Friday, March 28, 2008

Get Bento!

Bento boxes are relatively new to me. I started noticing them in blogs about a year ago. Where I live there is no access to bento supplies what so ever, so for me, it had to wait until a trip to Vancouver brought me to the Daiso store there. Once there I found way too many things to grab my interest. They have tons of Kawaii items, bento items, stationery, craft supplies, almost anything you can think of in fact. I bought for myself a few bento supplies which my son took an interest in, which I did not anticipate. I ended up losing my bento to my boy. Fortunately for me I have friends who were willing to take my shopping list with them on their next trip to Vancouver and replace my "lost" bento supplies. Bento has become an interesting way to prepare a lunch for my son, so that he doesn't get so tired of school lunch. There are plenty of good sites and blogs on the internet to help prepare either a western style bento or a more traditional Japanese one. Some of the effort taken by these "supermoms" is simply amazing. For my son, I have stuck to more western items packed in a bento box, and this has suited him just fine. We have even had bento lunch picnics, and he has been keen for me to "get my own Bento box" so we can picnic together. It's been kind of fun...really!

Pictured here is Ike's blue bento box with felt/elastic band to keep it all closed. There are varieties of bento box with snap closing lids, just like lock n lock brand boxes. The ones pictured here do not stay closed without a band. But the bands are kind of cute, don't you think? Just like the pink bento on the top photo, the blue one has a shallow lid compartment to hold chopsticks and maybe a napkin. There are also two bottom compartments underneath. All in all it holds an adequate lunch for either me or my six year old. Then you get into the accessories...... There are sauce bottles, small chop sticks (15cm), internal dividers (I use cupcake liners), plastic grass like you would get in a sushi roll take out, and the list goes on. I have now found out about these cute wiener cutters, that I just must of these days! Now, on my project list, is to sew a bag to hold the bento box, and juice box that will inevitably be in my son's lunch.

Another Swap-Bot Project

I have wanted to try this pattern for a felt stuffie for quite a while now. I first saw someone making this pattern on a blog over a year ago now. Quite by accident I found and then ordered the pattern book from ebay which contained this pattern. I have this piece of red wool fabric that I picked up at a thrift store a few months ago, and I have slowly been trying to make things with it. I washed it pretty well in hot water to help felt it up before starting. So far, I've made two felt pins, and now this duck. We'll have to be on the look out for more projects to use it up. Again sorry for the poor picture quality. It looked fine on my camera's little view screen, but not so clear once it was up on the computer. Better luck next time I guess. Little duck it on his way to my swap partner in Louisiana right now, so I'll hold on to this post until the package arrives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back in Time for the Easter Bunny

We did manage to return from holiday just in time for the Easter Bunny. Actually at midnight, the night before Easter. This did require some emails from Mexico to some secret helpers back home, (Thank you so much Easter Helpers) but it all went off as planned, and thankfully, the Bunny did not forget our house. Easter Sunday Ike and I went to the neighbours to make some Easter Eggs. (Pysanky) I used to be a bit more diligent about making some each year, but since I've had Ike I have not made them each year. There have been unexplained casualties over the years, but I have never bothered to blow the eggs after making them so, some "egg"splosions are bound to happen. Nothing too smelly so far thank goodness.

In my family, my Aunt (Auntie Valley) was the artistic one and one year she took it upon herself to take a class in making Pysanky. I remember my grandmother having the tools (kystka) and bees wax at her farm. I actually do recall gramma making some with me one year when I was little. She did not have the proper dyes for it, and I remember her making dyes from crepe paper soaked in hot water to extract the dye. She made the typical single large star design that everyone starts out with, and I remember thinking how astonishing it was that she could get that silly looking stick to make such nice designs on an egg. Years after that, Auntie Valley took her class and proceeded to inundate the family with the most brilliantly coloured and beautifully crafted Pysanky. I could only guess how many she might have made. Definitely over one hundred. My mother was lucky enough to receive at least twenty which she kept in a cookie jar for many years. Sadly, one year they became a moving tragedy as they could not survive the transition to outdoor temperatures and all exploded into a cloud of dust.

When Auntie Valley died, her family passed down to me her tools and books. Since then I have made these Easter eggs many times and have found that it magically gets easier every time I try. This year, I gave Ike a try. Working with raw eggs requires a lot of patience and attention. Something which is not typically in great supply with my 6 year old. When he finishes his egg, I will add a photo of it.

The process is quite easy, but is time consuming, and those who do this kind of work have many eggs on the go at the same time. First you heat the Kystka with a candle flame and fill it with bees wax. The Kystka is a stick with a tiny metal funnel attatched to it's end, that allows you to scoop, melt, and draw with the bees wax. Then you write with the Kystka on the egg where ever you want the pattern to be white. Then you soak the egg in your first dye colour. Once the shade of colour you want is reached, you remove the egg from the dye and dry it off. Now you write on the egg again with melted wax on the areas you want to keep that colour. Then you dip your egg in the next darker colour, and so on. Once your design is finished, you gently heat the egg near a candle flame and wipe away the melted wax. To finish, you apply a few coats of varnish, let dry, and you're done. It's that easy! This year, I have decided to try blowing the egg for the first time. This is done after the egg has been varnished so it has more strength. I've never had the nerve to do it before, because if you break it, it's a lot of wasted time. For those who make large numbers of these eggs there are electric Kystkas and racks for removing wax on multiple eggs in the oven, but my production has never warranted these tools. Hope you enjoy the photo, and hope everyone had a great Easter Holiday!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Back to Business

We are back now, from a 2 week vacation in Mexico. We had an excellent time and ended up in the same location as last year. The Palladium Vallarta is a good 45 minutes drive north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. It is rated as a 4 1/2 star and was a pretty good value. They have the most awesome kids club program which my 6 yr old absolutely loved two years running now! They have a fairly organized list of activities going on through the week to keep the kids busy, but the list is flexible based on weather and the number of children who show up. It runs from 9:30am to 5pm and my boy would have spent every minute there if I would have let him. This year they did some decorative work in the kids club building and they have done a nice job of it. They put in a palm tree (fake) in the middle of the room with a circle of rounded desks surrounding it. Lots of nice jungle motif painting on the walls, and they were just making a cave like entrance way (on an Egyptian theme) into the front door as we finished our vacation. They have lots of play equipment for swinging and climbing, and have a host of planned activities like rock painting, plaster molding and painting, paper mache pinata making, beading, zoo tours, beach play time, etc. The staff running the kids club both years have been really great with the kids too. I am not exaggerating to say I had to make my kid spend time with me at the beach on this vacation, he loved kids club that much.
Aside from kids club, at the end of last year, the resort built a retaining wall out into the ocean to make a tidal pool which is perfect for kids to play in. At it's deepest, the water was about 3 1/2ft and the retaining wall was built wide enough to comfortably walk around it and even let people past you if necessary. There were beach chairs and palm umbrellas to sit under as the kids played, and the beach was perfect for castle building. This was also the best spot to find hermit crabs which Ike found very entertaining. The rocks past the retaining wall were also large and sturdy enough to walk on further into the ocean, and there were hundreds of crabs on them which would scurry away as you got near.
The main beach had some rocky sections in the water which you needed to keep an eye on if you were boogie boarding. Water shoes were quite helpful in this respect. The resort provided boogie boards, surf boards, kayaks, and catamarans all free for guests to use. Although I have never seen the sail boats in use as it was quite windy all during our stay. But it did seem to be a pretty decent place for surfing as there were almost away 6 or more people out surfing at any given time.

The main pool is attractively shaped with lots of palm trees around and plenty of shaded areas. There is a pool bar and a restaurant open from lunch until dinner serving a variety of salads, salsas and chips, hamburgers, pizza, fries, tacos, chicken fingers along with beer on tap, pop, juice and soft ice cream dispensers. There is a small wading pool for very little kids and periodic activities around the pool such as bingo, table tennis tournaments, aqua aerobics, darts, pool games etc.

There is also an adult pool which is very warm compared with the main pool which is not heated. This pool has built in seating and has an edge facing the ocean with an "endless pool" edge. From this pool you can look down onto the beach below and during the day could usually watch iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks.

While staying for the week there are 3 a la carte restaurants and one beach BBQ to choose from. You are allowed 3 dinners for a one week stay. This is a nice way to break up the sameness of eating every meal at the main restaurant. But be advised, you should book these at your very earliest opportunity, especially if occupancy is high. With a six year old kid that has played hard all day, a nine pm dinner may not be the most pleasant.

The food at this resort is more than adequate, although not at all opulent. It will not compare with fancy cruise type meals. There is quite a bit of variety, but the Mexican take on many dishes is apparent. There is always a lot of fresh fruit available and their desserts are often mostly cakes. I am not a huge cake fan, but I will say they do make good cakes. Usually torted and filled with a lot of whipped cream and soaked with syrups. And of coarse there is always the ice cream bar with toppings for the kids. They do a very nice job with pork and chicken but their preparation of beef is a little different. There is a pasta station open each lunch and dinner where they will prepare you your choice of pasta with add ins and choice of sauce while you wait. In the mornings there is a similar station for omelets. Also at dinner there is always something being prepared while you wait like pork chops, sauteed prawns, grilled chicken etc. Breakfast offers a huge assortment of hot items ranging form typical Mexican fare to the North American standards, plus yogurts, cereals, and lots of fresh fruits.

The local bus system can be caught right at the end of the drive as is very inexpensive. The ride to Puerto Vallarta is $1 or 10 peso and takes about one hour. Take the bus labeled Puerto Vallarta and it will drop you off at Walmart. The bus driver will give change so no need to worry about having the correct change if you don't have it. The Walmart was a good place to buy vanilla to bring back if that is your thing. They have some in the tourist souvenir section up front, but if you go into the grocery section they will have it much cheaper. I paid a little over $3 for a 500ml bottle but do read the bottle to make sure it's not artificial. To continue on the the downtown area catch another ATM bus this time labeled CENTRO and it will take you right down town. It will only be a ten minute ride. Here you will find lots of shopping in the huge indoor market near the RIO CUALE. I found the most lovely fabric store there on the main street with super cheap ribbon, rickrack, and buttons, not to mention oodles of fabric. I picked up 9m of ribbon and rickrack for $1.40. The process of buying there was a little different. First you get someone to cut your purchase, and they give you a sales slip. You take the sales slip to the girl running the till and she gives you a receipt which you then take to another counter where a girl bags your purchase checks your receipt and gives you your purchase. They did not speak a word of English there and it all worked out OK. Just be prepared that it might be slow going. If your like sewing supplies, it's a great little store. I will go back for sure if I have the chance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

If I Can Amigurumi.....Monkeys Can

Wow, I have not crocheted since I was about 13 I think. But there was this Amigurumi swap on swapbot that interested me because those little guys are so darned cute it's rediculous! Needless to say, since I am posting this, I decided to enter the swap. I found free patterns at Lion Brand's site, although I have read comments that the Lion Brand patterns are not "True Amigurumi", but they were cute enough for me. I should also say that I have never read a pattern for crochet, as the afghan I made as a kid was taught to me by my grama, so I don't know all the names of the stitches. In any case the pattern I chose was as simple as it could get, thank goodness.......I printed out two patterns, the pig and the octopus and started out making them both. I could not get Lion Brand yarn since for some reason they stopped selling at the Walmart here so I used Bernat acrylic worsted weight yarn or so I thought. Turns out my pig will be larger than anticipated because I accidentally bought the softee chunky when I should have went for the regular stuff (Satin). Oops, my pig is a little big. But I'll finish him and he'll be pretty cute I think. I did go back and buy the proper size when I figured out my error and got some purple to make the octopus. And here he is. Let me know if you can think of a good name. Out of the 100g ball I started with, I have 56g remaining, so there's enough to make him a relative. Wahoo!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Weekends are the Right Time for Baking

Weekends are just the right time for cooking something requiring a little more attention. This weekend, we'll be making some Pulla. Pulla is a Finnish coffee bread which means it is something suitable to serve with tea or coffee. It is a slightly sweet yeast bread with a healthy amount of Cardamon in it for flavour. When I make it I usually put in more Cardamon than the recipe calls for. It's almost impossible to have too much. Cardamon is something I don't use all that often but I do enjoy. But is it quite pervasive in other cultures, and can be found quite inexpensively in the East Indian spice section of your local grocery store. This recipe uses the convenience of a bread machine to do the work of making the dough for you.'s hardly any work at all.

There is a bakery, where I grew up in Thunder Bay, that has made this bread for many years, along with quite a few Finnish housewives I imagine. I was once told that Thunder Bay has the largest community of Finns outside of Finland. I don't know if that still holds true today, but there is a strong Finnish community in that area, with Finnish restaurants, Bakeries, import stores, and public Saunas. Growing up, it was a real treat to go with my family to Kangas Sauna where we would rent a family sized sauna room, and sweat it out! It was not until I was much older that I realized public saunas do not exist in this fashion in most other cities. When you checked in at Kangas and got your room key, you walked down the hall (much like a hotel) and found your room. Once inside there were generally two rooms, the sauna room and the change and shower area with sink, toilet, a place to hang clothes and curiously a sizable padded bench. Another Finnish hot spot is the Hoito. It is another experience not to be missed if in Thunder Bay. They serve up hearty Finnish meals for a good price. Always popular with the university crowd. If you do go there try something different and order some Piirakka, and their rice pudding is also nice. Kangas Sauna and the Hoito are both still in business today, as far as I know, and if you are ever in Thunder Bay, they are somewhere well worth the visit. Aside from having the family sauna experience, Kangas serves up the Very Best Finnish Pancakes you've ever tasted. Served with strawberries in light syrup and whipped cream, they are to die for. Now these are not to be confused with North American pancakes they are a thousand times better. The closest thing to them is a Dutch Panacoeke. In my house we make Finnish pancakes for breakfasts quite often for weekend breakfasts. But I digress......I best go and made some bread.