Sunday, May 30, 2010

Butter Cakes

It should be no surprise to you that I enjoy cooking and baking.  This has been true for most of my adult life.  Recently, while going through one of my recipe boxes (I'm very organized with recipes I've collected), looking for a simple cake recipe, I found  -- way in the back -- a folded up article from Cuisine Magazine dated September 1982.

While still living in upstate New York, I have a fairly clear memory of spending many evenings going through piles of Cuisine, Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines copying and/or cutting out recipes.  This was done in 1988 in preparation for moving on board our sailboat, where there would be no room for piles of said magazines.

Apparently this article, entitled Butter Cakes, a Classic Collection, really spoke to me.  I know for a fact that I've never made any of the recipes in this article.  I don't even think I had ever unfolded it.  Until now.  And wow, am I glad I did.

I made the Chocolate and Vanilla Butter Cake and we are both thrilled with the results.  I plan to make the Fresh Coconut Butter Cake for company today.  If you would like any of the recipes, let me know and I'll email you a copy.

The chocolate glaze looks grainy in this photo, but it was not.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cranes at the Inlet

In addition to the bear tracks, there have been lots of crane tracks at the inlet lately.  We were lucky enough to see some cranes the other day and I managed to get some pretty good photos.

Looks like a parade!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Simply Labradorite

I say simply labradorite because, well, it is a very simple necklace.  Labradorite is one of those stones that can stand so well on its own.  Sometimes I like to embellish it with a small stone that complements its inherent blue flash, but this time, I decided to leave it be.

Photographing labradorite has always proved difficult for me.  Even when I can clearly see the flash in the viewfinder, it isn't always visible in the digital image.  This photo captures it pretty well.  Yes, I made this exact same necklace for myself, mainly because it seems to go with almost everything I wear!

If you simply must have this necklace, click on the photo to go directly to the listing in my etsy shop.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Dinner Plates

We had been eating dinner on some thrift store plates that had seen better days.  I have nothing against thrift store stuff, as a matter of fact I love most of my stuff from the Salvation Army and Value Village.  But seriously, these plates had to go.

I have some art plates from local potters, but I needed 2 new ones.  To my surprise, finding dinner plates (9-10" in diameter) on etsy proved to be quite a challenge.  There's no shortage of bowls or dessert sized plates, however.

When I finally found Utilemud, I was thrilled.  I bought these 2 lovely plates that have a nice upturned edge to hold liquidy things in place.

The pink one is mine :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Art Quilts by Linda Beach

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into an old friend at Costco, Linda Beach.  We chatted over semi-full shopping carts about what was new in the world of Alaskan arts and crafts.  I told her about the latest venue for the Bad Girls of the North Anchorage craft show and asked if she would be interested in participating again.

Let me back up.

When the Bad Girls show was held at the historic Fourth Avenue Theater ( shedding a tear at it's boarded-up condition), Linda had a space selling her gorgeous quilts.  Her space was long and not very deep -- perfect for displaying her large quilts. 

Check out Linda's website and prepare to be awed by her amazing talent.

Here's a sampling of what you will find:

Keep in mind that these quilts are very large.  Linda's work is indeed spectacular.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bear Tracks!

On both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend, the 3 of us enjoyed our early morning walk along Cook Inlet.  We had not been going all the way down to the waterline lately because it was just too muddy.  Well, the recent dry weather has changed all that and the walk is now quite pleasant.

The mud is still soft enough to show plenty of footprints, however.

The prints were all along our path, some more pronounced than others.

Oops.  You can see the toe of my Mucks boots in the lower right hand corner of the above photo.  Now that I think about it, those prints look kind of small, like ones from a very young bear.  Which can only mean one thing.  Mama isn't too far away.

We never did see a bear, but now we know for sure that they are around.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Citrine and Berry Treasury

I've been fortunate to have been included in many etsy treasuries (member curated selections) over the past 3 years.  This latest one that I find myself in is absolutely stunning and I'm honored to be included.  You can click on this photo to go to the treasury itself for a much better view.

Many thanks to trinitydj for selecting my Citrine  Checkerboard Necklace for use in this treasury.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shades of Green

Just when everything around me is finally turning green, I made these yummy earrings.  I hand forged the copper circles -- you've seen these before, as I use them quite often.  Along the bottom I used sterling silver wire to attach little rondelles of peridot and olive green cubic zirconia beads in a pleasing pattern.

This style is working well for me.  Trying to work efficiently, I made a series of these using all sorts of tiny rondelles and beads in interesting color combinations.  First, I made a big batch of the circle elements -- some in copper, some in brass and some in sterling.  Then I did all of the wire wrapping.  It's amazing how many pairs of earrings I can crank out when I'm organized and think through the process before I start.  They looked so pretty all lined up, waiting to be carded and priced.  I think I made 12 pairs.

This pair featured here has just been listed in my etsy shop.  Click the photo to go directly to the listing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Another of my Collections/Addictions

Scarves.  There, I said it.  In addition to my obsession with measuring cups, pottery, jewelry and shoes, I also love scarves.  At least here in Alaska, scarf-wearing is a year round activity, so I can almost justify every purchase.

I know what you're thinking.  Vicki, you knit your own scarves -- why do you need scarves made by other people?  Well silly, I knit wool scarves.  Those are simply not suitable for warmer weather.  Hence, I need silk scarves and lightweight woven scarves.

I found this great shop on etsy, Scarf Guy.  Back in March, in preparation for warmer weather, I purchased two gorgeous scarves from Fred, the Scarf Guy.  His weaving is of impeccable quality and I'm thrilled with both of my scarves.

This first one is a blend of silk and cashmere and is incredibly smooth and soft. 

This one is also silk and cashmere and is a deep chocolate brown.  Yum.

Please visit Fred's shop to see (and drool over) his beautiful work.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Little Nest

While walking Xena around the property the other evening, Rick spied this sweet little bird's nest. We both saw the upward pointing beak.  I went back to the house to grab my camera.

We will be keeping our eyes on this nest!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New-ish in the Shop

I listed these earrings a few days ago and then discovered that they are in a lovely etsy treasury too:
Smooth & Creamy

The earrings feature unusual briolettes of champagne quartz.  What makes them unusual is the fact that they are drilled from front-to-back.  Most brios are drilled side-to-side.  The holes in them were bigger than most brios have.  I still used 24 ga wire, which allows the brios to swing freely.  It's not often that there is extra space in a brio hole!

I topped the champagne colored bead with a series of spacers in both sterling silver and vermeil gold.  The earwires are gold filled.

Lovely and neutral, these earrings are for sale in my etsy shop.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Areas all over the country are known for region-specific foods.  I used to live in the Greater Binghamton area, also called the Southern Tier of New York state.  A very popular food in that area is spiedies.  I've never seen them anywhere else.  I don't know why they have not become popular in other areas the way Buffalo Wings have.  They are incredibly yummy.  I remember stopping after work for a container (or 2) of these delicious pre-marinated chunks of meat.  I would bring them home and slide them onto skewers, ready for grilling.

I obtained this recipe from the local newspaper in Binghamton many years ago.  It calls for lamb, but I've only made them with beef, chicken or pork.


1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 TBSP dried oregano
1-2 cloves minced garlic
2 TBSP dried basil
2 TBSP lemon juice
salt & pepper
3 lbs of cubed meat (beef, pork, chicken or lamb)

Mix all ingredients together and marinate at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.  Thread the meat onto skewers.  Broil or grill until done (they don't take very long).  Baste while grilling.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wrapping Briolettes ... or ... Oh, the Heartbreak

I was going to do a tutorial on how to wrap briolettes.  But first, I decided to see what was already out there on the web on that very subject.  I watched over 10 YouTube videos on the subject and learned a lot.  Not about how to wrap a briolette, but that everyone has their preferred method.

Seems like all the approaches have slight variations, but the end results look decidedly similar.  Interesting, I thought.  By the way, my step-by-step process was unlike any of the videos I watched.  As a matter of fact, I've decided that mine was by far the simplest approach.  I guess some people just like to make things more complicated than they need to be!

So, instead of doing a procedural post -- I mean, you can search YouTube just as well as I can -- I thought I would focus on the different looks that can be achieved with the same basic process.

The simple, no muss, no fuss wrap:

While this may seem a little boring, it does have its purpose in certain designs.  For example, the wrap is not bulky and can easily be covered with a large hole silver bead.  That's the primary use I have for this type of wrap.

The super-neat-how-did-she-do-that wrap:

I find this wrap to be difficult to accomplish successfully, especially on a steep-sided briolette as shown here.  The wire wants to slide upwards and over itself (jumping ahead to the next wrap here).  Practice helps, but each briolette will pose its own challenges.

The messy artful wrap:

For this style wrap, the wire is first wrapped downwards until the hole is covered and then upwards, back toward the loop.  This one poses some challenges as well, especially with steep sided briolettes.  The labradorite brios in this photo were fairly easy to wrap.

Now to the heartbreak part.  There are no words to console a bead artist when she has broken gorgeous briolettes.  To minimize this, never force too heavy a gauge of wire through the hole (I didn't, I swear).  Also, use dead soft wire as opposed to half hard.

Say a silent prayer for the above fluorite and apatite briolettes.  Amen.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Peridot Briolettes and Contrasting Silvers

I made a series of this style of earrings a few weeks ago, each pair using a different bead at the bottom.  This particular pair features beautiful kiwi green peridot briolettes.  The chain is argentium silver, highly tarnish resistant.  Both the wire wrapping the briolette and the earwire are oxidized sterling silver.  I really like the contrast between the dark and bright silvers.  Maybe next time I'll use some gold filled chain instead of the argentium for a completely different look.  Hmmmm ...

Click on the photo to go directly to the listing in my etsy shop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sanding and Polishing

There are many tools out there for us to use when finishing a piece jewelry containing metal.  Here's a look at two of my favorite polishing tools.

The large, green polishing papers are 400 grit.  I cut them into quarters, which is a much more manageable size for the small items I'm polishing.  After wrapping a briolette with oxidized wire, I use this polishing paper to remove the oxidation from the high spots.  Because it is fairly coarse, it will leave scratch marks.  I like the organic, rustic feel obtained this way.  For those of you looking for a less scratched surface, this paper comes in grits up to 8000!  The 400 grit paper is Rio Grande item number  337301 and it comes in packs of 10 sheets.

The smaller white polishing pads seen in the photo provide a very different result.  They clean the metal and remove tarnish.  Because these pads have no "grit", they do not leave a scratchy surface.  But they don't remove scratches either.  These pads are Rio Grande item number 337020 and it comes in packs of 50 pads.

Here's what they look like after being used for a few weeks.  I use both of these products on a regular basis.

There are lots of other polishing products out there, all resulting in different looks and finishes.  I've used #000 steel wool in the past, but found it very messy to use.  Some people like to use ScotchBrite pads, but I find their grit too coarse.  Try a bunch of different things and you're sure to find what works best for you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cheesecake Bars

An old sailing friend of mine (hi Kari, if you're out there!) gave me this yummy recipe that has become a favorite of Rick's.  I don't know how Kari managed to fine cream cheese wherever she was in the Caribbean.  I found that a bit of a challenge.  Now, it's ever-available, even in Alaska ;)

Cheesecake Bars
5 TBSP butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup flower
1/2 cup coarse ground walnuts

Blend to coarse crumbs.  I used my pie crust blender thingie (I'm sure it has a name, but I don't know what it is), but you can use a fork.  Set aside 1 cup of this mixture for the topping.  Press the remainder into a greased square baking pan.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.

8 oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 egg
2 TBSP milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar

Combine all of these ingredients (I used a hand mixer) until smooth.  Pour/spread over the pre-baked crust.  Sprinkle with the reserved topping.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Cool.  Chill.

Cut into squares to serve.  Or give the pan to the hubby with a spoon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sometimes Simple is Best

When faced with absolutely gorgeous stones, I rarely want to do much to draw attention away from their beauty.  Instead, I tend toward designs that are simple.  Then one can focus on the stone.  It's not that I don't love elaborate wire wrapped designs with plenty of stones, because I do.  I'd rather leave that work to those who do it best.  Me, I'll continue to keep it simple.

These London Blue Topaz briolettes are extremely clear and the color is a deep, deep aqua.  Pure perfection.

They are for sale in my etsy shop.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's All About Me

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a small local newspaper regarding a feature on me and my business.  I was very flattered and a bit excited.  The interview was fun and lasted several hours.  What I had not counted on was the uneasy-factor that goes along with reading all about oneself.

Having said that, I'll share the link to the online version of the story with you here.  I feel that there was a bit too much focus on my past in the article, but it's all stuff I actually said that day.  I'm also a little disappointed that there was no link to my etsy shop.  Oh well, I can't really complain about free press.

Here goes:  The Alaska Star

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Moose Visits

Yesterday, while pouring my second cup of coffee in the kitchen, I glanced up and what did I see out the window?  A moose butt.  I think he/she heard me getting the camera ready and looked up.  Cute, huh?

He/she munched on some tree stuff for quite some time.  Enough time for me to get several pictures.  These were all taken through my kitchen window.

I did not see a mama moose, so I think this was either a yearling or a 2 year old.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Changes are Afoot

I think we can finally say good bye to winter.  It's about time.  I took a picture of this last patch of snow on Tuesday evening.  This bit of snow was visible from my living room window and it was a constant reminder of winter.  It was completely gone by Wednesday afternoon.  Good riddance.

In the one truly sunny spot on our property, I found these rhubarb nubbins breaking the surface.  A sure sign that spring is really here.  They look like little alien heads.

Welcome spring!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Always Say "I Don't Do Cute"

... but a girl's allowed to break her own rules once in a while, isn't she?  When I saw these cute acorn charms at one of my local bead stores, I couldn't resist them.  Since I started working with brass a couple of years ago, there's a whole new world of charms and embellishments available to me that are simply too expensive in sterling silver. 

I brought some acorns home with me.

These charms seemed to need wood beads to accompany them.  It's only natural.

These cute (eek!) earrings are for sale in my etsy shop.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Fun New Purchase

I've been wanting the pasta maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid for a long time.  Last week, I actually bought it at a really nice local kitchen ware store.  On Sunday, I decided to make lasagna.  The Kitchen Aid mixed up the pasta dough like a dream.  I remember the olden days (about 25 years ago) when I used to knead that dough by hand and then roll it in a hand crank roller.  Well, that roller rusted out somewhere in the Caribbean, sometime in the late '80's.

I forgot to take pictures while making the sheets of pasta, but I did remember the camera while dishing out our second lasagna dinner on Monday night.  We will probably eat it for 2 more nights!

This is Rick's dinner :)  Well, part of it anyway.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Making Pairs

Those of you that work with gemstones know what I mean when I say, "I'm making pairs".  For those of you that don't work with gemstones, here's the scoop.

Gemstones are generally sold by the strand.  With pretty little tassels on each end.  These tassels can be quite the distraction, so I try to ignore them.  See what I mean?

When purchasing said strands of beads, I try to examine the beads for uniformity of color, shape and size.  Inevitably, my inspection is far from perfect.  In all fairness to me (the inspector), it is difficult, if not impossible, to look at each and every bead on a strand.  This beautiful strand of peridot is a perfect example. There are too many beads for a complete inspection.

Once the strand is home in my studio, I cut it and start to make pairs for earrings.  Unless of course the strand is too gorgeous to cut right away.  In that case I let it remain "a strand" for maybe a few months before cutting it. I have a strand of multi-colored, graduated sapphires from Tucson, uncut.  And it will remain uncut until I wake up with an amazing design idea someday.  It will be worth waiting for.  But I digress.

Making pairs starts out kind of fun.  I use small snippets of wire to view the prospective pairs, placing the beads on the wire.  This helps determine if two beads are the same length.  It continues to amaze me that a strand which looked so uniform before being cut, can be so varied once it is actually cut.  And somewhat disappointing.  My friend Carol says I'm being too picky.  Until she tried it.  She got bored after making 2 pairs.  She nearly threw those labradorite briolettes back in their compartment and demanded that I make necklaces only.  Sheesh.

Here's what my work table looks like after several hours of pair-making.

See the little bowl in the upper left hand corner?  That's for the silver scrap that eventually gets sent in for credit.  Credit is good.

Notice that I have no room left to work.  This is tricky business.  As I use the pairs for earrings, I move the pairs further away from the actual work area.  When the first row is empty of pairs, I feel like I've made some progress.

I know what I'll be doing for the next few days.  Turning those pairs into earrings.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Carved Mother of Pearl

I have a wide variety of mother-of-pearl pendants and have used them in all sorts of necklaces.  For this special piece, I wrapped the pendant with antiqued brass filigree and added a bunch of beads and a little "wish" charm above.

This lovely necklace is for sale in my etsy shop.