Friday, May 28, 2010

The Art of Stained Glass: Part 1

My husband, Tyler, has worked as a stained glass artist for over a decade now. It's actually how we met – funny story. It was 2002, my cousins had both left for college and my Aunt was a little worse for wear with both of her children gone. My mom, wanting to keep her sister's idle hands busy, decided they should take a class. She invited me along. After signing up at a local studio, a really long, twisted and fateful string of events led us to a different studio, right across the tracks from where I was working. Tyler was our teacher and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's a beautiful and amazing art form and seeing what goes into designing, engineering, building and installing these windows, makes you appreciate it even more. In case you're wondering, all the pics in this post were taken by me of projects Tyler has worked on. Much of the work his studio has done is restoration of very old church windows, but they also design new pieces for churches, synagogues, universities, hospitals and residential homes.

It's been exciting for me to get the chance to learn about this art form from such experts. It's something I've always admired but probably would have never had the chance to fully immerse myself in had I not met Tyler. I've had the privilege to help with various projects over the years and to build some pieces of my own for our house. As some of you may know, the studio where Tyler works is closing soon. We spent several months considering options for taking it over but in the end, we sadly decided it wasn't the right decision.

So before the racks clear out and the doors close for good, Tyler and I are building a couple more windows for ourselves and I thought it might be interesting for you to see the process step by step. While the window I'm building is small and simple compared to some, I'm going to share my adventure of creating it from start to finish.

What I love about being at the studio is that it's so different than being in my own studio. It's big, it's dirty, it's usually a total mess and there isn't a computer in sight. Even the cash register is older than my grandma. There are racks of glass and crates of lead stacked everywhere but you feel like such a renaissance man when you're working there, as the only thing different about the craft these days compared to it's beginning thousands of years ago is having the ability to plug in your soldering iron and listen to the radio.

So, shall we get started? The first step in creating a window is designing a pattern. The hardest part about this is understanding the limitations of working with glass. Not everything you draw can be recreated in a window, you have to consider engineering and understand the nature of glass. Certain cuts will cause weak points or breaks and certain cuts just aren't possible. You need the lines to connect and large areas need to be broken up into smaller pieces. That being said, you can still create your initial sketch to your ideal vision and then modify it as needed when you create the full sized drawing. For my window, I decided on a simple waterlily design, surprised? Didn't think so.

Once your initial sketch is ready, you begin the full sized layout, called a cartoon. This window will be about 13" x 40" when done. I first sketched out the drawing to match my original design and then began modifying to be 'glass appropriate'. Take for example the blade of grass shown above. It would not work as it is drawn in the upper right block, the sharp curve in the glass would create a weak spot that would break or give over time, plus it's a very hard cut to make. The bottom left block shows one option for modifying it, but it felt too claw like for me, so with a few more adjustments, I decided on the final design shown in the bottom right. Notice how the end of the grass blade continues down to touch the one below it, and how that piece continues off to the side. That's an example of how you break up large areas.

Once the full cartoon was sketched in, I had a couple more spots to modify, mainly the lilypads. Though I love the simplicity of them in the initial sketch, they had to be broken up into smaller pieces. I first tried more of a typical leaf vein pattern, but it just wasn't right, and I was very happy when I finally came to draw the more curved veins which stem out from the center that you see above. I think they maintain the shape and feel of the pad without detracting from their simple beauty too much.

When the full sized cartoon is complete, the next step is to transfer it to pattern paper, which is a thicker stock that you use to cut the pieces of glass. Some people layer carbon paper between the two sheets to transfer the design, but you can also trace using a light table. You first grid out your outside lines using a straight edge then trace in your drawing, keeping it clean and precise, and making any final modifications as needed.

Before you cut out your pattern pieces, you need to number both the cartoon and the pattern. Imagine having a bunch of little cut outs laying around and trying to piece them back together, talk about a puzzle! You first number your cartoon and then lay the pattern paper back down, writing in the numbers to match. My window only has 147 pieces, but a floral entry door Tyler recently created had over 1000. Yeah, this art form takes a lot of patience.

The next step is to cut up your pattern using pattern shears, which are different than normal scissors. Building a window has to be an exact science, as you often have a precut hole or frame that it needs to fit in. You draw your design to the exact finished size, but when you build the window, you have to account for the width of the lead that will go in between each piece of glass. If you cut the pattern without taking this into account, your window would grow in size and not fit into it's frame. As you can see in the photos above, the pattern shears have a single blade which cuts up into two parallel blades. This removes a small strip of paper from your pattern with each cut, allowing for the size of the lead. Ingenious, isn't it?

There are different sizes of lead that can be used when creating a window, so there are also different sizes of pattern shears, which remove larger or smaller amounts of pattern paper as you go. I will be using 1/8" lead on this window, which is the smallest. I like the look of the thin lead lines, especially with a design such as mine that has small details, you would lose them will bigger lead, which would cover the small pieces of glass when built.

Backing up just a bit, after you trace your cartoon onto the pattern paper and remove it to begin cutting, you lay a thick piece of clear glass on top of your original cartoon. This then acts as your guide for laying out the cut pieces of glass and eventually building the final window. You lay the cut pattern pieces on top as you go and once complete, you are ready to start cutting glass, which I will cover next time in part 2, so stay tuned!

Before I head off for a long holiday weekend, I will leave you with a few more beautiful, inspiring works of art. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend and I'll see you Tuesday for another week of fun!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In the Kitchen: Huevos Rancheros

If you love mexican food but have never tried this hearty breakfast dish, you're in for a real treat, which is also delicious for lunch or dinner! As with many dishes, there are a variety of ways to make it from how you cook your eggs to the ingredients in your sauce. This is how I love 'em, feel free to roll with it from here. This recipe makes four servings and you'll find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

8 corn tortillas, fried
6 eggs, scrambled
1 cup refried pinto beans
shredded cheddar cheese

Ranchero Sauce:
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes with their juice
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

To make the sauce, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, salt, jalapeno and garlic and cook for about a minute.

Next add the chopped tomatoes, chicken broth (can also use vegetable broth) and tomato paste and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the fresh cilantro.

You can certainly leave the beans out, but they add a delicious flavor and heartiness to the dish. You can use canned beans or make them any way you like. I make mine from scratch using dried beans. I soak and rinse them, then cook them in water with some chili, garlic and onion powders and some cumin. I drain out most of the liquid, saving it, then mash them up with my mixer. Add more liquid back in as needed and season again to taste with the same spices plus some crushed red pepper and salt, if desired. I make these when we have tacos and enchiladas and always have leftovers, which are perfect for this dish.

To prepare the tortillas, heat about 1/4" of oil (I use canola) in a non-stick skillet and lightly fry the tortillas until they begin to bubble and brown a bit, flipping as needed.

Lay four tortillas on a baking sheet and spread about 1/4 cup beans on each and top with another tortilla.

Next, top the tortilla with the eggs, followed by the sauce and finally the shredded cheese. I like my eggs scrambled, but you can also try this dish with fried, or even poached, eggs.

Place the baking sheet under the broiler on low for about 5 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. Serve immediately and enjoy!

The sauce and the beans can be made ahead of time and store well in the fridge, making this dish quick and easy to cook up when you're ready to eat. Add a side of tropical fruit or citrus salad and you have a hearty, impressive meal that's perfect morning, noon or night. My dad loves this dish, so guess what's on my Father's Day brunch menu!

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May Flowers: Crafting a Cork Board Garden

I was pleased as a pretty spring peony when Roxana of Illuminated Perfume invited me to take part in her newest blogging collaborative, May Flowers. Every day this month, a different contributor has been sharing their personal perspective on the theme and today is my day! In true lillyella form, I decided a springy floral craft project would be a great addition to the contributions so today I'll show you two ways to create pretty, functional cork board gardens.

What you'll need:
Roll of cork board
Scissors or an Xacto Knife
Templates (found at the end of this post)

I purchased my roll of cork from Staples for about $15 but you can look at any local office supply or craft store. You can also use squares of cork which you can find at many places, but you may be limited with the size of your pieces.

The templates I used for these projects can be found at the end of this post for download in JPG format.

Begin by printing the template and cutting out the pieces. Lay them face down (gray side down) onto your cork and trace around the edges with a pen or dark pencil. Cut out the cork pieces using sharp scissors and/or an Xacto knife.

Choose a piece of fabric you would like for the background and iron a piece large enough to fit your cork flower. The cork pieces you cut may be a little curly from being rolled. Ideally, unroll your cork and lay it flat for a couple days before using it, or you can iron your cork on a medium heat covered with a towel or piece of fabric.

Apply a clear craft glue to the back of each cork piece and use a brush or foam sponge to spread the glue evenly and then apply the pieces to the fabric. Be sure the fabric is smooth and taut as you go. (You can also use scrapbook paper in place of the fabric if you'd like!)

Once you have all the pieces glued in place, let it dry and then trim the fabric closely around the edges of the cork, following the shape of the piece in between pieces of cork. If you have some on hand or would like to, you can apply fray block or similar product to the edges of the fabric.

Next you will create a backer piece. Lay your cork flower face side down onto your roll of cork. Trace around the outside edge and then cut the piece about 1/8" smaller than your trace lines. Apply a good coat of glue to the backer piece and position the top piece centered in place.

Place it under a stack of phone books or heavy box to dry and flatten out. To hang it on the wall, you can use strong glue to attach small brackets, hooks or wire from a picture hanging kit or you can use double sided adhesive squares made for home decor use. You can also use a small headed nail and press the cork board into it. The piece is very light and as long as you don't tack anything very heavy to it, any of those options will hold just fine.

At the end of this post you will find the printable JPG templates for the smaller lily flower which measures 9.5" x 8" and the large rose which measures 14" x 10". The smaller flower will print on one sheet of letter size paper but the rose is broken up onto 3 pages. I also provided files for a larger lily flower which is not shown here, as well as a smaller rose that is shown in the project below. The files can be sized to your preferred dimensions when printed or on a copy machine as well.

Now if you like things a little more structured, here's another take on this project. You'll need a picture frame (the one I used is 8x10 size), some fabric and the cork.

Open up the frame and use the glass as a template to cut a piece of cork to the same size. You will not be using the glass in the finished piece.

Once the cork is cut, make sure it fits inside the frame. Next choose your fabric. You can decide on placement by using the empty frame as a guide if needed.

Apply a good, even coat of craft glue to your cork board rectangle and press the fabric smoothly over it.

Once dry, trim the fabric right to the edges of the cork and make sure it fits in your frame. If it's tight, you can trim the edges a bit. Close the frame up using the provided backer.

Print and cut out the small rose template (found at the end of this post) then trace the pieces onto the cork and cut them out as shown in the project above.

Glue them into place onto the front of the fabric and let dry completely before hanging. Voila!

Even though you have two layers of cork on both of these projects, it's still a bit thinner than your standard bulletin board, so you'll need to use shorter push pins and tacks or cut down some longer ones with wire cutters.

Now you can take this idea and run with it! Try fruit or vegetable shapes to hold recipes in your kitchen or use your kids' favorite shapes to create a piece for their room. As always, the possibilities are endless. I hope you have fun with this one!

Click on the name to download a JPG file

These templates are provided for your own personal use, please do not use them for commercial purposes or share them without my permission. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the Kitchen: Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Yogurt Frosting

I can hear it now, gingerbread in May? Well trust me, it's not just for Christmas. Chances are many of you have never made it, or have only made the popular cookie form, but this healthy, often all natural, dessert option can be baked up many different ways and may just become a new year-round favorite in your house. Yeah, I said healthy and all natural again! Sweetened with honey and molasses and made with whole wheat flour, today's recipe is for a light and moist cake version of gingerbread which is delicious all by itself any time of day or dressed up with a springy, lemon yogurt frosting for a unique dessert that will wow. You'll find printable recipe cards at the end of this post.


1/2 cup butter, very soft
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

A note on spices: If you like a milder cake, use 1/4 tsp cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp ginger. If you'd like a spicier cake, use 3/4 tsp cloves, 2 tsp cinnamon and 2 tsp ginger.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, spices and baking soda. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the butter, honey, egg and molasses, first with a spoon, then with an electric mixer on low until well blended.

Heat the water in the microwave for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until very hot but not boiling.

Add about 1/3 of the water to the flour mixture and stir well, next add half the molasses mixture, then another 1/3 of water, the remainder of the molasses and the last 1/3 of the water, stirring well after each addition. Once blended, whisk to ensure all lumps are out. Batter will be very soupy.

Pour the batter into a well greased and lightly floured 13x9 baking pan.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This cake is lightly rich, super moist and uber delicious when served all by its lonesome, but if you'd like to add a unique, refreshing zing, try this healthy frosting alternative…


3 cups Dannon lemon yogurt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
powdered sugar

You have some options with the ingredients when whipping up this frosting, but first you have to drain the yogurt.

Dannon brand works best for draining because it is made with pectin and contains no gums or additives. You'll want to start with three cups (four 6 oz containers).

You'll need a colander or wire strainer and cheesecloth or coffee filters. Line the colander with the cloth or filters, place it over a deep bowl and spoon in the yogurt. The bowl doesn't have to be large but make sure it's tall enough so that the bottom of the strainer doesn't sit in the draining liquid. You'll end up with about 1 1/2 cups of yogurt and 1 cup liquid after it drains, but you will only be using the yogurt.

Place it in the refrigerator for at least 16 hours (longer is ok!) until the yogurt drains and resembles the consistency of light cream cheese.

You are now you are ready to make the frosting. If you'd like to keep it as simple and healthy as possible, add 1/2 tsp vanilla and whip it up with an electric mixer. It will be on the thinner side, but not overly runny and will have a yogurt like flavor.

If you'd like a thicker, sweeter frosting with less of a yogurt taste, whip the 1 1/2 cups drained yogurt with 1/2 tsp vanilla, 6 Tbsp powdered sugar and 3 Tbsp cornstarch. You can then add additional powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it reaches your preferred level of sweetness.

You can also meet in the middle of the two recipes – it's pretty flexible! Don't expect it to spread like a thick buttercream or cream cheese frosting, but it's definitely thicker than an icing and a refreshing, healthy alternative. You can store it covered in the fridge for about a week, and if you're anything like me, you're already thinking of all the other treats that this frosting would be good slathered on…

A little bit of frosting goes a long way and you don't want to overpower the flavor of the cake, so keep it light. I also don't recommend storing the cake frosted, as it will make it a little soggy.

I find this cake most delicious when served slightly warm, so if you are not serving it right after baking, keep it stored in airtight container. Heat individual servings for about 15 - 20 seconds in the microwave and then spread a little frosting on top or serve a dollop on the side. Enjoy!

In the Kitchen: All Natural Brown Rice Pudding

As I start to share more all natural, sugar free and healthy recipes, I want to make a few points and distinctions about terms and ingredients. When I say something is all natural, it means that it's made of only whole, natural ingredients containing nothing processed or refined.

When it comes to sugar free, the lines blur a bit depending on who you are talking to. I personally call a recipe sugar free if it contains no refined sugars such as white granulated sugar, brown sugar or powdered sugar. However, most of those recipes do contain honey, rice syrup, molasses or fruit which are natural sugars, therefore technically not completely sugar free. Take it as you will.

Which leads me to my final topic of 'healthy'. If I say a dessert is healthy, I don't mean healthy like a bowl of broccoli so eat as much as you want, I mean healthy as in healthier than a piece of mile high mudd pie brimming with chocolate, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars. A dessert made with natural sweeteners and whole grains can still be high in calories and carbs, so always practice moderation when it comes to sweets, but at least you'll be eating natural, wholesome ingredients with some nutrients and proteins to balance out the natural sugars.

So now onto today's all natural healthy dessert! It's not called Brown Rice Pudding because it's brown, but because it's made with brown rice. For some ridiculous reason some day back in history, it was decided that we as a society prefer foods that are bright white and clean - white rice, white bread, white pasta. Why? Who knows. 'White' foods are simply overly processed, nutrient stripped and sometimes bleaches versions of their natural brown counterparts.

When it comes to rice, brown rice contains about four times more fiber, dozens more nutrients and also takes less energy to produce, therefore making it a healthier and more eco-friendly choice. If you're not used to eating it (plain), it may taste a little different at first, but when used in a recipe like this one, you won't even know the difference.

If you're a fan of rice pudding, please do give this healthy version a try, I was amazed at it's deliciousness and it's very easy to make. You'll find a printable recipe card at the end of the post.

2 eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups cooked short grain brown rice
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Using 2% milk makes a creamer pudding than nonfat milk, but you can also substitute plain or vanilla soy, rice or almond milk.

I'm not usually a fan of raisins in my food, but I love them in this. You can leave them out, however, if they make you think you're eating bugs, or you can sub in another dried fruit such as cranberries.

You may have just read the list of ingredients and thought, what is rice syrup? Can I find that here? It's a delicious natural sweetener, similar to honey, and you can read all about it here. You probably won't find it in your average grocery store but you can find it at any Whole Foods Market or similar health food grocer and you can also order it online. If you can't find it or don't have the time, you can also use honey in this recipe, it works just as well though I prefer the flavor of the rice syrup for this dish.

Now when a recipe calls for vanilla, use the pure stuff. It's important, trust me. Not only because pure vanilla is natural (rather than being synthesized from sapwood or coal extracts) but because it has a pure, spicy, delicate flavor that cannot be achieved with imitation vanilla, which can often leave a bitter aftertaste. I'll warn you now, you may be surprised to see the pricetag of a bottle of pure vanilla compared to imitation vanilla, but it is the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron, we just never realize because we're used to buying imitation.

Ok, ok, I'll get to the recipe now…

Begin by cooking the brown rice. You'll need 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice so check your package to see how much dry rice to make and for full cooking instructions. This recipe is also a great way to use up leftover rice you may have from a dinner or other recipe.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the the eggs, milk, rice syrup and vanilla until well mixed. Stir in the rice, raisins and cinnamon and mix well.

Spoon into a one quart casserole dish. Don't worry if it seems the rice and raisins are settling to the bottom and the cinnamon is floating to the top, it'll happen.

Bake at 350° for one hour, take it out of the oven, give it a good stir and sprinkle some additional cinnamon on top. Return it to the oven and bake for another 20 – 40 minutes until center is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

It's delicious served warm or cold, plain or with a garnish of whip cream or ice cream. Makes about 8 – 10 servings depending on who's dishing the serving size. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

And stop back this afternoon for another new recipe – Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Yogurt Frosting!