29 June 2010

Start Something

It all started with our neighbours, the Yelnatses (I would share Traci's blog link right here, but she's smart enough to keep hers private) giving me a bag of Amish Bread starter. (A bag of goo you tend for 10 days and then make a yummy bread out of, but not until you've divided your starter into three and given it away to friends, ie.," Friendship" Bread)   I've always wanted to do that.  I think I had the opportunity once but killed it.  I'm going to be nicer this time.  But it got me thinking about San Francisco sourdough bread and wondering if anyone had really old starter that they had kept going down thru the years, and wondering if you could know the provenance of your starter (or the pedigree, as M for Amazing says).  And guess what?  There's a whole world of info out there on this subject!  Isn't that just the way it always is when you follow one string of thought to where it leads, and then another string, and another.... ? So let me share the four best links and why they're good.

No. 1 is Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.  This sweet, generous old man would share his family's starter (which they actually used while heading west in a wagon train) with anyone who would send him a self-addressed envelope, or anyone who dropped by and asked.  Those who cherished their starter and kept it cultivated became "Carl's Friends".  Although he's passed on now, his friends keep his website and tradition alive. They'll send you starter, and they share their recipes, tips, and Carl's story.  It's a beautiful thing, I can't wait to get mine in the mail.

No. 2 is King Arthur Flour's Sour Dough Primer. (Do you say Prime-er with a long I sound, or Prim-r with a short I?  I'm the latter.  No idea which is correct.  I should look it up but that would probably lead to another post...)  What I like about this site is it gives you loads of information, quickly and simply, and it's not a blatantly commercial site at all.  They seem genuinely pleased to share their knowledge with no ulterior motive.  Refreshing. They also have their 240 year old starter that didn't go west, but rather stayed on the east coast getting nurtured by baker after baker.  They will sell you some, and give the info on how to get it, but they also share a myriad of other ways to get or grow your own.

That's right, you heard me, grow your own

Photo of Amish Bread via
An amazing discovery - you can "catch" wild yeast, and every region will have it's own taste, just like wine!  This astounding nugget of information led me to two awesome blogs, which coincidentally both happen to be kept by fellow Pacific Northwesters!  They have different styles and objectives, but are both intelligent, fascinating women : No. 3a  Not So Humble Pie is all about baking, and explains step-by-step how she brewed her own sour dough from scratch. She's clear, concise, and has pictures.  Just my kind of tutorial. No. 3b is Sustainable Eats, a woman who's committed to eating locally, growing her own, and promoting "Food Not Lawns" - which made me instantly have a girl crush on her.  Read her philosophies, she's great at putting her money where her mouth is.  She tried a technique for starter that she read about it the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  There are many more places that will explain how to trap your own wild yeast, but I liked these two best - Humble Pie for her clarity and confidence, Sustainable Eats more for her experiment in living.

And last but not least, is  No. 4 Sourdough International.  They sell cultures from all over the world.  I was all excited about Carl's 150 year old starter, but these guys have starters from Egypt that may go back to the very first starters man ever used.  Reading their product list is so entertaining!  Each region has different flavours, different reaction times, and different grains they pair well with.  Exciting stuff, at least if you're a nerd like me.  And if you're reading my blog, you probably are. :)


prim·er 1   (prĭm'ər) 
  1. An elementary textbook for teaching children to read.
  2. A book that covers the basic elements of a subject.

[Middle English, devotional manual, from Norman French, from Medieval Latin prīmārium, from neuter of prīmārius, first, from Latin, from prīmus; see prime.]
prim·er 2   (prī'mər)   
  1. A cap or tube containing a small amount of explosive used to detonate the main explosive charge of a firearm or mine.
  2. An undercoat of paint or size applied to prepare a surface, as for painting.
  3. Genetics A segment of DNA or RNA that is complementary to a given DNA sequence and that is needed to initiate replication by DNA polymerase.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Miffl

27 June 2010

One More

It's NieNie's birthday today, and Christian has unlocked her blog so well wishers can comment.  Normally this would be a little too public mob for me, but I think quantity might be just the ticket to help her through her latest challenge.  So I encourage you to not worry about erudite sentiments, but just pop over and add your snowflake to the avalanche.  It's rare that such little effort can add up to something so nice.

25 June 2010

Gone, Man, Solid Gone

I've been wanting to paint the Umbra OH chair I got at a garage sale (for $5!) for quite a while now. I liked it's odd, sickly ghost green colour, but I didn't know if I liked it enough to keep the entire chair that colour - I wanted more of a subtle hint of *pop*.  So I decided I'd paint it white, but keep some of the original colour showing by sticking a design on that I could peel off after spray painting with plastic fusion paint. I wanted it to have a mid-century modern feel, but I knew I was too lazy to work hard at it.  I had some Helvitica 2" adhesive letters and numbers, so I took all the "O"s and Zeroes, the insides of the sixes, nines, and eights, and cut a few eights in half and stuck them on in what I hoped would be a design reminiscent of fifties atomic olive patterns. And it's awesome! I love how it turned out! It's so rare for me to like what I create, but I keep tip-toeing into my bedroom to stare at it in delight :)

24 June 2010

Double Feature

Two little baby boys made their debut in our family and I haven't given them a good welcome, so, now playing: Atticus and Finn! (Actually, they're not playing yet, mostly sleeping....haha)  They are both cute as a button and have been given great names, names to live up to.  I saw a t-shirt online that said, "What would Atticus do?"  That says it all, simply and profoundly. Any other "What would?" shirt would be a joke shirt, (such as) but What Would Atticus Do? is almost on par with What Would Jesus Do?, and you can't say more about character than that.   And though little Finn wasn't necessarily named for Huck Finn, he's not such a bad guy to model after.  Although Huck Finn was on the surface a bit of a rapscallion, he and Atticus were woven from the same cloth.  Finn was very discerning; truth couldn't hide from him.  He always saw through the camouflage and knew what was really there - the heart of Widow Douglas, the fierce will of Mary Jane, the humanity of Jim.
"I knowed he was white inside."
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Huck on Jim, Chapter 40
Not only did Atticus and Finn see truth, but they had the courage to defend it.  I hope that's something our family does as well, so that these little loves have a good world to grow in.

Atticus left, Finn right

22 June 2010

Keeping an Ion...

Some people wear their true love's photo in a locket around their neck.  I think it would be more honest if I wore this necklace by raven of Molecular Muse - it's the molecule for chocolate.
Speaking of chocolate (and when are we not?) In Praise of Sardines' Brett Emerson explains step by step how you can actually whip chocolate - the way one whips cream to make whipping cream or butter.  Chocolate has enough fat in it that it can literally be whipped into fluffy mounds.  All by itself, nothing added. Discovered by those crafty Molecular Gastronomers. That's gotta be good.  If that whets your appetite, Think Geek has a Molecular Gastronomy starter kit - just looking at the cola caviar makes my mouth salivate, I can just imagine that burst of flavour.  I envision them being like little, juicy mandarin orange beads - I hope they're not corn starch globs. How disappointing that would be! Go here for a recap of My Last Bite's fruit caviar adventure, which seemed to turn out much more fun and promising than Julie's Kitchen.
When you're done with your culinary amazingness, It would be very apropos to display it all in a nice Bucky Bowl, named in honour of Buckminister Fuller,  inventor/discoverer of the geodesic dome and buckey balls.

18 June 2010


Letters catch my eye wherever they pop up - eye charts, license plates, telephone poles, signage, and most especially abc charts, blocks, and books.  You would think that once you'd seen one alphabet book you'd seen them all - but no, seen one, NEED MORE.  And I really wonder if it's something about the inherent graphic nature of our latin based alphabet because I've looked at some Hindi alphabet primers and even though they are beautifully illustrated they don't hold the same appeal.  Or maybe that's my bias to my native language? Or perhaps that magical pull letters and books seem to have is more about the charm of childhood memories than design?  I would be curious to know if alphabet books are regarded fondly worldwide irregardless of language family (Geek fact: As of 2007 there were 6,912 living languages cataloged).  All I know is I could buy every abc grammar book out there and still have my eyes on the next one about to be published...

So, a good place to start with this subject would be with this reprint of one of the oldest known alphabet cards, from 1782. My understanding is that these were originally published in newspapers to help boys read.  Girls were not supposed to read newspapers, or learn to read, for that matter.  But I bet some did.

I personally don’t find this type appealing, but it brings back very fond memories of this book:

My youngest son was obsessed with this book when he was little and was constantly twisting his body into abc shapes.This type of alphabet primer is very appealing to those who learn kinesthetically.

And while this vintage book qualifies as kinesthetic, it’s here just because it cracks me up. I’m sure my kids would have a lot of fun mocking it now. Mimes + xenophobia = comedy central at our house.

But, I digress, back to alphabet primers for tiny ones… I think there’s a pattern to how children note these wall cards. I believe that first they see the bold simple graphics, then, as they grow older they start to realise the correlation between the letter and the picture, and then, if there are subtleties to the design, they pick up on those and feel proud of themselves for “decoding” the card. So my favourite cards have all three of these elements, but at the very least they must have strong, charming design, Such as these Hardware Alphabet cards by eeBoo. These cards actually started the whole idea for this post in the first place. Luv their retro design and clean lines! About a year ago Pip and I stood in WindUpHere staring at these for a long, long time trying to decide if they were too boyish for her nursery, but now it's a year later, she's had her second boy (yay!) so we’re saving up our change! *ching, ching*

The following are more examples of cards I think would be engaging for young children: (BTW, these are products I enjoy artistically.  Speaking about them here in no way means I endorse their pricing.  I'm not saying they're unreasonably priced, I'm just saying we all need to live within our means.  When we can afford these sorts of items, I fullheartedly believe in supporting artists, and local artists even better.  But you can be an artist, too.  Nuff said.)
These cards, from Bob's Your Uncle, are a
perfect example of bold design - and they
encourage curiousity by showing just part
of the animal, - the entire animal is shown
on the back with some info.
This one makes me think of M for Amazing.
Go see the rest, the T is for Town one is my fave.
Though not my favourite, I think kids would find
it enticing to read this alphabet poster in order.
For these wall cards John Carrera has gone
thru old dictionaries and pulled out their
illustrations - loved those as a kid, love
them even more now.
The art in Strawberryluna's Etsy shop is so
cute, but I could never afford the whole alphabet! ($16 a card)
I really like this little hen, but I can't
remember where I found her!
Another example of vivid art with loads of child appeal.
Found on the third page of CastleintheAir's catalogue.
  These work for young children, and then
someday they'll find they can read the
cursive and be quite pleased with themselves.
Charley Harper.  What's not to love? All his art is wonderful.
JHill Design's cards remind me of illuminations.
Great art to expose your child to!
I thought these gorgeous cards were vintage, but it turns out
they're Martha Stewart! The zebra stripes just kill me.  Her site
no longer sells them, so if you find some somewhere, let me know!
I absolutely adore, adore these!  I just don't know
if children would be immediately drawn t
o them.  I think I might be forcing their design
asthetic but...what's the matter with that?
If you're going to get them hooked
on good art, you may as well get them addicted
to typography while you're at it! 
Alphabeasties will do both.

(Once you've introduced them to that world
you can spend a tidy sum (ie, small fortune)
and wallpaper their room
with this Fawn and Forest Wallpaper.)
These are such wonderful eye candy! I can just hear your child
spinning new synapses. Each letter is very creative,
there will be lots to discuss as you turn these pages.
Once they’ve mastered the abc basics, you can introduce a little more sophistication into their lives… Like The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Seeger. Your child begins with a picture, then flips the page to reveal a letter.  Besides the fun of anticipation, your child may find that this helps them remember their letters more easily, due to the picture being an integral part of the letter's shape.

Every blog about alphabet cards has this poster in it, but how can I resist? The subtlety of asking the child “Where is m?” is just delightful. Someday they will realise that there was a design reason to make the poster this way, and that will be a fun “aha” moment for them, too.  And if that's not enough reason to like it, this is designed by a married couple in their home. 

When they are older they will love the nonsense of these alphabet personalities

The authour of this book calls it The Rogue Alphabet, an Alphabet of Difficult Words.  Unfortunately, it hasn't been published yet!  A shame, because boys would love it.
I wish they would reprint this vintage book. It makes me laugh every time I read “M is for a dead, dead moon.” Oh! I thought it was only mostly dead…

Not really on topic but I stumbled upon these Ray Bradbury covers and was tempted beyond my ability to resist…

Julie Morstad’s flash cards aren’t quite as straightforward as some of the others. Whereas “U is for Umbrella” is the type of thinking children are used to, “H is for Hiding” will make them have to stretch their wee minds a bit. It’s good for them.

And Ida Pearle takes it even further. Your child will have to scrutinize these picture and discover for themselves the alphabet correlation. They’ll have a delightful sense of accomplishment when they figure it out! 

Now we move into what I call the Do It Yourself Catgegory. Although these books/cards exist, once you introduce them to your child, you two can go on an odessey to create you own.
Top four from Alphabet City by Stephen T Johnson
Check out Debra Fraiser's A Fabulous Fair website -
it's filled with ideas and games to go
with her book, including a printout pages to take to the fair.
Walking to Jericho's hand-coloured Poloroid art
just makes me giggle a little.  Doesn't it fill you with the desire
to go make something?  I get all giddy inside when I imagine
little kids labelling and photographing their toys.
This one from warpeDesign is particularly good for incorporating more senses into the learning process. Your child can make their own version of this, or you can cut letters out of sandpaper or various other textures, or move dried beans, rice, or macaroni into abc shapes – or fingerpaint them with yogurt! Feel, smell, touch, taste - powerful memory makers. If you figure out a way to let your child hear letter shapes, let me know!
I found this on SchoolofTots.com - a site that's
apparently no longer working - but I love how
they often incorporated the actual letters
into the pictures, and of course the bible theme
is an extra nice touch.

These three are from DP Sullivan's Flikr page.  Handmade.
So whimsical!  You can actually find a lot of Alphabet
work on Flikr - go exploring!

Violet Lemay's My Foodie ABC: A Little Gourmet's Guide
The following are for parents who play Mozart to their unborn child, buy black and white mobiles, baby einstein videos, and enroll their child in an ivy league preschool the day after they conceive…

I love this Etsy shop's motto:  "Geek up the nursery!"
Everyone mentions this one, but what can I say?  When it's good it's good.
Jason Dent's The ABC's of Branding. See how much
we've been subliminally influenced.
And let’s face it, the rest of these aren’t really for the kids. Totally for the young at heart and awesome.

Indie Rock Alphabet. Indoctrinate your child now.
The Onomatopoeia Alphabet. (own-a-mawta-pea-a)
Onomatopoeia, Onomatopoeia,Onomatopiea.
Isn't it totally appropriate that this word
just begs to be said out loud?  Your twelve year
old son and hubby will love it. They will
drive you crazy adding their own sounds.
Neil Cameron's A-Z of Awesomeness.
This one is absolutely dedicated to my boys. :)

I told you it would be long.
And I haven't even shown you the number cards....