This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for February, 2010

Craft Cupboard

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 25, 2010

Craft Cupboard

Looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it? It’s really the Israeli equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, swallowing up all my unfinished craft projects and supplies that are too small to stick under my bed or in larger cupboards. I tend to accumulate small unfinished projects because large ones (like sweaters) annoy me too much. This cupboard hasn’t had a serious clean-out for years.

I spread out a few of the projects on a tablecloth and snapped this photo. Then I discovered even more projects stuck into little boxes in the mess, but I didn’t have room to photograph them as well. If you click the photo to go to the Flickr page, you’ll see notes describing what’s in the photo.

Partial view of contents of craft cupboard

It’s time for a serious cull.

Crafts represented:

  • Crochet (Irish, filet, hairpin, kippah/yarmulke)
  • Tatting (lots of edgings and motifs, too many shuttles)
  • Bead tatting (I was doing a couple test pieces for Nina Libin)
  • Knitting (lace, miniature, regular)
  • Knotted netting with shuttle
  • Knotless netting (with needle)
  • Bobbin lace (Milanese braid samples)
  • Embroidery (miniature French knots)
  • Decoupage

The projects that I knew I would never finish I cut off the balls of thread and pitched in the garbage. The ones about which I was undecided, I put back into bags and put on the top shelf. I decided to use the top shelf for projects and the bottom shelf for supplies. The baskets that are on the edge of the photo are mostly repositories of tools that really belong in other places (like my painting supplies, crochet hooks, and knitting needles). The tatting shuttles are small enough to stay where they are.

The only project I reject throwing out is the miniature knitted doily that I started (bottom of blue cloth). I simply can’t recall which pattern I was using and I don’t want to try improvising with a piece that is so fiddly (Honiton lace thread on .5 mm needles).

I’ll think about planting the cotton seeds this year, since this is the right season. On the other hand, I still haven’t spun what I’ve already grown. That would be a good incentive to haul out my tahkli, right? Although I own a spinning wheel, this cotton is much too delicate to spin on something that large, so probably best to spin it on a hand spindle.

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Day 50 of Project 365 … and Camels!

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 19, 2010

Camels behind my house

Camels behind my house

I’ve reached my first milestone of Project365 (photo a day) – Day 50! I haven’t missed any days yet.

I had some errands in the shopping center in Maale Adumim. On my way home I took a slight detour to pick up something from a neighbour. An unusually large group of camels was down in the wadi — about 30 of them. I heard they’ve been there for a couple weeks but they must go to different places to graze in the morning because I’ve never seen them on that side during my morning walk/run. I only had my 18-55 lens with me, so these have been cropped slightly. The pair of camels at the top was reasonably close. The rest were further down in the wadi, along several hillsides. They belong to the Bedouin.

I suppose I could have run home to get my 55-250mm lens but I was tired from the walk in the heat and it’s not as though camels are all that unusual in our area.

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Almond Cream in 19th Century English Jewish Cooking

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 18, 2010

Last year's almond

I was catching up on podcasts during my morning run. In The Splendid Table (Jan. 16, 2010 episode), Lynne Rosetto Kasper took a phone call from Jennifer, a bartender from San Francisco, who had started a company that makes pre-Prohibition cocktail ingredients. She wanted to know more about orgeat or almond syrup. LRK told her that almond syrup (often made nowadays with sugar syrup and almond extract) originally was made from almond milk. She traced the history through France and Germany, mentioning the blancmange of England along the way, back to Arabic culture and the Middle East.

That triggered a memory about Jewish cooking and almond milk/cream. Somewhere — I couldn’t recall where exactly — I had read that Jewish cooking had used almond milk/cream as a parve (non-meat, non-dairy) substitute for cream and a traditional drink to break the fast of Yom Kippur. After I got home, before I jumped into the shower, I pulled out all my Jewish cookbooks, searching for almond milk/cream. I was certain that it had something to do with English cooking, so the first name I looked up was Judith Montefiore, the presumed editor (“A Lady”) of The Jewish Manual, published in London in 1846. Aha–she does have a recipe for orgeat, in the section on recipes for invalids (p. 144).

Lady Judith Montefiore (1784 – 1862), from a prominent Jewish Ashkenazi family, was the wife of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885). She was a fascinating woman in her own right, a traveller and diarist, but she was overshadowed by her famous philanthropist husband. The Jewish Manual is said to be the first Jewish cookbook in English.

I found an explanation of almonds in Jewish cooking in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in London in 1845. Acton’s book was not intended specifically for a Jewish audience but it has sections that relate to Jewish cooking:

Remarks on Jewish Cookery

From being forbidden by their usages to mingle butter, or other preparation of milk or cream with meat at any meal, the Jews have oil much used in their cookery of fish, meat, and vegetables. Pounded almonds and rich syrups of sugar and water agreeably flavoured, assist in compounding their sweet dishes, many of which are excellent, and preserve much of their oriental character; but we are credibly informed that the restrictions of which we have spoken are not at the present day very rigidly observed by the main body of Jewish in this country, though they are so by those who are denominated strict.
(Modern Cookery for Private Families, p. 606)

A Few General Directions for the Jewish Table

As a substitute for milk, in the composition of soufflés, puddings, and sweet dishes, almond-cream as it is called, will be found to answer excellently. To prepare it, blanch and pound the almonds by the directions of page 542, and then pour very gradually to them boiling water in the proportion directed below:

Almond-cream: (for puddings, &c.) almonds, 4 oz.; water, 1 pint. For blancmanges, and rich soufflés, creams and custards: almonds, 1/2 to whole pound; water, 1 to 1 1/4 pints.
(Modern Cookery for Private Families, p. 609)

Blancmange, in the US, is a cornstarch-thickened pudding. In England, it is made with thickened almond cream (Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, in their Joy of Cooking, refer to this as French style blancmange). Blancmange itself has an obscure history and has sometimes included chicken or fish. I had seen recipes for  Tavuk göğsü, a Turkish dessert made from milk and chicken, but the fish/almond dessert combo was a new one for me. Chicken breast, the blandest part of chicken, is minced so finely that its texture is subsumed into the cream and eggs. Fish, however, has a more strident flavour. I imagine that it would take a lot of almonds and sugar to disguise the fishy taste.

An interesting side note is that almond milk was also used by wealthy Russian Jews in Riga. Joan Nathan (The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, p. 138), says that it was poured over kichel (an egg cookie) or cranberry or rice pudding. Here is her recipe, a Moroccan version, for almond cream.

Almond Milk

4 cups water
1 pound blanched almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange blossom water

Place 1 cup water  in a blender or food processor. Add 1/2 cup almonds, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tbs. orange blossom water. Whirl until pulverized.

Press the mixture through a cheesecloth. Then blend once more. Repeat the process 3 more times with the remaining ingredients. Combine the 4 batches.

Serve with ice and dilute with water until the desired consistency is reached.

If you want to make your own orgeat, a component of the original Mai Tai, here’s a recipe.

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Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 16, 2010

Temple Mount

Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

We were stuck in traffic on the way to work this morning, just outside the Mt. Scopus tunnel. Fortunately, I had my 250mm telephoto lens in my backpack, so I got these two shots when we weren’t moving very fast. How many other people get a view like this on the way to work every day?

The gold dome is the Dome of the Rock, a mosque built between 695 and 681 CE. It is built on the site of the Jewish First and Second Temple, so Jews call it the Temple Mount or Har haBayit. Most of the blue tiles date back to Suleiman the Magnificent, who undertook its restoration. The gold dome was refurbished by King Hussein of Jordan in 1998.

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Knife-Sharpening Lesson

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 15, 2010

Knife-Sharpening Lesson

My office mate, Yinnon, has worked in the food business for years, both in restaurant kitchens and as a private caterer. I wanted to improve my knife-sharpening technique, so this morning I brought in my Solingen steel, Victorinox chef’s knife, and Victorinox paring knife.

It’s a good thing we don’t have to go through metal detectors at work — I was also hauling my camera, tripod, two lenses, and cable release. (I was hoping to photograph the new moon or “molad” for the month of Adar, but it was too cloudy. If I succeed in another month or two, I’ll post a photo.)

Here are a few things I learned about knife sharpening:

  • Steels wear out. I need to buy a new one (maybe ceramic, if I can find one) because the grooves are too smooth.
  • The knife and steel should be wet so that the friction doesn’t make the blade too hot. Metal molecules move around more in a hot environment and are more easily aligned if kept cool.
  • I was barely tickling the knife. Yinnon uses much more force and draws it over the steel more times.
  • The knife should be pulled diagonally towards you. Now I understand why some people worry about cutting themselves.
  • In restaurant kitchens, a knife is honed on a steel every time it’s picked up and used. The knives are also sharpened professionally 2-3 times a year. When I asked how long knives last with that treatment, he said that good knives last for years.
  • Professional sharpening grinds down a wider edge on each side of the blade than the narrow margin that is on the knife when it comes from the factory. Apparently, this makes it easier to maintain an edge and to put an edge back on the knife. What a good reason to finally take my knives to a professional sharpener!
  • Butchers apparently sharpen their knives with a zigzag motion. Yinnon’s grandfather did it that way and all the butchers he’s seen use the same motion but he doesn’t know why. Maybe it was to rub the filings off the knife blade.
  • To test the sharpness, Yinnon drags the blade toward him over his thumbnail. The blade should “catch” slightly on the thumbnail and leave a white line where it scrapes.
  • Yinnon holds small blades with a finger on top for more control.

IMG_2906

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Just One of Those Days

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 14, 2010

I couldn’t sleep this morning, so I got up, went out with my camera at 5:50 a.m. , hoping to get lots of cool shots in the morning light. Never mind the haze and dust. I thought I got some really neat stuff.

I came back, went to work, and discovered everything was badly exposed or out of focus or both. Then I started having terrible allergy attacks — sneezing, runny nose, headache. I really thought I was going to have to go home early until someone else mentioned having bad allergies today. The haze and dust this morning should have been a clue. I took some extra antihistamine/decongestant and toughed it out. I don’t feel so bad now, although I’m a little fog-brained. So this is the only photo I salvaged. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Heart Graffiti

If you click to look at the original (please don’t!), you’ll see how badly out of focus it is. Maybe it has something to do with it being a bad allergy day. I probably wasn’t seeing too clearly or holding the camera steady enough.

I did see a cute example of recycling. A pre-kindergarten has decorated their playground with the plastic tabs that are left behind when you pull off the bags at the supermarket.

Recycling

I’m glad I took up photography in the digital age. Would have hated to waste film on a day like today!

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Cat Pants

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 12, 2010

Poor Vincent. He must be so upset that his initial was stitched upside-down. Silly me — the letter was a last-minute request from Masha after the pants were nearly finished and it never occurred to me that it would be inverted when the cat was posed on his hind legs! Mind you, I wasn’t altogether certain that they’d get the cat pants on in the first place, despite Masha’s assurances that Vincent is an abnormally docile cat. A neutered tom with a 23″ waist? I should say so.

Here are the finished cat pants, right after I had fastened the yarn ends. The outfit is based on a Russian comic strip. Vincent’s owner, a friend of Masha’s, was presented with a cat ensemble, including hat and scarf, at her birthday party. I presume she’s the one holding the cat in this photo.

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Time-Lapse Video of Vancouver

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 10, 2010

Brilliant! A collaboration between Innerlife Project (music) and TimeLapseHD.

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Six HDR Photos from 2009

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 8, 2010

I’ve been dabbling in HDR for a couple years and am still learning what works and what doesn’t. Currently I am using Photomatix to generate the HDR because it provides so much control. I tried Qtpfsgui, the free open-source program (does anyone out there know how to pronounce this name?). I found it difficult to use unless I applied the presets, which tended to be a bit on the grunge side for my taste. I have also used Photoshop CS2. It’s adequate but takes a long time to crank out the HDR file unless you have a really fast computer. So at the moment I prefer Photomatix.

I haven’t decided what HDR style I lean towards — grunge, realistic, or eyeball-searing, pimped-to-the-max — because I’m still experimenting with different subjects. Buildings and industrial settings work well. So do shopping centers, although you have the problem with ghosting caused by moving people. I haven’t had much experience with generating an HDR from a single RAW file, but that would be my choice if I were trying to create an HDR of a moving subject.

Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The clear, cloudless skies that are typical in a desert climate are boring to photograph. They need a few clouds for interest. I was fortunate to have a “good sky day” when I took the three exposures for this shot. The bricks appear not to have been lined up properly by Photomatix, but when I checked one of the originals I discovered that those ripples are caused by the water, not the software. One of the coolest aspects of this photo was the discovery of the green tiles on the bottom of the pool. Although I’ve seen the dome and fountains many times, I had never noticed the green tiles because that area gets very little sunlight, and certainly not in the late afternoon (standard photo taken at same time).

Dome, Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum (HDR)

Second Temple Model of Jerusalem, Israel Museum

Clouds and sunshine are a great subject for HDR.

Jerusalem Model (HDR) 1

NDS Building, Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem

This photo of my workplace (I’m on the top floor, on the other side of the building) is a more natural rendering of HDR. I did this image before I learned how to deal with halo-ing, so there is a bit in this picture. What I found intriguing is the way the reflections of the building on the other side of the parking lot really pop. You can see the difference if you look at the original photo.

Assignment 38: Buildings

Adumim Mall, Maale Adumim

As soon as I saw the pomegranates, stars, and gift boxes hanging from the ceiling, I had to try an HDR image. That’s one of the cool things about learning HDR — you’re never sure at first how an image will turn out, so each one is a surprise. I love the way the decorations seem to shimmer.

Some of the people are walking or standing in different positions in the three exposures. Photomatix seems to choose one version and suppress the others, as part of its anti-ghosting algorithm.

Shopping Center

Park Center, Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem

A seriously ugly mall in an industrial park in north Jerusalem where I only go to mail letters or buy shampoo. The ceiling is made of translucent, corrugated fiberglass panels, which turns the natural light a sickly yellow. In real life the mall is dark, littered with pigeon droppings, and dingy (original photo). The HDR rendering brightens the ceiling and tiles and makes it look futuristic.

Park Center, Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem

“Forgotten”

I took this shot for a photo list assignment of a picture that showed something forgotten. When I saw a tiny lacy sock and silver shoe in a park while on my morning walk, I raced home and grabbed my camera. The HDR rendering was an artistic decision because I wanted the picture to have a dreamy, surreal effect. I was trying to avoid a “crime scene photo” effect (“The missing girl was last seen ….”). I imagined a little girl,  dressed in her Shabbat finery, taking off her scratchy lace sock and shoe and leaving them under the bushes.

Forgotten

“Learning Experiences” 🙂

Sukkah HDR

Galileo Thermometer HDR

Abandoned CDs

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Review: “Sister” Diane Gilleland, Making a Great Blog

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 7, 2010

Good books convey information. Great books engage you and spark a creative dialog in your mind.

Diane Gilleland’s ebook, Making a Great Blog: A Guide for Creative People, falls into the second category. Some of her ideas and questions will stick in your brain and bubble up at odd moments. For the first time I found myself asking”Well, what do I blog about anyway?” and was able to come up with some answers. If you’ve noticed some changes in this blog, it’s because of her book. I added a small photo of myself, a blogging statement, and a fledgling blogroll. I also started using my real name on my home page and Flickr account.

This is a the book I wish I’d read before I started blogging. If you’re thinking of starting a blog — not just a craft blog — do yourself a favour: buy this book and save yourself a lot of floundering and re-inventing the wheel.

Background

Diane’s blog, CraftyPod, and her podcasts have been on the craft scene for quite a while. Her first podcast came out in May 2005. Diane’s blog is a seemingly inexhaustible fount of interesting and well-edited content (does she ever take vacations like ordinary mortals? I’m not sure). If you’re not familiar with the story behind “Sister” Diane’s nickname, this article from the Sisterhood Project will fill you in.

The Book

In four chapters (Table of Contents), Diane covers questions to ask yourself before blogging (but if you’ve already plunged in, that’s okay!), what kind of content to put in your blog, how to have a great-looking blog, and how to interact with your readers and their comments.

Diane’s writing style is informal and chatty. She packs in a lot of information and offers tons of encouragement for new bloggers. I especially like her head-on approach to problems that bloggers run into eventually, like “blog fade” (or what to do when blogging just isn’t as fun as it used to be), taking a vacation, and writing posts that will appeal to your audience. One of her most useful tools is the old-fashioned notebook for recording bursts of inspiration. At this point, I should tell you that Diane’s mother, Pam (aka Gingerbread Snowflakes), has written an outstanding piece on organizing blog entries.

Diane has excellent advice about creating content: It’s not about you. It’s about them. Someone should create a printable PDF for us bloggers (seasoned and newbie alike)  to print out and tape to the wall beside the monitor.

Almost from the first posting I had readers commenting on my entries but I had no idea that it was okay to reply, until I read Diane’s section about forming a blogging community. So I swallowed my personal shyness and wrote to a stranger who had left a comment on my blog. I answered a couple of her questions and I complimented her on her blog and she actually replied! Now we’re following each other on Twitter — her tweets are going to give my French a workout.  Hurrah! Interacting with people who leave comments was the most important thing I learned from Diane’s book (and if you haven’t read the recent posting on Make & Meaning on this topic, Thanks for Visiting!, you should).

The information about creating eye-candy was less useful for me, but that’s only because I’m coming from a background in Photoshop and photography. If you want to improve your graphics and photos, her chapter on the improving the visual appeal of your blog offers a lot of useful tips. Pay special attention to the advice on light, backgrounds, and props.  (I would only add that if you want to tweak your photos and organize them, download Picasa. It’s free and has some very good editing tools.)

Do I have any quibbles? Maybe just about the importance of an eye-catching header. If I blogging for commercial purposes, I would definitely create a header because it’s a crucial aspect of branding. Vendors have to create a recognizable image and presence on the Web. But since so many people use Google Reader and RSS feed aggregators that don’t show the header or sidebars, I question its importance for personal bloggers. (That said, if one of you out there writes, “I’m tired of looking at this red bar at the top of your blog. Why don’t you get a decent header?,” I’m willing to reconsider!)

Making a Great Blog is colourful and well-organized, with a good layout and illustrations. It includes a resource list and worksheets.

Link to buy: http://shop.craftypod.com/great_blog

Cost: $12.50 (I think it’s good value for the money)

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