Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Berry-cherry crisp

When it comes to pleasing the palate vs. pleasing the eye, I can't necessarily choose — cooking and making jewelry are both satisfying creative pursuits. So, today's post is my unofficial ode to the fruit crisp. I have a limited repertoire, but I do love my crisps: berry in the summer, apple in the fall. Smooth and crunchy, tart and sweet, hot and cold, the fruit crisp is everything I could ask for in a dessert. Plus, it bears repeating that there's fruit in it. And ice cream. So, you're getting vitamins and calcium, the double whammy (or, two whammies, as a friend calls them) of nutrition.

First of all, forgive my photo. It would have benefited from a dollop of ice cream. Here's the "before" picture. Not being a food stylist, I plopped a huge scoop of Haagen Dazs vanilla on the crisp, and the poor thing imploded under the weight of it. You'll have to use your imagination to garnish the piece and trust me that the dessert tastes better than it looks.

Blackberries, strawberries, and cherries were on sale, so I bought some and decided to try my dessert in 90-degree weather. I found this recipe a few years ago in a cookbook I gave as a gift (if I can find the original, I'll add a comment to the post). Anyway, I modified the filling part of the recipe because I prefer my crisps very tart — tasting of fruit rather than sugar — with sweetness coming from ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Since I've been asked for this recipe, I thought I'd post it here. That way, I'll have it handy forever. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, especially if you have a secret ingredient or know a quick way to pit cherries.

Here's some stuff I learned along the way:

1. Raspberries don't work well — too delicate and juicy.
2. Blackberries and strawberries work great. They're yummy, pretty, and their texture holds up to baking.
3. If you forget to mix the nuts into the topping, you can still sprinkle them on top just before putting the crisp in the oven. (I just discovered that this weekend. See photo for errant nuts.) Just make sure you don't overbake.
4. Not sure how I feel about the cherries. The Bings taste awesome, but they're kind of chewy.
5. I love topping, which is why I prefer only 4 cups of fruit. The original recipe called for 6 cups.
6. Try serving the crisp in mugs or ramekins. If you use plates, it's hard to scoop up the melty ice cream and leftover fruit syrup.

Fruit Crisp
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (toast in a skillet for about 6 minutes)
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
4 Tbsp. ice-cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4–5 cups fruit
1/4 cup sugar
1 generous Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. orange juice

Combine the oats, flour, sugar, and spices. Scatter the butter over the top. Use your fingers to blend the butter into the mixture. Add nuts.

Combine the fruit. In a small bowl, blend sugar, flour, and orange juice till dissolved. Blend with the fruit. Spoon the fruit mixture into an 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the topping on and press lightly.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until the top is browned and the fruit is tender, 30-40 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool Jewels party

To celebrate the release of Cool Jewels, I threw a bash at The Social, one of my all-time favorite restaurants. My friends Ann and Michelle arrived early, and it was nice to have company while I ate a Kobe beef burger with Stilton cheese sauce and crispy French fries. Mary and Stacy also came early, decked out in cute summer dresses. Cathy, Jane, Kristin, and Addie all showed up — people I see every day at work, who still wanted to take time to help me celebrate. Keith, Jay, and Deb mingled with my parents, talking about golf tips and cats that paint. Brenda, who's busy working on her second book, brought champagne. And Michelle (not to be confused with Michelle, her sister-in-law) brought the Veuve and got a little misty-eyed at the toast, 'cause that's just the kind of person she is. Dale, who tends to mock those of us who get misty-eyed, gave me a beautiful card. And Matt, my stylist, lightened the mood as we laughed at how my Lucy-Liu-in-Charlie's-Angels-look drooped in the humidity. Dave, Pat, and Andy aren't into jewelry or elaborate hairstyles, but they were good sports and stayed for a while. That's what people you've known for 20 years will do. Tom, Alison, Mark, Anna, and I nursed drinks after everyone else left, then we finally called it a night.

You probably don't know my friends and family, but I wanted to mention them because they really made the night — and the book — worth it. I've always valued achievement, but having loved ones to share it with is just as important to me. The sentiment may be trite, but that doesn't make it any less true. So, in appreciation of the people in my life: Cheers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Breaking stuff

This weekend, I broke my digital camera. Dropped it, lens open, on the hardwood floor in my dining room. The lens is askew and won't focus or close. Last week, I gently placed a Shiny Brite ornament (hot pink with green and white stripes, my favorite) in a lunch box, closed the lid, and broke the ornament. You see where this is going.

I hope bad things don't happen in threes. Maybe I should just break something to get it over with? I've actually been thinking about broken jewelry lately. Wondering if it's better to just re-string something? It's frustrating to do the same work twice, but I worry that a piece is likely to break again, even after it's been repaired. Do you have any thoughts about repairing vs. restringing?

Friday, July 20, 2007

This week's Cool Jewels posts

If you read my MySpace blog, you'll see that I've got the week's postings on this blog, too. I just wanted to get this thing started! But next week, I promise you'll see new content. I'm also not sure if I can blog from home (outdated operating system and Internet Explorer on my old-school Mac), so I may be relegated to weekday posting. Thanks for your patience, and happy weekend!

Favorite Cool Jewels projects: No. 1

My favorite Cool Jewels project: "Playing Hoops" (page 81). I wear a pair just about every day. This gold pair is almost bangle-sized and has the heart-and-key motif I love. By the way, those are scrapbooking charms, so they're flat and lightweight. Occasionally they get caught in my sweater, but I can live with that. I just try to avoid bobbing my head from side to side.

A tip: if you hammer wire, use a bench block. I made the mistake, in my zeal to finish the earrings, of hammering on my basement floor. That created a very unpretty texture. If you need a stainless steel bench block, you can get one from Rio Grande or Rings & Things. Also, make sure that you make the hanging loop big enough. Mine are a little small, so sometimes the hoop isn't as swingy as I'd like.

I've noticed that hoops are flattering on everyone; you just need to find the right size and gauge to flatter you. Tiny or huge hoops work best for me; classic mid-sized hoops that are about an inch in diameter look horrible (very matronly) on me. My favorite styles have just one metal bead or crystal dangling on them, but you can also string multiple beads or cover the entire wire.

Favorite Cool Jewels projects: No. 2

July isn't typically a time to think about holiday ornaments, but "Fabulous Flakes" (page 88) has always been a favorite. I first came up with this idea for the January 2004 issue of BeadStyle. When I showed Mindy (the editor) my prototype — a pink, purple, and orange number — she said to just make sure that the colors were ugly. Really, I'm not making this up. She'd say blunt stuff like that all the time. Hilarious!

Snowflakes take just a few minutes. For me, they're far less labor-intensive than necklaces and way more fun and relaxing. I like to make ornaments as gifts, too — last year, I gave a set in different shades of white and ivory. I'm always on the lookout for cheap beads (in groups of six, for each of the spokes). My brainstorming with vintage strands almost always starts with "Can I make an ornament out of this." By the way, Fusion Beads carries metal snowflake forms year-round and has free shipping. And World Market sells cute holiday tins and paper takeout boxes for pretty packaging. At the magazine, we also do a pizza-and-ornament lunch in December, which I'm already looking forward to.

A minor change I make when I'm putting together ornaments for myself: I prefer the cheap wire hooks (you can get huge packs on sale at Walgreens for 79 cents). The ribbon hanger looks pretty for gift giving but can be a little distracting when the snowflake is actually on the tree.

Happy holidays!

Favorite Cool Jewels projects: No. 3

"Tokens of Your Affection" (page 20) is one of the easiest projects in the book. Technique-wise, these necklaces require just opening and closing jump rings or making a couple of wrapped loops. Materials-wise, they don't require much effort or expense, either. You can attach almost anything to your chain!

Vintage chain works well. It's affordable, has a nice patina, and often has the perfect heft — not too heavy, but strong enough to support a few charms. The subway token necklace took me only a few minutes to design and put together, but I wore it almost every day last summer. Every day. I sometimes built my outfits around that necklace, shying away from busy prints. I finally broke the habit at the end of September, when I had to deliver the manuscript and all of the finished jewelry. Now that I've got it back, I wear it layered with the heart-and-key necklace. I'm enjoying the mixed-metals look.

Favorite Cool Jewels projects: No. 4

My "Pretty in Pink" necklace (page 34) wasn't a favorite when I made it, but I've been wearing it a lot lately. It's light and colorful — in summer, a welcome change from all my chain jewelry.

I bought the pink beads from The Beadin' Path, whose website offers an amazing selection of Lucite. You can search by color, or buy bead mixes. They have beads in fruit, shell, and flower shapes, but of course I prefer the oval-shaped fuchsia jelly beans. Smooth and candy-like: yum. They also possess a shimmer that makes them look especially luminous.

To keep the necklace from looking too cutesy, I strung the beads with gunmetal spacers from Vintaj. Jane, who's a BeadStyle editor, suggested that I add chain, which gives you different ways to wear the necklace. Also, that makes the piece less bulky at the back of your neck. By the way, I spend lots of time in Jane's office. Not only does she give fabulous design advice, she's also a sympathetic listener about matters of the heart.

Favorite Cool Jewels projects: No. 5

Every day this week, I'll post a photo of my favorite projects from Cool Jewels. Today's pick: "Charmed," the bracelet that appears on the cover. Maybe it's no surprise that I love the cover, but I didn't have much influence on the choice — that's left to the art director, editor, publisher, and circulation people. Like any author, I wanted something truly representative of my work, and this was it: gold and fun but not too flashy. Pink and green are my favorite colors (actually, blue is, too — but not in jewelry), so I'm happy we used a piece that included both. Incidentally, the Bingo Nut charm came from an Ebay bag of stuff. Bingo is like Lionel Richie: even if you don't play it, you're glad it doesn't ever go away.

Also, I have a sentimental attachment to this bracelet, maybe because I labored over it, rearranging to find just the right spot for each metal, enamel, and plastic piece. True story. Charm bracelets require time and thought to give the appearance of casual style.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

Hey everybody, I'm trying to expand my blogosphere beyond MySpace, so here I am. I'll be blogging about jewelry and stuff related to Cool Jewels: Beading Projects for Teens. In the meantime, please visit me at myspace.com/naomifuj. Thanks!