Monday, 22 August 2016

Pickling Season

My Mom's Marvelous Mustard Pickles

I just cooked up a batch of my mother's mustard pickles. These are a real family favorite and I have made copies of her recipe for friends and relatives over the years. I have no idea where she got this recipe but, it being older than I am, I hope I will not infringe some dusty copyright if I publish it here for Internet friends who have requested it. 

Some Photos to Whet Your Interest

Prep the Veggies
Even after the boiling water bath and rapid chilling, a big bunch of silverskin onions takes forever to peel — but it is worth it. When I was a child, I used to try to score at least one of these tiny treasures any time the pickles were served.

Speaking of serving, in our family, these are essential with roast beef (hot or cold) and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mom would put a few pickles inside a grilled cheese but, after a mouth burn or two, I am prefer having them on the side!

You Need a Big Kettle

Day 1, you salt the veggies and let them brine overnight. Day 2, drain them, add sugar, vinegar and spices then bring to a boil and cook.

At this point, the kitchen begins to smell quite amazing.

Of course, you must sterilize your canning jars. I used the dishwasher on the hot setting because my big canning kettle is the only thing that will hold all the veggies, sugar and vinegar.

This Is Your Reward

This photo shows some of the yield — I already gave away a few jars.

Before I supply the recipe, here are the mandatory safety warnings.

1. I have always wax sealed these and no one has ever fallen ill but, if you want to do them in a boiling water bath, you can but would need two huge kettles or you could bottle the pickles, cap and hold while you wash the kettle, fill with enough water and process as for canning fruit.

2. If you are using paraffin wax, the recommended way to melt it is over simmering water. My method (use at your own risk) is to put the wax in a small, heavy metal pan with a pouring spout and melt it on very low heat on the stovetop. Be sure there is no wax residue on the outside of the pot. You must not leave the room while the wax is on the stove — if it shows any sign of smoking, get it off the heat at once. Also, I would NEVER try this on a gas burner.

Okay, here is Mom's recipe.

2 field cucumbers            24 pickling cucumbers
1 ½ lb. large onions          2 lb small silverskin onions
3 green peppers                3 red peppers
1 large cauliflower            1 cup coarse salt
Slice cucumbers, large onions, peppers (a bit less than ¼ inch think). Separate cauliflower into small pieces. Blanch small onions for 2 min in boiling water, plunge into cold, then peel.
Place all in large canning kettle and sprinkle with the salt. Let stand 24 hours. Drain off liquid.

Add to vegetable mix:
8 cups sugar            8 cups (2.27 liters) white vinegar
2 oz  (57 g) mustard seed            3 oz (85 g) celery seed

Bring to boil and boil for 5 minutes. 

2/3 cup flour                  1.2 oz (2 heaping TBSP) tumeric
¼ lb dry mustard            
Stir in enough water to make loose paste, pressing out lumps to make as smooth as possible. Do not worry about a few small ones - they will vanish.

Add paste to pickles and boil for 5 more minutes. 

Seal in sterilized jars using two layers of paraffin wax.  

Makes 6-8 quarts or about 12 - 500 ml jars.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Jewelry for Your Bridesmaids

Of Course, the Bride Picks the Colors

Every bridesmaid knows that feeling of hoping the dress she must wear will, at the very least, not make her look her worst. And, trust me, I know. In my youth, I paid somewhat more than I could afford for a dress so unflattering that, the day after the wedding, it hit the trash! What can I say, she was a very dear friend.

Custom Earrings to Match Your Wedding Palette

The good news is, precious and semi-precious stones come in every color of the rainbow and something the size of an earring will not clash with anyone's complexion. So, studs in your theme color make perfect gifts for your bridesmaids and, with the vast array of stones available, they do not need to bankrupt you, either!

If you are planning your wedding, I would love to make matching earrings for your bridesmaids in the color of your choice. Below are a few examples, along with some notes on colors of stones. All these are cabochon stones but the majority can be obtained faceted if you want more sparkle.

Spectacular Reds; Perfect for a December Wedding

These studs are set with garnets – a very affordable red (and January's birthstone). If you have deeper pockets, rubies come to mind. If natural, they are pricey but lab grown rubies will not require a bank loan.
Tourmaline and spinel can also be had in various shades of red.

Warm, Glowing Yellows 

I set the earrings shown here with a pair of citrine cabochons. Other options include yellow beryl, imperial topaz, tourmaline, amber and zircon (You can find zircon in almost all colors).

You can see that the silver portion of these studs is also varied. The garnets are in polished silver mounts. This pair has been hammered with a riveting hammer to create lines that add sparkle.

So  Many Blues

I have developed a real passion for blue stones, partly because they offer so much variety. These samples are among my favorites.

Turquoise - the ones here show the classic shade, but turquoise varies from deep blue to almost green. This pair show very little veining but others are beautifully mottled with browns, greys, or blacks. Turquoise is one of December's birthstones.

Other stones where the color tends to turquoise are aquamarine and larimar.

Kyanite - this stone displays neither purple nor green tendencies. It is a true, deep ocean kind of blue.

A few other "true" blues that come to mind are sapphire, labradorite, and blue topaz.

With this pair, I added dimension by bezel-setting the stones atop two graduated silver discs.

Lapis Lazuli - these stones, favored by Egypt's pharaohs and China's emperors, are among the most beautiful of all stones. Their rich deep blue, frequently sprinkled with flecks of white or brassy pyrites, is utterly unmistakable.

P.S. - if you are having a country wedding, you could select denim lapis.

Royal Purples

Almost everyone knows the amethyst - February's beautiful birthstone - but there are several other options if purple is your favorite color. Charoite is an opaque stone that echoes amethyst's deep purple while iolite is a much softer shade. You could also choose tanzanite or spinel.

Choose from Any Part of the Rainbow - Here Are Just a Few Examples

Pink - zircon, tourmaline, rose quartz and rhodolite garnet.
Green - emerald, chrysoberyl, peridot, malachite, and jade.
Orange - citrine, imperial topaz, fire opal and hessonite garnet.
White - diamonds, pearls, cubic zirconia, and moonstone. 
Black - agate, jet and onyx.

You can find me, and see more examples of my handcrafted jewelry at SterlingByDix on ArtYah <> or at DixSterling on etsy <>

I would love to design and create earrings for your special day.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Stocking My ArtYah Shop

Story of the Sapphire

I recently opened a new shop, SterlingByDix, on ArtYah <> I don't know how it will work out but it can't be worse than trying to sell on etsy these days, where a search for "sterling silver earrings" brings up 337,403 listings! Pretty hard to be found in such a crowd. On top of that, "handmade" has become pretty meaningless there so I feel it is time to try a venue that is serious about handmade. Fingers crossed.

One of the items I have listed at ArtYah is a sapphire pendant. Here is a bit about bringing it to life.


Some months ago, a client sent me some hand-cut gems to set for her. Among them, a round zircon and an emerald-cut yellow beryl. This is what I came up with.

Knowing the limit of my skills, I opted for purchased basket settings for the stones (bless supplier RioGrande for those). I had to do some customizing on the one for the emerald-cut beryl so I ordered a spare in case I messed up on that. Happily, my alterations were perfect so I had a basket mount left over. Not keen on waste, I purchased a lab-grown sapphire that would drop into the setting without any adjustments and set about designing a pendant to mount it.

Reticulation Again

If you follow this blog, you know I love the look of reticulated sterling silver. That was what I used on the custom pendant and it really set off the faceted stones, so I chose it for the sapphire, too.

Below, the first step in the process. I had this piece of reticulated sterling on standby so all I had to do was cut it to suit the sapphire (instead of having to do 8 - 10 heating and cooling steps before melting the surface to achieve the texture).

Ready, Set, Set (the Stone, That Is)

I cut the piece, sanded and polished its edges, and mounted the basket setting on it and added a highly polished bail. Below, I am ready to set the sapphire.

While taking photos (for both etsy and ArtYah), I also put the piece on a turntable and shot a very short video. There is always something new to try! I hope it will work here.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Cannon Beach

One of the Best Places Ever

I was browsing through photo files from a couple of years ago, and decided to share a few photos I took at CannonBeach. These were all in the fall/winter which is my favorite time there. So join me for a on walk on the beach.


Trust me, if you can go there, you should.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Xmas in July Sale

Start Your Holiday Shopping This Week and Save

I'm offering 40% off on everything in my shop until July 22. Here are a few possible gifts for those you love.



Cuff Links

Monday, 11 July 2016

July 11

My BC Jade Project

While wandering through the BC Gem Show last spring, I picked up a few stones (of course I did!). One of them was this long, slim cabochon triangle of local jade.

The Stone

Although the dark section on the right hand side looks black in the photo, it is actually a very dark green. Of course a pair of these would make fabulous earrings, but there was only one. It could be a pin or a pendant. In the end, I decided on a pendant.

The Shape

I cut a piece of 18 gauge sterling silver to form a surround for the stone and pierced it in the same shape to keep the weight down. That done, there was lots of work with a series of files to get all the edges — inside and outside —smooth and even. Not the most exciting aspect of an artisan's day, but essential.

Crafting the Setting

If you follow my blog, you know I love reticulated silver. I added the bar atop the piece because I felt the texture provides a nice compliment to the mottled greens in the jade.

I chose to uses a series of prongs to clasp the stone, wanting to show more of it than a bezel would. Here, the prongs are being soldered in place. Those dirty old nickels raise the piece so I can get heat under it. That helps solder the fine wires quickly (so they don't get a chance to melt!).

Almost There

It's always a relief to find that the stone will fit into the setting. Here, I was checking the fit before polishing the setting (best done before setting the stone).

Lots and lots of polishing ensued, including using a steel burnisher to bring all the edges to a high shine. I think this photo captures the colors better than the first one.

All Set

This is not quite finished. There is a loop on the back for a bail — which I still have to create. That will be a bit tricky because I want to use more reticulated sterling to craft it and because I need to shape it to account for the asymmetrical shape and weight of this piece. I want to make it hang level. Tricky. Guess I could have made a brooch!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Change of Pace

Dix's TravelBlog

It being June, I am reminded of a trip we took to England and Scotland a dozen years ago (how does time go by so fast?). The trip began as a "gathering" of people whose roots stem, in part, from the beautiful island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides <> In my case, a GG grandfather was born and raised there. As an adult, seeking work, he moved off to Glasgow where he died young of pneumonia. Not surprising, as living conditions for the poor were far from healthful there in the late 1800s.

We flew to Glasgow, rented a car, stayed a night, then crossed the River Clyde and made our way up Loch Lomond, then south west toward the ferry dock at Kennacraig. 

 Boats in Port

We were a couple of hours early for our sailing, so we followed a canal that crosses the Kintyre peninsula and explored the small port of Crinan. Fishing boats and private cabin cruisers lined the dock in the small harbor. I would have taken more photos but the skies suddenly opened (okay, it is Scotland) so we took refuge in the coffee shop. In only a few minutes, the deluge stopped (that is also very Scottish) and we left.

At Kennacraig, we boarded the ferry for the two-hour journey down Loch Tarbert and across to Islay. By the time we sailed, the skies had cleared and we enjoyed the views. We also enjoyed lunch, with a glass of wine, <> Very civilized way to travel. 

On Islay, we stayed at the Bridgend Hotel, walking distance to the ancient cemetery where I visited the graves of my GGG grandparents. An interesting note: we were on Islay several years earlier and, although we walked the whole cemetery, I could not find their graves. In 2004, I pretty much walked straight to them. I guess I was meant to return. While my beloved explored the single track roads that cross-cross the island, I spent a couple of days in sessions with other Islay descendants. We compared research notes and learned more about the island our ancestors came from. One evening the group, with spouses, attended a traditional céilidh with music and dancing. The final evening, we attended a formal dinner where many of the men were wearing full Highland dress. It was the only time in my life I was at a party where the men far outshone the ladies.

The Famed Kildalton Cross

There was ample free time, too, and on one afternoon, my husband and I drove a wandering road along the southeast coast to the Kildalton Cross at the ruined church near Ardmore. It is an exceptionally beautiful coastal drive, and, for whisky lovers, takes one past the distilleries of Laphroig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg (just three of the 11 on the island).

As you can see, it was a perfect June afternoon and I like to think my photograph of this historic landmark is every bit as good as many of those on postcards sold on Islay. You can learn more about this 8th Century work of art and reverence here:

More Travels

Due to the complications of travel involving airline points, we had to make our way from Islay to London for our flight home so, having retraced our route as far as Glasgow, we then headed south and made one stop at the city of Chester. Founded as a Roman fortress, the city still has its Roman walls. Our lovely room was across from the magnificent medieval cathedral. 

Dawn Walk and Photographs

I am addicted to morning walks and, in June, the long days often mean I have the world to myself. In Chester, I found this clock, said to be the second most photographed in the world (Big Ben being the first). Obviously, I had to add my own to the countless photos documenting this famed timepiece which marks the site of the original entrance to the Roman fort.

No Matter Where You Roam

Later the same day, my husband joined me in another walk around Chester. As you can see, we came upon a very familiar sign on one of the town's half-timbered buildings. 

It is a small world after all!