ROYGBIV: Orange

7 Apr

Depending on who you ask, the color orange brings to mind many things: amusement, danger, encouragement, energy, enjoyment, enthusiasm, extroversion, fascination, fire, happiness, heat, sunshine, and warmth.

It is one of my favorite colors, because it is so cheery (and because it goes so well with blue, its complementary color). I particularly like that it is associated with joy and creativity, and I love this description: “Orange oozes with delight.”

Interestingly, people did not have a good way to describe the color at first, sometimes calling it (in English) “yellow-red” or “saffron.” It wasn’t until oranges made their way around the world from their native Southeast Himalayan foothills that the color began to be associated with the ripe fruit. The first recorded use of orange as a color name in English was in 1512.

This week’s color, orange, appears on the six stamens of an Asiatic Lily ‘Tiny Sensation.’ The stamens are the male reproductive organs of flowers, consisting of anthers coated in pollen resting atop slim filaments. The female part of the flower, the pistil, can be seen rising blurrily in the back. Though not visible in the photo, the top part (the stigma) has three lobes and is sticky, to better catch the pollen.

Here is a better view of the pistil and its three-lobed stigma, surrounded by the six stamens. This photo is from a different lily, but luckily the pollen here is also orange, fitting in with this week’s theme.

Pollination occurs when bees, butterflies, and other pollinators carry the pollen from the lily’s anthers to the female parts of other lilies. Successful sexual reproduction leads to seeds that ripen in pods and are dispersed when the pods start to open in the fall. Unfortunately, I do not have any good photos of lily seed pods (though will now be on the lookout this fall), but did stumble upon iris seeds one autumn, as described here.

And of course, as lilies come from bulbs, another great way to get more lilies is via bulb division.

Triaxial Fabric Weaving: Hexagonal Tumbling Block Pattern

5 Apr

Two of the reasons I like fabric weaving are: 1) even after planning your project, you can never know exactly how it will turn out; it depends on the color, type, and number of fabric strips you use; the pattern; and how you combine everything. All of that is hard to “see” until it starts to come together. Often, you are rewarded with a beautiful surprise. But sometimes, things just don’t turn out as you imagined. If that happens, then 2) you can easily undo what you have woven and start over, combining the original strips in different ways, incorporating different fabric strips, or even choosing a different pattern.

This weave is the same as the first one I wrote about–it’s a triaxial/tumbling block/madweave pattern–but the fabric strips are woven so that the colors/fabric strips come together to look like hexagons. It is a small example of the diverse results you can get, even with the same basic process.

This is a fairly simple hexagonal pattern that requires only three colors/types of fabric strips. I chose a green motif this time and cut my fabric 18 inches long x 2 inches wide, then made 1-inch strips; see my first post for more info on getting started.

Layer 1: Pin the strips vertically onto your foam board (with fusible interfacing underneath), alternating the colors (1,2,3; repeat).

Layer 2: First, find the 30-degree angle. Lay your ruler horizontally across the Layer 1 strips on your board (in the middle of the board, lined up against the right edge) so you can see how the 30-degree angle is situated. Then weave your first Layer 2 strip so that it approximates the 30-degree line, going up toward the left from the middle of the right side. Check the strip against the ruler, to make sure it is at the correct angle, adjusting it as needed until it is perfectly aligned. You may need to tug it gently into place until it is perfect (see the dark green strip below outlined in red).

The basic weave for Layer 2 is “over one, under two,” though you will need to stagger that pattern for each row/color. In my case, with 15 strips in Layer 1 and using the dark green fabric as my Strip 1, my pattern was (starting from right side and going up to the left):

  • Strip 1 (Dark Green): [Under one], over one, under two, over one, under two…
  • Strip 2 (Patterned Fabric): Under two, over one, under two, over one, under two….
  • Strip 3 (Light Green): Over one, under two, over one, under two….

The photos below show the first three strips of Layer 2 (with WEFTY and Purple Thang tools resting above the top pins), and the finished Layer 2. You can start to see two sides of the blocks/cubes/hexagons forming.

Layer 3: This layer does not have a pattern; every row is the same. Each time, you must find the “bird” or backward “Z” to weave under, making sure to choose the right fabric strip to complete the hexagons properly. With each Layer 3 strip you weave (in the photos below, the strips go from the left side up toward the right), you want to complete a row of hexagons/blocks all in the same fabric. As you weave, you want your Layer 3 strips to form the top of each hexagon/block, meaning you must weave under everything else. See this post for how to identify the “bird” or backward “Z”, and also for how to maneuver your WEFTY tool under and over. The photos below show Layer 3 in progress, and a close-up of the final hexagons.

ROYGBIV: Red

30 Mar

In recent months, I’ve thought a lot about the color wheel and the classic rainbow of colors, most recently from having to organize my fabric weaving quarters and yards in some kind of logical way, but also from repainting our new house (after pondering split-complementary and tetradic color schemes until my eyes crossed).

At the same time, I also have a LOT of photos of colorful things that have caught my eye over the years, so I thought to start posting a weekly “ROYGBIV” photo, following the red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet sequence. But I had to ask myself, what exactly is the difference between indigo and violet? Indigo and violet are both “purple,” but indigo is a very blue-purple and violet is a red-purple. It helps if you think of the colors on a wheel: violet eventually morphs into red, and most people can distinguish red-purple.

Indigo is far more controversial, thanks to Isaac Newton. He realized white light is actually made up of a spectrum of many colors, where each color blends into the neighboring color. He designated seven colors as being in the visible color spectrum; it was he who included indigo. There are many theories as to why he chose seven colors: Was he following the pattern of sevens (seven musical notes, seven days of the week, seven planets, etc.) or did he simply observe that seven colors had large-enough wavelengths to make the list? We may never know, but what is certain is that the human eye is notoriously insensitive to indigo; it is a hard color for most people to identify. Bearing that in mind, I’ll try to keep indigo in rotation for as long as I can determine it’s not actually blue….

This week, however, I will start off with the first color normally found in the sequence: Red.

Oxheart tomatoes (Cuore Di Bue), taken at the Testaccio Market in Rome, Italy

Recipe: Cinnamon Cardamom Coffee Cake with Extra Streusel

28 Mar

If you like cardamom in baked goods, this recipe is for you. If you don’t, just omit it and you will still have a delicious cinnamon-scented coffee cake with a generous amount of streusel. Cardamom, which is native to India and Indonesia, is in the same family as ginger and turmeric and is very fragrant. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used it, and the Vikings took it back to Scandinavia. Today, it is widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Swedish dishes as well as some Southeast Asian ones.

In its native India, whole green cardamom frequently appears in savory dishes, and green and/or black cardamom seeds are also part of many garam masala spice mixes. Black cardamom is also very popular in Vietnam; I discovered it was a key ingredient in the long-simmered broth of my favorite Vietnamese pho in Maryland, when the owner came from the kitchen to show me a handful of the aromatic black pods.

On the sweeter side of things (a very nice side indeed), cardamom is a key ingredient in chai teas and mulled wines like Swedish glögg and German glühwein. It is also a key flavor component in Nordic baking and in Indian sweets, which often feature one of cardamom’s most delicious partners: rose water.

This recipe pays homage to my love of cardamom, my love of coffee cake, and my love of lots of streusel.

Extra Streusel Coffee Cake with Cinnamon and Cardamom

Ingredients:

STREUSEL:
2/3-3/4 cup (135-150 gr.) brown sugar (adjust depending on how sweet you like your coffee cake)
4 tablespoons (34 gr.) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
heaping 1/2 cup (80 gr.) chopped pecans or walnuts
3 tablespoons (45 ml.) canola/vegetable oil

CAKE:
1 1/2 cups (about 200 gr.) cake flour or regular flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (134 gr.) sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup (60 ml.) canola/vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup (180 ml.) milk (oat milk also lends a nice flavor)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.
2. Grease the bottom of an 8×8-inch (20 cm.) square baking pan (or spray with cooking/baking spray), line with parchment paper, and grease or spray the paper.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the streusel ingredients until well combined. Press down on the mixture with the back of a spoon to compact (to create a few future streusel lumps), and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and spices.
5. In another medium bowl, combine the oil, egg, milk, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just enough to mix. The batter will be a bit thin.
6. Pour 1/2 of the cake batter into the prepared pan (it will seem like a very thin layer; just make sure to fully cover the bottom of the pan).


7. With a knife or spoon, score a line across the top of the streusel in the bowl, dividing the streusel in half. Using a spoon, scoop and scatter 1/2 of the streusel on top of the batter, trying to retain some streusel lumps. Evenly pour the remaining cake batter over, and then scatter the other 1/2 streusel on top.
8. Bake the coffee cake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick, knife, or fork inserted in the center comes out clean.

Adapted from a recipe on food.com.

Recipe: Roasted Beet and Red Onion Tart with Feta and Walnuts

14 Mar

I realized a bit late that today is Pi Day, 3/14 (March 14). Our daughter is a huge fan of Pi Day baking, so I wanted to see if I could come up with a savory pie without having to go to the grocery store. Luckily, beets can keep in the fridge for a long, long time, and I recalled that two of them had been living in our crisper drawer for at least a month. Were they still good? Yes, they were. That meant the main ingredient for my pie was set. What goes beautifully with beets? Feta and walnuts. Both were miraculously on hand. As was a red onion that needed to be used, too, lending itself nicely to the red theme. So far, so good. Then I checked the freezer. Excellent: the puff pastry I thought I had in there was there, so I took it out to thaw. Pie ingredients all available!

Like most things involving pre-made puff pastry, this is a pretty easy recipe. The most complicated step (which is not hard, just messy) is peeling and dicing the raw beets. Prepare them on a plastic cutting board or a surface that will not stain. And beware of your hands. I washed my hands with soap and water after peeling each beet, then after dicing each beet, and then a final time for good measure–and my hands escaped unblemished. You could also use gloves. Or you could not worry about it, and then have time (on your hands) to admire a potent natural dye….

Roasted Beet and Red Onion Tart with Feta and Walnuts
6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg. (17.3 oz./490 gr., usually comes with two sheets) puff pastry (pasta sfoglia, pâte feuilletée)–thawed
  • Two large raw beets (about 1.1 lb./ 500 gr. total), peeled and diced into medium-sized pieces
  • 1 large red onion, cut in half, then each half cut into about 5-6 wedges
  • olive oil, dried thyme
  • 1 cup (135 gr.) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup (about 118 ml.) heavy cream
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. dried chives, or 2 tbsp. fresh chives, finely chopped
  • freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • small handful walnut pieces
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • fresh parsley if available, as garnish

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F / 200 degrees C.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the diced beets with 1 tbsp. olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and 1/4 tsp. thyme.
3. Lightly oil a large baking sheet (I used a half sheet) and spread the beets onto 2/3 of the sheet.
4. Place the red onion wedges on the other 1/3 of the baking sheet. Brush the onion wedges with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and more thyme.

5. Bake the vegetables for about 25-30 minutes or until the onions are soft and look slightly grilled. Carefully remove the onions and place them on a plate to cool. Roast the beets for 10 more minutes until they are soft and golden looking (ie, about 40 minutes total), then place them on a plate to cool slightly, too.
6. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F / 190 C.
7. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper (I used another half sheet pan, but if you do not have one, you can use two smaller baking pans) . Unfold the thawed puff pastry sheets and arrange them on the parchment paper to fill up the pan as best as possible. Note: Depending on the size of your baking pan, this will require some cutting and pressing to fill the pan properly. With a sharp knife, score the edge of the pastry all the way around, creating a 1/2-inch border, but don’t cut the pastry all the way through. Here’s what my pastry looked like when I was done (if you aren’t in the mood for jigsaw puzzles, you could also place a puff pastry sheet on each of two smaller pans):

8. Make the feta base. Combine the feta, cream, egg, garlic, chives, and black pepper, and mash together. Prick the pastry, then spread the feta mixture over it, being carefully not to go past the border.

9. Arrange the beets and onion wedges on top of the feta mixture, sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan), then scatter the walnuts around. Sprinkle dried parsley and more ground pepper over the top. If you really love cheese, you could spoon some extra crumbled feta over the top, too.

10. Bake the tart for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom are golden. Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve with peppery greens (like arugula, though a spring mix would do, too) drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Recipe: Pasta Carbonara for Two

7 Mar
DSC_0047

In Rome, there are four classic pasta dishes: Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, and Gricia. The two base ingredients that are constant across all four sauces are Pecorino cheese and black pepper. Cacio e Pepe, which means cheese and pepper, is a perfect example of the magic that occurs when the two base ingredients are combined with pasta cooking water. Gricia omits the water and adds guanciale (pork cheek/jowl). The purest version of Amatriciana (from the town of Amatrice itself) also omits water, but adds tomatoes to the guanciale. (Note: the black pepper can be a very controversial ingredient in an Amatriciana sauce, depending on who you ask. I include it, as I was taught.) Carbonara is Gricia with eggs; it never, ever includes cream. Essentially, a small handful of ingredients trade places across the four classic Roman pasta sauces.

This Carbonara recipe came about when we were living in Rome as true empty nesters. It took me a few years to adjust from cooking for 6 to cooking for 2 (even though our children left home in phases), but I finally did it. This is a recipe my husband and I enjoyed often, one that can be easily doubled (or tripled) when guests arrive. The photos below show guanciale (pork cheek/jowl), which typically has a peppery outer coating. If you cannot find guanciale, look for pancetta (pork belly). If you cannot find pancetta, use bacon. Pancetta and bacon may not be authentic, but you should use what is available and make something that tastes good to you. The beauty of recipes such as this one is their ability to be translated in a way that still preserves their essence. I will never speak Italian like an Italian, but what I do speak is still recognizably Italian and I hope it demonstrates my love for (if not my complete mastery of) the language.

Note: This recipe uses raw egg yolks. They are cooked by being tossed with the hot pasta, but if this may be a problem for you, try Pasta in Cream Sauce as an alternative.

Pasta Carbonara for Two

Ingredients

  • 100 gr. (about 1/4 lb.) guanciale, cubed or diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 225 gr. rigatoni (1/2 lb)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 30 gr. (about 1/4 heaping cup) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish

Preparation

Cook guanciale in olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until crispy. Remove the guanciale to a plate. Put 1-2 tbsp. of the guanciale drippings in a large bowl; let cool. Add egg yolks, grind a healthy amount of pepper over the yolks, then mix with a fork to emulsify.

DSC_0035

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally until al dente (according to package directions). Before draining, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid— and place a tbsp. measuring spoon into the reserved pasta water.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and immediately add it and 1 tbsp. of the reserved pasta water to the egg mixture; tossing vigorously to coat and to make sure the egg yolks don’t scramble. Add the Pecorino in batches, stirring and tossing until the cheese is mostly melted and the sauce thickens. (Add more pasta water or pepper if desired.) Just before serving, mix in the crispy guanciale.

Divide among bowls. Serve with more grated Pecorino Romano.

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Learning to Weave with Fabric Strips: Triaxial Tumbling Block/Madweave Pattern

3 Mar

We moved into a new house this past summer, and repainted every single wall in the house (because we are crazy that way). We spent a lot of time making sure the living areas felt just right. As usual, we left our bedroom for last. One thing it needed was some kind of art work on the wall above the bed, and after coming across a fabric weaving photo online, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Two problems: 1) My previous weaving experience was limited to making potholders as a child and 2) I don’t know how to use a sewing machine, which is useful for actually turning the weaves into a final product of some kind. (I can sew by hand, but that was definitely not something I wanted to attempt here.)

I tackled the first problem by finding out everything I could about weaving with fabric strips, and by practicing a lot. I avoided the second problem by deciding on a non-sewing solution for the bedroom project, though I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to have to learn how to use a sewing machine. This post is not about the weaving I finally did for the bedroom wall, but about the practice runs leading up to it and what a novice like me learned along the way–in case anyone can benefit from my mistakes.

Fabric basics: I knew fabric came in yards, but that was it. (As I mentioned, I had a lot to learn….) Now I know that a bolt of fabric is usually 44″ wide, though width can sometimes vary a tiny bit. So a yard of fabric is usually 36″ x 44″. A half yard is 18″ x 44″ and a fat quarter is 18″ x 22″. I started out by buying inexpensive fat-quarter bundles online, to use for practice:

Cutting the fabric: This may sound self evident, but to weave with fabric strips you need to make the fabric strips–and cutting the fabric is only the first step. I decided to weave with 1″ strips, meaning I needed to cut fabric pieces double that width. A fat quarter will yield 11 (2″wide x 18″ long) pieces. I cut the fabric on a drafting table (though any good-sized work space will do) topped with a self-healing rotary cutting mat, using a rotary cutter. I lined up the fabric on the mat and used a 6″ x 24″ inch clear ruler as a guide/edger for the rotary cutter, moving leftward across the fabric since I’m right-handed:

Fabric strips: The second step is to actually make the strips (aka tape). For 1″ strips, you need to fold a 2″ piece of fabric in half by bringing the two long halves together, and run it through a sasher tool/tape maker while ironing the strips to keep them neat and flat. The first photo below shows (l-r) a final 1″ ironed strip, the fabric in the sasher tool, and some original 2″ pieces of fabric. The second photo shows the ironing process, though note–as this was one of the first times I made a strip, I ran the cloth through the sasher tool with the tool upside down. It’s much easier to maneuver when the curved part of the tool faces upward, so don’t repeat my mistake!

Preparing your work surface: Normally, you will be working on a foam board (though I didn’t use one when doing the project for my bedroom wall; more on that later). Select a foam board larger than you expect your final project to be, and place a layer of fusible interfacing on the board, tackier/stickier side up. (You will bond your weave to the interfacing with an iron after you are done with your project, to help keep it all in place, then you will tape the edges for extra reinforcement.)

Patterns: There are MANY different ways to weave. I chose three colors (orange, blue, yellow) of inexpensive fat-quarter fabric and decided to try all sorts of patterns with those. But instead of trying the easiest pattern first, I went straight for a triaxial/tumbling block weave, because why not? (There are reasons why not, but I ignored them. I should have remembered that this pattern is also fittingly called a “madweave.”) A triaxial weave has three layers: A first set of strips that are pinned vertically onto the foam board/interfacing (see the blue strips below), a second layer of strips going diagonally upward to the left at a 30-degree angle (see yellow strips below), and a third layer of strips going diagonally upward to the right at a 30-degree angle, moving over and under the previous two layers. For this type of weave especially, a WEFTY tool is essential (I use it for all my weaves; it makes everything much easier). I used a 1″ WEFTY (the larger of the two purple ones below) for the actual weaving, and a smaller one to help lift the strips. [Note: You can see the fusible interfacing below the blue strips; everything rests atop a foam board, too.]

Issues to Consider When Doing a Triaxial Weave:

Dimensions of final project: Because I did not think it through properly (or at all), I started out assuming that if I used strips that were 18″ long, I’d end up with a final project that was 18″ x 18″. Incorrect when it comes to a triaxial design. I forgot basic geometry: the hypotenuse is always longer than the sides. Meaning if my longest diagonal strip was 18″ (which is the length I had cut all my strips), then the width of my finished project could not also be 18″ or my diagonal strips would not be long enough to reach the sides. In fact, the ideal width was closer to 14″, as I learned when I started over with 14 vertical strips in the first layer, instead of 18. To avoid this problem again, I turned to math: Multiply the length of your strips by .78 to see how wide you can go for your first layer (for example, 18″ long x .78 = 14.04″ wide = 14 strips that are 1″ each). If you are using 22″ strips, your project can be about 17″ wide (22″ x .78 = 17.16).

Measuring a 30-degree angle: When starting the second layer of a triaxial weave, make sure you know how to measure a 30-degree angle. I thought I did, but I didn’t. The first time I tried, I placed the clear acrylic ruler vertically on my foam board (ie, perpendicular to the bottom edge), found the 30-degree angle and began weaving. The resulting pattern looked pretty cool, but not like any other triaxial weaves I’d seen. Turns out, by placing my ruler vertically, I’d ended up with a 60-degree angle. So I learned the hard way to measure the angle with my ruler placed HORIZONTALLY along the bottom edge of my board (ie, parallel to the bottom edge).

Where to start the second layer: For the second layer, start in the middle of one side (I like to start this layer on the right side, going upward toward the left at a 30-degree angle; see yellow strips below). Follow this pattern:

  • Strip 1: Over one, under two, over one, under two….
  • Strip 2: Under one, over one, then under two, over one, under two, over one….
  • Strip 3: Under two, over one, under two, over one….
  • Repeat.

Note: As a reminder to myself, when I finish weaving each “Strip 1”, I pin it to the right side of the board with a BLACK pin, to make for easy identification/counting. You could also use white or any color that stands out. I go up the board from the first strip I pinned in the middle in a 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 pattern, and down the board from that middle strip in a 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1 pattern. The red arrow below shows my first Strip 1; I wove above and below it afterward.

Where to start the third layer: For the third layer, start in middle of the other side (I start this layer on the left side, going up toward the right at a 30-degree angle; see orange strip below). You need to find a guide to know what parts of the first two layers to weave under. Some people look for a bird, others for a backwards “Z,” weaving under the wings and body of each “bird” or the horizontal parts of the “Z” (see red outlines in the photo below; those “birds” or backwards “Zs” are what you will need to weave under in the third layer). Going under the first wing and the body of the “bird” is easy; maneuvering the Wefty tool under the second wing but over another underlying strip of fabric below that wing is more tricky and requires some lifting and checking to make sure you’re getting it through the right way. This is when the second, smaller WEFTY tool helps; you can use it to lift the fabric and guide the main WEFT tool through (you can also use a tool called That Purple Thang for the same purpose). Once you get a sense of how to do it, this layer is actually very straightforward; you weave each strip exactly the same way, no Strip 1, Strip 2, etc. It’s also a fun layer to weave because you’ll start seeing the tumbling block pattern emerge after you’ve woven a few strips.

For my practice projects, I would finish one pattern, then undo it or switch it up a bit, and start another. Here are a few of the practice patterns I tried before moving on to more colors and more complex fabrics:

Here is my first actual triaxial weave, one that was not a practice one. It is fused to the interfacing below, with edges taped off, ready to be turned into something ( as soon as I learn to use the sewing machine and sew the edges properly). Note: There are 14 vertical rows in the first layer (the black strips), which allowed me to weave diagonally with 18″ strips at the longest points across the middle. By the time you get close to the corners of the weave, you can cut off the overhanging parts of strips from previous rows and reuse those cut-offs for the shortest sections. (This will make sense after you’ve tried the triaxial weave for the first time.)

I hope some of this info helps. I learned a lot from the resources listed below, but some things I only picked up by trial and error. I’m sure I have many more errors to discover, but perhaps these preliminary observations will make it easier for you as you get started.

Overview of supplies you will need:

  • Fabric (I used 100% cotton quilting fabric)
  • Clear ruler (a 6″ x 24″ is a good one to start with)
  • Rotary cutter and extra blades
  • Self-healing cutting mat
  • Iron
  • Sasher tool
  • WEFTY tool(s), That Purple Thang tool
  • Foam boards
  • Fusible interfacing
  • Pins
  • Fabric tape (you can even use something like painter’s tape, which is what I used above; anything that you can peel off of the fabric easily)

Great resources I used when learning how to weave:

More of my posts on fabric weaving:

Amalfi Coast: Climbing the Stairs (Minori to Ravello) plus Villa Rufalo & Villa Cimbrone

18 Jun

If you are ever ambitious (or, in my case, clueless) enough to take the stairs from Minori up to Ravello on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, you will not regret it. You may leave one or even both lungs along the way, but a piece of your heart will remain, too.  You will marvel at the views, the lemons groves, the mountainside terraces, and the churches–and at the people who live along the path, many of whom go up and down with a spryness that comes with long practice. It is a bit disconcerting to be passed up by septuagenarians carrying multiple bags of groceries, but if you persevere, there are two tremendous rewards to be had in Ravello: Villa Rufalo and Villa Cimbrone.


Minori, at sea level

We started out one morning in February, finding the path on Google Maps (though any shopkeeper can also point the way). Luckily, I didn’t have a good idea of what I was in for; the distance on the map didn’t look too bad at all. But up and up we went, roughly 1,500 steps by some counts–though not by ours; we didn’t have sufficient oxygen flow to keep up an accurate count. Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly–the climb is tough but doable, especial in cooler months and at cooler times of the day. It’s not all stairs, there are stretches of pathway and places to stop, too. But I wouldn’t recommend it at high noon in the middle of the summer, or for anyone who generally has trouble with lots of stairs. If you are game, however, it will be unlike almost anything else you do in Italy. And you can always do it in reverse–go down instead of up. We did both.


Signpost


Stairs going up; man trimming Mimosa tree


Altar along pathway; sea view


Mountain view


Last stretch of pathway between Minori and Ravello

When you finally make it to the top, you are in for a few more spectacular views. But first, a cappuccino or cold drink in the main piazza may be in order. After that, head to Villa Rufalo, home to the Rufalo family in the 13th century, restored by the Scottish businessman Francis Nevile Reid at the turn of the 20th century, and–since the 1950s–the venue for the famous Ravello Festival. Though how those musicians sit on a specially erected platform that appears to be dangling over the cliff, I do not know. The gardens and views are spectacular, but the villa itself is also worth a look.


Giardino


Umbrella pine; Torre Maggiore


Interior doorways; Tiled floors

After seeing Villa Rufalo, grab some lunch, then head to Villa Cimbrone, restored in the 19th century by the Englishman Ernest William Beckett (Lord Grimthorpe) and now a luxe hotel. The gardens, which can be seen separately from the hotel, were influenced by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll and benefited from the advice of Vita Sackville West, who chose many of the trees and plants. If you are afraid of heights, beware the Terrace of Infinity, a stunning spot from which to experience a vertiginous view of the sea 1200 ft (365 m) below. Yes, it’s a slab of concrete dangling on the cliff, but it has lasted this long and appears very sturdy. Just don’t lean too far over the dainty, waist-high, wrought-iron fencing….


Entryway to Villa Cimbrone; Cloister


Rose Terrace


Avenue of Immensity; Statue of Ceres


Terrace of Infinity


Sea view from Terrace of Infinity

So, after a good day in which we climbed a mountain and saw two spectacular gardens, we decided to treat ourselves to a cab back down to Minori. Except there wasn’t one; the lone cab driver working in February had gone on an extended lunch break. So, back down the 1,500 steps we went. My knees and calves were sore for a few days afterward, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Plus, there was a sweet reward at the bottom….


Pathway down; Lemon trees behind protective fencing


Rusted doorway; Donkey and cart decor along pathway


View of Ravello atop the cliff

   
Reward at the bottom; cake at Pasticceria Sal De Riso in Minori

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Garden Green

24 Mar

Weekly Photo Challenge: It Is Easy Being Green!  Different shades, textures, and forms of green from the garden.

A Mania for Tulips at Keukenhof

22 Mar

Anyone interested in passion and heartbreak need look no further than a flower garden. And there is no better place to look than Keukenhof (in Lisse, the Netherlands), which opens tomorrow for its 2017 season. It is the largest flower garden in the world and it specializes in tulips–which, like orchids, have driven people to distraction, debt, and death.


Keukenhof means ‘kitchen garden, but don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s unobtrusively tucked round the back of a manor house; it covers 32 hectares (79 acres) and  is known as the Garden of Europe. This botanic wonderland features 7 million bulbs in bloom, including 800 varieties of tulips: botanical tulips; Greigii tulips; parrot tulips; single early, double early, single late, and double late tulips…. The list goes on.

  
Mixed beds; Double Late Tulip ‘Uncle Tom’

  
Tulip ‘Doll’s Minuet’; ‘Mysterious Parrot’ Tulip


A view of Keukenhof

High on that list are “broken” tulips, which originally were cultivars infected with a tulip breaking virus that  “broke” the plant’s single-color code, causing streaks, stripes, and flames of different colors to appear on the petals. Today, the same effects are achieved through breeding; only a few varieties of truly “broken” tulips still exist. But 380 years ago, the virus and those tulips caused people to lose their heads. While tip-toeing through the crowds at Keukenhof may not be for the faint-hearted, neither was the tulip trade in 17th-century Amsterdam.

  
Tulips are believed to have originated in current-day Iran; in fact, some scholars suggest the name “tulip” comes from the Persian word for “turban.” The flowers were highly prized by the Ottomans, and it is from ambassadors and visitors to the Ottoman courts that the flowers likely made their way to Northern Europe, and to the Netherlands. Carolus Clusius, a Flemish botanist and professor at the University of Leiden, planted the Netherlands’ first tulip bulbs in the university’s botanical garden in 1593.

Clusius’ tulips received a great deal of attention. Tulips were already considered an exotic flower in the Netherlands, and the virus only made them more so. As a result, there were regular raids on Clusius’ gardens and the market for tulips began to heat up, leading to the infamous Tulip Mania of 1634-37. At its height, a single, prized tulip bulb was worth exponentially more than the average person’s annual income, and more than a luxurious canal-side house. The tulip had become the ultimate status symbol. Some people put mirrors in their gardens to suggest there were more tulips than they actually had. Those who could not afford the bulbs bought furniture, art, and tableware decorated with tulips instead. And then the world’s first—but not last–speculative bubble burst, leaving a trail of shattered dreams and destitution in its wake. (This animated  Ted Ed video puts it in perspective.)


If you want to see the flowers that inspired these events, Keukenhof’s 2017  season runs from March 23 to May 21. As you wander the grounds, you will see that modern-day tulips still have the power to inspire; it is not unusual to see visitors climbing into the flower beds to pose for photos while lying among the blooms. But spare a moment for the many other flowers you are likely to see, too, because they are also worth the attention:


River of Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) ‘Blue Magic’ 


Fritillaria ‘Early Magic’


Anthurium bouquet

  
Lilium ‘Blushing Joy,’ Medinilla magnifica