Please say hello to the newest addition of our family, the lovely enameled Dutch oven by Lodge. Its cousin, Le Creuset, was too rich for my blood. I just couldn't pay that much money for a casserole dish. We're not serving the Queen here. After reading many reviews from satisfied customers, I plunged into a relationship with this cayenne red beauty. It has taken up semi-permanent residence on our counter so that I can pat it affectionately as I pass by and gaze soulfully at it from across the room as I make coffee in the mornings.
Why was this purchase significant? Because I had fallen into a rut. A cooking rut, to be exact. *sob* It was a boring and tedious place to be. Every week brought the same meals, over and over and over again. There wasn't a spark. No joy in the cooking. It was just…blah. I knew I needed help. A cooking makeover even. Professional cooking therapy?
No. I needed to watch this:
(photo from IMDb)
Along with tragic Asian cinema, British period dramas, and horribly sappy romcoms that I only allow myself to watch in secret with my best friend, I adore movies about food. Almost as much as I love books about food. The plot is pushed to the background, and mostly accidental as far as I'm concerned, as I feast my eyes on whatever the characters are cooking.
I enjoyed Julie & Julia on two levels. First, watching Meryl Streep bring Julia Child to life was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Julia C. loved food, and you can't help but love it along with her. She's lively and fun and you wish she lived next door to you and invited you over all the time to eat. And the food sequences…oh joy! Hollandaise sauce for artichokes, buttery browned mushrooms, perfectly poached eggs… Oops, starting to drool a little bit over here.
And there was the other aspect–Julie the Blogger. Her quips about getting comments on her blog ("Someone other than my mother is reading!") and her mother asking for the millionth time "just what exactly are you doing?" had me laughing in commiseration. (Although my mother was the one who originally suggested that I write a blog. So when people scrunch up their face like what is the point I just say, "my mom made me do it.")
Eat Drink Man Woman is one of my favorite food movies, because there are long pieces of footage that focus solely on the traditional Chinese cooking. I think I've seen it forty times at least, but I'm still riveted by all the ingredients going into his steamer baskets. Tortilla Soup is the Hispanic American version. It still has good food footage, but I think it's a faint echo of the original.
Speaking of excellent food reading material, have you read the novel The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones? You. Must. Read. Her food writing skills are phenomenal, so much so that I spent most of one day mourning that the book had ended and fantasizing that maybe I should try cooking real Chinese food. I snapped out of it.
I'm happy to report that my cooking rut is behind me. I've roasted two chickens in the Dutch oven, recipes thanks to Mrs. Julia Child. For its maiden voyage I made poulet poÄ›lÄ› Ã lâ€™estragon (casserole-roasted chicken with tarragon) that was so good Little Bear devoured half the chicken all by herself. The second time around I stuffed it with lemons and ginger, and Little Bear dumped her portion on the floor for the dog.
With the leftover chicken I made Julia's crepes filled with chicken and spinach and finished with a dollop of her Sauce Mornay. Quite fantastic although Little Bear wouldn't eat them.
Here they're heated up the following day for my lunch so they're aren't as pretty. The extra crepe batter went into the fridge, and we had them for breakfast sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and a bit of maple syrup. (I like mine smeared with jam.)
Julia's recipe makes so many crepes that you will have plenty of time to perfect your crepe making skills.
PÃ te Ã CrÃªpes (crepe batter)
From : Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 C cold water
1 C cold milk
Â½ tsp salt
1 Â½ C flour
4 Tbs melted butter
Put the liquids, eggs, and salt into the blender jar. Add the flour, then the butter. Cover and blend at tops speed for 1 minute. If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, dislodge with a rubber scraper and blend for 2-3 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
So where do you go for cooking inspiration? A favorite cookbook? A movie? And what do you have cooking up in your kitchen?
It's a two-for-one kind of day! Behold…
Yes, I stitched up the skirt for Something Floral, Something Blue at The Sew Weekly and turned the spring outfit into something for Shoestring Chic over at Thrift at Home. Two birds with one stone, my creative pals. Whew! Someone wipe my brow. Have you tried sewing with a toddler on your lap? I don't recommend it all. Not one bit.
Do I wish that The Husband could take a picture (just one!) that showed my feet? Heck yeah. Do I wish the sun would come out for just a second so I could get a decent picture without that awful overhead light? Yes indeedy. Alas, my dearies, it was not to be. Although not seeing my feet might be a good thing. My pedicure from Thanksgiving looks positively ragged, and although my neutral slides are quite fetching, the hard plastic flower embellishment pokes into my toe when I walk. So I'm bleeding. Just slightly.
When I found out the sewing theme for this week, for a few worrisome moments I was stumped. I didn't have any blue floral fabric in my stash. Really. Not a yard in sight. I had tons of florals but nothing that was blue. Which was crazy, because blue was one of my favorite colors. Then underneath a stack of peach paisley cotton I found some sad, neglected blue seersucker, leftover from my seersucker binge this past summer. It had been partially constructed before being thrown to the wayside as cooler temperatures descended and my attention turned elsewhere. My deepest apologies, seersucker. I will make amends by wearing you copiously this summer. I swear.
And score! The pattern had been rendered almost simple in comparison to my adventures last week with The Beatrix Skirt. Elastic waistband, baby. There ain't nothin' sweeter when suffering from zipper installation post traumatic stress.
Fabric: seersucker from summer sale ~ $9.98 for 2 yards
Pattern: Cute Skirts by Favorite Things ~ $9.98
Notions: elastic ~ $1.29
Time to complete: 4 hours, more or less
First worn: January 2011
Wear again? Oh yesâ€¦once it gets above 50Â° and stops snowing
Total Cost: $21.25
For the Shoestring Chic game where we try to put together inexpensive yet stylish outfits, here are my stats:
Fabric: seersucker from summer sale ~ $9.98 for 2 yards
Pattern: Cute Skirts by Favorite Things ~ free because Iâ€™ve used it more than once
Tank Top: hand-me-down ~ free
Cardigan: clearance find for $8.99
Earrings and Cocktail Ring: birthday and Christmas gifts ~ free
Shoes that you canâ€™t see: (Trust me, they're cute despite the blood.) Marshallâ€™s sale ~ $23.00
Total Cost: ~ $41.97
Give me English accents, a panoramic view of the English countryside, and the mere glimpse of an under butler, and you've got me. Practically any period piece produced by the BBC will keep me riveted to the screen, especially if it involves elaborate costumes and manor homes. Throw in a toasting fork and…sigh…rapture.
Miss Potter, the movie, had all these things (except the toasting forks) including unrequited love. Could it get any better? Well, yes, it also had a happy ending. After all the unrequited stuff, of course. I chose this movie because Beatrix Potter was an inspiring figure, but also because I had The Beatrix Skirt pattern in my stash from years ago.
Beatrix fell in love with her publisher. He was a man who believed she was a talented woman, who admired her passions of drawing and painting and writing, and who loved her despite her reputation for being an eccentric. They were secretly betrothed because he was a man "in trade" and was therefore disapproved of by her wealthy, high-society family. But here came the unrequited part (ready your hankies). He died.
(Here is the real Miss Potter wearing a skirt very similar to the one I sewed. The movie stills that I found failed to show anything below the waist and the style of walking skirts that were popular in 1909.)
Beatrix Potter stories were big in our house. Her depiction of animals was charming yet they still exhibited real animal behavior. Squirrel Nutkin had his tail ripped off by an owl (well, he was prancing around and teasing a very large owl) and Tom Kitten was almost made into a roly-poly by rats and eaten. I also admired Beatrix Potter because she lived life on her own terms. Despite the restrictions of what society expected of a woman and her parent's vision of what she ought to be, she forged a unique path. Eventually, after her unrequited love stage, she purchased a farm and lived close to the nature she loved to illustrate. And she did all her farming in a long skirt and tailored jacket.
Which inspired this…
I had intended to have The Husband take some artsy pics (inspired by the awesome photos from The Sew Weekly contributors) of me in the wintry setting of the park. However, the rest of our family decided to crash the photo shoot.
Fabric: twill inherited from my Grammy's fabric stash – $0
Pattern: Beatrix Skirt pattern from Sense and Sensibility $15
Year: c. 1909
Notions: zipper $4.99
Time to complete: I truly don't want to think about that
First worn: January 2011
Wear again? Um…maybe. After a long pattern vacation where I will forget all the tears and gnashing of teeth and bad words.
Total Cost: ~$19.99
I'm pleased with the final skirt, and although the pattern design was perfect for a beginner, the instructions were not. The pattern creator glossed over installing the waistband and zipper to concentrate more on the details of sewing a more historically accurate skirt. The errors in construction were 100% my fault entirely. Armed with The Complete Book of Sewing, I muddled through it. There was a point when I sat at my sewing machine and swore for three minutes solid because I had sewn in the zipper a half-inch short of the waistband. When I see my mother I'm going to give her huge puppy-dog eyes and sucker her into ripping it out and installing it the correct way. And the hem…that needs some first aid as well. Like I said, I need a vacation from thinking about this pattern before I attempt it again.
What I do like is that it's warm and has a flattering shape. The twill will wear especially well under the stress of managing a wayward bear. I have no fears of mashed banana staining it or wearing out the knees as I peer under furniture for a wayward barnyard animal (the small plastic kind). I will also be able to dash out to the store or other errands looking like a somewhat presentable human being instead of the harried mother who forgot to brush her hair or double-check her pants for dried, crusty stuff. I hate looking like a cliche, but more often than not I run out of the house looking exactly like one. I think it would be fun to sew this in a silky material for a formal skirt, but that's far off in the unforeseeable future.
For my Sew Along Project this week, I chose a simple skirt pattern that I figured would be doable in a week (I'm working with a toddler here) and that would enable me to increase the size without needing a degree from MIT. I hope to finish the skirt tonight and post about it tomorrow, but first things first. Like the #@$% math needed to draft a new pattern.
There was never a chance, even a slim one, that I would have a career involving advanced math skills, in any way shape or form. I've gotten this far in life, though, thinking that I had the basics down. Enough to maneuver me through the fabric aisles, at the very least. But I was humbled this week (humbled, I say!) by my very bad computations. Which I didn't figure out, of course, until I was assembling the skirt. (I would swear again here if I had the energy.)
My downfall was in the conversion of fractions to decimals. I can see that now, but at the time I was busily expanding the pattern by a fraction too big. Not that I knew this. It didn't help that Little Bear crawled on top of the table where I was drafting with a smile on her face that said I-know-I'm-not-supposed-to-do-this-but-look-how-cute-I-am. I ignored her, having bigger fish to fry, so she climbed on my back with her arms wrapped tight around my neck.
"Seven-eighths," I muttered, trying to ignore my dwindling air supply.
"Eight!" Little Bear cried. "Two! Theee! Mom! Dad!"
So my calculations, shaky to begin with, didn't stand a chance against a counting bear. Who also needed a snack, and a book read, and then a quick chase around the house with Marshmallow the Lion.
The only saving grace in this story is that I made a test run of the skirt in muslin. (Thank you, Grandma!) The sucker ended up being six inches too big around the waist. I discovered this around midnight, the perfect hour for the sewing fairies to swoop in and correct my mistake as I caught up on much needed beauty rest.
I'm still waiting for those danged fairies.
After a panicked telephone call to my mother, I think we have the problem solved. I'll know better tonight when I also tackle installing my first zipper and making my first waistband that doesn't involve elastic. Stay tuned tomorrow to see all the thrills and chills.
Dear Little Bear:
Please forgive my forwardness. Perhaps it's too soon to write to you about my feelings, having only met you yesterday, but I pray that you will indulge my bold ways and continue to read.
How could I know that when I sat across from you in the play kitchen, gazing into your blue eyes over pieces of wooden toast, that you would capture my heart? You spoke an unintelligible language, but it didn't matter, because I felt your words in my heart. You may have grabbed my wooden tea cup and flung it on the floor but you were really grabbing my soul and running away with it. Forever.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Well, it was yesterday. It was during story time, and you leaped on to the bench with such exuberance. It was that moment that I knew you were the girl for me. I jumped to my feet and pointed, not to rat you out to your mother (although your departure from the circle could hardly be described as subtle) but to openly declare my affections. "There!" I wanted to shout. "There is the bear I love!"
I hastened to your side. Do you remember? As fast as my 100% vegan-recycled shoes could carry me. Oh the music you made! Who knew dowel rods could make such excruciating noises? I know my mommy didn't. Did you see how her eyes bulged? It was music to my ears–dulcet tones that paved their way through my heart. Even when you tried to push me off the side, I knew you were only expressing your affection for me. So thoughtful. You were trying to improve my coordination. I can see that now!
I adore everything about you; the way you use the feather duster like a rapier, your dashing bravado as you scale precarious stacks of stuff, the way you howl when your mommy makes you share. I love it all! So what if you bit the pompom on my hand knit winter cap? My mommy can knit me a new one. She has nothing better to do!
Nothing can keep us apart. Not your five word vocabulary, nor your intense dislike of sitting still for longer than two minutes, nor the fact that you betray the Cause by wearing a disposable diaper on occasion. No, our love is stronger than that.
Never fear, my bear, we will be together again soon. As I watched you being carried away from the playground, kicking and screaming, I wished to comfort you. But you looked like you might be in a biting mood. This letter will have to suffice. Until later…
Your devoted admirer,
I named it The Sky is Falling apron because of the chicks dancing across it. I finished the apron over the weekend but only got a picture of it today. I had hoped for sun, (if one is going to be hit by a piece of sky, wouldn't you prefer it to be blue?) but we seem to be stuck with unending fog and rain for the next week or so.
The Husband snapped the pic which explains the odd composition. Overgrown shrubs in the background? Check. Random cookware in hands? Check. I don't believe he thought much about focus, but it was a moot point. I was laughing so hard at Little Bear that it was bound to be blurry.
She's saying, "bowl, bowl, bowl, bowl, bowl, bowl…"
You get the picture.
I was introduced to rugelach at a young age at the bakery in our grocery store. It was an exotic cookie as far as I was concerned. Tasty sugary goodness rolled up in flaky crust perfection. Hot dang, what an invention!
It wasn't until I read this post at Angry Chicken that I was reminded of their fantastic wonderfulness. Lo and behold, thanks to the recipe Amy found, I was able to bake them myself.
So I did! (Amy's rugelach are much prettier than mine, but mine still tasted freaking phenomenal.) Even The Husband was impressed. I stirred up the dough on Christmas Eve but didn't get around to rolling them out until after the New Year. (This was part of my finally-have-time-for-Christmas do-over.)The dough did fine in the fridge, and the results were amazing. The Husband and I each sampled one, and then the rest were packed into tins and given to friends at a belated holiday lunch the next day. After just one bite, I was showered with effusive thanks.
This was my other great bake of the day: Meyer Lemon-Blueberry Cornmeal Cake
I drool over Margie's culinary creations at The Perfect Pastry on a daily basis practically, and this cake did not disappoint. The batter tasted so good in the bowl that I almost didn't add the glaze at the end. I'm ever-so-glad that I did, though. Little Bear loved it too, mumbling "cake, cake, cake" as she gobbled up a slice.
My favorite part of the process (second only to eating it, of course) was rubbing the zested lemon peel in the sugar. I couldn't find Meyer lemons at the grocery, but the regular lemons did just fine. As I mixed it all together, Little Bear busied herself by plundering the blueberry supply.
She can open the freezer drawer all by herself and knows exactly where the organic wild blueberries sit. Luckily for me the twist tie still confounds her, but she picks off the paper until it's bare wire wrapped around it which usually ends up confounding me in the long run.
I have no picture of this delectable cake, because I didn't butter the center of my cake pan well enough and a big chunk of cake stuck to the pan. Argh! My taste buds didn't know the difference, though, as I scraped it out of the pan. Still yummy!
Several weeks ago I volunteered (read petitioned, pleaded, and downright begged) to be a contributor on The Sew Weekly. I felt that the sewing challenge would dovetail nicely with my quest for daily creative action, AND I had the unique perspective of being a beginning seamstress. As in, I had almost no sewing knowledge but possessed a burning desire to sew, sew, sew! Quite a compelling combination, right?
Alas, I wasn't picked, but I really couldn't complain because Mena chose seamstresses from all over the world to sew her weekly challenges. Their different viewpoints and inventive sewing/pattern ideas were fun to read and made me almost happy that I wasn't chosen. Nevertheless, there's a way that I can participate.
Every week I hope to meet the sewing challenge and produce a garment relating to the theme Mena has chosen. Heck, if you'd like to sew along too, the challenge is open to anyone. I'll blog about the details of my sewing travails (I assure you they will be amusing.) and post pictures to The Sew Weekly flickr group. Being a beginner, as you well know, has its pitfalls and brings me to this week's challenge.
Coco Chanel familiarized everyone with the Little Black Dress, and after I was finished swooning over her dresses on display at the Met, I realized that I didn't have a LBD for the current stage in my life. (The stage is called: Between Babies. In my particular case this means lots of fluffiness everywhere.) I had LBDs from my pre-Little Bear days that I hoped to return to in a couple years, and I had several LBDs for when I was preggers. (Right this minute, though, there ain't nothin' black in my closet except yoga pants that will fit.) How had my wardrobe fallen into such disrepair?
Rather desperately, I dug through my pattern collection and found this:
I thought it fit the Chanel bill perfectly, a black dress that I could fancy-up or down and wear all over town. But the size was pre-LB. Gah!
Luckily for me, I found this helpful fitting tutorial at Sense & Sensibility and I learned a thing or two about patterns old and new. Mainly, don't be afraid! Jennie also convinced me to use tracing paper with all my patterns. That way the original stays intact no matter how you change in size (or if you're sewing for someone else). This will be invaluable when sewing for LB as she grows.
The tracing paper has been ordered, and I'm waiting for its delivery before proceeding with my re-sizing of the LBD pattern. Ironically, my first sewing post had very little to do with actual sewing. Hopefully there will be more action with the next challenge.
You're the winner of my very first giveaway! Your apron will be on its merry way to you in Monday's mail, and I will be certain to post a picture here of the final product upon its completion. (Autumn – I'll be emailing you for your address in a moment.)
I ran into a slight, er, technical difficulty when assembling the apron last night causing me to forge a lasting friendship with my pal, the seam ripper. I call her Geraldine, because if we're going to be spending so much time together, I should address her properly. Don't you think?
Thanks to everyone who participated and who reads my blog. You are greatly appreciated!
Today (Until 8:00 p.m. because I really need to get some sleep. All this sewing keeps me up to all hours!) is the last day to enter the blog-o-versary giveaway. Check out the details here.
I have to say that although this is a relatively simple sewing project, I'm learning quite a bit. First I had to learn what the heck a "flat fell seam" was. Thank you, UTube sewing ladies for that video tutorial. I'm still unsure if I'm doing it right, but at least the sucker will stay together. Never fear. You're apron won't slip off into the oven when you stoop to baste the turkey. Or fly off as you go chasing after your child wielding the dripping paint brush. Or fall into the tub as you scrub down the dog that just rolled in a pile of you-don't-really-want-to-know.
I wanted to put my own stamp on the design and decided to add an applique that I drew. Which meant learning how to applique, a process made longer by Little Bear stealing the circles of fabric and flinging them about the room like frisbees. (One of them remains at large.)
Here's a sneak peek at the pockets with the (surprise!) applique:
I'm having a blast sewing this apron, but I may re-think my giveaway next year. According to Garbageman's Daughter, I'm going about this all wrong. Dang, she cracks me up!