Monday, September 27, 2010

The Bead Booty From the North

This is part of what I brought home from our trip. The rest is small, and in separate bags, and I don't want to remove it or mix it up until I'm cataloging it in the BeadEnCounter software, and I'm ready to label it with its inventory number and put in it storage containers (as described in the post following the link).

As you can see, many of the strands are coral, turquoise, African trade beads or other semiprecious items. I've got some cherry amber (less expensive African amber) and not pictured, some strands of irregular amber pieces that I'm looking forward to using in pieces similar to my two previous amber fringed necklaces, one of which is picture here.  Only better.

Stocking up at Rubyiat, in Ft Bragg & Mendocino, is of great benefit to my budget, as Darwa and Ruby, the owners of these two shops, give a steep 50% discount when you purchase over a certain amount, or do wholesale.  I also stopped at the Rock Stop in Philo again. Except for the Rubyiat stops, though, I was extremely circumspect this year.

I did get some unique pieces this year at a busted-down, old-fashioned rock shop just north of Cloverdale on Rt 101. We stopped by after a drive to Ukiah, where bead stores were, well, a trifle disappointing.   There is allegedly a store called Beads N Stuff there on State St, but I'll be darned if we could find it, google maps or not. It just wasn't there, unless you were supposed to get in through the roof.

Bead Fever is a nice small shop with a Native American focus. I did find a wide selection of different lengths and colors of bugle beads there, which makes sense for Native-American beadwork. Otherwise, they have a small selection of just about everything. I'm guessing they're a lifeline for local beaders, who are otherwise a hundred miles from larger towns with more shops.

Anyway, back to the rock shop outside Cloverdale. Don't blink as you go around the curve on 101 or you'll miss it on the east side. The owner was outside cleaning, when we arrived. Just hosing them down and putting them on some broken-down display tables that had seen better decades. About 4 decades ago, that is. I wondered how many more he could cram on there without the whole shebang collapsing.

Inside the shop, more of the same.  There were signs outside about a "SALE!!" but he told us he was only there a couple of days a week, and this wasn't one of them. We just happened to catch him in and since we were there....  Everything inside was dusty, crammed together with little organization, and mostly unavailable to someone in a wheelchair. Much of it was raw rock. Most rock shops have a modicum of polished pieces to tempt the buyer but this shop seems to think we all have polishing wheels and rock saws at home.  And X-ray vision to see the gems inside.

But I asked about cabochons and he pulled quite a few cases from underneath something and I did find one very nice Biggs Jasper piece. I got a few carnelian cabs and a really unique strand of malachite drops with azurite, similar to the stones shown, except for shape.  The distinction between green and blue is very sharp in these beads, I can't wait to see what I make with them!

The picture at the top of the post is the last one before I send my camera out for service. I thought it was my fault that I couldn't get consistent, good pictures. Turns out the Canon Powershot line of cameras is prone to problems with the CCD chip inside, and Canon is going to fix it for free, even though it's out of warranty. But I won't have the camera for a week or more, depending on the UPS diligence, so no new pictures for a bit.

So, let that be a lesson. When you think it's your own incompetence that is preventing success, it might be the equipment!  I'm looking forward to getting it back in working order. Who knows what might show up then!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vacation Roundup

I got home to discover that about half of the photos I took didn't come out well. Right now we're not sure whether it's the camera or the photographer. Since some of the pics are good on either the top or side, but pink/purple and blurry in the rest, I'm suspecting the camera.

Anyway, a review of the vacation (food has already been blogged about, in great part) with photos that did come out.  So just a bit of food to start off with.

Taylor's Automatic Refresher is no longer Taylor's, though they've left the sign out front. The same family owns it, and the food is the same, but now it's called "Gott's Roadside." We suspect that it's time to try some of the other places in St. Helena and surroundings in Napa. If we're going to pay $40 for hamburgs, fish & chips and a drink, perhaps we ought to revise our expectations upward.  The food is good, very good, but there are so many neat places for foodies nearby, it's time to stop restricting ourselves to Taylor's.  Especially now that they've ditched the really cool name, though the motto "Tray Gourmet" is clever.  Not clever enough, though.

Next, we have John in his happy place. This is the front deck (well, the front if you count as we do, with the ocean being in the front yard, not the street side) of our rented home in Mendcino. It's directly across the bay, as you can see in the second picture, taken from the Mendocino Headlands park, looking back at the house, which is marked by a "V."

To the right is the hot tub, which John used frequently throughout our stay. We didn't get many starry nights, as there was a lot of fog early in the trip, but it's a pleasant spot. Okay, beyond pleasant. Heavenly.

One day we spent at the Botanical Gardens in Ft. Bragg.  This is a wonderful spot at any time of year, but in the fall, especially so. Though there is no classic east-coast-type fall foliage, more is in bloom than in any other time of year. They have an extensive heather garden, and most of it was blooming. The dahlia garden was extraordinary. We enjoyed it in the sun, and as we were leaving, they were setting up for a wedding there. What a fabulous place to get married. Flowers by God. 

The purple tree is a particular favorite of mine, the glowing of the sun through the leaves is extraordinary, and the contrast with the black-eyed susans (another favorite) is superb.
We spotted a small lizard on a lovely piece of driftwood in the underbrush. He seemed happy to pose for his portrait, sitting still while we crawled under the grasses and got his close-up. 

Nearby is what the garden calls "The Show House" where they shelter tender plants and gather potted species for show. I'm not a particular fan of begonias because often the plants themselves are unattractive. But I was blown away by the incredible blooms that jammed this place. Part of it was fuschias, but those were near the end of their season. Most was taken, on benches and hanging above, by humungous begonia plants. Some of the stems were 2 inches through. Some leaves were 6 or 8 inches in size. But the blooms were overwhelming. I took a few long shots, but they didn't come out, so the close-ups will have to do. I'm particularly proud of the first one, this orange, ruffly beauty.

The variety of the blooms amazed me. Some were single, others doubled or more, solid colors and variegated, blooms small to enormous. That orange one is about 12 inches across. No kidding.

Here's another picture from the Headlands, one where the sea cave whooshes out spray every time a wave enters it. None of my pics of the sea cave blowhole, which is further inland and open to the sky, came out. Drat.  Also the camera apparently thought I was taking pictures of grasses, so the sea cave itself is out of focus. Nice grasses, though!

Another day we walked the first 2.5 miles of the 10 mile path from Pudding Creek to MacKerricher state park. These lovely little poppies greeted me, along with ducks, deer, some very sassy squirrels, and a snake in the river we crossed over. That was fun, watching the snake swim.  The surf that day was great along the coast. I took this picture, thinking all the time that people would be amazed if I had turned around and shot inland. Where you would expect large, expensive, scenic homes, there is the butt-ugly back end of a cement plant in Ft. Bragg. Sigh. I'd build a house there.

These sights and sounds and surroundings are why we want to live in the Mendocino area. Soon. As soon as we can accomplish it. It was very tough coming back into LA, with the noise, the traffic and everything.  We have a real need to go back.

Next, I struggle with the camera to show the beads that were brought home!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bread Pudding of the Gods, With An Explanation

I've written before of my love of bread pudding, and rhapsodized about the BP at The Garage, in San José. But now, I have had a near-bread pudding to beat them all.

It is from the afore-mentioned Ft. Bragg Bakery, and isn't made of bread at all. It's made from day-old, leftover pastries. That's right, all the croissants, turnovers, puff-pastries and other goodies that aren't sold go into this "pastry-pudding."

Then they do the usual superb job on the eggy custard part, bake it to a smooth, silky perfection, and give you a little container of a sauce that tastes like eggnog to pour over the pudding. I've never had a BP so light and airy. It's not compacted like some of them, though compact is often very yummy.

I'm drooling just thinking about it. Although it's going to break my heart to leave Mendocino in two days, it's probably a good thing to get out of the proximity of the bakery, because I'd eat there five times a week.

Yesterday we spent several hours walking around the town, up and down the streets. In and out of the shops. There is a prime storefront/building for lease on Main Street, facing the Bay. For a little while, John & I fantasized about renting it, living in the rear and having a store-front/studio in the front where I could make and sell jewelry and beads while he wrote or did his scientific research.

Yah. Then reality hit. No residential at the site. Lease rate about $3/sq ft per month, so around $5,000. Way too expensive for living or studio space, whoever leases this place has to stuff it full of merchandise that will move.  Not that I really want to run a retail establishment. There is many a beader who thought running a beading supply store would be a good idea, only to find out that she no longer had time or energy to create anything after working retail hours and tending to the endless details of a store and employees and all that.

Ah well. It was a nice fantasy while it lasted.  These thought experiments often reveal to us the way our needs are evolving. It seems our primary need, stoked every time we come up to the Lost Coast, is to be somewhere quiet, with ocean, where we can spend time with our inner selves and create life the way we want it to be.

The primary thing I'm not looking forward to on returning home is the noise. Southern California is LOUD, and full of people. Also loud. Here the quiet is all encompassing, broken by wind, and waves, and wildlife.  Yesterday we walked out onto the Mendocino Headlands, to the sea-cave and blowhole at the outer edge. We could hear the booming of the waves in the cave below the cliff, and the hissing of the wind in the grasses of the bluff-top meadows.

Ah well. Back to real life, trying to make enough money to escape to our dreams.  I'll always have the memory of that Bread, er, Pastry Pudding.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Soup, Salad, and the Cookies They Serve in Heaven

Today, we visited the Ft. Bragg Bakery for the first time. If you've never been there, go at the first opportunity. If you have been there, you're a regular, because I can't imagine going there once and not returning.

This is the way food should taste. Always. Forever. The breads have a robust crust, chewy but not tough or prone to fracture into difficult chunks.  The inner texture is amazing, the taste sublime.

I had a creamy gazpacho, full of fresh heirloom tomatoes (I was once informed by a checker at the supermarket that this is pronounced "hair-loom," she was so concerned I get it right she made sure to correct me twice. I nearly split myself trying not to burst out laughing), cucumbers, and red onions. Fresh parsley livened it up, and the garlic was subtle yet persuasive. It was so perfectly seasoned I stopped wondering why there was no salt on the table. No need for anything served to be enhanced.

My husband ordered one of their individual pizzas, baked in the flaming brick oven behind the counter. The crust was thin and nearly cracker-like, the toppings and cheese perfectly proportioned. I tasted it but dove back into my gazpacho, preferring the crisp crunch of the diced veggies and the silky smoothness of the broth.  My husband left a few shards of crust, so I suspect he liked it.

We ordered a turkey-salad sandwich to share, made with Willy Bird's turkey. (WB farms turkeys in Santa Rosa, and has his own restaurant there. We've tried it, but although he's a fine farmer, his cookery is bland, without spice or salt.) The FBB made a sublime turkey salad, with lingonberry sauce, and served it on cranberry bread with arugula.  Once again, a winner.

We ordered some cookies to take away, as well. The chocolate-chips are baked to perfection, crisp on the outside, chewy inside. It has that perfect mouthfeel, where the crust, crisp with butter, crunches and the moist inside compresses between your teeth as the chocolate melts on your tongue. 

John is always a fan of molasses cookies, but after a lifetime of being tempted by store-bought versions and being sadly disappointed, I believed that I hated molasses cookies. Well, consider me enlightened. FBB's molasses cookies taste of ginger, cloves, and mildly of the sweetness of good molasses. No burnt-sugar taste as in the commercial versions. A bite fills your mouth with aromatic spicyness and sweetness. I had a hard time leaving the rest of the molasses cookies for John.

However, now no other molasses cookie will do for me. Next week I'll be over 500 miles from the FBB, and all their cookies, breads and wonderful soups, salads and sandwiches.  I still haven't tasted their blondie. And we didn't buy, but were mightily tempted by their apple turnovers, which looked like no other we'd seen. 

Everything in this place is perfected. Before I left, I proposed marriage to the entire kitchen staff. I'm still waiting on their answer.  They seemed to be considering it, because they're all very nice people, obviously passionate about their food, and about making their customers happy.  We will definitely return before our departure next week.  I'll take the engagement ring(s) with me.

The other day, I hinted at the best salad I'd ever eaten. This one I made myself. We visited the Mendocino Farmer's Market last Friday. There, we bought a head of ruby leaf lettuce larger than my own head for $3. I suspect it had been growing in the ground until about 11am that morning. We bought it at 12.  I had some cherry tomatoes from Gowan's Oak Tree, so sweet and flavorful they are like little tomato candies. I cut up a fresh MacIntosh apple, added some NY sharp cheddar and some scallions. A bit of locally bottled ranch dressing and ohhhh my. Just the very freshness of the ingredients made it the best salad I think I've ever had. 

Mendocino is not a cheap place to eat, but if you are careful about where you spend your money, you can get food that's as good as anywhere on earth, fresh, flavorful, and lovingly prepared and served. It's well worth the hunt. And I've taken the lesson about eating locally, because the quality of ingredients you get that way just isn't possible when shopping in the supermarkets. The closer it is to the earth, the ocean, the butcher or the hen's butt, the better the food is.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Forty-eight Hours in the Life of a Blackberry

The eat-local folks may have a point.  Not the one about saving fuel and energy costs, which may be largely a myth, but the one about quality and taste. 

On our way to the coast on Thursday, we stopped, as usual, at Gowan's Oak Tree, a wonderful fruit stand surrounded by apple orchards. Now is the harvest time for local fruits and vegetables, so they had a wide array of produce on sale, including some we'd never seen before. Lemon-cucumbers? Really? 

Among other things, we purchased a pint of local blackberries, ripe and plump in a sensual, fruity way.  When tasted, these berries were an orgasmic experience. They burst in the mouth and your tastebuds practically shouted "these are the best fruits you've ever tasted!!!" Yes, with that many exclamation points. Or more.  Frankly, they were more like tiny treasures than just another food.

Sweet, but not overly so, but it was the depth of flavor that was astonishing. So many nuances, you could practically taste the humming of the bees that fertilized the flowers, and the warm, sunny summer days they spent ripening in the sun. They must have been just hours from the picking when we bought them.  I've lived in houses with berry vines, and even fresh off the vine, they never tasted this good. These berries were grown by someone who knew how.

And yet...and yet. We brought them to the house in Mendocino, and to preserve them, we put in the refrigerator. We ate a few throughout the evening, and on Friday morning, they graced our breakfast.  They were still wonderful.

But on Saturday morning, they had become....just berries. No different from any berry I've gotten in the grocery.  Sometime in the last 24 hours, the flavor of heaven had fled. They've even hardened a bit and lost that vulnerable tenderness and softness to the tooth.  It was the time since picking or the stay in refrigeration, or something. Anyone who has never tasted fresh berries just picked probably couldn't understand the fuss over the loss of flavor. I certainly won't be expending a lot of money on supermarket berries now that I know how they should taste.

It was a sobering lesson on what we lose when we don't eat locally. 

And tomorrow I may tell you about the best salad I ever ate. Or beads. I have bead stories too. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bead Store Under the Wire

Wednesday we arrived in Tracy, CA with enough time to visit Ria Mia Beads, in the downtown shopping district. 

To our surprise, we learned the store was to close, as of Sunday, Sept 12. I found some interesting and unique glass beads there, including a nice little domino-looking bead. Fun!  I also got some seed beads, drops, in colors I hadn't seen before.

So now bead shoppers in Tracy will have to drive to the Stockton store, but it seems to me most people there expect to go to Stockton frequently.  We did have a fine dinner at the Texas Roadhouse near the mall in Tracy. The food was unexpectedly good, actually. So we've got something to look forward to on our trip back south. Tracy has become our regular half-way point.

Yesterday we made it to St. Helena in time for lunch at Taylor's Automatic Refresher, which isn't Taylor's anymore, really. The sign out front remains Taylor's but the building itself says "Gott's Roadside, Tray Gourmet" which is a funny pun in itself. Same owners and same food, so the change of name is a puzzler for me. But the Mahi Mahi fish & chips was as good as always, the picnic tables in the sun watching the endless parade of traffic up St. Helena's main street was entertaining as well. But I happen to think that "Taylor's Automatic Refresher" is a better name. More mysterious, yet tempting.

However, here's a hint for travellers. Whatever Google Maps says, don't trust it when taking a new, unfamiliar route unless you get a map printout of the ENTIRE ROUTE. Because sometimes, Google's driving directions are, shall we say, inconsistent with reality. Like leaving out approximately 15 miles and at least one turn in the middle. 

However, we realized our mistake (our mistake? I don't think so!) as we headed off into the mountains again and made a patented Allen-U turn, and only went about 10 miles out of the way. 

We arrived in Mendocino to sparkling weather, wonderful scenery, the house is as we remembered it. It's like coming home. Ahhhh. 

Today, the Farmer's market in town in Mendocino. Lots of recreating. Love it. High tide in about 3 hours. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two Bead Store Reviews

My husband suggested I accompany him to Chino last Saturday to meet an acquaintance for lunch.

My first impulse? To check for local bead stores in the area, of course.  Doesn't everyone?

We found time to visit two stores that were new to me. 

The first was Garden of Beaden, in Upland. Actually, I think I may have visited here about 8 years ago, back when my interest in beads was to embellish my art quilts.  In any case, we got there to find the front door of the shop blocked, for some building-related reason, and a sign directing us around to the side entry, through the lobby of the building. 

We walked directly into a beadweaving class in session, and both the instructor and the students were so welcoming. I was wearing my embroidered pendant with the ammonite, pictured here, and one of the students noticed it, and she started raving about it and the rest of them followed. I of course graciously removed the piece and let them pass it about and fondle it. I must say the stroking my ego got was very gratifying. 

Later the instructor showed me her work, she did a lot of fine, small beadweaving projects that were very pretty. Her class seemed to be enjoying the various projects they were working on. And, it's a lovely large class space too. It would be a pleasure to take classes there.

Once we got into the main store, it was a bit tighter for my wheelchair, and it took a bit of maneuvering to ease around some of the floor racks. This store has a "bit of everything" on its shelves, with what I would call a concentration of findings and the Tierracast pendants and charms the advertise on their website. I didn't have much time there as lunch was approaching. The help was lovely and friendly.

After lunch, we drove off to Bead It, in Chino. This is a small storefront. In the back of the store is a large class/gathering table. I suspect that at most times, especially on the weekends, you'll find other faithful customers and enthusiastic beaders at that table, working together. This store was more crowded, and a bit difficult to get the wheelchair through. They did seem to have a wider selection of findings in finishes you don't see often than most shops.

Once again, though, friendly staff brought me anything I asked about and helped with a small purchase. Both the stores above waived sales tax with a resale license, though neither offers further wholesale discounts. 

I'm looking forward to Mendocino. I have a smaller budget this time for purchases, but a better idea, I think, of where I want to go and what I want to buy there. We'll have a chance to visit new stores in Ukiah, too. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Even More Spiraly-er

Okay, that's not a word. But the Cellini spiral inspired (inspiraled?) me.  So I did another, varying the sizes of the beads.  I started with the 15/0s as usual, but instead of the largest series being 11/8/11, I made them 8/6/8. 

This results in a larger diameter spiral, with deeper inner radius. (these terms are probably not correct, but looking at the picture should clarify)  The width of the spiral is larger, and it's slightly less flexible than the thinner spiral.  

This one is done in silver seed beads with two sizes of glorious teal blue, one a teeny delica, the other a size 8/0. There are some silver-lined crystal 11/0s in there too. The magnetic catch is mostly hidden inside the spiral.  Since the diameter is wider, it probably will fit a smaller wrist, about 7", best.  It ended up with not as much room inside. That was unexpected when I began. 

This spiral has endless possibilities. I've picked out three more combos of beads to try, varying sizes, varying colors, just to see what I can make happen. Each one takes about 5 hours for a bracelet, I may do a necklace as well.  These are projects to take on my upcoming trip, along with the previously described embroidery project. I hope to have lots of time to bead while looking at the ocean. 

This spiral and the previous one are going up on Etsy, just to see what happens.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Project, Could be a Long One

I laid this out and got started today, on a project that will take me through an upcoming trip to Mendocino. The image is from a photo I found on Astronomy Picture of the Day, an amazing 360 degree fisheye shot of the night sky and a forest with dark hills and city lights in the background.  The photographer is Luc Perrot.

The circle of the image is 5.5 inches in diameter. I asked my husband the Math Guy to recall the formula for the area of a circle, and he tells me "Pi Are Squared" which after some clarification, I figure means that we're talking something north of 75 square inches here. Really? Yow! That's a lot of beads if I go for solid beading all over it.

But I had intended from the first to let the black ultrasuede background be part of the picture, only beading those areas that I want to not be black.  This is pretty heavy ultrasuede, part of the package of scraps I got a while ago from Fields Fabrics. So I won't need an additional stiffener for it. It will hold shape well by itself.

This is the palette of beads I chose. I'll be adding more, as I stopped by Beads Beads in Orange today and found some that will add quite a bit to the project. 

I also got a few different packages of beading needles. I was surprised on the spiral bracelet how much difference it made when I switched from a size 10 to a 13. Since the teeny part of the spiral is 15/0 beads, the smaller needle made pulling through much easier, rather than having to use a pliers to grab it, as I had to do with the size 10 needle. You'd think by this time I'd know that the right tool makes any job easier, faster and more pleasurable.

The final plan for this embroidered piece is going to include sewing it onto midnight blue ultrasuede, cut and sewn to fit over my old Kindle cover. I may further embellish the cover material around the black-backed embroidered portion. And I may decide to try to sell it.

In order not to infringe for my own profit on the copyright of Luc Perrot, the photographer of the amazing image, I will use his photo as inspiration only, and not copy the image literally.  I will adapt and change it to make it my own, and continue to give him credit as the inspiration. 

I will keep my faithful readers updated on progress on this project, as I always think it's interesting to view other artists' work in progress and you don't get to see a lot of that in blogs. 

I'm planning some other cool spirals too.  So stay tuned. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cellini Spiral, Easy, Fun, and Finished!

This one finished up quickly, I really enjoyed the technique.  This is the Cellini spiral I started two days ago. Picture is in the previous post.

Given my usual inability to follow instructions exactly or follow one single pattern from one end to another, I experimented in the middle with a color change. Only the large size 8/0 bead forming the spine of the spiral stayed the same, I changed out the red and blue 15/0s for gold  and purple, and the blue surrounding the spine beads with amber and opalized light green. The color change is beautiful. 

I worked it in slowly, first changing the small beads, working at least four rounds with a new color before changing the next in the sequence. The gold/green beads were not 11/0 cylinders, so the spiral wasn't quite as tight in twisting configuration, but it still looks good.

I decreased at the end of the spiral, then went back to the start, and worked a decrease there using the tail of the starting thread. I attached a gold-filled magnetic clasp, using beading wire and crimp beads, but it didn't look very professional, so I got out the needle again and worked a small peyote tube over the connection between the spiral and the clasp on each end, with matching colors. Now I like the way it looks. It's all solid and well fastened, and ended up exactly 8" long, so it will fit a 7.5" wrist perfectly. 

I think it's destined for Etsy soon. I need to get some pieces up there that don't cost as much, and it's certainly beautiful. I think I need to make a slightly longer bracelet for myself.