Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme."

Are you going to Scarborough fair? We surely didn't, but we did pick up the notorious herbs mentioned in Simon and Garfunkel's song this weekend. We planted the herbs in two extra large pots we usurped from the front stoop of our apartment, and now, we wait for them to grow.

Our first pot features Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, and Sage. The second pots harbors Dill
Italian Parsley, and Thyme. I don't yet have Tarragon potted, but it is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking. Perhaps if these pots thrive in the next few weeks I will be inspired to plant a few more containers. Come to think of it there are some green planters on the front stoop filled with a stray, straggling aloe plants each, just waiting to be adopted and cultivated. We wanted to grow mint too, but we were advised against planting it in the same pot as our other herbs. Apparently mint is not a friendly neighbor and quickly takes. Since I love me some parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, I had to forgo the mint.

The only downside to the herb planting is this repetitive folk song that now won't leave my head.... "Are you going to Scarborough Fair? " Last night I thought it would be funny to search online for scenes from The Graduate featuring the song..."Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme." After all, if you have ever seen The Graduate, you well know that it feels like this song is played on repeat throughout the film... "Remember me to one who lives there." To get a feel, just watch the trailer ... "She once was a true love of mine." It summarizes the entire film, complete with several separate performances of the noted herb lyrics. Unfortunately for me, ever since I cleverly thought to correlate our herb garden to the song, I have been unable to erase the refrain of the song from my head... ... "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme." It is maddening.

However, all hippie folk songs aside, I am pleased to share that today it rained all afternoon. This might normally depress me, but now that I have pots full of little plants that like the rain, I too am content.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Vintage playsuits.

My sister Ellen visited last week, and we spent much of her trip ogling girls on the street wearing little onesy numbers I believe are often called "playsuits" or "rompers." The look is simultaneously gutsy, sweet, feminine, vampish, and completely and totally alluring. Just look at them. They scream "I like to have fun, and I am not afraid of my body. Come on, I dare you to make a move." Plus, as you can see in the illustrations, the playsuit has a Clark Kent style disguise for those moments when you need to be a bit more demure. Just button on your skirt and presto, you look like you are a proper 1950's dame. Oh, they are lovely.

We both find our fascination with the playsuit a bit confusing, as the playsuit certainly plays on both childlike AND sexy imagery. I have never been overly inspired by the Lolita-style fashions that often pop up in vintage wear, and this might be pushing into that category. Also disturbing is the knowledge that I am pretty sure you need to have long, stunning legs to pull off a romper with style. My legs are not very long, nor stunning, but a girl can still dream, right? Look at the playsuits below from this Etsy seller, who makes these one-of-a-kind rompers and sells them to beautiful, bold women. The are very much the look of the Carrie and Samantha's get ups in Sex and the City's season 3 roof party. They are great.

One of these days when my sewing skills really take off, and my legs grow another six inches (in lenght, not width silly!), perhaps I too will venture into the world of the adult romper. Until then, I will continue to admire from afar.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You CAN have your cake, and eat two.

My poor puns aside, I have to say that whoever once said "you can't have your cake and eat it too" obviously did not celebrate birthdays in our house. In our house on birthdays, we make enough cake to both have AND eat large slices of, without fear of shortage. This is because I like to bake, and I love my husband, and this means I gladly bake him multiple cakes on his special day. Last year it was a carrot cake and a Guinness Stout Cake, and this year was equally lavish with cake.

This year for Sam's birthday we celebrated with a duet of cakes, starting first with our new birthday favorite, the coconut cake which we ate with friends at his birthday party, and then moving into the tried and true classic from my childhood, the Colorado Cache Chocolate Fudge Cake, which we had on his actual birthday (and as leftovers for many days after).

I remember this cake fondly. My mother baked it for almost every birthday growign up. As children we were always allowed to choose our cake flavor on our birthdays, and almost everyone choose this cake year after year. She would bake it in a square pan, because we loved frosting and always relished the corner pieces, and a square pan ensures four corner pieces (for four daughters) and lots of edge pieces ripe with frosting. For summer birthdays the cake was always adorned with roses from the backyard garden.

One year our dog Bo jumped up on the counter and ate a large portion of my mom's birthday cake off of the cake plate. I have rarely seen my dad so angry. First, he was livid that the dog ruined my mom's cake, and second, he was upset because dogs and chocolate equal an expensive vet bill. Since chocolate is poisonous to dogs, my dad called the vet for a quick remedy. As luck would have it, the home remedy for preventing chocolate poisoning in dogs also gave my dad an opportunity to extract some deserving punishment on Bo. Thus we all discovered that two tablespoons of salt dumped down the back of a dog's throat, followed by holding the dog's muzzle closed to ensure he swallows, is an excellent way to induce dog vomiting (and thus extract the poisonous chocolate). I have never seen a dog retch as much as poor Bo on the fateful night. But then again, he did kind of deserved it for eating the cake off the counter, and the retching probably saved his life.

And, just in case you are wondering, we ate the cake anyway. My father sawed off the dog-infested portions of the cake and refrosted it a la Food Network's Ace of Cakes show. We ended up with an oddly tiered, sort of lopsided, and definately unique cake for my Mom, but we coudlnt' waste the remaining good parts. The cake was that important as a birthday tradition in our house.

I like this cake and was delighted to bring it into my own adult life as a birthday tradition this year for Sam. The cake has many merits, most of all as a vehicle for an excellent frosting. I must admit thought that I do differ with its self proclaimed "chocolate fudge" title. The cake is certainly chocolate, but it is nothing like fudge. Perhaps the frosting is what pushes it into this category? Any way you name it though, this is a good cake. Keep it away from your dog, and don't forget to serve it with heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream. Happy birthday dear Sam.

Colorado Cache Chocolate Fudge Cake

This cake was a classic during my childhood for birthdays. It bakes into a light, spongy, airy cake with an almost chewy crumb. It is the perfect vehicle for a good frosting, as it is not too dense, not too rich, but certainly stout enough to hold up to a heavy slathering of chocolate butter cream. The secret of this cake is the boiling water. I don't know what it does, but it give the cake its unique and memorable texture. Take note that the batter will be very runny after you add the boiling water, far more runny than you would expect from cake batter, but that’s part of the secret. Don’t stress, just put it in the oven and bake.

Also, this is a particularly delicious chocolate frosting with different recipe than your usual buttercream. You might consider one and one fourthing the recipe to give you enough for a very thick frost. See the below photo for proportions, courtesy of my mom who was bright enough to write it all down in the cookbook for posterity and ease. Any extra frosting will keep in the fridge almost indefinately and taste delicious on brownies, cookies, or graham crackers.


3 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup butter
2 1/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, or on low heat in a glass pyrex in the microwave. Set aside to cool. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Beat butter until soft. Add brown sugar and eggs, and beat until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and add cooled, melted chocolate. Stir in dry ingredients, alternating with sour cream, until just combined. Stir in boiling water. Pour into greased and floured 9″ pans. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until tests done (toothpick inserted in center comes out clean). Cool on baking rack.


4 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine chocolate and butter in a saucepan until melted. Combine sugar, milk, and vanilla in a medium sized bowl. Stir until smooth. Add chocolate mixture. Set bowl in a pan of ice water and beat with a wooden spoon until frosting is thick enough to spread.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can you name this mystery vegetable part II?

We have another mystery vegetable. Can you name it? I must admit, it is remarkably similar to last week's mystery bok choy, but still, it is not quite the same. This time, the leaves are darker with a deep green and purplish-red hue. The stalks at the base are shorter, smaller, and greener. What could it be? Please advise.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Everyone's Favorite Claire McCardell: The Dolman Dilema

I am still working through Everyone's Favorite Claire McCardell dress, with some distinct improvements to the original awkwardly-fitting muslin. However I am not there yet.

First things first, my reflections on the good. I scaled back to a 46 inch bust size (rather than 50), which is more in line with my upper bust measurement. This size is the best shoulder/back/neck fit. Then I conducted a pretty massive full bust adjustment, adding a good three inches or so in full bustiness room, as picture above.

Next, I moved the dart. It originally angled semi-upward along the side of the chest. The pattern illustration would have you believe the dart angles from in the waist area upward toward the bust apex, but it does not. On the pattern, the dart placement is definitely coming from the side seem slightly upward. Well, my problem of excess fabric over the armpit required dart migration into an area where it could corral the fabric. So I moved it up into the sideseem under teh armpit, where it now helps pull the extra fabric down and into the dart. Basically I used a slash and spread method to close the old dart and shift the dart into the armpit area, angling down a bit to my apex. The shift has helped the fit quite a bit.

However, it is still not perfect, so allow me to reflect on the bad. The biggest issue is still an excess of fabric over the bust in the armpit area. You can see it in the above photo puckering in the area of my upper bust (and sorry for the awkward self portraits. I try not to post bad picture like this, but I did not have my tripod at sewing class). I recognize that the dress design is not intended to be a very fitted bodice, and this excess fabric may reflect this, but nonetheless I am not willing settle for the gaping at my chest.

It is theorized by my sewing instructor that the excess fabric is due to my shoulder slope. I have a more sharply angled downward slope on my shoulders than the pattern's slope, which as you can see in the above photos is an almost straight line parallel to the floor. However, when we changed the slope on the shoulder, it constricted the arm/shoulder fit too tightly. The pattern fits with enough room in the underarm, but with too much room in the upper shoulder/arm. Yet removing upper arm fabric creates tightness. What is a girl to do?

To try and figure this fitting situation out, I have been research the fit and function of the Dolman sleeve. Be prepared as you read on. You are about to discover more about Dolman sleeves than you ever wanted to know.

I have done some reading on the design, and the basic description of this sleeve design is that the Dolman sleeve incorporates the bodice and the sleeve into once piece, making it the easiest sleeve style of all to construct. Dolman sleeves should create a smooth line over the upper chest (unless you are me on a first draft). The consensus is that this is an excellent style for someone with any kind of shoulder problem. Often, the underarm area is almost bat-like or cape like. Also, the sleeve often angles downward from the shoulder. This means there is some sleeve shaping but still no armhole or sleeve cap.

The dolman style has a sleeve formed integrally with the body, with only two substantial seams at the underarms. A generous amount of space is provided under the arms for movement, so the garment is usually considered to be very loose-fitting, even if the sleeve forearms are tight. It is perhaps the simplest style to assemble, with only two underarm seams to sew.

Dolman designs are usually constructed with sleeves extending at right angles to the body, so there can be the problem of too much fabric bunching under the arm, leading to a top-heavy appearance. Also, the fact that that there is no shoulder seam to support the weight of the fabric hanging down from the shoulders may result in pulling and stretched stitches in the shoulder area.

The conclusion is that, in general, when you're concerned with a good fit that complements the wearer (as opposed to a "safe" fit that will accommodate a small range of body sizes), set-in sleeve styling rather than Dolman sleeves is almost uniformly an ideal solution to the problem of adding sleeves to a garment. The Dolman sleeve might not be suited for a close fitting bodice.

As you can see in the below photo, I am making progress at a close fitting bodice with a Dolman sleeve. But if you look you can see the excess fabric gathering over my bust toward the shoulder. Perhaps I need to tweak and tuck a bit more. Perhaps I need a much more fluid and draping fabric to soften the excess. Whatever it is, I am not giving up hope yet that the pattern will work for me.

I am encourage by this bit of advice from Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina "Dolman sleeves give a nice smooth line and are forgiving on anyone with shoulder problems. Try to avoid an especially low curve in the underarm area. The Dolman sleeve and underarm seam can always be raised to suit your tastes....If a Dolman sleeves seems too deep for you, don't skip it all together - simply raise the underarm curve as you cut out. The goal is to keep the bust and sleeve circumference the same, but lift the curve up into the sleeve. Start by continuing the side seam up one inch to two inches into the sleeve, then curve back out into the sleeve. Curved seems at the underarm must be clipped or served close to lie flat. If you need to get rid of more fabric, you can do it in the sewing; but a conservative approach is better to start with."

If you have any advice for me, send it my way. I am accepting suggestions from every angle.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Can you name this vegetable?

Can you name this vegetable? The leaves have a very grassy, earthy, lettuce-with-a-kick flavor, and those stalks are just lovely and crisp looking. How should I prepare this produce. Please help.

What about this one, can you name this vegetable? The stalks look like petite celery, with less ridges and course fiber. The leaves taste salty and vegetative, similar to spinach, leading me to believe it is a fancy green best served wilted, but then again who knows?

Every Wednesday, thanks to our CSA subscription to Scott Arbor Farms outside of San Antonio, we receive a bag of produce. Most of it we can identify, and therefore find recipes and cooking instructions that are appropriate. This week, for example, we received beautiful red tip lettuce, fennel, broccoli, and kale. We don't need any help putting these in our belly. But then these two mystery vegetables. What are they?

If you can tell us what we are looking at, we will be grateful. If you can send a recipe for this particular produce item, even better. We are all ears.