Sunday, November 25, 2012

Slight Technical Difficulties with Close-ups of Tiny Taxidermy Pieces ...

The insomniac  would like to apologize for the tardiness of this week's post - apparently Macro Mode on the new camera does not work the same as Macro Mode on the old camera. And since this week's subject consists of very small pieces of taxidermy, it's not particularly effective when the photos are so blurry it's hard to make out what they actually are ...

Worse than usual photo.

You're intrigued now though,
aren't you?

Hopefully, with rather large coffee cup and camera instruction booklet in hand, the correct way to take a decent close-up photo will be revealed by day's end, at which time a proper post will be published. Hopefully.


... many hours later. This was how it was supposed to start: 

The cleansing of the Gothic Mansion in preparation for holiday company has begun, as there's nothing quite like the probable embarrassment of having one's guests discover cobwebs in the corners to provide the necessary incentive for a thorough cleaning job. Everything in the Mansion, including things stored under glass domes, are being given a good going over. And as the last three items in this particular collection have been sitting on the plant stand waiting to be added to their special dome for well over a year now, one felt that along with a good dusting of the dome, this might also be an excellent time not only to hang the remaining items but also take a few pictures while they're out. Because if you think the insomniac's  close-ups stink, you should see her attempts to take a photo of anything hidden behind glass.

This particular collection is, of course, the insomniac's favourite, and has been in the works for roughly four or five years now. Because nothing is glued in place inside the dome, it is quite difficult to incorporate new items and completely justifies one's procrastination in adding those final three pieces - as soon as the glass dome is removed, tree branches, moss, bird's eggs and all those little hanging taxidermy pieces have a tendency to project themselves clear across the room. The majority of the collection was purchased in Germany, and one believes they are worn on a chain across the front of lederhosen and has heard them referred to as Black Forest Hunting Relics or Charivari. 


Bird Head

Back of Bird Head


Really Excellent Teeth

Crow Claw

Bird Beak

More Teeth


And Again - More Teeth

A Different Crow Claw

Little Hoof


Bottom Left: Hinged Jaw with Teeth
It opens and closes. Sweet.

Permanent Display with
badger skull, horn handled knife,
spider & web, owl ornament, pipe.

Because the branches are close to full, the insomniac  has now declared this particular collection to be complete. Unless another fantastic hinged-jaw piece or a larger glass dome becomes available at a decent price, in which case there's probably room for a few more.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: During proofreading, the spouse mentioned the pictures were very difficult to see, especially with all the tree branches, moss and bird's eggs in the way. Should you agree with him, you can always click on the pictures for a better look.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Hard to Find a Decent Gothic Potholder These Days ...

Welcome to another edition of Crafting with the Insomniac - this week's post a result of the difficulties one has experienced in the past trying to find appealing kitchen linens for everyday use. Although such items can often be found during the Hallowe'en shopping season, they are generally of poor quality and sometimes border on the tasteless (as if that's ever been a deterrent). But as the current pair of damask oven mitts are ready for the bin, one thought to share a short tutorial this week on making your own - the hardest part of this project will be choosing the fabric.

The insomniac  opted for this one, which was brought to the attention of the “Ladies in Black” by Laura of Roses and Vellum. Which was very unselfish of her, because had the insomniac  been the one to discover it, she most likely would have kept that information to herself.

A collage of skulls, ravens, toads, owls, bats and damask patterns, it has a little bit of everything the insomniac  loves. The fabric speaks to her, and what it appears to be saying is, “Five yards is not enough. Why did you only purchase five yards? What were you thinking?” Something along those lines anyway ...

Michael Miller - Nevermore Collection

Your first order of business will be to find some insulated material. Unfortunately, you're on your own here, as one has absolutely no idea what this stuff is actually called. It is a quilted fabric with a silvery metallic heat-resistant outside and a cotton muslin inside.

Heat Resistant Side of Fabric
Cotton Muslin Side of Fabric

Now while you might be the kind of person who can pull things out of the oven with just one potholder, a dish towel, your shirt or whatever else is at hand, the insomniac  is not such a person. She requires two large oven mitts that go halfway up her forearm, so as to avoid the risk of charred flesh and possible damage to the tattoos. Should you also be such a person, please repeat the next three steps twice - once for each oven mitt. And if you're planning on making a simple round potholder, you probably don't need a tutorial and might want to skip ahead.

Cut out front and back of oven mitt
from the insulated material,
using this pattern.

Cut out front and back of oven mitt
from the fabric.

Baste fabric to insulated material, with
cotton muslin side of insulated material
on the inside of the oven mitt.

Rather than use a purchased bias tape to enclose the seams, today we'll be making our own using a handy little tool called, unsurprisingly, a Bias Tape Maker. Select a complementary fabric, perhaps something left over from a past project that isn't large enough to do much else with. One has chosen to make a one-inch bias tape to fit around the thickness of the oven mitt. The following instructions are very brief as, should you decide to purchase a Bias Tape Maker, much clearer instructions than the insomniac  could ever hope to provide will be included in the package.

Create the first 45° line.

Cut 2" wide strips.

Sew all the strips together.

Run fabric through the Bias Tape Maker.

Now you have, literally, miles
of bias tape for future projects.

Tape sewn onto the top of oven mitts.

Normally at this point, the oven mitts would be sewn wrong sides together and the exposed seams enclosed in more bias tape. But apparently a little bit of stripey accent goes a long way and adding even more stripey accents made it a bit too busy, even for the insomniac's  tastes. Which is odd considering her “tastes” are best described as completely over the top, bordering on the garish.

The mitts were sewn right sides together. While one had planned on neatly finishing the seams with the serger, it was protesting quite loudly about having to get through two layers of insulated material, so a simple straight seam with a zigzag stitch to finish off the edges was used instead. The second hardest part of the project was turning the oven mitt right side out - the handle of a wooden spoon helped push the thumb out quite nicely.

Messy inside sewing.
Nobody sees that part anyways ...

The last remaining pieces of the insulated material were used to create hot mats for the Dining Room Table. They, plus the new oven mitts, have been safely put away until the night before the Annual Christmas Potluck so as to remain in pristine condition until then.

Four hot mats are not enough. Why did you only make four hot mats?

Add bias tape loops if you like to hang your oven mitts.

Come the New Year, one already has plans for matching placemats, an apron and a tea cozy because (as you've probably already guessed) an additional six yards of fabric have been purchased. Which is the only reason the insomniac  has shared the fabric source, in a completely selfless manner just like Laura, because eleven yards might be enough. But just to be on the safe side, the Michael Miller rep was contacted this week ... is a $1000 minimum order a bit too much fabric, do you think? Quoth the raven, “Never! More!!”

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: The insomniac  was delighted at having made it through yet another year, celebrating her Fifty-Seventh birthday this week. Only three more years and she'll qualify for Senior Citizen Status; apparently she has already achieved Crone Status. Which evidently is not as insulting a comment as was first thought, when she was referred to as such recently ...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Delightful Christmas Fruitcake Recipe

Despite Edward Gorey's feelings about it, there are those of us who actually relish the “Annual Appearance of the Christmas Fruitcake”. And during the cold and dismal month of January when there is little else to look forward to, a nice piece of leftover fruitcake, a Mandarin orange and a pot of Earl Grey tea helps make the month almost bearable.

Obviously, Mr. Gorey just never found
the right  fruitcake recipe ...

Now if your only experience with fruitcake is one from a tin or a box, then yes - it undoubtedly deserves being tossed into a hole in the ice. The insomniac's  very own mother made hers from a mix, which required only the addition of a few eggs to the contents in order to become a perfect example of just such a fruitcake. The only reason it was included in her yearly Christmas baking repertoire was to appease her father-in-law, who had emigrated to Canada from England but who retained his fondness for traditional English fare. Every Sunday, Grandpa Smith would come for Sunday supper of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding; the pudding never quite  living up to his expectations.

Mincemeat Tarts and Shortbread, his other favourites, are recipes which remain to this day in one's own personal recipe collection, although we have managed to find a never-fail Yorkshire Pudding recipe with which to replace our Sainted Mother's version - which more closely resembled a traditional Canadian hockey puck than anything else.

Christmas dinner was always finished off with the Canadian prairie version of British Plum Pudding - the universally dreaded Steamed Carrot Pudding, the very mention of which can cause one to gag in a most unseemly manner. The following recipe, originally published in Michael Barry's “Radio Times” Cookery Year, is a brilliant substitute for the horrid carrot pudding of one's youth.

Hopefully, you manage to avoid burning the place to the ground when attempting to set the brandy-soaked pudding alight, although that definitely would provide a bit of unexpected entertainment for the family on Christmas Day.

Click to enlarge.

The following recipe remains the constant favourite after many years of intensive “fruitcake research” and came from a very old issue of Victoria Magazine. It's always best to make fruitcake by the end of November at the very latest, as it needs a good 3 to 4 weeks of marinating in brandy-soaked cheesecloth before consumption.

The insomniac  does not care for (and therefore never includes) candied cherries in her fruitcake - dried cranberries make a nice substitute and are far less toxic-looking. One year, perhaps we'll attempt to make our own candied peel. Perhaps.

Click to enlarge.

An additional two versions were also contained in that issue, and when this post was originally written in November 2012, we suggested if anyone were interested in either the California or Canadian White Fruitcake recipes to email us for a copy.

And every year since then, beginning around the first of November, there have been a surprising number of requests for those recipes! So we've added them here - now you don't have to hunt around for our email address and we don't have to hunt around for the recipes - thereby saving us both a bit of time during the busy Yule season.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Marinating in the brandy.
Fa la la la la ...

Lying comatose in its brandy-soaked bedding.
Been there - done that, as they say.

Since the currants, raisins and mixed peel are already out, you may as well make mincemeat. Again, if your only experience with this delicacy is the store-bought version, one can understand why you might be somewhat hesitant, but suggests you try this old family recipe in spite of any reservations. As there is only one individual  in this household who actually enjoys Mincemeat Tarts at Christmas (two, if you count the insomniac), this recipe is generally halved. Quite honestly, these days we quarter it  ... for the sake of our waistline.

It tastes just fine without the suet and, as does everything, improves with the addition of 2 to 3 tablespoons of brandy, whisky or rum.

Click to enlarge.

As with the fruitcake, the mincemeat should be allowed to mature a week or two before use. The Mincemeat Tarts are made with a shortcrust pastry from an out-of-print book of classic English recipes called Farmhouse Cookery, Recipes from the Country Kitchen. Custom has it that one tart should be eaten for each of the twelve days of Christmas to ensure twelve happy months ahead.

You'll get no arguments regarding that tradition from us, which totally explains the aforementioned waistline issues we struggle with every year around this time.

One has always had good luck finding this
wonderful book on eBay.
It also contains the Yule Wassail recipe
we absolutely swear by.

Swear being the key word here.
Especially  after a few glasses of Wassail.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams of Sugarplums, Fruitcake and Mincement or whatever traditional family favourites are on your Christmas baking list this year. Which obviously she would love to hear about, as there's always room on her personal list for new additions ... not that our waistline will thank you at all for sharing them.

Goodnight, my pretties.