Sunday, May 24, 2009

Like mother like daughters.

The original Condit ladies and their shorts.

Sometimes something becomes such a fashion hit that it begs to be brought back again and again as a classic. Sure, you may be thinking of the little black dress, over sized sunglasses, or cigarette pants. But when I think of a fashion statement worthy of bringing back, I have to go right for the red checkered matching bottoms. They are timelessly hilarious, painfully matching, and infinitely nostalgic of good times at the beach.

The photo above is circa 1995, taken at the Condit family reunion in Hilton Head Islands at the first pig roast. The ladies, in order, are my Aunt Barbie, my Aunt Susan, my momma, and my Aunt Connie. The shorts are from Kelly's Kids, and my mom was a rep and therefore must have been the mastermind behind the matchy-matchy shorts. The photo below is circa 2009, taken at the Condit family reunion in Hilton Head Island at the second pig roast. The ladies, in order, are my sister Anne, me, my sister Ellen and my sister Claire. The skirts are homemade by me and the brilliant idea of my sister Ellen, who thought it would be a riot to mimic the matchy-matchy shorts from the previous reunion. She was right. It was a riot.

The plaid shorts, reinvented for 2009.

We changed into the shorts just before the pig roast started. Giggling, we walked downstairs and my sister Anne declared to the family mixing gin and tonics in the kitchen, "We know just what four sisters are supposed to wear to a pig roast!" Everyone laughed and laughed, remembering the original shorts, and then the feasting commenced. A good time was had by all, and I like to think our checkered bottoms added to the festivities.

Somewhere in the photo albums there is the funniest photo of my aunts and mom sticking their heinies out for the camera. If you look closely in the below photo you can actually see my grandma shooting the picture in the background. The heiny shot is MIA right now, but we did our best to recreate it on the beach this go around.

In case you are interested in the technical details, you should know that rather than sewing long shorts, we opted for skirts. They are ultimately more fashionable, flattering, and easy to fit from afar (I sewed everything in San Antonio and they all live in Denver). I used my ultimate favorite skirt pattern, the Asymmetrical Folds Skirt from Stitch Magazine. As with the last skirt, I fully lined these ones in red to make it both stiffer and also reversible. They are a snap to sew, taking only a couple of hours a piece.

I believe it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, mom and aunts, I hope we did you proud. We can't wait for the next reunion.

Anne, Kate, Ellen, and Claire.

Aunt Barbie, Aunt Susan, Mom (Sarah) and Aunt Connie.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reinvintage: A Mexican muumuu becomes a tunic.


...and After.

Look at my (self proclaimed) brilliant reinvention of a vintage thrift find, or to summarize a "reinvintage!" I wanted to write a sewing pattern review for this, however, it hardly seemed worth a pattern review as all I did was hem the muumuu into a shirt.

I purchased the dress at San Antonio's new, local, wannabe Buffalo Exchange called Stitch to Wear. It is a clothing resale shop with a small design department. The endeavor is only a few months old, and only boasts a few racks of recycled clothing, but I did find this amazing piece as well as a beautiful velvet vintage skirt that is sized for a 22 inch waist, but was so pretty and inexpensive that I had to buy it anyway. If you have a 22 inch waist and are looking for a purple floral print velvet skirt, AND if you can replace a zipper or will hire someone to do it for you, then let me know. I have the skirt for you. It is my gift to the person willing to take a picture of themselves wearing it out, so I can live vicariously through you. Anyways, back to the muumuu dress.

This dress was a real gem because of the yoked collar and fitted shoulders. I knew on first glance it would make an adorable tunic. And it was perfect timing, because my beautiful sister Ellen was visiting and she was a natural fit. It took a bit of convincing to make her see that this muumuu could be a fashion gem, but she came around. In fact, it was her excellent prompting to lengthen where I planned to hem that saved this shirt. My one word of advice for others performing this type of reinvintage is to hem long. You can always take it up more, but you can never make your cropped muumuu into a cute tunic once you cut it too short.

Next up, keep your eyes out for the pending reinvintage skirt, featuring none other than a great scene of a palm tree, senorita, and her Mexican beau relaxing on a sunny, slightly cloudy day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Most certainly not Martha.

Nothing puts you in your place in the kitchen quite like botching a Martha Stewart recipe.

I love her Baking Handbook because of its clear organization, detailed how-to instructions, and most of all because of the gorgeous design and photography. You can see her book propped up in the photos above, all of her hand pies sitting their with their symmetrical, identical and goldened to perfection corners tucked neatly to the center. Um, yeah, it's perfection.

Then you see my hand pies. They are most certainly NOT symmetrical, they are definitely not identical. Many of them are more than golden, and nothing is neatly tucked to the center. My hand pies likely tasted very similar to Martha's, but they lack the visual perfection. This has a lot to do with my botched crust.

I need to find a "working with Pate Brisee" self help book, because I am just not good at it. It is sort of disturbing, because I come from a lineage of successful crust makers. My grandmother bakes apple pies in a giant, foot wide, deep dish pie plate. My father can whip up a flaky, tender, perfectly golden pie crust in his sleep using shortening, which is why he frequently bakes pies for my mom on a whim. My sister Anne must have acquired the gene for crust making, only she uses butter to make a legit pate brisee. Me though, I have not perfect the crust making, although I am trying. I won't lie though, on occasion my failed attempts at crust have left me crying in the kitchen. What's a girl to do when she strives for Martha-like perfect and ends up with hand pies that look like these?

The only thing to do is take some funny photos and enjoy them as though they look perfect. After all, they still taste good, right? Plus I have heard that it all looks the same after it's chewed anyways. And worrying about my pate brisee does not help the situation. As my dad always says "Don't worry, worry ruins the crust."

Sausage-Fennel Hand Pies (from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1/4 c EVOO (optional)
1 pound sweet italian sausage, casings removed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small head fennel (about 1 pound), trimmed, cored, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
6 plum tomatoes, quartered, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
pate brisee (see below)
1 large egg, lightly beaten, 3 T fennel seeds, lightly toasted

1. Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat (no need if you have a non-stick pan as the sausage will release oil). Crumble sausage into pan and cook until browned, 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
2. If needed, add more oil--depending on your sausage, you may not need any. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes (or a tad longer if you like your onion really soft). Add fennel and red pepper flakes, season with S&P. Cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender, 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they release their juices, 3-4 minutes. Add reserved sausage. Remove from heat and let cool COMPLETELY. This is a good time to roll out the crust. When the filling is cooled, add feta and stir in.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil. Now roll out 12 5x5 squares of dough from the pate brisee recipe (below). You can do this a lot of ways. I divided my dough into 3 pieces and made 4 squares out of each piece, rolling everything out between wax paper.
4. Put 1/2 c filling in the middle of each square, and then fold the corners up to cover it (shouldn't be completely sealed or anything). Lay them out on the baking sheet--they don't rise so I was able to fit all 12 on my sheet (admittedly it's an extra large sized one).
5. Brush tops with egg and sprinkle on fennel seeds. Bake until golden brown, 40 minutes (actually less in my oven). Cool slightly and serve warm.

Pate Brisee

2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 c ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles course crumbs. While machine is running, add ice water slowly until dough just holds together without being wet or sticky. You might need to add a little more water depending on how humid it is. Then chill the dough at least 1 hour or overnight.

Monday, May 4, 2009


As I sit here now, I am enjoying spoonful after spoonful of delicious homemade yogurt. Yes, that is correct, I said homemade. It turns out yogurt is not limited to the small plastic containers lining the dairy aisle at the local grocery store. Rather, yogurt is a miracle of fermentation and bacterial reproduction, and something so simple literally anyone can make it at home. I can sum up the yogurt-making process into one sentence. You stir a little starter into warm milk, let the mixture rest at a warm room temperature sit, and in a few hours the bacteria from the starter have multiplied a hundredfold and created a thickened product full of billions of healthful, tangy bacteria in every spoonful.

But the wizardry of yogurt making deserves a bit more than that sentence. Our interested started thanks to this great article by Harold McGee in The New York Times. Sam found it online, and we were immediately curious, so we experimented this weekend. It could not have been easier. Basically yogurt making is nothing more than giving a small colony of chosen bacteria an expansive home, and allowing them a bit of time to take it over. The bacteria is a special type of bacteria called lactic acid bacteria. As McGee explains, "The lactic acid bacteria are a group of microbes that share the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid, which suppresses the growth of their competitors. The lactic acid also causes the proteins and fat globules in milk to cluster into a continuous solid network, with the milk’s water trapped in its pores." Thus, the bacteria turn regular old milk to yogurt.

And when McGee says "continuous solid network" he is not kidding. After just four hours of fermentation our yogurt was a thick and solid, shiny mass that was more inclined to stick to itself than anything else. Before draining, we could poke our spoon into the culture and bring it back up clean, almost like putting a spoon into a block of jello. After 24 hours draining through cheesecloth in the fridge, it has become like a delicious dairy glue. The final product is very thick, very rich, and very, very sticky.

We made two types of yogurt, one 2% and one whole milk. The verdict is still out, but I think we prefer the 2%. We used a 99% fat free vanilla Yoplait as our starter, and the bacteria in it were champs. My only complaints is that there is a faint and lingering flavor of vanilla yoplait in our yogurt batch. I expected the quart of milk to dilute our two tablespoons of vanilla into nothing, but apparently the flavor is potent. You might consider searching for a plain yogurt for your starter. I think our next batch will be better, as the vanilla will begin to be diluted into infinity as we use leftover yogurt as a starter in future batches. Also, one quart reduced to about a pint of yogurt after draining. If you have a big family or eat a lot of yogurt, you might consider making this from a gallon of milk rather than just a quart.

Any way you make it, this yogurt is a marvel of science, flavor, and what feels like magic. I am so pleased we tried this at home, most importantly as a reminder than many good things in the grocery store have long lost humble beginnings in the home cook's kitchen.

Homemade Yogurt
All yogurts begin in the same way -- milk is heated and then cooled slightly. Active cultures, which can vary depending on the type of yogurt, are added, and the mixture ferments until it sets. Anyone, literally, ANYONE is capable of completing this amazing, inexpensive, rewarding science experiment at home, and reaping their reward for breakfast. I would love to make yogurt with children. I think it seems like a great learning experience.

One quart milk (whole or 2% preferred for flavor)
2 tablespoons starter (either remains from an old yogurt batch, or a commercial yogurt)

Heat the fresh milk to 180-190 degrees, or to the point that it’s steaming and beginning to form bubbles. Cool the milk to 115 to 120 degrees, Stir in two tablespoons of yogurt, either store-bought or from your last batch, thinning it first with a little of the milk. Pour warm milk/yogurt mixture in a an insulated, wide mouthed container and cover it. Keep the milk warm as its sets, which usually takes about four hours. When set, strain through cheesecloth if desired (its what I recommend), put in a sealed container and refrigerate.

To make a thick Greek-style yogurt, spoon your mixture into a fine-mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth. Let the whey drain into a bowl for several hours. The longer the mixture drains, the thicker the final product.