Sunday, February 24, 2008

The circle skirt redemption.

I post today as a women redeemed of a past sewing mistake, and boy does that feel good. Several weeks ago I posted some images and a sad, sad story about my brilliant plan to turn a circular tablecloth into a skirt. What started as a great idea turned into a giant hole with a few misguided measurements and some quick snips of the scissor. However the mistake forced me to get creative, and in the end the error turned into a learning experience and a happy ending!

The happy ending happened by means of adding a yoke waistband to the giant hole, thereby creating a drawstring skirt. You can view the results below, I think it turned out very nicely.

I am ready for springtime picnics, weekends in the sunshine, outdoor concerts, and cool and breezy evening walks in the neighborhood. Oh, and lets not forget dancing, twirling, and spinning to some good ol' fashioned Texas swing. I am ready for summertime.

A cute yoke, wide at the base and narrower at the waist, turned my botched hole
into a functional drawstring waist.

The skirts is perfect for twirling.

I added a tapered yoke of linen to shrink the giant waist hole.

A drawstring and a bow complete the look, making this a
comfortable, fashionable, and most of all accurately sized skirt!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Uplifting sewing advice.

This is the best sewing advice I have received to date, and I intend to apply it to my new ambition of sewing. This advice comes from the author of the Dress a Day blog, and she says:

"Eliminate the "shouldas" from your sewing life. Has a project descended into that abyss from which it shall never emerge? Write. It. Off. Don't let it hang around your sewing room like some Dickensian ghost. Give it away, cut it into quilt squares, mash it up for papermaking, hold an unfinished-object-swap with all your sewing friends, heck, throw it out or burn it if you have to -- I don't care what you do with it, but once you get to the point where thinking of it makes you feel guilty and self-flagellating, it is not a "unfinished project" but a curséd albatross. Sewing is no longer something people need to do to survive on the frontier [if you ARE on the frontier, please ignore this part]; it's a FUN HOBBY. Vigorously expunge the parts that aren't fun. So you screwed up. So what? Bury the evidence, deny, deny, deny, and move ON."

I believe this advice is applicable to all parts of life. It is very important to stay positive, and more importantly to stay reasonable in your expectations of yourself and the projects and pleasures you pursue.

Further sage advice from Dress a Day concerning struggles:

"Redefine 'failure'. You didn't fail to make a skirt, you succeeded in learning how NOT to make a skirt! Go into every project, at least for the first few projects, with the goal of learning, and not with the goal of making something couture-level. Define success generously. If you got the machine threaded right, didn't sew through your finger, and the two pieces of fabric join up more or less evenly? You won. Do a victory lap."

So true. From here on out, my failures shall be redefined as successes in what NOT to do. When I bake a cake that is too dry, I succeeded in learning that my oven is too hot and I need to under temp it next time. When a sew a crooked seam, I succeeded in reminding myself to use my seam guide. All thinks in perspective, and I will be a perpetual success. Wheeeeeeee.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A guilt free granola. Praise be to the breakfast Gods.

Toasty, delicious, guilt-free granola.

Today I woke up early and made a batch of homemade granola. Everything about it is delicious - the color, the aroma, the crunch, the slightly spicy sweetness, and most of all the wholesome, feel good aura that comes with a big bowl of the stuff. The truth is, I adore granola. It is one of those breakfasts that fills you up, sticks to your ribs, and really makes a girl feel like she is eating something legitimate yet healthful for her first day's meal. However, granola is also one of the few foods that gives me incredible guilt.

I have a small list of foods that I simply cannot consume without feeling a guilt strong enough to override the pleasure of consumption. Oddly enough Ben and Jerry's ice cream, triple creme cheeses, and flourless chocolate cake are not on this list, even though I know they should be. I can't say there is a rhyme or reason to my "guilty foods," but even without explanations they make me feel incredibly guilty nonetheless. My guilty foods include: donuts, whipped cream on any type of coffee beverage, and the aforementioned granola.

I think the guilt comes from a combination of understanding just how fattening these foods are, and also knowing that my quality of life is not significantly diminished by avoiding them. Ask me to say no to a piece of flourless chocolate cake, and certainly I will regret the decision to abstain. But ask me to eat Special K or a bowl of plain oatmeal for breakfast, and I know my day will go forward as planned.

Granola, you see, gives me guilt because it is typically full of oil. Most recipes call for at least 1/4 cup vegetable oil, if not more. And that is the cruel reality of granola. While it appears to be a wholesome, healthy breakfast, in truth it is a vehicle for fat and sugar disguised as a hippie food.

The good news is that the granola recipe I whipped up this morning uses only 2 tablespoons of oil, yielding ten cups of granola! That's a guilt-free oil to granola ratio if you ask me. I am not totally delusional, I know of course that there are other fat sources in the mix, primarily in the form of almonds and pecans, but the good news is that these fatty nuts carry LDH cholesterol, which is actually healthy in moderation.

I am tickled to know that I will be enjoying my homemade granola in moderation, totally guilt-free, for the next week. Maybe next I will try deep frying donuts in olive oil and call them a healthy treat!

Daily Granola

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast by Orangette

NOTES: Tweak as you will. For example, feel free to use whatever type of nut you like best - just one, or a variety. You could add some flax seeds, if you like, or some shredded coconut. If you like your granola with dried fruit, go ahead and add some - but after baking, not before. And about the applesauce: I like to buy it in those single-serving cups, the kind made to go in kids’ lunch boxes. I used to buy it in bigger glass jars, but I found that it started to go moldy before I could use it all. The smaller containers are very handy that way; there’s less waste, except of course the waste produced by packaging goods in small containers which generate more garbage. So recycle it, please.

Dry ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2 to 3 cups raw almonds or pecan halves, or a mixture
1 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
¾ cup sesame seeds (I omited these, they stick in the teeth)
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
¾ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

The Dry Ingredients

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Stir to mix well. In a small bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Stir to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

The Wet Ingredients

Spread the mixture evenly on two rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set a timer to go off every ten minutes while the granola bakes, so you can rotate the pans and give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pans from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and set aside to cool. The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.

Scoop cooled granola into to a large zipper-lock plastic bag or other airtight container. Store in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Yield: about 10 cups

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Guest Blog #1: Eat Wyoming lamb, 100,000 coyotes can't be wrong.

The following is the first of many guest blog appearances by the friends and family who inspire my own culinary, crafty, artistic, life-enhancing endeavors, as documented here. Much thanks to my Dad for sharing his recent kitchen achievement. My parents are wonderful chefs, and I spend a good deal of time on the phone with them in my own kitchen seeking advice. Read on for some advice from a wonderful culinary mentor...

Eat Wyoming lamb, 100,000 coyotes can't be wrong.
by Mike Rawley

"Eat Wyoming lamb, 100,000 coyotes can't be wrong." You see this bumper sticker sometimes in Wyoming and it's good advice. Tonight we prepared a rack of Wyoming lamb for Valentine's Day. The meal was just delicious, and it really couldn't be easier.

The first step in a delicious meal is quality ingredients, so buy a really good rack of lamb. Our lamb was a very delicious and generous gift from Sarah's mom, Marj. We rubbed the eight-rib rack with good olive oil (“EVOO” for those Rachael Ray fans), sprinkled generously with sea salt (ours was from New Zealand), fresh cracked pepper, and tucked a big spring of fresh rosemary under the rack. Then we put the rack of lamb into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

The key to great roast (or grilled) meat is to let it rest out of the oven. While the lamb had a little nap, the small red potatoes browned in the roasting pan and the fresh green beans and carrots took a quick dip in boiling water. What could be easier or better? Combine with a good bottle of Malbec from Argentina and you will be eating better than Henry VIII. The really great thing about this meal is that the chops have a handy handle, and the proper way to eat green beans (haricots vertes in French) is with your fingers. Not only is dinner easy but it's fun as well!

What Valentine's day is complete without chocolate? I'd recommend a chocolate stout cake (courtesy of Ellen Michelle). With a pound of butter in the cake and another pound of chocolate and pint of cream in the ganache how could you go wrong? If you are a hopeless romantic get a heart shaped pan and really impress you sweetheart.

Sarah and I wish everyone well. Bon Appetit!

Chocolate Stout Cake
from Bon Appétit | September 2002


2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream

2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped


For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

For icing:
Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

The bright joy of fresh flowers.

My honey sent me a beautiful floral arrangement at work on Valentine's day. He opted for the nontraditional and sent a bouquet of spring flowers rather than roses. The bunch includes poppies, tulips wildflowers, and lots and lots of interesting, textured greenery. They have been sitting on our bookshelf all weekend and look so beautiful with the diffused morning light highlighting the petals and making the whole bunch glow brightly, like nature's stained glass. I smile when I look at them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I LOVE Valentine's Day.

Pretty boxes full of...

Giagantic Chocolate Rasberry Cupcakes!

I LOVE Valentine's Day, and I have for as long as I can remember. I loved it before I ever had a boyfriend, let alone a husband. I loved it then because it involves the colors pink and red, and lots of chocolate. I love it now because it still involves the colors pink and red, and lots of chocolate!

I feel very sad for those out there that cannot enjoy Valentine's Day because they feel alone, depressed, excluded, or bitter about the holiday. In an attempt to soften their feelings of contempt on this fine holiday, I created treats. I baked!

Several weeks ago I became obsessed with the idea of baking extra large cupcakes. There are all varieties of oversized muffin tins out there, and I wanted the biggest one possible. I finally settled on a Wilton baking pan that makes cupcakes that are not only almost four inches in diameter, but are also extra tall. My goal is to create double fister baked goods - cupcakes so large and in charge that it takes two hands to handle them. I think I succeeded.

I must admit, I cheated a little bit. I used a Barefoot Contessa chocolate cupcake mix as my base, and then embellished to create the final product. The truth is that I knew I wanted a chocolate raspberry cake, but my attempts at finding a recipe came up empty. Apparently nobody else in the culinary world is either a) interested in combining these two flavors into a cake, or b) willing to share their secret family recipe for chocolate raspberry jam cake. So I decided to combine my adventurous and spirited experiment with an established product. Thus I bought the "top shelf" cake mix and made some changes to the box recipe. I added an entire jar of raspberry preserves to the mix. I also added semisweet chocolate chips to the mix. Before baking I poked a dollop of jam into the center of each cupcake and topped with more batter in an attempt to create a "surprise" for the eater. I like to think of my raspberry filling like the little heart of love in the center of each cake.

The final product turned out adorable, and it has been reported to taste good as well, even if all the jam and chocolate chips did sink to the bottom of the cake. Oops. Happy Valentine's Day to all! XOXOXO.

The batter.

The baking.

The frosting.

The decorating.

The final product. So cute, and delicious.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My next project: a Butterick walkaway dress.

Butterick 6015, reissued as Butterick 4790 in the Retro 52 collection

I am completely obsesses with creating the Butterick 4790 Walkaway dress. The pattern is reissued from an old vintage pattern. Now, it is part of the Butterick Retro 52 pattern, formerly known as Butterick 6015.

This is a Butterick reissue, so you can buy it in your size, instead of altering the vintage version. Butterick has reissued this pattern (with the same envelope art) as a "Retro 1952" pattern, with the number 4790. You can find it at or at most big fabric stores.

As the Butterick History web page explains:

"During the 1950's, Butterick experienced a phenomenon it had not known since the 'Garibaldi Suit' of the late 1860's. It was pattern 6015, and it was dubbed the 'walk-away' dress, because it was so easy you could "Start it after breakfast... walk-away in it for luncheon!". It's simple yet flattering wrap design and easy construction were what made it so popular. Sales of the pattern were so great, that at one point manufacturing of all other patterns ceased, and only the 'walk-away' dress was produced until all back-orders for this dress could be filled."

Don't the women on the pattern envelop look absolutely perfect in the dress? Their waists are so tiny, the skirt is so full, and their upper arms have the willowy nature of a dancers. I expect I will need to modify the size of the pattern a bit more to accommodate my ample chest, and my girdle-free waist. I wear a DD, and I am not sure that the the wrap around element will actually sit "around" my chest without modification.

The fabric I choose was on a major clearance, just $1.99 a yard, but I love it for summer. It is a light cotton voile in a warm beige, with light stripes of white, green and pink running through it. It reminds me of a watermelon.

Following my own mantra from an earlier post, "Sewing is not an immediate gratification endeavor," I made a muslin template last night to baste together as a size template. I will take it to my Tuesday night sewing class, and hopefully return with the advice and instruction to make this fit. Wish me luck, I look forward to breezing around town in a watermelon frock this spring.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The next project... a matchy-matchy shirt!

I love my husband so much that I have decided to make him the recipient of my next sewing class project. In fact, I love him soooooooooo much that not only am I sewing him a shirt, I am sewing him a shirt that matches a skirt I already sewed for myself! I figured, hey, it's cute when Moms and their young children wear matchy-matchy outfits, so why wouldn't it be cute for a husband and wife to match as well? Therefore I am sewing him a Simplicity collared shirt, and when it is finished we will wear our outfits out every Friday night on a dinner date. Folks will ohhhh and ahhhh at our cuteness, and probably buy us drinks in admiration. I can't wait to match in our graphic lemony-print outfits, like every loving couple should.

Ok, ok, I am just kidding. We will actually make every effort to NEVER wear these outfits at the same time. I hate when we come even close to coordinating our outfits on accident, because people seem to think it is so adorable, and that quite frankly is too much awkward attention for me to handle. At Sam's office Christmas party, we each wore some combo of blue, black, and white. I had on black pants and a white colored shirt with a blue cardigan, and he was wearing black slacks and a black, blue, and white striped shirts. It was a total accident, we didn't see each other get dressed that morning because I left early, but for some reason everybody instantaneously noticed and commented within a minute of seeing us. "Oh, how cute, you match" and "Awwwwww, don't you two look good together" was all I heard, and I was truly mortified. So we will not be wearing our lemon print outfits together. :)

I do LOVE the lemon print fabric though. When I first saw it at the fabric store, I picked it up immediately with Sam's shirt in mind. But when I asked the sales lady her opinion, she looked at me like I was crazy. She looked at me and said "That fabric... for a man..." while her gaze seemed to say more blatantly, "Are you trying to turn your husband gay?" I wavered for a moment and put the fabric back on the shelf, but ultimately the siren's call of the graphic fruit and vibrant colors of yellow and orange got the best of me, and I bought it for the shirt AND for a skirt anyway. Sam loves it, and no, he has not turned gay yet.

I spent three hours in sewing class this week working on attaching the collar. This project is a bit stressful, but so far so good. More images to come soon as the shirt receives sleeves, structure, and eventually buttonholes.

And maybe, just maybe, if you are very lucky, I will indulge you in a photograph of us wearing our matching outfits. How cute!

Monday, February 4, 2008

The ups and downs of roasted garlic.

Call it destiny speaking to me subconsciously, or call it lingering garlic mouth influencing my cerebral cortex as I slept, but something special happened in my dreams on Friday night... I actually DREAMED the dish I was supposed to bring to the potluck Superbowl party!!! I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. In my dreams, I saw before me a vision of roasted garlic spread in a golden glory across crusty French bread, and when I awoke, I knew beyond a doubt what I was to cook the next day.

As you may know, one cannot deny visions that come in dreams. They are usually pretty important, almost as important as the kinds of visions that show up in tortillas in Mexico. Just think about it, if she had not given heed to her dreams, the virgin Mary would never have known she was with child. She would just think she was getting fat. If he had not listened to the voice and visions in his dream saying, "If you build it, he will come" Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams would never have reunited with his dead father. And if Scrooge had not listen to the vision of the Ghost of Christmas Past in his dreams, Tiny Tim might have starved on Christmas day. Dream visions are important.

That is why I whipped up by far the most gourmet potluck dish to be served at yesterday's Superbowl party. It was delicious. I dreamed the garlic, Sam enhanced my vision with the addition of brie, and together we made a reality out of what started as a nocturnal inkling. Of course, in doing so I did end up with the loitering scent of garlic in my oven, in my car, and let's not even talk about the scent on my breath...

I would like to hope that someday the visions from my dreams will lead me to greatness, perhaps by guiding me to negotiate world conflict or enlightening me to scientific discoveries that will better mankind's ability to treat disease. But for now they led me to this, and this is good enough:

Roasted Garlic and Brie on Bread

Many cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Fresh Thyme
Brie cheese

Rub the garlic cloves in your hands to remove as much of the papery skin as possible and discard. Chop the top 1/4 of each clove off to expose the layers of cloves within. Place in Pyrex dish with sprigs of fresh thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and allow to soak in for a few minutes. Turn cloves over so garlic rests on flat, exposed end. Roast in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until garlic is very soft. Cool slightly before serving. Encourage guests to remove cloves with a knife, spread on bread, top with brie, and enjoy. Refrain from kissing for at least 48 hours.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The circle skirt disaster.

This is an utter disaster.

I feel badly writing this, because I realize that thus far in my brief two week stint as a blogger, the majority of my posts have been about the disasters and mistakes that arise out of my creative pursuits - first there was the burned sugar, then an overabundance of cubed bread, then too big scrub pants and skirts, and now I am writing to tell you how I royally botched a circle skirt project that I was very excited about.

I recently purchased a vintage round tablecloth on eBay with an idea to turn it into a circle skirt. It seems so simple. Buy a circular piece of fabric, cut a circle the size of your waist in the center, add a drawstring, and there you have a one-of-a-kind piece of clothing. I found instructions for the skirt on the internet and got to measuring and snipping last night. Unfortunately I measured wrong.

I know the old adage "Measure twice, cut once," and the thing is, I measured twice. I swear I did. It is just that I measured incorrectly twice. I could have measured 1,000 times and still cut that giant hole, because my brain was confused. First, I am embarrassed that admit that basic algebra got the best of me. All I really had to do was the simple Circumference = 2 * 3.14 *radius equation. I knew the circumference of my waist (I won't share, because it is too large for public knowledge. If you want to know you are going to have to do the math.), so I modified the equation to Circumference/6.28 and it gave me a radius of 7.165 inches. I measured my arc, double checked, and cut the hole.

What a mistake. When I excitedly unfolded the cloth to see the waist, I instead saw a gaping, gigantic, awful hole. It reminded me of a hula-hoop, big enough to loop around my waist twice. I actually sat down and cried. And I don't mean sniffled, I actually cried big, rolling tears of frustration at the fact that I ruined the skirt, that I didn't know how to do math, and most importantly I cried because I was so excited for this project and managed to botch it before I even got to the sewing part. It is a very disappointing feeling to realize you are not an expert crafter.

However, having 19 hours to gain perspective, I now am looking at the bright side. This trial and error experience reinforced an important lesson - it is vital to cut a muslin template before cutting one-of-a-kind fabric, even if the extra step feels like an awful task.

My new mantra "Sewing is not an immediate gratification endeavor. Quality sewing involves lots of steps. Sewing is not an immediate gratification endeavor. Quality sewing involves lots of steps."