Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stretching the boundaries

   My stitching activities have been dominated for the last few weeks by a temari project much bigger and more elaborate than anything I have tried before. I'm taking an on-line class taught by Barbara Suess on how to make her Grandmother Star ball. The ball is really huge—the diameter is over 5"/13cm. Even holding it to wrap the ball was a bit challenging, in spite of my long fingers. I made the ball's core out of coffee husks so it's a hefty ball but it has a very nice slightly soft feel. As part of the preparation steps, I also had to master making a really good C10 division and then further divide it to have 32 centers.
  Fortunately, this challenge was broken into five weeks of lessons. Each week we could download very clear instructions as well as watch a video of Barb showing us what to do. The lessons were extremely detailed and clear, but in case of questions we could ask questions in a Yahoo group for our class. Here's my ball after finishing week 3 of the class.
  Besides the grandmother star Ball, each week's class had another design that we could do on the off chance we didn't already have enough stitching to do. I found it useful to take a break from my big ball and do something a little smaller and easier. I stitched another pattern by Barb called Maritime Stars which can be purchased separately from her web site. I love those swirls and they aren't nearly as hard to do as they look. Of course, with my congenital inability to follow directions, I chose radically different colors. I'm pleased with the very sunny quality of my orange and yellow version.
 This week I've been stitching all the tiny stars on the big ball. (There are 32 of them.) I've now stitched enough that I could take a picture showing what it would like when finished. What you can't see in this picture is that the back side doesn't have any stars. I've put a temari of the size I usually make next to it to give an idea of scale.
When I got tired of stitching those many small stars, I did one of the other patterns included in the course, which was relatively fast and easy. It's called Open Stars.
Only 18 more little stars to go—and I'm planning to do them gradually as the mood strikes me, in between working on other projects. I like how quick many temaris can be done since that gives me a chance to fool around with more colors and designs but it has been a fun accomplishment to learn how to make this ball.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A matter of perspective

   Birdwatchers often remark that there should be guidebooks showing the undersides of birds as that is often all you can see. When we heard something fall right next to us on the path and looked up, we didn't need any special guide to know that the bird right over us was a Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor).
We could still see it's blue facial skin and red eye, but most impressive were the fluffy thigh feathers that guidebooks don't even mention.
   On the same outing, we saw this Striped palm pit viper (Bothriechis lateralis) sleeping in a tree at the entrance to the Santa Elena Reserve. Fortunately for the sake of identifying it, we could see the thin yellowish line bordering it's belly.  Twan Leenders' Guide to Ampibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica says this snake is "common in Costa Rica, but because it is camouflaged and usually immobile, it is rarely seen."
Agreed. Even after someone told us which tree it was in, it took us a while to find it.
   Sometimes it's not the birdwatchers that are looking up. This Golden-browed Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys) seemed to be checking out what its friends were doing. It was in a large ficus tree with a couple dozen of the same species, feasting on the abundant fruit.
Frogs sitting in their little pond inside a bromeliad plant really has no choice but to look up. This little tree frog happens to have a home on a low branch and we've visited him twice and seen how much he can grow in a week. A guide said it was one of the smilisca frogs that are very common in Costa Rica. This is the first I've seen in the wild; I think a lot of them live in bromiliads that are well above human eye level.
Finally, it's fun to get down to bug level when possible. This leaf mimic was recently walking across the porch at The Ecolodge at UGA Costa Rica.
By the way, if you are really curious about the weather in the Monteverde area, check out UGA's weather site. Just keep in mind that around here elevation really affects weather, so it can be warm and sunny in the upper San Luis valley and cool and misty at the nearby Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lessons from my Costa Rican kitchen

Cooking isn't radically different for me in Costa Rica. It's easy to get many of my favorite ingredients such as pasta and olive oil. The fruits are fantastic and the vegetables, while limited in kinds, can be very fresh—although many of them come to market larger than I would prefer. (The average beet is the size of a large grapefruit.) However, certain ingredients are impossible to find—such as grapefruit. The fun part of the adventure is that some things are really different. These are some of the important things I've learned cooking in Costa Rica:

1. My gas oven has the numbers 1 through 4, indicating the size of flame.  Acting as the human thermostat, I check the temperature often, but fluctuations happen. It turns out that the exact temperature of the oven doesn't really matter as much as cookbooks say. And by the way, having the gas tank run out in the middle of baking something isn't necessarily a disaster. I even had a cake survive a massive drop of temperature when the tank ran out.
   I bake all of our bread because I like it a lot better than bread I can buy here.
2. Fresh home-made tortillas are great, especially when you can buy them at the near-by store when they are still warm. Make a cheese quesadilla, cut up an avocado and have a juice like watermelon and it's a fast and easy lunch.
3. You can make great brownies and cake with cocoa instead of baking chocolate. See my post about brownies.

4. Use what's available. Don't head to the store with a fixed idea of what you want; get what looks fresh or good. There are lots of good ways to cook carrots if that happens to be what you can get.
5. If you have a smaller fridge things don't get lost and don't spoil.

6. Instead of maple syrup, watered down guava jam is really good on pancakes.

7. I really miss tofu. I know it has almost no flavor but I still miss it. Best substitute for the tofu craving: texturized vegetable protein cooked with ginger.

8. Enjoy the fruit and try all the new ones you can. The fruits in this photo are sapote and grenadilla. Sapote is the only fruit I've had that I actually thought was too sweet. Grenadilla is similar to passion fruit and its juice makes a heavenly smoothy with yogurt. Just put the center part in the blender including the seeds, liquify and then strain through a sieve. The seeds are edible so having seed particles go through the sieve isn't a problem. They are ripe when the shell is dry and the seeds move around when you shake the fruit.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My traveling rainbow

   It's impossible to get embroidery thread other than floss in our little mountain town in Costa Rica. Because of my interest in temari, this year I brought a box of #5 perle cotton wrapped onto bobbins in a wide variety of colors. I'm really looking forward to using as many of them as I can.
   Japanese temari are often made with rice husks as their filling. I think that coffee husks are similar and last week I walked to a coffee plantation where I know the people. It's coffee harvest time here, so a very good time to ask for husks and they gave me an ample supply. (For scale, the scoop is one cup.) Normally they use the husks as mulch, which they refer to as organic fertilizer.
  I've already stitched a few temari since we got here.
The nitty-gritty: I found instructions for the swirl pattern at on page 9 of patterns. I used them on the blue swirl ball. However, I wasn't happy that the polygons I got were very irregular and the diamonds were hard to stitch. So Mr. Rududu did some spherical mathematics for me to improve the pattern.  Here's my improved method, which gives regular hexagons and squares:

1. Mark a simple 4 division with an equator.
2. Measure the distance from the north pole to the equator.
3. Multiply that number by .295 to get the number from each center to corners of the hexagon.

The result is an Archimedian Polyhedron  called a "truncated octahedron" described in about 260 BC by Archimedes. The famous knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann calls this "unventing" something because many people use the same ideas and there's not that much new under the sun. I used this method to stitch the white swirls.
   The other temari is a variation of a pattern called Belts and Buckles by Robin Stein. It can be found here. I left out the buckles for lack of space but am very happy with how it looks. I plan to do a picker version and put in the buckles.