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Random bits of my life

Archive for December, 2010

World’s Most Delicate Lemon Squares

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 12, 2010

World's Most Delicate Lemon Squares

You can’t tell from the photograph but these lemon squares are still warm. They are so delicate, they make other lemon squares look like soggy bits of lemon meringue pie without the meringue. They literally dissolve in your mouth. They freeze well and are incredibly easy to make. What could be better?

Lemon Squares
Yield: 40 squares

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar (icing or confectioners sugar)
1 1/2 cups flour

3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbs flour
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top of filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a heavy 9″x13″ baking pan (I use a heavy, non-stick, metal Farberware pan, which doesn’t need greasing).

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the butter/margarine, powdered sugar, and flour until crumbly. Press evenly into baking pan. Bake 20 minutes or until light golden brown. It should look like a huge shortbread cookie.

While the base is baking, mix filling ingredients in food processor until well blended. Take the base out of the oven and pour the filling onto the hot crust immediately. Return pan to oven and bake 15 minutes, just until set.

Cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle powered sugar evenly over filling, using a fine-mesh sieve (if you buy icing sugar in 100 gm bags, you will only need 1 bag and you will have plenty to sprinkle on top). Loosen around the edges of the pan with a thin knife and cut into squares (5×8) while still warm.

Update from Jan. 10, 2011: They also freeze well. Arrange them in single layers with parchment paper or plastic wrap between. Wrap in foil or a freezer bag. Then hide them very well because some people actually prefer eating frozen lemon squares. 🙂


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Puncetto Valsesiano: Part 6 – Squares and Bars

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 9, 2010

It’s taken an unconscionable length of time to write this post. I had to figure out how to do squares and bars again. I also decided that it would be useful to devise a way to diagram the stitches because it’s very hard to see stitches in a photograph.

This tutorial is about the squares and bars (both vertical and horizontal) that form the foundation of Puncetto lace. I will cover diamonds and webs (spiders) in a later tutorial! The diagram below is a fairly typical simple Puncetto design. I used it as the basis of my tiny motif a couple years ago.

Puncetto Pattern

Puncetto needle lace

Puncetto Valsesiano designs are based on a grid of squares that can vary in size from 2 knots to 4 knots (for the sake of clarity, I am going to use the word “knots” instead of “stitches”). A grid of 3 knots is the most common variation and that is the size that I am using throughout these tutorials.

My sample is based on a ladder foundation of 12 knots. Count very carefully! If you make a mistake in the number of knots, you will have to start over.

Squares and Bars

The photos of this tutorial are followed by drawings. Please excuse the messiness. My main computer is getting repaired and upgraded, so I don’t have access to fancy drawing tools on this loaner laptop.

1. Starting from the left end of your ladder foundation, work 3 knots in the first three loops. You will be working from left to right. Without turning your work, work 3 knots in the 3 spaces you have just made, working from right to left. Repeat these two rows. Work another left-to-right row, so that your thread is at the right side of the block you have just made.

Puncetto 5.1

2. To form an empty space, skip 3 knots (= 2 loops) and work a knot in the third loop, leaving enough thread for the top and side of the empty space.

Puncetto 5.2

3. To make a vertical bar, work 3 knots on the thread loop you have just made. Remember: If you are working on a 3×3 knot grid, vertical and horizontal bars will have 3 knots on them.

Puncetto 5.3

4. Skip 3 knots (= 2 loops) and work a knot in the third loop, again leaving enough thread for the top and side of the empty square. This photo also shows how to join a new thread, which is described below. Work 2 knots in the next two loops.

Puncetto 5.4

5. This part is a little tricky because it seems counter-intuitive, but this is how you make a square after an empty space. Working from right to left, make a knot in each of the 2 loops and a knot on the thread forming the left side of the square (= 3 knots, working right to left).

Puncetto 5.4a

6. Working from left to right, make 2 knots in the 2 loops. This seems odd to be working 3 knots/2 knots/3 knots/2 knots, but trust me. Squares surrounded by empty spaces are worked this way.

7. Now you’re ready to work the final right-to-left row over the entire sample. Make a knot in the 2 loops of the square, make 3 knots in the first horizontal bar, make 3 knots in the second horizontal bar, and make 3 knots in the last 3 loops. Including the starting point of your thread (= knot) and the 11 knots you just worked, you will have 12 knots total in this row.

Puncetto 5.5


The drawings below show the working of the same sample. There is one mistake: I actually drew 11 knots and didn’t realise it until I had to draw the final square. That shows you how important it is to count your knots!

1. Start with a ladder foundation of 12 knots.

Puncetto 6.1

2. The arrow indicates where you start the first square. Work 3 knots in 3 spaces. Repeat 5 times. Skip 3 knots (2 loops) and work a knot.

Puncetto 6.2

3. The vertical bar has 3 knots. Skip another 3 knots and work a knot.

Puncetto 6.3

4. Work 2 knots in the next 2 loops to form the first row of the square. Working from right to left, work 2 knots in 2 loops and the third knot on the vertical thread that forms the left side of the square. Working from left to right, work 2 knots in the 2 loops (remember — only 2 knots!).

Puncetto 6.4

5. When the square is complete, work the final right-to-left row (“2” in the drawing): 2 knots in 2 spaces, 3 knots on horizontal bar, 3 knots on horizontal bar, and 3 knots on 3 loops.

Puncetto 6.5

This diagram shows that upright bars have 3 knots on them, whether they are vertical bars or sides of squares. Horizontal bars also have 3 knots.

Puncetto 6.6

Square over Empty Space

This diagram shows how to place a square over an empty space. Your instincts will tell you to start in the loop spanning the square and space in the row below, but if you do that, the square will not be aligned properly over the space! The arrow marked “HERE” points to the correct loop for beginning a square over a space.

Puncetto 6.7

Square over Square

A square over a square is more straightforward. There should be 3 loops over the square. Work 3 knots in the 3 loops.

Puncetto 6.8

Joining a New Thread

1. When joining a new thread, work a couple knots over the new thread with the old thread.

2. Drop the old thread.

3. Work a couple knots over the old thread with the new thread. You will have some doubled thread loops. Treat these as ordinary loops, working knots in the loops.

4. Cut the thread ends close to the loop.

Posted in Crafts, needlework, Puncetto Valsesiano | Tagged: , , , | 18 Comments »

Zucchini and Tomato Tian

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 9, 2010

Vegetable Tian

Cold stormy weather is expected to move into our area tomorrow, so this recipe may represent the last gasp of summer! I associate tians with summer because they’re so light and easy to prepare with summer vegetables. I’m still hobbling around with a surgical shoe on my foot, so I’m not spending a lot of time in the kitchen. My husband was starting to chafe under the steady diet of leftovers, rice, chickpeas, and other pulses. He doesn’t like meat all that much, so my mid-week cooking tends to be vegetarian. Yesterday I made a sweet potato and zucchini soup, a walnut and raisin quick bread, and this zucchini and tomato tian.

A tian is really more of a method than a follow-the-recipe dish. If you have other vegetables that need to be used up, toss them in. If you’re watching your weight, substitute toasted breadcrumbs for the grated cheese (there’s only 2 ounces of cheese on top, just for colour and flavour). But please don’t try to leave out the olive oil!

You may be wondering why I put egg in the rice. The rice is there to add substance, absorb the juices of the vegetables, and I happened to have a couple cups of cooked rice left over. The egg turns the rice into a lovely, delicate, creamy crust under the vegetables, so if the combo seems odd to you, try it just this once.

Zucchini and Tomato Tian au Gratin

1 large onion, sliced into half moons
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbs olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
2 large zucchini, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, cored and very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 oz. hard cheese, grated (whatever you have will work but Gruyere would be wonderful)

Sauté sliced onion in olive oil until starting to brown. Add red pepper slices and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook until aromatic.

Put the cooked rice in a bowl. Add the sauted vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly. Lightly beat 2 eggs and stir into the rice mixture. Season lavishly with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Oil a 1.5 liter gratin dish. If you don’t have a gratin dish, any shallow casserole will do. Smooth the rice mixture on the bottom of the dish. Add alternating layers of zucchini and tomato slices. Season with oregano, salt and pepper, and drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle grated cheese on top.

Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 45 minutes or until the zucchini is tender when you prod it with a knife.

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Lady with Unicorn Update

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 9, 2010

Lady with Unicorn Update

I’ve finished the first page of the Lady with Unicorn: Sense of Hearing! I’ve worked just a little over 11,165 stitches, 8.5% of the total (130,380 stitches). I began this piece over a year ago, on Nov. 23, 2009. Pattern is by Scarlet Quince, based on the 15th century French tapestry.

Lady with Unicorn: Sense of Hearing

Progress has been very rapid since I gave up “parking” my threads. After a couple years of religiously parking, I asked a fellow cross-stitcher and much more experienced embroiderer, Karen (Where the Stitches Cross), whether I could stop parking my threads. Her sensible reply was, “Try it and see whether you like the results.” I couldn’t see any difference, probably because I’m working on 18-count Aida, so I gave up parking completely.

I’m not saying that parking is not a useful technique. If I were working on a piece with a very high thread count, I would recommend parking. But parking means that you’re constantly threading needles when working on a piece like this with 133 different colours. Karen is working the same piece on 20-count fabric. Her progress is very impressive! Here are her photos.

The Flickr set showing the progress of my piece is here.

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Last Day of Hanukkah 2010

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 9, 2010

I managed to get a couple shots of the oil hanukkiyot (hanukkah lamps) last night. I like under-exposing them slightly, so that the oil-filled cups look golden and the background is dark and mysterious.

This hanukkiya was sitting in a glass box on the window sill outside. I opened the window but the box was closed. Since the glass wasn’t very clean, there’s some streakiness.

8th Night of Hanukkah

This hanukkiya was photographed in our living rooom on a glass-covered cupboard. (I crocheted the doily underneath it. There’s a photo of the doily here.)

8th Night of Hanukkah

Posted in Israel, Judaism, photography | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

ILAN Campers Return for Shabbat

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 6, 2010

Every summer the Bnei Akiva branch of Mitzpeh Nevo, Maale Adumim, organizes a camp for ILAN, Israel’s organization for severely disabled children and teenagers. The kids do an amazing job, setting up activities, organizing food, transportation, and being caregivers around the clock (link to my blog posting on the ILAN camp).

The campers came back on Dec. 3, 2010, to spend Shabbat in the neighbourhood. Since the vans were parked across the street from my apartment, I was able to take a few snapshots from the balcony.

ILAN Children Shabbat Visit

ILAN Children Shabbat Visit

ILAN Children Shabbat Visit

In the photo below, my son is with Ivan, his camper from last summer, on the right.

ILAN Children Shabbat Visit

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Hanukkah, 2010

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 5, 2010

Since I’m still house-bound, although able to get around without crutches, I’m posting a few Hanukkah photos from my archives.

Hanukkah street lights on Kanfei Nesharim street last year. It was a drizzly night and I was on my way to the dentist.

Hanukkah Street Lights

This hanukkah lamp photo is one of my most popular Hanukkah images. It was taken in 2006 with a Canon PowerShot A530, which just goes to show that you don’ t need a fancy camera or DSLR!

Hanukkah 2006

I used a 50mm prime lens to get the shallow depth of field in this photo of my husband’s hanukkah lamp.

3rd Night of Hanukkah, 2009

I can’t recall such a dry Hanukkah. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, too late to have prevented the terrible Carmel fire. After 77 hours, the firefighters finally have most of the fire under control. The fire claimed 42 lives and 50,000 dunams of land. Most of the victims were laid to rest today. 17,000 people were evacuated and many were left homeless.

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Paper-Cutting Tutorial: Hanukkah Lamp

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 1, 2010

Paper Cutting: Hanukkah Lamp

My only qualification for writing a tutorial on the art of paper-cutting is that I consider myself a beginner and the learning process is fairly fresh in my mind! Since Hanukkah starts tonight, I thought a Hanukkah lamp would be an appropriate subject.

One of the biggest hurdles, I find, is drafting the actual design for cutting. If you’re a natural artist and can sketch anything you like, then skip the main part of the tutorial and go straight to the cutting tips. If you’re not sure of your drawing abilities, this tutorial will show you how to turn a photograph into a paper-cutting.

The image I used is an 1873 silver Hanukkah lamp from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague. It was lent to the White House for Hanukkah, 2009. I chose this design because the photo was clear and the design seemed suitable. You’ll have to judge your own tolerance for fiddly details!


  • Photograph (digital image)
  • Xacto knife With No. 11 blades
  • Self-healing cutting mat, 18 x 24 inches (this is a good size because the corners of a small mat can snag the edges of the cuts when you are turning the paper)
  • Paper for cutting (I used ordinary printer paper. You can use something else as long as it’s not too thick or delicate)
  • Stapler
  • Staple remover
  • Pencil with hard lead (e.g., 2H or 3H, so that the lines don’t smear)
  • Tracing paper (tracing paper comes in different weights. A thin weight is easier to see through)
  • Paper for backing
  • Glue stick
  • MagEyes with #7 (2.75X) lens (optional, but they make a big difference)


1. Insert the photo file into an MS Word document. (I chose Word because it’s readily available and allows you to resize the photo. Also, Word compresses graphics, which will make it easier to print than if you were using a graphics program like Photoshop or a photo-editing program like Picasa.)

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 1

2. Print the page (yes, I know I need to replace my toner cartridge).

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 2

3. Staple thin tracing paper to one half of the design.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 3

4. With a sharp, hard-lead pencil, trace the outlines of the design. Remember that you don’t have to reproduce the design slavishly. If some parts are too fiddly to cut, feel free to simplify. Where there are areas of overlap, for example, between the oil cups and the back plate, you’ll have to figure out how to interpret the design. The design must remain interconnected so that pieces don’t fall apart, unless you plan to glue them in later.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 4

5. Carefully remove the tracing from the printed sheet with the staple remover.

6. Fold your paper-cutting paper in half.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 5

7. Staple the tracing to the folded white paper, aligning the fold line and the edge of the tracing.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 6

8. Cut the small bits first. On the right side of the photo you see my MagEyes. I strongly recommend getting a pair because they really reduce the eye strain and make it much easier to see fine details.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 7

9. Lattice-work is easier to cut if you draw the criss-crossing lines as bars and then cut out the spaces between the bars. You get a more accurate representation that way. The blobby finials at the top were turned into fleur-de-lis because it was easier for me to cut them.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 8

10. Carefully cut out the design, working from small pieces to larger areas. Occasionally turn your work over to check the accuracy of your cuts.

Paper-Cutting Tutorial 9

11. If parts of your design are asymmetrical (e.g., the shamash or lamp on the left side), leave that area uncut. You will work it after the symmetrical part has been unfolded.

12. When you are finished cutting the symmetrical parts of the design, carefully unfold and flatten the piece.

13. Cut asymmetrical design elements.

14. You’re not finished yet! Go over the design carefully and neaten the edges, cutting wispy bits away, straightening corners, and refining curves.

15. Use glue stick to glue the cutting to a background paper or card stock. Don’t try to apply glue to the entire cutting. A dab in each corner will be sufficient. Note: I recommend that you wait a few hours or a day before mounting your paper-cutting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mounted a piece and then noticed something that I wanted to fix, after it was already glued to the backing.

16. Last but not least: Sign and date your work.

Cutting Tips

  • Before you dive in, make some practice cuts on a folded piece of paper. Curves will be harder than straight lines but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.
  • Cutting a double thickness of paper requires a bit more force than a single layer, but avoid pressing too hard with the knife. Beginners tend to use too much pressure, causing the blade to sink into the cutting mat. This creates drag on the blade and makes cutting curves a lot harder. Try to use just enough pressure to cut through all the layers of paper without sinking the tip of the blade into the mat. Remember that you’re not carving a linoleum block!
  • Each time you cut out a small piece, gently poke it out of the folded paper. I use the knife tip to pin the cut-out bit to the mat, while gently lifting the folded paper. It should make a satisfying little popping sound if your cuts are clean and meet at the corners. If you encounter any resistance at all, stop. This usually means that some of the cuts don’t meet at the corners. Turn over the folded paper and cut from the other side. Do not use force to separate the cut-out because you may tear the paper or leave feathery little fibers at the corners.
  • After you have poked the cut-out piece, sweep it out of the way. You must poke these bits out so that they don’t get caught between the paper layers and interfere with the cutting. If a piece does slip between the layers, gently open the layers and shake it out. Every now and then, stop to brush the cut bits into a wastepaper basket. This is a very messy craft!
  • If you are cutting lots of similar motifs like the candle flames, do each part assembly-line style. I cut the central flame for each candle, followed by the left part and the right part. This makes repeated motifs more consistent.
  • If you mess up a part of the design, considering cutting it out or changing your design on the fly. I frequently change my mind about a design while I’m cutting it.
  • Repeated rectangles: Cut all the straight parallel lines in one direction first. Turn the cutting 90 degrees and cut the straight parallel lines perpendicular to the first set of lines. If you’re not sure whether your cuts are meeting at the corners, turn the design over and go over the corners from the back side.
  • Curves: Work slowly with the knife (don’t press too hard!) and anchor the paper close to the curve with the fingernail of your left index finger. This will reduce the chances of the paper tearing or stretching (paper is surprisingly stretchy).
  • Long, skinny shapes: Cut the long sides first, without cutting the ends. Then cut the ends.
  • Corners: Generally, it’s easier to start at the corner and work outwards.
  • Intricate edges: For designs like the fleur-de-lis finials, cut them at an early stage without cutting away the entire background. Leaving the background attached gives you a more stable piece to work with. When it’s time to cut away the background, you’ll only have to cut the simpler curves and edges.

Good luck! If I’ve forgotten anything, please tell me.

Posted in Crafts, paper cutting, tutorial | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »