Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When life hands you lemons... make matching outfits.

This spring, life handed me some lemons. Only these weren't the kind of tart lemons used to make lemonade. Rather, they are fabric lemons with not a touch of sourness to them. These lemons are big, juicy, yellow fruits with green leaves, dotted across a slightly stretchy, mostly cotton fabric, and sold by the yard at JoAnn's Fabric store. I found the bolt of lemons on my pre-sewing class trip to the store to buy supplies. I was immediately smitten with the print. So smitten, in fact, that I opted to make 70% of my beginning sewing patterns in the print. For the other beginning sewing outfit - a pair of scrub pants for my sister Claire - I chose a green strawberry print cotton. I must have been craving fruit salad when I went shopping.

The first lemon print project - a simple tube skirt - resulted in something a bit larger than I expected. Actually, MUCH larger than I expected. The original plan was to give the skirt to my sister Ellen, but upon seeing its size I knew she would not wear it and I would have to keep it for myself. This, however threw me into a conundrum. If I continued with my plan to sew Sam a shirt in the lemon print, AND if I kept the lemon skirt for myself, I would be committing an incredible fashion sin... I would be creating MATCHING HUSBAND AND WIFE OUTFITS!!!

There are very legitimate unwritten social rules about families dressing alike. It is absolutely adorable for brothers and sisters under the age of five to be in matching outfits on special occasions. Every now and then, there is something kind of cute about a mother and child wearing matching outfits at Christmas. It is even acceptable for entire families to wear outfits in the same color palate and style when sitting for a family portrait. However, it is distinctly unacceptable for husbands and wives to dress alike, unless it is Halloween maybe.

Nonetheless, I made the lemon shirt and kept the lemon skirt. I am proud of both, especially the shirt. Look at the great collar! And don't forget to admire the straight and professional buttonholes. Plus, now Sam and I are equipped in case we are ever invited to a "dress like your spouse" party... or a "dress like a lemon party." You can never be too prepared.

What could be cuter than a husband and wife in matching outfits? Watch out world, here we come, and we are bringing lemonade! Pucker up.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture.

This week Sam and I mailed in our check to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. If you are not familiar with the concept of Community Supported Agriculture, it is a program to connect local farmers with their local populace in order to distribute locally produced, seasonal, family-farm-grown vegetables. Basically, it means good for you, good for your community food.

Being part of a CSA is a great way to eat local and organic, support the local economy, and be healthy. Joining the program feels like knocking out three resolutions at once! Bon Appétit magazine recently published a good article about CSA programs (complete with pictures), that served as my inspiration for locating a local farm.

The article describes the benefits of the program in words better than I can:
"Here's how it works: Find a CSA farm in your area ( is a good place to start), pay them a fee for the season, and each week or so, you'll get a box brimming with that week's harvest. It's kind of like Grocery Shopping: The Reality Show. You're not going to get tomatoes or asparagus year-round. The selection varies from region to region and from farm to farm; consumers make a commitment to buy exactly what is produced; and it provides great lessons in seasonality and supply and demand. One of the best things about subscribing to a CSA is that you'll inevitably end up with ingredients you've never thought to buy or cook."

I LOVE that they describe the program as a reality show of grocery shopping! You can view details about our CSA program by visiting the Scott Arbor Farms website. The Summer Season will run from the middle of May through the middle of August. The Summer Season is 12 weeks long, and the summer vegetables expected to be featured include: Pickling Cucumbers, Yellow Squash, Cherry Tomatoes, Red Bell Peppers, Fresh Cut Basil, Zucchini Squash, Summer Spinach, Okra, Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Tomatoes, Burpless Cucumbers, Sugar Pumpkins, Eggplants, Orange Bell Peppers, Purple Ruffle Basil, Butter Scallop Squash, Yellow Bell Peppers, Jalapeño Peppers, Cantaloupe, Purple Bell Peppers, Tatumi Squash, Sweet Italian Peppers, Green and Purple Yardlong Beans, Shallots, Onions and Garlic.

I am looking forward to the experience of cooking what is available. I mean, how good does sautéed greens with cannellini beans and garlic or fish fillets in parchment with asparagus and orange sound for dinner, especially when it comes with a heaping side of environmental and economic sustainability? I think I will serve the meal with a big does of local support for dessert. Mmmm mmmm good.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Put on mascara before you sew!

I read another blog recently that quoted from the Singer Sewing Book, published by McGraw Hill in 1954. The book must have been written at the height of the June Cleaver period of female subjugation, well before the bra burning feminist movement introduced more reasonable expectations for women. The quotes noted on the post are hilarious. My overwhelming favorite are tips on sewing successfully, especially the paragraph about physical appearance. It says, “When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness. Have on a clean dress.”

The manual goes into further detail:
“Looking attractive while you are sewing is very important because if you are making something for yourself, you will try it on at regular intervals, and you can hope for better results when you look your best. Again, sewing must be approached with the idea that you are going to enjoy it, and if you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should”.

If I am fearful that my husband will come home and I will not look neatly put together...?!?!?! Ha. The author would die if she only knew that I do the bulk of my sewing in mismatched pajamas with my hair askew and no makeup. Not even mascara. This got me thinking, and I wonder if the author would also be upset to know that my husband sees me on a daily basis first thing in the morning with bed head, before I have brushed my teeth, and when I am barefoot (I do not sleep with my matching shoes and handbag, although maybe I should. Do you think June Cleaver slept in matching shoes?).

The one redeeming quote that I read (although admittedly I did not read the entire manual, so there may be more redeeming quotes) is this bit on the value of handmade items. I think it holds true for all things handmade, whether homemade food, handmade clothing, crafts, or art.

"When the mind and the hands are occupied with the creation of something useful and attractive, there is no room for discontent, boredom, petty worries, fears and jealousies, and there are few pleasures to equal the sense of accomplishment of holding in one’s hands the skilfully finished product of one’s own efforts.”

This week I am finishing several sewing projects, including Sam's lemon shirt and my Butterick Walkaway dress. Keep checking back for photos, stories, and of course uplifting sewing advice. And don't forget to put on mascara before you log onto my blog, because heaven forbid your husband might come home while you are reading, and if you are not looking neat and pretty he may ask for a divorce! ;-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Birthday Cake, round two.

Sam and I enjoyed the most amazing, addicting, awe-inspiring Chocolate Stout Cake as a round two birthday cake in honor of Sam's 27th birthday yesterday. We ate the last pieces of Saturday's carrot cake for breakfast on Monday morning, so it seemed fitting to bake a second cake on my lunch break to keep the birthday theme going strong.

This is the kind of cake I would only serve to my best friends or my worst enemies. I would serve it to best friends because of the pleasure it brings with each bite, but I would serve it to my worst enemies to instigate a slow death of cardiovascular disease. The cake, after all, does contain FOUR sticks of butter, FOUR cups of sugar, FOUR eggs, FOUR cups of flour, a pint of Guinness, and lots and lots of chocolate. It is delicious and deadly. I actually felt woozy with pleasure after eating my piece last night. Plus, I have been thinking about the leftover cake all day rather than doing my work.

You will find the recipe in an older Valentine's Day guest post from my dad. Beware, this cake is deadly good.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy Birthday dear Saaaaaaaaaa-am...

Happy birthday to you!

Today is my darling husband's birthday, so it is a very special day. We celebrated on Saturday (perhaps the most beautiful Saturday yet in 2008!) with a picnic barbecue in the park with friends. Sam and I loaded up on the grilling entrée, and our guests brought the sides. We ate a really good and very spicy chipotle potato salad from Jarret and Casey, homemade red pepper humus and pita from John and Lauren, a vegetarian corn and black bean salad from Anne, cheesy deer sausage from John W., and the most addicting MSG infused chips and salsa from Nakul, Paul, and Sarah (they were not homemade, but the other dishes were!).

We had three dogs attend the party, and after the guests had their fill, I got to feed an entire 3/4 pound sirloin hamburger to the pets! Is there such joy in this world as can be found in feeding dogs table food? Honestly, it hardly mattered to me that I was giving a canine palate $6.99 worth of quality ground beef, because their wagging tails and adoring attention the rest of the afternoon was such an ego boost. I would have paid more for that feeling. I love feeding dogs!

I also love feeding my friends (and husband!) cake, which is why I created a carrot cake on Sam's request. The recipe is below, and I cannot say enough good things about this cake as a picnic dessert. It is simple to make, it travels well, it is a crowd pleaser, and it is a dessert that involves vegetables. Could a girl ask for more on her husband's birthday?

Flip flops and bocce ball - summer is definitely around the corner!

This cake is the most fabulous picnic cake! The entire cake can be created entirely in a food processor for easy, one bowl mixing. The cake is also baked in a casserole dish should be transported in the baking dish and served straight from the pan. To keep the cake's texture intact, my mom always puts the raisins and nuts in the frosting, rather than in the cake batter, so I did the same. The result is a tender cake with a textured frosting, and the texture helps to both cut the sweetness in the frosting and preserve the consistency of the cake batter. The cake stays dry enough, the nuts stay crunchy enough. Another trick from my mom makes this cake special - always dust the entire cake pan generously in sugar before you add the batter. It prevents the edges from sticking AND makes the corners pieces the most coveted bites of the cake.

adapted from the Colorado Cache cookbook

1 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup of sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
3 cups of grated carrots
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 cups of unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking soda
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of ground allspice

1/2 cup of butter, melted
1 (8 oz.) softened cream cheese
2 cups of powdered, sifted sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of chopped pecans
1 cup of raisins

Grate carrots in food processor. Cream oil and sugar in food processor with carrots. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Add vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture, a small amount at a time, beating well. Pour into a 10 x 14 inch greased and sugared pan and bake at 325ºF. for 1 hour. Cool slightly before frosting.

For frosting, combine melted butter and cream cheese. Add sugar in portions and beat well. Add vanilla. Stir in nuts and raisins. Spread on cooled cake.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A long tall drink of water.

A long tall drink of water always tastes better out of a monogrammed glass, especially a glass from Anthropologie, and especially a glass from Anthropologie that your husband insisted you buy. I mean, how often does a husband insist a wife purchase something at Anthropologie? Most frequently husbands stand around Anthropologie trying to coerce their wives into buying less. At least, that is what my husband does. Sometimes, on days when I cannot be coerced to stop, he sits down in defeat on the large, brightly patterned, pseudo-vintage couch to thumb through books on Parisian cafe style or the etiquette of hosting tea parties. Rarely, if ever, has he actively encouraged me to purchase goods at the store.

But not this time. This time Sam had to coerce me to PURCHASE this set of drinking glasses. I argued they were frivolous, he argued they were fun. His argument won. I think he fell victim to the magic that is Anthropologie.

The store does possess a magical aura. Anthropologie stores shine out from the rows of chain stores at upscale shopping malls like a treasure chest of fantasy and possibilities, waiting to be opened. They are little jewels of excitement in a world of homogenized shopping.

The shop nestles itself into the shopping mall like a prize tucked into a cereal box. The rustic, wooden entrance is simultaneously purposefully artistic yet casually rustic, and it feels warmer and more inviting than the Bebe and Forever 21 shops flanking either side. Window displays of lavishly layered mannequins lure me in with promises of a dramatic life, augmented by blouses with lacy voile ruffles and kitchen aprons embellished with quaint teapot appliqués. I am not entirely sure how the magic of the store manifests itself into purchasing behavior, but I believe that the magic stems from the idea that the items for sale function as the physical embodiment of a fantasy life I frequently daydream of...

...In my dream life, I see myself and my best friends riding old cruiser bicycles down a dirt path to a cold-fried-chicken-picnic arranged on a wooden plank table, under a huge tree, which naturally has 10,000 colorful paper lanterns hanging from the lower branches. The afternoon light streaming through the leaves is dappled with mystery and promise, and it dances patterns on our minimally coordinated but ultimately matching summer frocks. Without question, our picnic is served on mismatched vintage china, and we follow the feast with an afternoon spent lounging on a picturesque blanket, alternating between reading great English authors aloud and filling a wicker basket full of fresh picked wildflowers. We laugh and smile and giggle, and our white skirts never get dirty, even when we walk barefoot through the dew...

This is the Anthropologie life, made almost tangible through fanciful products, clever window displays, and of course brilliant marketing. The fantasy life is always almost in my grasp, if only I could own one more dress with ribbon piping and a full, frilly skirt. When Sam saw our new green glasses sitting on the shelf, I am certain they whispered sweet promises of adventure, luxury, and romance in his unsuspecting ear, just as every item in the store whispers to me when I walk into the storefront.

Thus far our new monogrammed water glasses have not transported me and Sam to the Italian Riviera to sip mineral water and feed each other marinated olives, but it has added a little extra spark - a little extra whimsy - to our everyday dinners and our weekend lunches at the kitchen table, and for that, Anthropologie has lived up to much of its promise.

S for Sam and K for Kate!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Three little old women sharing cake.

Today at lunch I looked across the restaurant and saw a table with three elderly women out for a lunch date. They were quite old, all with white hair and frail postures. One of the women was even wearing oxygen. As I looked over at the table, I could see that all three women were sharing a piece of cake for dessert. The had their forks poised simultaneously over the cake, alternating talking and tasting, and taking care not to take too big of bites or hog all the frosting. They were chatting and smiling and it was obvious they were enjoying the meal. It was a sweet little moment to witness from afar. It made me think of all the girls-night-out dinners I end with my girlfriends sharing dessert, and it was inspiring to know that a touch of sweetness at the end of a meal and the pleasuring of sharing something with a friend never fades, not even with age.

I hope you can visualize the moment, and I hope it makes you smile like it did for me. I brighten at the idea of sharing a piece of chocolate cake with my best friend when we are 80 years old!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who ate the cookie from the cookie jar?

I ate the cookies from the cookie jar. Yep, I ate LOTS of the cookies from the cookie jar. That is because the cookies in the cookie jar were created from the Rawley Family Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake Off's winning recipe. When the Rawley's bake, they bake well, and when they bake to be the best, well, the best is undoubtedly amazing.

The cookie contest was held in Colorado, spearhead by my parents and attended by my three sisters and brother in law. Alas, due to distance, I was not able to attend, but I reaped the rewards of their baking and testing by securing the winning recipe. There were nine chocolate chip cookie recipes in the contest. My father submitted five of them, each of my youngest sisters submitted two. Ellen took first place, Claire took second place, and my Dad took third place. Upon receiving their placings, each baker revealed their cookie recipe, and oddly enough it turns out that all three winning cookies from three different bakers used the same recipe, Alton Brown's recipe for "The Chewy" from his Food Network show Good Eats. However Ellen used regular flour, Claire used cake flour, and my dad used regular flour but cooked his cookie to a browner, more crispy texture.

The honorable mention went to a custom creation from my dad. He used a long-time family favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and substituted almonds for pecans, dried cherries for raisin, and of course he added chocolate chips. This cookie led the pack in taste, texture, and appearance, but fell very short in the category of "meets the ideal of what a chocolate chip cookie should be."

In spirit, I baked a double batch of the winning recipe on Saturday. I then ate a few warm cookies. Then a few lukewarm cookies. Then a few cool cookies with milk. Then I finally put the remaining cookies in the cookie jar and assessed the recipe. I have to say, after eating a number specimens I was able to make a very informed judgment on the cookie.

The best thing about Alton Brown's recipe is that he uses an ice cream scoop to measure portions. This equals a large cookie, and in the great land of cookies, large equals more chocolate chips and a better texture due to more even baking. If the cookie is too small, it cooks to quickly and gets too crunchy. The ice cream scoop size meant a softer, more chewy cookie. On the down side, I did not find Alton Brown's cookie to have the ultimately perfect texture. It was sort of chewy, in that I had to chew before I swallowed, but overall I found the cookie had a bit more of a cakey or crumbly texture rather than chewy. It needed a bit more bend to the dough before it cracked into cookie crumbs to be considered chewy in my book.

Don't get me wrong, it was a really good cookie. I just don't know that it was "the best" cookie ever. Now the obsession has been planted. I am itching to bake another batch of cookies, to compare notes, and to enlist a panel of tasters to analyze the goods. I must find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. I must...I Must... I MUST!

The Chewy" Chocolate Chip Cookie
from Alton Brown's Good Eats


2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
Parchment paper
Baking sheets

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.

Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Preferably a beautiful cookie jar. ;-)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Eating odd things... like tongue.

The first bite of the lengua plate.

Although we do it many times every day with a frequency and repetition that might render the action mundane and ordinary, I think it is important to recognize that eating is a very intimate, very vulnerable action. The care and maintenance of the human body has much to do with our exposure to ingested components. Some of them are good for us, and others are bad.

Mainstream American culture has deep-rooted and preconceived ideas of exactly what is good for us to eat, and what is bad for us. We differentiate this by neatly packaging "good for us" foods in cellophane and stocking the grocery store shelves with them. The "bad for us" foods, well, we just pretend they don't exist. And the funny thing is that "good" and "bad" differentiations often have little to do with nutritional value, sustainable production, or availability and everyting to do with cultural tradition and social comfort zones. It's that simple. Our food world is limited to what we can see, touch, taste, and purchase at the local corporate grocery store. Anything edible beyond that falls into the bad category. Broccoli is good to eat. Hamburgers with all-American pre-ground beef are good to eat. Blood sausage in intestine casing is bad to eat.

The odd thing about differentiating between "good" things to eat and "bad" things to eat is that in reality, the good and bad categories are formed almost entirely based on exposure at a young age, and not actually by the quality or dietary relevance of a food.

Last Friday Sam took a bold step and moved beyond his "good food" list by taking the plunge and ordering the Lengua Plate at Rosario's. For those of you that do not know what lengua is... let me enlighten you. Lengua is beef tongue. Mmmmmm.

Tongue is a very common food in Spain, and hence it is a common food in the Spanish derived Mexican and Tex Mex cuisines. That is probably how it ended up as a staple in many native San Antonian's diets and on their list of "good" foods, while it remains a freak oddity on the "bad" food list for tourists and non-natives to avoid at fine Mexican eateries.

Sam ordered the meal and consumed the majority of it, but he kindly shared tastes with me and my sister Ellen (who was visiting during her spring break. whoohoo.). The tongue had a nice flavor and a unique, yet pleasing, texture. It was firm, much firmer than my own tongue in my mouth feels, and thus much firmer than I expected. It had a solid texture under the bite, which was a nice surprise,because I irrationally expected the meat to feel porous. And the meat was tender, much more tender than the flank steak and skirt steak I am used to eating in Mexican food.

The flavor was also very pleasant. It did not taste different than beef in the "good" category of my diet. Overall the physical experience of lengua consumption was pleasant, although I am embarrassed to admit that my emotional experience remained distinctly on the verge of freak-out the entire time I chewed and swallowed. Every pleasant swallow was followed by a shutter, which I promptly attempted to ignore. I don't want to be one of those people who is squeamish about perfectly delicious and well-established dishes that fall outside of my culinary comfort zone. After all, I consider myself a food snob of sorts.

In the past I have judged people that won't eat blue cheese. They say "it's mold" and I laugh and say "all cheese is essentially mold" before taking a huge bite. Now I realize that there is error in my food snob ways. It is no more fair for me to expect a eater unfamiliar with blue cheese to cherish the food in their early exposure than it is fair to expect myself to embrace beef tongue on the first taste. Developing a palate takes lots of experimentation, trial and error, and above all an adventurous spirit. One of my great pleasures in life is the exploration of food, and I look forward to many more adventures in eating.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Mellowgold.

There is nothing like a grapefruit/lemon hybrid the size of a human head to inspire creativity. The Mellowgold grapefruit comes highly recommended. It is like eating sweet, crisp lemonade.