Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The wrap-around is complete and wrapping.

I finished my very first dress, and a vintage dress at that! Remember the Butterick Walkaway Dress I started months ago, which demanded a large amount of redrafting and modification to make it fit? Well, it's finished. And it fits. And I like it. Mostly.

The actual pattern is Butterick 4790 Walkaway dress. The pattern is reissued from an old vintage pattern formerly known as Butterick 6015. This is a Butterick reissue, so you can buy it in your size (if you are more normally sized than I am) instead of altering the vintage version. Butterick has reissued this pattern as a "Retro 1952" pattern, with the number 4790. You can find it at Butterick.com or at most major fabric stores.

I am proud of my work and pleased by the final garment, although I am not 100% satisfied. I think some additional redrafts are in order if I make this again. For one, I need to shorten the bodice by a couple on inches, because the dress falls below my natural waistline and from the wrong angle makes me look dumpy. As Stacy and Clinton say on What Not to Wear, always put the waistline at the narrowest part of your trunk to create the illusion of a small waist. On my figure, that narrow space of my "waist" is just nanometers long, so my clothings needs to hit it exactly to look right. A shorter bodice will help. Also, I suggest shortening the skirt a few inches to make it a bit more contemporary (and more condusive for wearing flats!). Finally, the neckline needs some more adjustment, I think it is situated too far out on my shoulders, thus my bra strap keeps sliding out.

Despite the flaws, I am terribly pleased by all of the knowledge I gained during the creation process, especially my newfound knowledge about modifying darts for a large chest. With the help of a good sewing teacher, I rearranged the dart placement by moving them to originate from the armpit and angle down toward the center of the bust instead of starting below the bust and angling up (I hope that makes some sense, but perhaps a close up of my first photo can give a visual to my words). I also learned how to increase the width of a dart to prevent "gap-osis" in the armpits.

Best of all, making the dress was a challenge and a meaningful learning experience for a novice sewing like me. I made a vintage reproduction, and it fueled my desire to go forth and conquer more vintage patterns, more garment modifications, and best of all, more lovely dresses!

In other news, I attended a Jo Ann's Fabric Store sale this weekend and Simplicity patterns were five for five bucks. Also, Vogue patterns were only $3.99, a steep discount off of their usual $25 price tag. I purchased fourteen new patterns and the majority are reissued vintage patterns. No doubt they will all require significant redrafting to fit, but hey, it makes me a better sewer, right? Keep posted for updates.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

1930's Butterfly Sleeve Wrap top.

I did it! I finished my first vintage garment made to my size, and I love it. I really truly love it. I have a sense of pride like a proud parent. A proud shirt parent. I shamelessly admit that I have pulled the shirt out of my closet on multiple occasions since I finished it just to look at it, touch it, run my fingers along the trim, and sigh with contentment. "I made it all by myself, and it's beautiful" I think before I put it away. This may not be normal behavior for a veteran sewer, but this is MY FIRST successful vintage garment, and darn it I am proud of myself.

The official garment is a 1930's Butterfly Blouse. The pattern is from Decades of Style pattern company, where their goal is to take amazing vintage patterns and make them available to anyone. They take unique and original clothing from 1920 through 1959 and turn it back into patterns, except they clarify instructions, and best of all, they size the patter for bust sizes 30" through 46". They are equalizing the vintage sewing realm for all of us slightly larger, well endowed vintage lovers. If the company was here right now, I would give them a big hug and kiss of thanks.

I chose a fabric from the clearance bin for only $1.99 per yard, and I used about four yards total. It is the kind of fabric pattern that straddles the delicate line between amazing and ugly. The woman at the fabric store raised her eyebrows when she cut it for me, and Sam was incredulous. Sam said I might looked like an old couch, but I had a vision. In the end, I think the fabric created a perfect compliment to the pattern. The fabric, combined with the trim, gives a sense of my style to the piece. The original pattern calls for top stitching along all the bodice pieces, but after a few practice tries at top stitching, I realized I am pretty bad at straight, even, controlled top stitching and I resorted to the bias tape. However, I think it was a great decision, because I think the trim adds an extra bit of detail and sophistication.

Truth be told, the bias tape edging was the most awful part of constructing the shirt. My fingers were bruised for days from trying to pin the tiny, minuscule material to my very fragile cotton fabric. I used tiny quarter inch biased tape, which is really, really small. It took me several feet of pinning, sewing, messing up, cursing, and starting over to devise a plan that worked better than pins. So, fellow sewers or anyone who might ever work with bias tape, here is my tip of the day: IN ORDER TO PRESERVE YOUR SANITY AND YOUR FINGERS, USE A WATER BASED GLUE STICKS TO BASTE TINY BIAS TAPE ON DELICATE FABRIC. Don't use pins. Pins don't work. But glue, use it! As soon as I broke out the glue stick my sanity returned, my fingers stopped feeling like there were bleeding, and the shirt progressed much more quickly. All in all it took me about twelve hours in total to make this garment, and it was well worth the time.

I can't lie, a huge part of my pride is the fact that the shirt actually reminds me of something I might buy in Anthropologie. It is boldly modern yet with a distinctly vintage-theme. The flutter sleeves are both over-the-top and simultaneously very flattering and fashionable. AND, the top has feminine details that really make the garment one of a kind. I expect to make more of this shirt. In the meantime, please enjoy these dramatic photos of my work.

This is a details image, my first attempt at gathering and trimming with bias tape.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spruce Confections.

This morning I am craving a Spruce Confections experience, which is unfortunate, because Spruce Confections is something I can only get in Boulder, Colorado. Spruce is a bakery to note, because they are the primary supplier of breakfast pastries, scones, and cookies and biscotti for ALL of Boulder's coffee shops. And believe me, Boulder has a LOT of local coffee shops. Spruce dominates the market and really epitomize what a bakery needs to do in order to stay both profitable and in charge of their own destiny, and for that I respect them. Also, my sister Ellen works there and gives me the family 50% discount, which makes the baked goods taste all the better. Delicious almost free things are even better then just delicious things.

The best thing about Spruce though, is that even though they supply all of Boulder with pastries, they always make sure that their's are still the best. For other stores, they create their pastries with 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening, but for their own stores, they use 100% butter. A scone a Spruce always tastes better than a Spruce scone anywhere else.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blueberry picnic cake and surry bikes.

What could be more romantic than picnicing on a warm spring day, everyone dressed in their summer's best skirts and khakis, in a lively green park filled with frolicking families? This is not a hypothetical question, I actually know that answer. The answer is nothing. A perfect picnic in Colorado is the most old fashioned and romantic activity you can do on a bright Sunday afternoon.

Last Sunday's picnic in the park was an utter delight, both because of the food, and because of the atmosphere. We choose a lovely table in the middle of Wash Park. The sun was bright, the grass was newly green, the birds were chirping, and everyone was out in the sunshine enjoying the spring weather. This year I was given two springs, my first in San Antonio, my second in Colorado. Being farther south, the San Antonio spring came earlier, with daffodils bursting up from the lawns in March and the trees filling with leaves in April. Then I traveled to Colorado in May, where the trees were in their peak of full bloom and the tulips were stretching skyward in full bloom in Boulder's flowerbeds. I was a very lucky girl this year. I experienced spring twice in one year, which is a rarity given the ephemeral nature of the season.

The pleasures of spring are fleeting, as spring truly is a season of growth, and that is why it is so special that I experienced two springs. The blooms that burst from the trees are in constant growth, one day delicate buds of green in a mass of hard brown bark, the next small but firm pockets of leaves waiting to open, and the next fully bloomed flowers that burst out in glorified beauty all over the branches before quickly morphing into summer's hearty leaves. Each day of spring is different, always changing and growing. The nests of baby birds hatch, mature, and fly away within a few weeks. The dapples of sunlight that flit through delicate new leaves give way quickly to an ever increasing shade under warmer and warmer sunshine. These changes in nature are the reason spring is such a welcome season after a constant and cold winter, but they are also the reason spring feels like a fleeting, temporal season. Spring is always a period of growth and change that for most of us comes and passes with a quick, saturated joy.

The momentary natural gifts from Mother Nature are probably the best part of spring, but another joy of the spring season is the fresh fruit. I always know it is spring when the strawberries begin to look red and perpetually ripe in their little green plastic baskets, and blueberries are abundantly in stock in those tiny plastic clamshells. I also know that like the spring annuals, this ripe and affordable fruit is fleeting, so I take full advanage in these early months to eat strawberries for breakfast, blueberries for lunch, and more strawberries for dinner.

Our picnic culminated in two spectacular events. The first was the bike surry rental and pedal around the park. The second was a heaping slice of blueberry picnic cake. I wish I could share both on this post, but unfortunately there is no recipe for a surry bike ride that you can create at home. You can, however, indulge in blueberry picnic cake while sitting in the sunshine to your heart's content. I recomend it for any spring celebration.

"a simple, melt-in-your-mouth cake"
from the Colorado Collage cookbook

4 eggs, seperated
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2 pints fresh blueberries, washed, stemmed and dried

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan. In medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until well blended. In large bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add salt and vanilla. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of the remaining sugar and beat until blended. Add egg yolks and beat until light and creamy. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and milk and mix thoroughly. Fold in reserved beaten egg whites.

Gently shake dry blueberries with remaining 1/2 cup flour to prevent settling during baking, and fold into batter. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake 50-60 minutes or until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. (May be halved and baked in an 8x8x2 pan.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A gourmet picnic.

Congratulations Ellen, happy graduation!

I traveled home to Colorado this weekend to surprise my youngest sister in honor of her collegiate achievements and her new degree. My efforts were rewarded not just with her delighted surprise at my presence, but also with an invitation to an exceptional celebration picnic. In a twist of wonderful fate, the calendar lined up so that Ellie's graduation picnic AND Mother's Day shared the afternoon, which made the event all the more special. The picnic menu was truly gourmet and included:

French cambemert with crackers
Goat cheese with fresh thyme, Jamaican honey, and orange zest
Garbanzo bean salad
Oriental sesame asparagus
Chilled beef tenderloin
Sause Bearnaise
Blueberry picnic cake
Domaine Chandon Blanc Noir Champagne
Le Fleur Pinot Noir

My favorite dishes included the goat cheese and honey and the beef with the sauce Bearnaise. Sauce Bearnaise is a French concoction of butter, egg yolk, shallot, and tarragon reduced with vinegar. The base of the sauce is an emulsion of clarified butter into egg yolk, which gives the sauce its thick, savory texture. The flavor is extraordinary, very rich, but at the same time a bit subtle. The shallot and tarragon coated my palate, but very lightly, so that I was always left with the feeling of craving more sauce.

Are you aware of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue? In my mind, in regard to eating, it goes something like this; the more food you input into your mouth, the less flavor is output onto your tastebuds. I am sure my economic reference is flawed in this theory, but thinking of this in flavor terns, I think of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue really means that the taste of something delicious can never be as tasty on the second bite as it was on the first, and the third bite can never be as tasty as the second bite, etc. Thus with every bite you put into your mouth, the pleasure you gain from eating diminishes. Sometimes flavorful foods follow this unscientific application of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue perfectly. Take for example garlic bread. The flavor burst from the second or third bite is never as pungent or overwhelming as the first bite, and the more bites you take, the more satiated your palate becomes with the taste until the experience of eating the garlic bread feels average, or at least good but not extraordinary.

However, nothing about the Sauce Bearnaise tasted average, not even after mouthfuls of saucy bites, tastes, and nibbles. The extra subtle flavors of shallot and tarragon, wrapped in the richness of the butter and egg, lingered on my tongue with just enough flavor, but not as much as I wanted, which meant I was always left wanting more after each bite. Each taste felt like a tantalizing tease of flavor, with the sauce dancing around on my taste buds as though it was ALMOST giving me its full burst of flavor, but not quite. There was always that craving for a bit more flavor, a bit more burst, but in a good way. The sauce inspired me to crave more sauce, even as my mouth was already full of it. Nothing could give me that fuller taste - not a greater quantity of sauce or a longer linger on the palate - and thus the flavor never diminished. My taste buds maintained a heightened state of flavor.

Ahhhh, avoiding the law of diminishing returns on the tongue while eating is a rare and tantalizing treat. The Sauce Bearnaise, the entire picnic menu, and most especially the company of my dear and wonderful family made this meal one of the most fulfilling and special picnics I have in my memory.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I am on a salad kick, whowouldathunkit?

Something has happened in my brain recently - as though some of the wires have come loose, or something in the gray matter short circuited, or some kind of temporary stroke has rendered a portion of my cerebral cortex obsolete - because all of a sudden, out of the blue, I like salad. This is a big deal for me, and definitely indicates a brain malfunction, because for most of my life I have been the only person I know who just doesn't care for salad.

Now, I am not fundamentally opposed to salad by any means. In fact I can stomach a nice pre-dinner spinach salad or side salad with most any meal. I especially appreciate salads that do not resemble salad at all because they lack all vegetation properties, like tuna salad or apricot chicken salad. However, I have never been able to, until recently, handle the idea of a salad as a main course. In fact, I usually dislike salad so much that I might actually skip a meal rather than order the chicken caesar for lunch. And I NEVER skip meals.

Salad is just so awkward. I can never get an even bite on my fork. Croutons are rolling off, there are too many tomatoes in a bite, the dressing is heavy on one leaf and light on the next... the list of salad-eating hardships goes on and on. Plus, I am always miffed that the good stuff in a salad always falls to the bottom before I can taste it. I like romaine alright, but what I really want is the bacon and pecans layered on top of romaine. Except that when I eat salad, I end up searching in vain for bites with romaine, bacon, AND pecans, but end up with about twenty romaine-only bites followed by a grand finale of two or three forkfuls of the good stuff at the bottom of the plate, but soggy in the leftover dressing. The salad ingredients never seems to emulsify into a complete dish for me. The whole experience is just massively unfulfilling. Or should I say un-FULL-filing, as salads also tend to leave me hungry (and often with blatant garlic mouth for hours).

My dislike of salad often leaves me feeling guilty, as though somehow my propensity for being slightly rotund and constantly several pounds overweight is indefinably linked to my inability to enjoy eating salad as a meal. After all, I am convinced that salads and successful dieting are linked by science. There is some kind of unwritten mathematical equation about the inverse relationship between how much salad one eats and the size of their jeans. I like to think of it as "The Law of Salads" and it is probably why I wear a size 16 pant.

However, I think I have turned over a new lettuce leaf (relish the visual pun, and imagine me poking through a plateful of butter lettuce, forking leafy green pieces around in vain before suddenly flipping over a piece and ravenously consuming the salad with a newfound appreciation). Last week I independently chose two salad recipes from various cookbooks and blogs, prepared both salads, and enjoy both salads so much that I made them a second time this week. That equals four salads in two weeks, an all time record for me. And the truth is I want to make them again. They are that good.

I wrote about the BLT salad yesterday. It's a very simple, incredibly fulfilling comfort food type of salad. The salad of today's post is a little more extravagant, a dinnertime salad if you will. It involves a few of my favorite ingredients - pine nut, niçoise olives, and bell peppers - plus the addition of roasted chicken, the more exotic leafy greens of arugula, and a simple yet very chic dressing. We simplified by purchasing a pre-roasted chicken from our local luxury grocery store, which yields enough chicken for lunch leftovers.

For this salad, I even made my own croutons. Making croutons is an act of love in my book, but this salad deserves it. Making the crunchy treat involves not only slicing bread into small pieces, but individually brushing each side with oil, and then the worst of the worst in cooking tasks, rubbing raw garlic all over each side. Ewwwwww. But the results are delicious, and the usually disgusting lingering scent of garlic on my fingers all week only served to remind me how good the salad tasted. I have to give credit to Orangette's blog for this recipe. The girl posts tasty meals, and this one is a gem.

Warm Chicken Salad with Arugula, Olives, and Pine Nuts
Inspired by The Zuni Café Cookbook

1 crusty chunk of country bread or baguette
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 handful of coarsely shredded meat from a roasted chicken
Red wine-mustard vinaigrette
1 Tbs pine nuts
6 Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
1 generous handful of arugula
1 small handful of very thin slices from a yellow or red bell pepper
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tear the bread into a handful of irregular croutons. Brush them with olive oil to coat, spread them on a sheet pan, and toast until golden at the edges, about 6 minutes. Cool the croutons slightly; then rub them the garlic while still warm. Be as thorough as you are fond of garlic. Turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, toss the chicken with a bit of the vinaigrette—just a touch, for moisture and flavor—and set aside.

Place the pine nuts and olives in an ovenproof serving bowl—I use my favorite round, vintage Pyrex bowl—and place it in the turned-off oven for about 2 minutes to warm through. Carefully remove the bowl from the oven—it may be hotter than you think—and add to it the arugula and the peppers. Toss with vinaigrette to coat lightly but thoroughly. Add the chicken and the croutons, crumbling some of the latter over the bowl to let garlicky crumbs fall into the salad. Add a little more vinaigrette, and toss gently to coat. Taste, and add more vinaigrette or salt if necessary.
Serve promptly—straight from the bowl, if you like.
Yield: 1 serving

Red Wine-Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from Michael Roberts’s Parisian Home Cooking

1 Tbs Dijon mustard, preferably Grey Poupon
3 Tbs good-quality red wine vinegar
½ tsp fine sea salt
5 Tbs good-quality olive oil

Combine mustard, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the oil one or two tablespoons at a time, whisking continuously to emulsify. Taste to correct vinegar-oil balance, if necessary, and toss with your favorite salad ingredients. The dressing will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The BLT Salad... GENIUS!

Really, is there anything in this world as delicious as bacon? I mean, seriously, think about it. Think long and hard, delve deep into your culinary soul, and tell me if you can come up with any one ingredient that rivals bacon in making a dish taste extra good. Bacon enhances almost everything, in almost every genre of cuisine. I like it in pasta, in lentils, with eggs and pancakes, wrapped around various ripe fruits, served on a baked potato, and now in a salad. The wonder of cured or smoked pork in cuisine extends beyond the spectrum of the usual American table bacon and into the more exotic realm of prosciutto, Serrano hams, pancetta, and the like.

What then, could be a better addition to a salad than bacon? I am not talking weird, fake bacon bits on a hum drum salad of iceberg lettuce with ranch, but rather large chunks of real, authentic, crispy fried-fresh-at-home bacon. Combine that with slices of a healthy, ripe tomato and a buttermilk dressing, and put it all on a bed of crisp romaine with some homemade croûtons, and - bam! - you have yourself a comfort food salad at its finest, the BLT salad!

I plan to eat this for lunch all summer. It gets so hot in Texas in July and August that cooking warm foods, let alone eating them, is almost unbearable. The heats kills the appetite (even my appetite, which is a hard thing to squelch). This salad will be my go-to meal on a hot day. I can handle ten minutes in front of a skillet for a refreshing dinner. If I wanted to get crazy-California hip I might even add some avocado and sprouts too. Enjoy!

Serves 4


  • 8 slices bacon (8 ounces total)
  • 1/2 baguette (8 ounces), sliced into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound romaine-lettuce hearts, chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Bake until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.Cool, then crumble into large pieces.
  2. Make croutons: Toss bread with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, tossing halfway through, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, and scallion; season with salt and pepper. Add lettuce, tomatoes, and croutons; toss to coat with dressing. Sprinkle with bacon.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mango salsa, steps one through four optional. Step ten NOT encouraged.

Mangos are on sale two for three dollars right now. The temperature is also heating up outside. This combo can only mean one thing - salsa time! Much like potatoes are a staple in Ireland or the baguette is a staple in France, tortilla chips and salsa are a staple in South Texas, and my coworker Matt has a recipe that takes advantage of the mangoes, the heat, and our shared penchant for salsa.

The recipe involved most than just an ingredient list and instructions, it actually involves discussion of some Food Network chefs, and it is slightly biased. He shared his mango salsa recipe with me after a particularly nefarious debate about the merits of Bobby Flay as a chef. I like Bobby Flay, Matt hates Bobby Flay, hence the Bobby references in the recipe. Feel free to ignore them, but I felt compelled to leave Matt's notes in the recipe so as not to alter his artistic expression in the form of a homemade recipe.

I whipped up the salsa twice last week, the first time exactly as Matt suggested, and the second time with my own modifications. I liked my modified version best. I subbed fine diced red onion in place of the green onion. I also added an extra jalepeno, and I minced the garlic rather than slicing the garlic, mostly because i don't like touching garlic with my hands. The end result in both cases is delicious, and keeps well covered in the fridge for several days. Serve with lots of salty, fresh chips.

** NOTE ***
Steps one through four are entirely optional, and step ten is certainly not encouraged. Also, this recipe may not be suitable for children.


3-4 ripe mangoes
2 jalepenos (or one habanero, or 3 serranos)
3 cloves garlic
3 green onions
¼ cup lime juice
2 tbs olive oil (in this case “Spanish”)


1. Punch Bobby Flay in the face, then kick him in the pants.
2. Feel good about yourself for doing that.
3. Watch an episode of “No Reservations” and realize how much you love Anthony Bourdain’s punk rock attitude towards cheffetry.
4. Smoke a bowl of “killa-dilla hydro” and think about your own worldview, entropy, and how to solve America’s dependence on War and Fossil Fuels.
5. Peel and chop mangos into pieces as small as possible, add to large bowl.
6. Chop peppers into wee squares (habaneros get the gloves and extra-wee treatment).
7. Slice round pieces of green onions, saving the green, stemmy hollow pieces for something else.
8. The garlic is optional, but must be fresh and sliced as thin as possible.
9. Add lime juice and oil, toss that shit!
10. Smoke another bowl and tie Bobby Flay up, making sure to duct tape his mouth. Toss him in the trunk of your car…drive to the nearest train tracks, well, you can probably figure the rest out!