Saturday, November 21, 2020

Advent Calendar 2020: Virtual Culinary Tourism


A garland of exotic goodie bags

This year’s advent calendar is tailored for a fun-loving, globe-trotting family with adventuresome tastebuds. After being trapped like rats for the bulk of the year, it is time for them and their tastebuds to have some fun. This year, the eleven- and nine-year-old recipients have been instructed to assume command of daily taste testings for themselves and their parents.

Step One: The Bags

The focus this year in terms of materials was tapping into old supplies on hand, including your standard brown paper lunch bags left over from my early-pandemic paper bag wall, lots and lots of Chinese good luck paper used in rituals for the dead, and metallic puffy paint to jazz things up.

Lots of paper collage for bag fronts

For the bag backs, I collected an assortment of interesting food facts from around the world on the internet - from a research finding that hot chocolate tastes better in an orange cup, to a culture that eats giant fried spiders, to the fact that goat is the most-consumed meat in the world. The bottom of each bag identifies the contents’ country of origin.

The backs: weird food facts

Step Two: The Contents

To my amazement it turns out that international snack assortments are a thing. Apparently some people have been going on virtual tastebud tours for a while, ordering different snack packs from foreign climes for entertainment. Simply google “international snack packs” on Amazon. I settled on three:

Japanese “dagashi” (classic snacks) assortment

Russia/Ukraine assortment

Turkish assortment

Each advent bag contains two to three snacks from a single of origin. Because the labels are in the language of the country of origin, the recipients have no idea what to expect. For added thrills I decided to make December 15 a high-challenge snack day and threw in the following cricket assortment.

Flavored crickets!

Step Three: The Garland

For the garland I used a long stretch of recycled lace from the Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. In accord with the exotic food theme, I dyed it in a pot of boiling water with turmeric root. At about this stage in production I realized my predominant color theme seemed to be orange, which is decidedly un-Christmasy, but I figure along with stretching their tastebuds they can stretch their aesthetic sensibilities as well. So a very orange Christmas to all! Each bag has a hole punched through the top, secured with a twist of gold or silver pipe cleaner, which is then used to secure the bag to the garland.

Turmeric-dyed lace

Pre-Advent Kickoff Event

Because this has been a trying year and we need all the amusement we can muster, I also included a pre-advent kickoff event. In China people burn offerings to send them to dead ancestors and loved ones on special occasions. Paper replicas are used to duplicate just about anything the dead might desire, including food. I picked up this seafood feast at a store for the dead in Oakland’s Chinatown. It includes the seafood ingredients, a wok, seasoning bottles, and an electric burner - all made of paper. For their kickoff event - to take place any time prior to December 1 - the recipients are instructed to use their backyard fire pit, invite all of their dead relatives who would really enjoy a seafood feast, burn the offering, and merrily sing a song of their choice.

Seafood feast for the dead (foot included to show scale)

Step Four: The Tastings

Recipients are asked to sample, share, and discuss each snack during their daily tastings, and to consider the following questions:

Before tasting, guess what you think it will taste like. How close were you?

How odd, unusual, unexpected is it on a scale of 1 to 5?

How much do you like it on a five-star scale?

What would you compare this to if you were trying to describe it?

Let the holiday merriment ensue! For more ideas, including everything from advent calendar ballgowns to advent calendar time machines, see Past Advent Calendar Posts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Wabi-Sabi Shirt for a Fractured America


The artist in an unguarded moment

Wabi = rustic simplicity

Sabi = transient beauty, taking pleasure in the imperfect authenticity of age

A serendipitous stumble into wabi-sabi occurred about a month ago when I got home from emergency eye surgery, idly looked down, discovered that the shirt I was wearing had dozens of holes in it, and started laughing. That’s what happens when you can’t see your shirt.

The shirt

The holes

This simple sleeveless top was originally stitched with a length of hand-dyed West African fabric gifted to me by a friend in London. Never one to give up on rotting garments, I considered my next steps. I decided to cannibalize the lower sleeves of a red cotton Indian shirt (gifted by the same friend) and cut them up into little squares. I decided on a relatively crude overhand stitch around the edges to secure the tiny patches to the shirt.  I meditated on wabi-sabi, a mindset that originated with the Japanese and involves a different way of looking and perceiving. It involves acceptance of the natural cycle of growth and decay, life and death, and the imperfections that come with it. And then I started stitching..,

Little squares, overhand stitched around the edges

...and stitching and stitching and stitching. Every time I thought I was done I held the garment up to the light and discovered more holes.

One evening, as the elections were looming over us and tensions were high, I glanced over at the shirt hanging on a door and awaiting more patches And realized I had created an American flag - a fractured American flag. I also, with philosophical wabi-sabi serenity, realized I was never going to outpace all of those tiny holes. The shirt was done. Time to don it and enjoy the slow decay.

Wabi-sabi shirt for a fractured America...

...with lingering little holes to let new light in

As I was trying to take a photo of me wearing the shirt as the final graphic for this post, I kept tossing out photos that showed the sagging skin on my arms, the wrinkled neck, the age spots. And then I realized wabi-sabi aesthetics apply to all things, including the beauty of an aging body. I donned my power cuffs embellished with embroidered drawings my grand nieces made of scary monsters, struck a few power Wakanda poses, and am ready for whatever crap the universe throws at us next.

Artist credit: the hanging wood sculpture behind me is by Creative Growth artist John Martin

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Stitch Doodling through a Disaster


If I am not actively engaged in a project I go a little mad. My lack of tolerance for idle hands has led to some unfortunate incidents, like the chopped haircut featured in the photo above. A better solution is what I call “stitch doodling” -  grabbing scraps of fabric and just mindlessly creating something or other. The complete lack of planning, goals, or concern about outcomes can lead to some entertaining results.

In this case I took an ugly, discarded piece of eco-dyed fabric and whipped up yet another mask. I have realized recently this is never going to end and one can never have too many masks. I thought lettering would be entertaining and distract the eye from the basic ugliness of the fabric.  And then the ugliness became the point. And yes, I do keep track of exactly how many days I have been isolating during this damned pandemic.


Reverse (eco-dyed rose leaves)

Once done, to my delight I realized I had created a grim and gritty mask suitable for a character in a dystopian graphic novel. The chopped haircut just makes the whole comic book character persona even better. Yay! On days when I wish to remain incognito I can always wear the side that looks like a rose bush was flash incinerated when a nuclear bomb went off. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do to mitigate the chopped hair since I have promised friends I will not touch scissors to locks for at least a month.

Want to create a mask of your own suitable for a troubled comic book character? My favorite mask pattern and instructions so far during the apocalypse: Craft Passion Mask Pattern.

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