Jilly: Traditional treats, surprising skills

Another week, another Sunday. I’d swear the days are dragging, yet blink! and here we are again. I hope you’re still keeping safe and well as we inch toward the new normal, whatever that may be.

An unexpected upside of the current crisis has been a surge in demand for various niche businesses. Amid the general gloom and depression, it’s been lovely to see artisanal flour producers, needlepoint tutors, hen-keepers and the like enjoy an unexpected moment in the sunlight.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a huge jigsaw puzzle fan. Jigsaws are traditionally regarded as a staid older-person’s form of distraction, but apparently in these stressful days of lockdown confinement they have seen a huge resurgence. Yay! Long may it last!

I always have a jigsaw on the go when I’m plotting a book. When I get stuck trying to figure out character arcs, world-building, turning points and plot holes, I take a time out with the puzzle and the challenge of identifying colors, patterns, and shapes seems to re-set my brain. According to the interwebs, this is because jigsaw puzzles

  • Exercise both the left and right sides of the brain at once;
  • Improve short-term memory;
  • Improve visual-spatial reasoning; and
  • Function as an effective meditation tool and stress reliever.

A couple of months ago, when it first looked as though we might be facing a period of confinement, I did some panic-buying. In addition to stocking up on rice, pasta, canned goods, TP and long-life milk, I placed an industrial order with my online jigsaw supplier. So I have a colourful stash of landscapes, birds, animals, photography, whimsy, and elaborate mermaid/unicorn/steampunk fantasy artwork (see photo above).

I’m glad I stocked up. Apparently now there’s a global shortage of puzzles, and this fascinating article in the New York Times explains why manufacturers can’t simply scale up production to meet the extra demand. A new puzzle takes weeks to create. There’s a skill to selecting the right image (a beautiful picture doesn’t necessarily make a good puzzle), and then a highly technical design and manufacturing process is required to make sure that every piece of a puzzle is unique, that the design is faithfully reproduced, that the cardboard pieces are robust and that they fit cleanly together.

I never thought about any of that before. The article has given me a new appreciation for the work that goes into creating the puzzles that bring me so much pleasure.

Last week I started work on the opening scenes of my next Elan Intrigues book, called The Seeds of Destiny. I also cracked open a new puzzle, complete with elves, castles, dragons, and lots of magical swooshes and sparkles.

Are you perfecting or discovering some retro amusement or skill? If not jigsaws, maybe quilting or artisanal baking, or gardening? Is it helping? Would you recommend it?

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Traditional treats, surprising skills

  1. How fore-thoughtful of you to have stocked up on puzzles. I too am a fan and have been forced to recycle old puzzles since the virtual Amazon shelves are disappointingly bare. I love that image above; that looks like a bit of a challenge.

    The combination of puzzles and writing is an interesting one. My creative process link is writing and quilting—which is really just another form of puzzle albeit with bigger pieces.

    Good luck on the new book and the latest puzzle.

    • I have to confess I’m pleased with my puzzle stockpile. I thought I was taking things to excess when I placed the order, but now…not so much. I love the puzzle in the photograph–the image is by an artist called Ciro Marchetti. Another one of his images has unicorns 🙂

      Quilting is another form of puzzle, with added design, craft and dexterity challenges. That should keep your creative well nicely topped up!

      • I’d love to know your puzzle source. I don’t think I’ve ever seen puzzles like that on Amazon (my typical source).

        • I buy them from a UK based website: https://www.jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk. The Marchetti ones are by a firm called Schmidt.

          Jigsaw Puzzles Direct have been around for years. They have a great range and good customer service, though I expect they’re swamped right now. According to their website they do deliver to the US, though there’s a £25 delivery charge. If you bought enough it might be worth it–and maybe you could split an order with Kay 😉

  2. It’s gardening season here at the Estridge homestead. I love being surrounded by flowers but I’d forgotten how physically exhausting it is. Thought I suppose that’s good, too, since the lockdown means not going to the gym.

    • I’m already sick of yard work, and I’ve been doing only 30 minutes a day for about 10 days. I’m years behind, and I’ll never catch up, because it’s hard work, it’s boring, and I get a rash from the weeds, even when I wear gloves and long sleeves. Two days ago, I pulled up all the weeds around our big jade plant, thinking I’d give the thing a little chance to breathe, and the next morning I went out, and it had completely toppled over. So—the weeds were holding it up? I tied it to the fence with fishing line. I know that won’t work. I hate this.

    • I’d love to be surrounded by flowers, but I hate yard work even more than Kay does. Luckily my husband got tired of looking at our weed garden and spent half a day last week chopping, digging and lifting. He has a sore back now, but I’m delighted to report that the place looks much tidier 🙂

      • Oh, I love gardening, even weed-pulling, and I miss it so much. There’s really not much to garden here in Arizona. At least the type of gardening I like. I miss my Georgia house…I had hollyhocks, petunias, tiger lilies, hosta, and all sort of other things growing. Here it’s a bunch of cactus and rocks. *sigh*

  3. I’ve been baking, although that’s not a new skill for me. I used to do a lot more cooking and baking when I lived in households with roommates; now that it’s just me, I hardly bake at all. But it’s been fun experimenting with recipes and especially almond flour. Alas, yesterday when I went to the store, all the flours of all the types—wheat, almond, rice, potato—all of it was sold out, and the ration sign was still on the shelf. I have some wheat and almond flours left, so I can make another batch or two of something, but then I’ll be out. Maybe I’ll have to take up quilting! Since puzzles seem to be in short supply.

    • I’ve been baking too, and it’s pretty much a new skill for me. I can cook meals and operate a corkscrew, but cakes, bread and the like have never been in my repertoire until now. Blueberry muffins for breakfast! Flour is a problem here, too, but I have a stash that will last me a while yet and yesterday a friend told me about a restaurant supply type website that mostly supplies the stuff in 16-pound sacks but also has some smaller bags. I ordered the maximum allowable, plus two expensive bottles of olive oil to make up the minimum spend. Which will make it the most expensive beginner artisanal bread ever.

      My first white loaf was too salty. The second too stodgy. Then a Scottish friend challenged me to try sourdough, so I’ve been assiduously feeding a starter. I found a kind of halfway house recipe that makes a sandwich loaf using discarded starter, and that worked brilliantly, which thrilled me no end. Then the friend sent me video clips of her son, who’s an experienced chef, making sourdough in his to-die-for home kitchen. The videos are a great watch, though intimidating. The dough looks sloppy and sticky and hard to handle, but at least now I know it’s supposed to be like that. I’m planning to get my hands gummy some time this week. I’ll let you know how it goes!

      • There is always the Great British Baking Show (I think it’s the Great British Bake Off in the UK). I bought Paul Hollywood’s book How to Bake, and it’s my go-to on learning how to make bread. My husband is more of a fan of the bread than my kids, but they’ll eat it slathered in butter, and especially if I use it to make spicy french toast (not hot spicy, I just use a lot of spices). If you haven’t used all of your loaf after a few days, definitely make french toast out of it…it’s great!

        As for sourdough starters, the whole thing just intimidates me, plus, I have a bunch of high-quality baker’s yeast that I bought a large quantity of some time ago (in fact, I think it’s technically expired, but I’ve been using it and everything is rising fine…I’ve stored it air-tight in the fridge, so I think I extended its life a bit). My only problem with bread right now is I injured my middle finger on my right hand, so kneading is a bit tough, but I’m trying.

        Happy baking and post pictures!

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