   Ah, well.  In the end, I decided this was something I was going to have to live with.  Two coats of varnish later, the whole lot of furniture looked shiny and protected, and totally usable.  For about $50 worth of paint and supplies, I took some garbage and turned it into functional things that I would have had to shell out ££ or $$ for.



Not bad, eh?  The side tables match a Moroccan kilm perfectly, and give a bit more richness to a colorless room.


I am not quite done with the chair, as I have a bit of work to get a waterproofing for the new cushion.  No one wants to sit in a soggy fabric chair.  But hey, totally legit place to sit out with a book and a toddy.

And yes, the table:


It's kitchy, but not hideous.



Right now, it's making a nice place for my seedlings to bask in the sunlight, but soon, it will get some use as a proper picnic table.  

The only real issue is the table legs.  They are metal.  You need to get a special oil-based primer in order to stick paint to metal, and I didn’t want to spend any more money on this project.  I covered it the best I could, but if you nick it, the paint peels and scratches off down to the metal with no effort at all. 

Ah well.  The table top is so damn pretty, no one will ever notice.