Friday, May 21, 2021

A Little Photoshop Entertainment

 We went on a castle adventure, so there had to be magic.

the author in 1870s winter dress, holding a stick that has been photoshopped into a glowing wand surrounded by translucent smoke effects

In high school I took photoshop (I'm not sure if this counted as an art class, or a technology class?), and loved learning effects that let me zhoosh photos into something a little more otherworldly. I don't play with it often, but I still really enjoy photography and the editing process.

Do I really need to hone my patronus-conjuring skills? No. But adding to or drastically altering photographs pushes me to consider the composition, light, and color balance because all of those come into play. So I think it helps keep my eye sharp for future photoshoots even if they don't require magic!

Since I'm still in a non-sewing, too-drained-to-finish-that-dance-research-post transition, I thought I would share a few of my attempts. 

In addition to the patronus above, I gave myself a wand...

...and an owl.
the author standing in the open stone arch of a castle, in 1870s winter dress. An owl is flying in the background through the castle ruins

It's a different kind of creativity, but it's nice to mix it up every once in a while!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Return of Witch Winter: A Journey to Bancroft's Castle

At the moment I'm sitting on the floor of a hotel room trying to coax my cat to come out from under the I figured I would entertain myself (and hopefully all of you) with a sequel to a 2019 undertaking. (Thus the very extra title. I am amused at least!)

A pact, some magically perfect weather, and the ruins of a stone castle hunting lodge - definitely the tagline to a movie right? 

the author in her finished ensemble among stone walls and snow

Not a movie, but a very good adventure, which is better I think.

the author and friend in bustle ensembles trekking through a snowy forest

The prologue:

Several years ago, a friend made a Hufflepuff bustle ballgown, and as I was doing research to make my own 1870s ballgown I started noticing green dresses with gray trim popping up quite frequently in fashion plates. As a Slytherin I'm partial to this combo anyways, and with Emma's dress on the brain I decided I wanted my own house bustle dress. But I also got my heart stuck on doing a velvet and fur ensemble, which....doesn't really lend itself to a ballgown. So instead I abandoned the ballgown idea, and decided that I would make a winter dress at a later time. 

That time became winter 2019, (aka "witch winter" because I was also on a bit of a witch-based novel kick at the time). I finished the project in March, which was too late to go skating or have enough snow for good photos. Then late 2019 into early 2020 was insanely busy and I was travelling, and I didn't have time to do a photoshoot. And by the time I was grounded, the snow was gone again.

Cue the pact. Quinn at The Quintessential Clothes Pen had also recently completed a wintery bustle ensemble, and needed photos as well. So with lockdown keeping our weekends very free, we vowed that the next weekend when there was good snow for photos, we would do a photoshoot. We actually scouted locations in advance (it was nice to get out and do some hiking), so we knew exactly where we wanted to go: Bancroft's Castle, a 20th century estate-turned sanitarium-turned hunting lodge that burned down in 1932 and is now public land. (And an off-topic fun fact: if you hike up to the castle and look out over Gibbet Hill, it may look familiar...because it was one of the filming locations in the 2019 Little Women movie.)

the author wearing a green velvet 170s bustle with fur trim and a gray hat in a ruined stone tower

The Adventure:

During the week it snowed, and Saturday dawned crisp and clear. It was a perfect New England winter day, with bright sun and low temperatures, and I was totally warm! Between the cotton velvet, flannel interlining, and silk lining, I was plenty toasty. The only cold part of me was my hands, but I have notoriously bad circulation and that happens in modern clothing too.

(I did cheat and wear modern snow boots, because we were hiking up a hill and I honestly didn't want to get my historical shoes dirty.)

This was essentially the first outing for this outfit, and it was so fun to get to finally wear it!

posing under a large stone archway

on the second level with another archway and the large fireplace and chimney in the background

We had a lot of fun playing with the angles of the archways and the modern wrought iron railings. With the weather so cold, we had the place to ourselves which was lucky but perhaps not surprising.

I also got to put the pockets in the underskirt to good use - they were great places to stash a cell phone, lens cap, and mask.

portrait shot of the author in a tower window, showing the gray hat and braided hairstyle in detail

My hair was a bit of an undertaking, but I'm happy with the way it came out! Since my hair is naturally very curly, I can usually tuck the ends around false braids to make them blend in. But I dyed my hair purple this year! From the front, you can't tell and everything blends - from the back it's a little more obvious what's actually my hair and what's not. Oops. 

full length in profile, where the purple hair is visible at the back of my head

from the back, showing the circled braid and curls in the center

The hat is a very old purchase from a sutler at a reenactment when I was in high school or just after. Since it doesn't work for most of the periods I do, it's been languishing in my closet and I was pleased it fit so well with this project!

a repeat of the earlier image showing the second level stonework with a slightly different angle

Now I just need to finish the cape I was making to go with this...I suppose that's an excuse for a trilogy. Maybe by next winter!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Great Pickled Limes Picnic of 2020

 Well then.

I've gotten a few comments recently asking how my pickled limes experiment ended, and I did make sure to carefully document results! But between *waves hands* the world and computer issues my inclination to write about pickled limes on the internet took a bit of a hit. And things on the world front haven't really improved, but my computer issues have been resolved! So no promises I'll post with any frequency, but I think I can promise I will post at least sporadically.

Anyways, on to the main event: how did the pickled limes turn out?

a white porcelain plate with blue floral decoration. Quartered chunks of brined limes are piled on top of it.

When I envisioned opening the limes and trying them out, I had grand visions of discovering a long-forgotten delightful snack...


But I am sorry to say that they ended up aligning more with the historical sources deriding them as an "acquired taste" only adopted by Bostonians.


That is overreacting slightly - they weren't all terrible. And there were still some decided differences in how they tasted! Science is cool, guys.

To help with the tasting portion of this project* I had the help of an esteemed panel of judges. We wore masks except while actually tasting, and stayed outside with ample space between our picnic blankets. Luckily we had a truly fantastic early October, so the weather was worth enjoying!

Let's dive in:

Our Least Favorite: Plain Brined

a single lime cut in half on a white and blue plate

The plain brined limes surprisingly didn't smell like salt! They smelled...sort of floral?

From the panel:

"It smells like the toilet bowls in the Old Town Hall"

"It smells like 1950s chemical cleaner"

The taste was more salty, as I would expect given they'd been brined in salt water. I was expecting salt and sourness, but it actually wasn't sour at all. It tasted salty and organic - a little floral and musky.

The panel was more positive than I was, actually:

"I'm not hating it."

"Once you get past the initial salty awfulness it's ok"

"It has a musky floralness"

Runner Up: Spiced Vinegar

close up of a lime cut in half on a blue and white plate. the lime is slightly browner than the last batch.

This was my favorite of the bunch, because the punch of the vinegar overpowered everything else. I like vinegar! I do think if I ever tried this again I would use more spices though.

The panel was more mixed:

"That one hits you hard"

"I don't taste any lime whatsoever"

"No toilet here!"

"The peel is pretty nice"

The Winner: Sweet Vinegar

a lime cut in half, a bit desiccated-looking, on the same white and blue plate

3 slices of desiccated lime on the white and blue plate

I expected to like this one the best but in the end I think I liked it without the sugar. 

This one got the panel's vote though:

"This one is actually quite good"

"It's different, I don't know that I like it?"

"It's not bad!"

a hand pinching a quarter lime slice in the foreground with a picnic basket and jars of limes in the background

So there you have it! I am calling this a successful experiment, because now I have tried them. Would I make them again? Probably the sweet vinegar batch, with more spices. And I'd probably serve them with something. I used the same recipe (originally from an 1869 fruit pickling book) that I used for the sweet vinegar limes to pickle peaches over the summer, and those were delicious! Especially with manchego cheese and crusty bread.

When limes are next in season, I may try again with slightly different ratios (and try a batch where I pickle them in vinegar right away, instead of brining them first). But we'll see - for now, I think my appetite for pickled limes is satiated.

top-down view of an open jar in the grass with 2 limes floating in salted water

*Note: the salt-packed limes didn't make it to tasting. I ended up with something growing in there and it wasn't worth giving my friends botulism in the middle of a pandemic :(