Friday, 5 February 2016

Jewelry Making and the Meaning of Life

Even as a very young child, I have always been interested in gemstones and jewelry.  One of my earliest memories of my paternal grandmother is of me sitting on her lap and looking at her brooch.   As you can see from the photo, it was one of those vintage Aurora Borealis rhinestone pieces that were so very popular back then (1960’s).   I am very fortunate to have inherited that lovely piece of jewelry as a memento of my Grandmother, and it is something I treasure very much. 

I never considered myself to be a particularly creative person, especially where crafts are concerned.  I read a lot about jewelry and gems, but it truly never occurred to me to try my hand at making something myself.  That is until I signed up for a Metalsmithing workshop in 2012.  Now, you might think that the classroom where people go to learn how to make jewelry might be all pink and fluffy with women sitting around the table smiling while putting wooden beads on a string, stopping only occasionally to hold hands and sing Kumbayah.  But you would be completely wrong.

I walked into the classroom and was bombarded by hammering and sawing, the whine of some sort of sanding tool (which I found out later is called a Foredom).  Everywhere were razor sharp scraps of metal and pots of caustic liquid on the counters.  There were huge exhaust fans to ensure any toxic fumes didn’t reach our lungs, and myriad tools and vices on every table.  A small station to the side had something that looked like a modified anvil where someone was tapping out some metal to give it texture.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  My senses were completely overloaded and I felt….I felt like I had come home.  The skies opened up and the birds started singing.  Suddenly I felt like my whole world made sense.  And one thought kept thundering through my mind.  Why hadn’t I been doing this all my life?

I spent the whole day in that classroom, sawing and swearing, sanding and dapping.  I learned how to string a wire-thin saw blade into a frame and to hold it just so, so that I could cut the metal to the shape I wanted.  I learned how to make earring wires and simple wire wrapping loops and how to put it all together to create something new.   It took an entire day of trial and error and patience and hard work (you wouldn’t believe how labour intensive metalsmithing can be!), but I persisted and I was able to finish my first ever pair of earrings.  I learned a lot that day – maybe most importantly, I learned that I have something creative inside me.  Something that has always been there waiting for exactly this moment to show itself. 

Here’s a photo of the earrings I made (yes I am aware they look like fish hooks – not surprising considering the family I grew up in).  They aren’t vintage, or expensive, but I made them.  I came up with the design, bent and rolled the wire, cut, sanded and textured the metal.  I started with raw materials and finished with something I made with my bare hands.  I walked out of that classroom elated, exhausted, and totally surprised.  It was amazing.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Old Fashioned Meatloaf - More than a 70's Band

Cup your hand and hold it in front of you.  That is known as “this much” and is a measurement that has been used by cooks throughout the ages to signify anything from ½ teaspoon to 6 cups.  Fortunately, this is the type of cooking I was taught by my Mom and various other family members.  They all used these types of measurements whenever I asked “how much” of something to add.  The same types of instructions can be found in older recipe books.  The best old recipe books are not in pristine condition.  They have flour and dried cake batter on the cover.  Some of the pages have stuck together or have grease stains on them from oil or butter (probably butter, because what else would you use!).  And if you’re very very lucky, they have notes along the margins, handwritten by the recipe’s owner.  “Freezes well”, “don’t brown”, “excellent cookies”, “Dad’s favourite” – these are the true indicators of whether or not a recipe is worth your time. 

Some of the instructions can also give you a glimpse into a different era of cooking.  In a time when most of the family’s nourishment came from a wood stove, listing a temperature really wasn’t of any value.  Some of my old recipes say things like “bake in a fairly hot oven until done”.  I love stuff like that - it really speaks to the concept of learning how to cook, not just what to cook.  And of course, some of the very best foods are the simplest.  Take for example meatloaf.  I had the opportunity to cook for my family the other night and decided to go with a really old fashioned classic instead of any new aged haute cuisine.  What could be more basic and homey than meatloaf with tomato topping, mashed potatoes, and broccoli with cheese sauce?  So today I will share with you my recipe for homemade meatloaf, including two variations should you feel the need to get a bit fancy.  I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do.

Good Old Fashioned Meatloaf

1 to 1 ½ lbs ground beef (I like extra lean, but use what you like and drain the fat as needed)

1 egg

½ cup chopped onion (or about “this much”, see above for explanation)

½ to 1 cup fine bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional toppings:

Once the meat is in the loaf pan pour a can of tomato or cream of mushroom (or any other kind of cream soup) over the top of the meat (do not dilute the soup).  Spread the soup evenly over the meat and put the whole thing in the oven.

Cooking Method
Preheat oven to 350F.  Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands.  Add more breadcrumbs if the mix isn’t holding together and feels a bit too wet (you should be able to form a patty or meatball and it holds together).  Press the meat mixture into a loaf pan (you can also use an 8 x 8 cake pan, but shorten the cooking time if you do).  There should be about an inch or so from the top of the meat to the top of the loaf pan to allow for the fat to escape without spilling over in the oven.  Here’s where you would add a can of tomato or cream of mushroom soup (for fancy meatloaf).  Place the loaf pan on a small cookie sheet and place in the centre of the oven.  Bake until done (about 1 hour) – drain any fat about half way through cooking.  Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and enjoying.