Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Umbrella Tote Bag

Everyone has one.  A broken umbrella they don't know what to do with.  In New York, it's hard to walk down the street on a cold, windy, rainy day and not see one or two laying on the sidewalk or in a garbage bin.  And, if you get caught in the rain, you inevitably have bought one of those $3 jobs from the vendors who seem to come out of nowhere at the first drop of rain.  We all know that those things never last.

I have, or should I say had, an adorable little pink and white striped umbrella that I picked up at H&M one rainy Saturday, caught in SOHO and not expecting rain to fall.  It lasted a while, but let's be honest, an umbrella can only flip inside out in the wind so many times before becoming obsolete.  So what?  It doesn't work as an umbrella anymore, but what about that fabric?  I could no longer use the umbrella to shield me from the rain, but there must be something, being a resourceful gal, that I could do with the fabric.

So, I made a tote bag.  It's simple, it's light, it's handy.  It took about an hour to make- start to finish.

Start by removing the fabric from the skeleton of the umbrella.
It should look something like this:

Fold the umbrella in half, along the center seam

Then fold it in half again.  Using a straight-edge and a blade, cut your umbrella into a rectangle

Stitch the open edges

I used the scraps from the side to make long handles for my bag. 

Sew them together into a long even tube, right sides facing and open at the ends.
Turn them inside out and press with a cool iron.

I left the tab on so the bag could be neatly rolled and carried in the bottom of my regular handbag.

Here's the finished product, all rolled up and ready to go

Very handy for grabbing groceries or a trip to the store.  Just remember to toss it into the bottom of your handbag before leaving the house!

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Day At Martha Stewart

When I was on The Martha Stewart Show last week, the result of this little blog, they surprised me with an offer to spend the day working in the art department of the television show.  No, it wasn't an offer of a full time position (as many of you have been e-mailing me and asking), but it was an amazing opportunity to get in there and meet some people and learn about the day-to-day activities that go on behind the scenes of the show.

I'd like to thank Anduin Havens, the art director, and her whole team (Hosanna, Robert, et al) for allowing me to spend the day shadowing them.  Everyone was extremely friendly and very helpful and kept asking if I was having fun.  And I was.  I was there to work and I hope that I was at least somewhat helpful.  Behind the scenes of a TV show is an ever changing environment, with lots of movement and last minute changes.

The whole place was, to no surprise, extremely organized, with all the drawers and bins and cabinets labeled with a P-Touch as to what was inside them.  Ribbons organized by colors, dinner napkins apart from lunch napkins and everywhere that could be used for practical storage was.

The day I was there the team was finishing up a long week of shooting but, though tired, were moving at full steam.  They start at about 7AM and go till the work is done - the day I was there, this was at 6PM.  At the end of the day the team was to change the set over from it's January theme to Valentine's Day, so there was a lot of hustle and bustle - moving clear jars to fill with pink and red and white candies, arranging jeweled crystals in little glass containers so they looked just perfect, separating colored stones - all this on top of keeping the show moving and looking just right.  While I didn't get to see too much of the creative process, the development and pitching of ideas (simply because of the type of day I went in on), I did see a bit of it - and got to spend some time wandering through the aisles in the art department.  Think the most organized craft supply store you have ever been in.  I also was able to see the team working on some ideas to pitch to Martha for Valentine's shows.

There is so much that goes on there, and it is so varied from day to day, that one day was not really enough to see the entire creative process.  And, after spending the day there, in such a bustling and creative place, I am even more determined to find that kind of work environment.

Image of Martha Stewart Living crafts room from The Martha Stewart Website

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Baking: Chocolate-Orange Sugar Cookies

For over a year  I have been tinkering with a recipe for chocolate orange sugar cookies, inspired by the amazing chocolate tangerine cookies from Dancing Deer Bakery.  I did some research on the web and came across a list of the ingredients, but no actual recipe.  I've tried a few different sugar cookie recipes, tinkering with the proportions of flour and cocoa powder.  I've tried adding orange zest and melted chocolate.  Nothing has been quite right.

Last winter, I found this recipe, based on this recipe from a NH inn:

* 2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 2 large egg whites
* 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder, sifted
* Pinch of salt

In an electric mixer, combine brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, butter, and vanilla, and mix on medium-high speed until well combined. Add egg whites, and mix until combined. In a small bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour, and salt. Add to sugar and butter mixture, and mix on medium until flour is completely incorporated. Turn this mixture out onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, and roll into a 3/4 by 8-1/2 inch log. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove paper, and slice log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar in a small bowl, and dip each piece of dough in sugar, coating all sides; transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, placing cookies 1 inch apart. Bake about 14 minutes for chewy cookies; for crisp cookies, bake 2 to 3 minutes longer. Slide the paper and cookies onto a wire rack to cool.


The cookies I made with this recipe were definitely tasty, but, to be very honest, they were pretty ugly.  I took a few pics at the time, but there is no way I am posting them here.

After the success of the piparkakut that I baked for the holidays, I thought it might be fun to take the flavors of the chewy Dancing Deer cookies that I love and add the crunch of a cookie rolled incredibly thin.

So, I souped up a basic sugar cookie recipe, froze the dough, rolled it very, very, very thin and used my very cool skull&crossbones cookie cutter.  I'm really pleased with the way they turned out, though perhaps next time I will make them a little fatter and see If I can get a texture a little closer to those that inspired this project in the first place.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Easy Apron

This summer, dear ones, I cam across this cute fabric - pale pink polka dots and dark chocolate birds on a creamy yellow background.  I bought it without knowing what I could make of it - perhaps a cute summer top?  I searched for the right top inspiration, but never found it.  So, I folded the fabric away, still keeping an eye out for that perfect pattern to make a summer top (for that far away day when summer returns).

When baking bread the other day, I decided I needed a new apron.  I was wearing a very cute, yet utilitarian apron from Anthropologie.  I like the apron I have already, but it's just kind of... blah.  It's an unbleached linen with orange embroidery and trim, cute, but fairly plain.  And, to be honest, sometimes a girl just wants a little flounce when she's whipping up cupcakes for a birthday or hors d'oeuvres for a dinner party or, you know, re-heating leftovers.

I went searching online and came across this 1951 pattern that was exactly what I was looking for.

one square = one inch

First, transfer the pattern.  I pretty much always use pages from the Sunday New York Times when I make patterns - it's a great way to recycle - and for something I am going to make over and over and over again, it's fairly durable.

Using a ruler, make a grid pattern based on the above diagram.

Then transfer the pattern.  It's really easy - that's what the grid is for!  If you haven't done it before, just take a deep breath and go slow, one square at a time.  This, by the way, is the most time consuming part of the whole project.

After you cut out your pattern, lay it on the fabric, something like this:

Make pleats according to the pattern - lining up circles and triangles - and baste along the top edge.

I decided to use this hot pink grosgrain around the edges.  Measure about 5" up from the bottom and mark lightly with a pencil or a disappearing sewing pen and pin the ribbon (or whatever trim you decide to use) and top stitch.

Once you have the trim on, it time to pin and sew the waistband pieces.  It should look something like this:

The original pattern called for a pocket, but I didn't love the way it looked when I pinned it on.  It would be great to have a pocket on this cute apron, but I am really happy with the way it looks without!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Martha Stewart Blog Show

Ah, gentle readers, yesterday was a whirlwind of activity and excitement for me, culminating in my appearance on The Martha Stewart Blog Show!

It all started on Wednesday of last week when I received an e-mail from a producer of The Martha Stewart Show, saying that they had come across this little blog and wanted to speak to me about it.  I'm not going to lie, just the fact that someone at Martha Stewart had come across this blog was really exciting. Since, putting it up in November, I have gotten some hits and some followers and some good words, but I didn't expect that someone from MSLO would discover it so quickly.  Nor did I think that I would be asked by the producers of the television show to make an appearance- I was just happy to be in the audience!

It was just yesterday morning, but feels like a lifetime ago, so much happened!

I showed up in the morning at The Martha Stewart Show studios in Chelsea, NYC and, instead of waiting in line with the rest of the eager bloggers, I went through the glass doors on the side, where there was a name tag waiting and Allie led me through the corridors to a dressing room to wait.

I tried to be calm and collected (and think I pulled it off OK), taking a few deep yoga breaths and checking my e-mail and my Google Reader like it was just any morning, not like I was sitting in a dressing room at The Martha Stewart Show about to be on national television.

The morning went by in a flash, from speaking with the producer (big thanks to Barbara for helping me to feel together and prepared) to getting miked to being seated in the audience (in the front row), amongst other excited bloggers to the actual show itself.  I was on at the very end (watch it here) and the other segments went by like they were mere seconds long.

When it was my time on camera, they showed images from my blog of cooking and sewing and crafting projects that I have done and Martha asked me questions about all of it - from the pork loin roast that my sister and I made for Christmas dinner (my first time frenching a cut of meat made it on national television!) to my little grey bag (of recycled materials) to the octopus that I made for little Maxotn (she really seemed to like that one!).  She asked me why I started the blog and if I had applied for a position at the company.

I brought Martha a gift of a stuffed elephant from my Etsy shop, Les Enfants Terribles, and was super excited that she really seemed to like it.  I made it for her with re-purposed (a grey wool skirt with one little moth hole, chosen because of Martha's Bedford grey house) and new (a very cool orange and cream cotton) fabric.

And, at the very end of the segment, Martha invited me to come and spend a day working with the art department of her television show!

I couldn't believe it!

I was so happy to be a part of the audience, filled with all sorts of innovative and interesting bloggers.  I was beyond excited when I was told that they wanted to speak with me on camera (seriously, I screamed and jumped up and down, frightening the cat and startling my roommate).  But, to be invited to spend a day working in the art department of the TV show!  Oh my!

I cannot wait to go and spend a day with the art director, Anduin, and her amazing team!

I'll keep you posted!

Martha answering blogger questions after the taping

Martha's very sexy and very tall shoes

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bake For A Cause

In case you hadn't figured it out by some of my previous posts, I like to bake.  A lot.  There's just something about the precision of measuring flower and fat and a leavening, adding just the right amount of sweetness to savory that I find extremely satisfying.

There's the added bonus that you can share the treats you made with others.  Their enjoyment is even more gratifying.

Below are a couple of ways that you can bake and help out some pretty cool Brooklyn causes.

On January 23rd, enter a pie (or pay $5 admission to show up and eat) in the Third Annual Pie Contest to Benefit BK Farmyards at K&M Bar in Willamsburg.  The pies will be judged by chefs Diane DiMeo (Red Box Bistro, Chopped), Seamus Mullen (Boqueria, The Next Iron Chef) and Cody Utzman (Papacitos, Brooklyn Standard, Chopped) and I will be competing.  Come and vote for my tasty pecan-bourbon pie (as of today, that's what I think I'm entering) or enter one of your own!

Every Wednesday in Greenpoint, the ever-changing group of volunteers in Craig's Kitchen bakes dessert for those who are eating dinner at the Greenpoint Soup Kitchen.  I've done this myself several times and am signed up for a couple of Wednesdays in February.  It's a great chance to bake a yummy dessert for people who will really appreciate it!

Know of any other great ways to bake for a cause?  Leave it in the comments section!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dress Up

I was given some really fun cream and pink toile by a friend who no longer had any use for it.  She had originally bought it for a large project, so I came home with yards and yards of the stuff.

I had been thinking about doing some painting on printed fabric at the time and the yards of pink toile provided the perfect opportunity to experiment and see what I could make of it.

Since the toile had a fun design of children and sheep frolicking in the countryside, I went with a graphic, geometric design - to contrast with the sweetness of the color and fabric.

While I have no images of the fabric before I put it to use, here are a couple of a slim and simple pencil skirt I made from it.


The Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire

I found this Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair, from November of last year.

I think my favorite line is the last: When you are through changing, you are through.

Martha Stewart title=

Martha Stewart

The domestic-goddess-cum-business-guru has spent decades building her multi-million-dollar company while advising audiences on how to flambé the perfect Baked Alaska. Here, the author of this month’s Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home dwells on indecision, García Márquez, and family.

November 2009 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A verdant landscape filled with beautiful animals of all kinds, harp music, cumulus clouds in a bright-blue sky, and happy people conversing pleasantly, sipping cold sake from homemade bamboo cups.What is your greatest fear?I’m a very fearless person.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Any type of indecision.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Indecision and wishy-washiness.
Which living person do you most admire?
I know too many really good people to choose just one person—and that is not indecision.
What is your greatest extravagance?
A car and driver.
What is your current state of mind?
Mildly optimistic.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
High intelligence mixed with graciousness.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Outspoken creativity.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I try not to overuse any words or phrases.
When and where were you happiest?
Right now, in the present. I have a short memory.
Who are your favorite writers?
I have too many.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Gabriel García Márquez’s original use of language.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
I have so many heroes in real life.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Seeing the success of others whom I’ve worked with or mentored.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a teacher to millions of people.
Where would you like to live?
Where I live now (Bedford, New York).
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have any inanimate possessions that I couldn’t live without.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I do not focus on misery unless it has to do with unkind and unfair treatment of humans, animals, or the environment by others.
What do you most value in your friends?
Genuine concern.
What are your favorite names?
Luke, Rufus, Ethan, and Alexis.
What is it that you most dislike?
Neglect, slovenliness, and cruelty in any form.
What is your greatest regret?
Not having a dozen offspring.
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
“When you are through changing, you are through.”

Monday, January 11, 2010


photo of my cremesicle cupcakes from the Brooklyn Kitchen Cupcake challenge by Cathy Erway, Not Eating Out In New York

One of my favorite things to bake is cupcakes.  Everyone loves cupcakes and, seriously, they are perfect for nearly every occasion.

For the past few years I have been making cupcakes based on Amy Sedaris' recipe in I Like You - with a few of my own special additions.

Here is her recipe for pretty basic, always tasty, vanilla cupcakes:
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups of sugar

Beat well, then add:

Add 2 large eggs
2 Teaspoons of pure vanilla
½ teaspoon of salt
2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
2 ½ cups of flour
1 ¼ cups of milk

Beat well, fill cups, and bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes. You should get 24. I get 18, 'cause I'm doing something wrong.

I love this for a basic recipe - I've added orange oil in addition to the vanilla to make a Cremesicle taste, I've added cocoa powder to make them chocolaty.  I almost always make them mini - I have found that a gal who "couldn't possibly" eat a regular size cupcake will often eat three or four of the small ones.  Calories count less in small doses, I suppose?  The possibilities are really endless.

You can read her recipe a for butter cream frosting here. Me? I make a frosting with Mascarpone cheese, a little heavy cream and a couple of secret ingredients.

I know cupcakes are totally hip and trendy these days - there are bakeries dedicated solely to them and Martha did a show (OK, a whole week!) all about them.  But why spend $4 and up on one little cupcake when you can have the fun and satisfaction of making your own - any way you want?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fun With Photoshop

©2009 Briana Campbell

©2009 Briana Campbell

Photos taken with Vignette software for Google MyTouch, on Wintry setting, while walking through a snowstorm in NH, Christmas, 2009.