BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Eating Like an Animal

Most people would never bat an eye over chowing down in a restaurant, or big dinner party, but eating in public places is awkward for me. Simply put, table manners perplex and overwhelm me, driving me to eat in solitude so as not to accidentally offend those around me. Admittedly an odd character quirk on my part, any member of my family who is so unfortunate to have dined regularly with me would understand- Talking with my mouth full, elbows on the table, picking at food with my fingers, I am no where near a master of eating etiquette. These bad habits can obviously be suppressed with conscious effort, but needless to say, I’m just not comfortable seated in one of my university’s many dining halls. Surrounded by a couple hundred unknown students, each with their own set of cultural norms and taboos, I fear that each bite I take may be seen as more appalling than the last.

Doing my best to speed through another self-conscious breakfast, hiding in the corner with my head buried in a text book, I was startled by the sudden sounds of noshing even more violent and untamed than my own. Craning around to find the source, I saw the exact image that I fear others might project onto me; Snout rooting about in a mountainous bowl of cereal, this guy was an absolute pig!

No, seriously, he was a pig!

Watching crumbs fly though the air as this voracious animal tore through those crunchy wheat squares, I instantly felt better about my own unsavory behavior. As out of place as I may feel, I’m fairly confident that my manners aren’t nearly so conspicuous as his!


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Unsavory Sushi

If there was ever one single food trend that 99.9% of the population could identify with, foodie or not, it would absolutely be the ingenious Japanese creation known as sushi. Climbing up the ranks of culinary fads so rapidly that it has barely established it’s roots in the US before hitting cult-status. Fanatics sprung from the woodworks and soon, it seemed as if the country was engulfed in a collective obsession over those rolls of vinegared rice. One could practically trip over all of the dime-a-dozen sushi joints sprouting up in metropolitan areas, and I personally have yet to see a single one of them go under. It would seem as if every last person on earth were enamored with them, and their appetites as bottomless as the wallets that strain under their often exorbitant prices… And I am certainly not excluded from this majority. As shocking as it is to still find the stray uninformed eater who has yet to try sushi for themselves, it is even more startling to still encounter confusion when I profess my love for this simple fare. “But… I thought it had fish in it? Are you sure you’re VEGAN?” they might ask incredulously. While hundreds of different vegetable combinations and recipes struggle to emerge from my slightly gaping mouth, the overwhelmingly abundant options prevent more than a feeble response of “Of course, there are vegetable sushi…!”

Coming from someone who partakes in some sort of rice rolls about once a week, you would expect a slightly more in-depth explanation, but if you ask me, sushi speaks for itself. So simple in its basic construction but with so many complex adaptation and options along the way, it’s no wonder that the preparation of this ubiquitous Japanese specialty is considered an art in its homeland. When it comes right down to it however, I take the purist’s approach and pursue the easiest choices, guaranteed to be found on any menu. The sheer number of kappa maki that have rolled down into my gullet over the years would be terrifying to account for, to say the least. They’re my idea of comfort food, and so every time I returned home for a weekend between classes, there would always be sushi in the dinner plans.

Unfortunately, the difficulties of ordering in most rinky-dink restaurant become abundantly clear from the moment that we’re seated, and the waiter can’t even tell you what certain dishes are composed of. The rank smell of stewing chicken wafts out of sticky kitchen doors and stamps out the scent of what’s actually being served. Requests for separate plates go unheeded, and fish comes piled on top of my sad, squished rolls, rendering them uneatable. These occurrences are nothing new, but worst of all is when orders get mixed up, an suddenly an unseen hand above my head drops a bomb: A plate with only fishy flesh.

Vegetable sushi. What is so hard to understand about vegetable sushi? I’m sure that one combo platter is just as easy to make as another, but that doesn’t mean that they can be prepared interchangeably! A lovely work of art in it’s own right, it’s almost an insult to return such a meticulously constructed platter back to the kitchen, as I’m sure most other patrons would be delighted with the brightly colored fish perched delicately on their starchy thrones. My confidence abandons me, and the most I can do is stare sadly at those unsavory sushi. With nothing else to eat while the rest of the family digs in, ordering sushi starts to become more of a trial than a treat. Struggling to replace this offensive dish with the correct one for several more minutes, followed by another long wait while a new plate is prepared… It’s a surprise even to me that my love for the stuff still remains untouched by the end of such arduous meals.

I can’t be the only one to have experienced this, and yet there is still such an enthusiastic reception for sushi that it clearly has a firm hold on a multitude of palates near and far. Perhaps it’s the promise of exotic new flavors, the sheer possibilities that keep sushi fans coming back for more… Or just the possibility of making it in the comfort of one’s home that makes it all the more appealing- Something that I can certainly agree with!


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Deck the Halls with… Cupcakes?

“A CHRISTMAS tree, in our house?! Never!”, my mother would reprimand me when I suggested a new holiday decoration in the form of pine needles and twigs. Coming from a long line of observant Jews and nothing else, it should have come as no surprise that my parents wouldn’t budge on the subject, but the holiday symbols have come to mean something completely different from their religious origins. Anything that has that certain holiday cheer to it, that indescribable seasonal joy, be it a menorah, stocking, or snowman simply turns my heart into marshmallow fluff. All that matters is the celebration, not the ritual. And so I persisted like the annoying gnat I imitate so well now, and for the first time last year, I was finally given permission to bring that other holiday’s symbol into our home. Of course, there were conditions- It was to be small, very small, so small it might get lost in the jungle of dishes that is our kitchen. December 31, it was to be gone, no questions asked. And of course, it was my own rule that prevented me from ripping a healthy little sapling out of the ground, and so artificial tinsel on a wire frame it was!

Affectionately named “Filbert,” the mere sight of the one foot-tall, glittery shrub brings a smile to my face.

Since this is the second year that Filbert has come out of hibernation, you would think that I’ve already fashioned eight dozen miniature ornaments to outfit him in, but alas, the holidays always pass so quickly- The poor bush still has little more than the blue orbs he was purchased with. Although this year is no exception in terms of its hectic pace, I’ve at least taken the time to give him a more personal affect, and one that says a lot about where my mind has been lately: A tiny felt cupcake.

At this rate, I might be able to fill all of Filbert’s stubby branches by the year 2025, but hey, it’s a start.

And in the spirit of the holidays, I thought I might just share this simple design with you, and perhaps you might find the inspiration to start replacing your own store-bought ornaments with handmade gems, too. Since Filbert is so tiny, I might suggest enlarging this pattern 2 or 3 times for a regular-sized tree, lest it get lost in all of the greenery. It’s another dead-easy project that could be enjoyed by crafters of any skill level, so get out the kids and let them make their own cupcake ornaments, too!

First of all, click here, [enlarge if desired], print and cut.

To assemble, all you need to do is cut 2 frosting shapes out of your desired frosting-colored felt, and 2 cake shapes out of your desired cake colored felt. Sew one frosting to one cake along the dotted line, and repeat for the other pair. Attach bugle beads to the frosting to imitate sprinkles. Hold the two sides together with the right sides facing out, and starting from the left bottom corner, whip stitch the pieces together. Pause when you get down to the bottom right side (leaving the bottom open) to attach a length of embroidery floss for the hanger/loop, lightly stuff, and then sew closed. Have a happy tree!


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Flying South

Bursting in through the open windows without warning, a blustery wind filled with sharp fragments of freezing rain seems to signify that like it or not, winter is upon us once again. Never mind the red leaves still hanging precariously by a thread up in the tallest trees, or the calender that still firmly insists that this season is still known as “autumn”- Mother nature appears to have other thoughts on the matter. All of a sudden, there is nary a pest indoors or out (not that I’m complaining) and nearly every single wild creature out there has already turned in for a long hibernation, or has taken off for a trip to the tropics. That is, except for one little fellow who showed up on my doorstep not too long ago…

Looking quite distraught, this tiny bird was but a newborn, not yet a goose but still a wee goose-ling. Sporting wings so small and underdeveloped that they could have only carried perhaps a single feather, he quickly explained that the rest of his family had left him behind in search of greener pastures, not to mention warmer weather. Unable to wait for the youngster to gain the strength required to make such a long journey, the plummeting temperatures scared them off without the poor baby in tow. Searching for some kind family to put him up for the winter, he had been ringing doorbells all throughout the neighborhood, but to no avail. Apparently no one wanted to deal with a wild goose, probably knowing all too well that they aren’t exactly the easiest creatures to toilet train

But those sad eye, that heart-breaking story- How could I turn him away so cruelly? If you know me, then by now you would know that I couldn’t… But unfortunately, I couldn’t keep him here, either. Thinking fast, I realized that I knew a very generous, sweet blogger who does actually live in Brazil who would certainly take good care of him. Arranging for a first class plane ride, he would be able to fly south for the winter after all!

(Photo courtesy of Patricia!)

And even if he hasn’t been reunited with his original family, it seems that he has happily found a new one, and I would say that this lucky duck hasn’t been having such a terrible time since he arrived, either!


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Tea Time

At long last, the mercury has finally begun its reluctant recession back down the thermometer, and more bearable temperatures have come again. I, for one, could not be more thrilled. There’s just something about the crispness of the air, that chilly bite of the wind first thing in the morning, that really makes me want to jump out of bed and start the day early. After enduring such a brutal summer, even 65 degrees feels like winter is just around the corner, and it seems that everyone is taking notice in their own ways. Fewer pairs of shorts sandals can be seen around campus these days, replaced by long pants, thick socks, and perhaps even sturdy boots, in anticipation of what’s to sure to come. As always, it’s not just clothing that’s changing; Tastes are slowly evolving and leaning more towards hot, filling, hearty options, no longer satisfied by the cool and refreshing offerings of summer. For me, the first change isn’t what I’m eating, but instead what I’m drinking.

As an avid tea-lover, I’m so happy to return to a cup of the stuff piping hot whenever the time feels right. Sure, tea can be iced and often is in my household, but with the time involved in waiting for it to steep, cool, and be ready for drinking… It’s just not the same, not nearly as easy and instantly comforting as hot tea. Now I’m stocking up again, and the choices, oh, the choices! Green tea will always win my heart, although even then there are so many choices. Green tea with lemon, chai, mint… The list goes on, and I want to sip, slurp, and guzzle every variant out there. All I need now is my seasonal favorite of gingersnap tea to come back around Christmas time, and since I plan to buy them out the first chance I get, I’ll make sure there will be enough to last for another year.

So what’s your favorite tea, and are you more partial to it cold, or hot like me?

[Mrs. Green Tea Bag pattern from Softies]


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Weapons of Mass Cakery

If there’s one thing that can instill loyalty in old acquaintances, instantly make new friends, and strengthen relationships in general, it’s my personal opinion that the magic bullet just might be baked goods. Sure, there are many different vices that could have similarly potent effects, but I just can’t help but think how much better the world would be if we all tried baking before starting fights and turning to more lethal methods (Unless, of course, you’re not a very good baker and your cakes are more like bombs in the first place.) So in light of all the gloominess that has been forcing its way into my daily life, struggling to make sense of some horrible textbooks speaking of a gory, unpleasant past, I thought that I might do my part in ending the hate by whipping up plenty of cake. Of course, such a stunt wouldn’t be easy in our tiny oven in the dorm, and I have yet to cart in some actual cake pans, so I resorted to a much more forgiving but less edible material instead.

This is what I would like to call a sampler plate- A flavor for everyone, to be sure! With eight different slices in all, it’s hard to go wrong even for the pickiest palate to choose something delicious, such as…

Lemon Meringue,

Blueberry Mousse,

Vanilla with Coffee Buttercream,

Chocolate Banana,

Strawberry Mousse,

Carrot Cake,

Green Tea Layer Cake,

And a Berry Charlotte.

I guess it’s pretty obvious what’s been on my mind lately, huh? The kitchen calls, but still insufficient supplies and time prevent me from baking like the “good old days” a mere month or so ago. Nonetheless, these felt cakes were a ton of fun to create, even if they might not spread exactly the same sort of joy and warm feelings that real baked goods are famous for. But trust me, if these babies were real… I just might be considered a cake-terrorist, judging by that amount of fire power!


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Pest Control

“Organic” may be the buzz word of the decade, but it’s a concept that’s more than just a trendy fad, doomed to fizzle out just like slinkies, space food sticks, and afros. Actually, the whole conflict of organic vs. conventional foods only began a few short decades ago, as chemicals weren’t always the standard when growing healthy crops. Strange to think about, now that pesticides are practically synonymous with farming and the pros in the business are often dependent on mutant franken-foods, impregnated with fancy growth hormones and antibiotics. In this age of technological advancement, it’s difficult to imagine how life must have been without such convenient short cuts, despite how simple it must have once seemed. I know first hand that critters won’t just turn tail at the sight of a mesh fence, and nothing will faze those virulent weeds and pests that manage to invade no matter what natural preventative measures are taken. Health and environment aside, it’s those days when I’m up to my ankles in invasive sprouts, picking through leaves full of holes and sickly brown splotches, that I can almost understand the argument towards more aggressive measures. Truly, how can one grow food in a conscientious way without surrendering it to the vermin scrounging about for a free meal?

Maybe, just maybe, the farmers of old employed helpful creatures to stand guard while they tended the fields! Absurd to think about, but while I was admiring the little jalapeƱos beginning to form in the garden, I noticed a cheerful little frog watching my every move, dutifully protecting the young veggies from pesky thieves. Snatching up flies, bugs, and errant sprouts alike, I could have sworn that his sole purpose there was to watch my thriving plants, ensuring their safety. Since this is perhaps the most I’ve ever seen produced by my own soil, I owe this little fellow quite a bit, but I’m betting he already feels as though he’s gotten his reward- With all of the pests that he’s managed to “contain,” he’s had quite a feast, his belly practically bursting with all sorts of buggy goodness. Judging by that wide smile on his face, I would have to say that this is definitely the best solution to organic farming!


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Tea Party Faux-Pas

Parties have never been my forte, since I’m always scared to death of saying something stupid or embarrassing myself by doing something terribly clumsy, like tripping over the host’s dog or small child. Absurd to contemplate aloud, but perfectly plausible in the moment. Smaller misgivings like poor manners occupy my mind endlessly as well, for what if I offend someone by putting my elbows on the table? Slurping soup? Chewing loudly? Luckily, when in the company of good friends, all these minor sins are forgiven or overlooked out of kindness.

For those who aren’t exactly social butterflies, like myself, I would definitely suggest starting slow in a comfortable setting like this. That’s why I’m such a huge advocate for informal gatherings for just a few hours; Tea parties are really underrated for this sort of occasion, if you ask me. Don’t think that this route is for you? Well, I was a bit skeptical at first, but how beautifully such an arrangement worked out for a cozy group of friends just the other day.

Enjoying each other’s company without a worry in the world, this is how parties should always be. Yammering away about whatever came to mind first, no subject was taboo in this circle, and not a hurt feeling was to be found. For an hour or so things progressed swimmingly like this, but then I noticed Mr. Mouse growing impatient, his eyes straying towards the luscious pie before him more and more often. Berries glistening in the sun, tender crust begging to be cut, it could arouse the appetite of even the most modest eater, and clearly it had caught this hungry rodent’s attention. Soon his voice dropped out of the conversation altogether, and before I knew it…

Mr. Mouse had forked the pie.

Shoveling in one giant, dripping mouthful of fruit and pastry, an awkward silence ensued, as the rest of us looked on in surprise. A tense moment passed… And we all burst into raucous laughter at our companion’s new berry-based face paint. Smeared all around his lips, he looked like a clown with poor make-up skills, but he was happy as could be despite his ridiculous appearance. Thankful to have friends unafraid to be themselves, what would have been an atrocious faux-pas elsewhere became harmless entertainment between the four of us.

If only family members were that forgiving, too!

[Pattern for all three critters was modified from a cat toy pattern found here.]


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Scottie Softie

Dogs are man’s best friend, or so it has been said, which could at least partially explain my enthusiastic love for them. Beyond taking care of my own flesh and blood pup, of whom I show gratuitous pictures of every now and then, I find that every other time I finish tying off a new stuffed animal and weave in the ends, I’ll turn it to face me and find the soulful eyes of yet another pooch staring back. Even when I don’t consciously decide what the end product should look like, my idle hands are known to spontaneously bringing together raw materials and randomly choose to create… More times than not, some sort of incarnation akin to a canine. Sometimes it will be a specific breed, other times a generic dog-type-figure will satisfy my inner mutt just fine. We’re all mongrels when it comes right down to it, so as long as it has two floppy ears, a wagging tail, and a big black nose, that’s good enough for me.

I guess you could say that I found buried treasure even more valuable than fido’s bone hidden in the backyard when I stumbled upon a pattern for a felt scottie – Cute enough to pluck my heartstrings like a guitar, there was no way I could pass this one up. Initially put off by the clear recommendation to hand sew the whole thing, it took a whole lot of courage to actually start making preparations to begin. Accustomed to the soothing hum of my sewing machine, manipulating fabric without it just feels wrong and insufficient. I’ve lost faith in my ability to sew lasting seams with my own hands, and with the impractical amount of time it would require to complete any serious project, I rarely even consider hand-sewing as a technique to include in my own personal repertoire. Nevertheless, without a seam allowance included, my work was cut out for me if I really wanted this sweet pup to add to my growing collection.

Before you start asking me what sort of messed-up scottie dogs I grew up with as a child, I will readily allow that my supplies of felt are greatly lacking. Sure, I use plenty of felt as little accents in crocheted creatures, but each eye takes up maybe 1 centimeter of material, maximum. When you start looking for pieces big enough to actually fashion a full animal out of… It’s slim pickings. After tearing through the disaster area formerly known as a closet for nearly a quarter of an hour, the disorganized piles of scraps and remnants only seemed more mysterious and threatening, not inviting further investigation. Reviewing my find, I was left with the choice of either fire engine red, or plum purple. In only a blink of the eye would, it was clear that purple was the only real choice here. Normalcy be damned, a dog this bizarre would unmistakably belong with me.

Slowly, tediously, each individual stitch was painstakingly sewn before moving on to the next, meticulously spaced stitch. Not perfect, not by far, but the cheerful if simple expression on this adorable scottie’s face made up for all of its inherent flaws. Simple in design, but ultimately satisfying to see it materialize without the aid of machinery, I can understand why hand-sewing could be so popular in some circles. I will still prefer the help of my trusting sewing machine, but every now and then, I will certainly return to the wondeful calm of a simple needle and thread passing silently through fabric, nothing more, nothing less.

Stuffed and embellished lovingly with a heart-shaped dog tag, my newest hound fits right in with the rest of the gang. The best thing about having so many of man’s best friends all together? I can rest assured that in the times that I’m away, they will be excellent guards of the house, and there will certainly be no cat fights.


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All Laced Up

Elegant, yet harsh. Beautiful to some, appalling to others. The corset has been around for centuries, fading and returning to the forefront of the current fashions. After all theses years, it has become little more than an element of design, far separated from its initial purpose. There are of course still steeply priced authentic corsets for sale, but if you mention this style to a member of the younger generation, the picture conjured up is more likely to involve a couple pieces of intertwined string that do nothing but hang on some side of a dress.

Some people still see the corset as been oppressive to females, which I can understand… If we were being forced into them by the hands of men. It may have been like that ages ago, but now that so much free choice is ours to do our will with, it’s almost like an affirmative action to tie oneself into these snug assemblies of fine fabrics. Personally, I find the tight grip around the waist anything but restrictive or uncomfortable – Instead, I think of it like a never ending hug, an additional morsel of affection for you to reach for when the daily stress starts to become corrosive. It’s that closeness that you can’t fake or escape that holds much of the lure for me. As with relationships, it may be awkward to wear at first, but soon it becomes a familiar feeling, and as long as you sit with it, it eventually acts as a comforting support through all the hours of the day.

Sadly, it’s difficult to find any “real” corsets on the market these days, and even if you were to get your hands on one, I doubt the price tag would be so agreeable to most anyone. Pondering this dilemma, I suddenly remembered my poor, neglected sewing machine that was slowly accumulating dust in the other room. With all of this yarn work, when had I last threaded a needle of any sort? It’s about time I go back to all the other crafts I find pleasure in, ease and accessibility be damned. In this new year, I’d love to make more of my own clothes, so hopefully I’ll have more to show for that declaration in future posts.

For this particular garment, I did start with a pattern… But we quickly had creative differences. Between fitting issues and aesthetic details, I soon found myself on my own again and simply made it up as I went along. Fairly pleased with the overall results, my only regret was the limited choice of material with which to lace up the front. I resigned myself to a rather shabby length of yarn due to its matching color, after searching long and hard for a more refined ribbon in a similar hue. A sacrifice to the final piece, but thankfully something that can be switched out if a nicer ribbon were to present itself later on.

Flipping to the opposite side, I covered the back panels with perhaps some of the most expensive lace I have ever seen. I only bought a foot of it to spare my aching wallet, but that still cost me more than a full skein of my standard yarn and just barely covered its intended area. Still, isn’t it just lovely? I’m sure you can understand why I couldn’t just walk away from the aisle of trimmings empty handed.

You may also notice the slightly hidden zipper nestled between those pricey pieces of lace. While this would certainly not be a function of an “accurate” corset, I personally hate the struggle of unlacing, re-lacing, tying, etc.. All that fuss to get dressed, especially as it tends to wear on the ribbon in no time at all. Therefore, zippers are a wonderful thing to have.

Not an authentic corset, I will admit, for it also lacks boning for additional structure, but I think it still does it’s job just beautifully. For those unfamiliar with this sort of item, my corset shown here is meant to go over another shirt, because it starts just below the bust, resting at the top of the hips.

History be damned, I think corsets made with love are quite cozy indeed.

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