Monday, July 30, 2007

my submission

I'm shooting for Girlfriend of the Year - or so it would seem! I needed an excuse to get out of the house, and bringing the boy his lunch at work seemed like an excellent excuse to see him and get some exercise.

So how's this for a bicycle-delivered lunch? We have a warm roasted pear stuffed with gorgonzola and broiled to gooey-ness, alongside lamb's lettuce and baby greens dressed with a balsamic shallot vinagrette and freshly crisped bacon. And because he feared that would not be quite enough to get him through the day, in the back is a tupperware of vegan (no eggs!) yam-sage gnocchi simply dressed in some olive oil and herbs from the garden.

Now, before you get the impression that this was a lot of work, the salad is leftover from last night - I just had to rewarm the pear, toss fresh greens in leftover vinagrette, and brown some bacon. The gnocchi is from a huge batch we made about two weeks ago. We froze leftovers and then bagged them up in individual portions so that we could have instant dinner whenever we needed.

By the time I'd put it all together, I was heartily wishing I hadn't been such a pig and insisted on eating my leftover pear last night - as dessert with my pinot noir. Oh well. We'll definitely be making this salad again, especially when autumn arrives. And just for you, here's the recipe below:

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Bacon:
Pears (1/2 pear per salad), cut in half, cores removed
1-2 Tbl. butter
Gorgonzola cheese (figure 1/2 oz - max - per salad)
Greens - arugula, lamb's lettuce, spring mix, whatever you like! (we even included some romaine last night!) - two generous handfuls per salad
Bacon, 1-2 slices per salad.

For Shallot-Balsamic Vinagrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinager
1 medium shallot, minced very fine (use a food processor if you'd like)
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cut bacon into bite-sized chunks, and brown over med-low heat in a heavy saucepan, about 15-20 min. Drain on paper towels when done to remove excess oil.

While bacon is cooking, melt butter in another heavy saucepan. Add pears, cut side down, and cook over medium heat until browned, about 10-15 min. When pears are brown, place on a baking sheet or roasting pan, cut side up. Sprinkle pears with salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake until tender - times vary, ours only took 5-10 min.

Meanwhile, make vinagrette: whisk all ingredients together in a mason jar or tall glass until combined and thick.

When pears are tender, remove from oven. Turn on broiler. Stuff approximately 1/2 oz of gorgonzola cheese into the hole from each pear's core. Place pears under broiler until cheese is melty - approximately 2-3 min.

To serve, place greens in a large bowl. Add 1 - 2 Tbl. dressing and toss by hand to coat. Use more dressing only if needed - this will keep the salad light and the flavour of the greens will come through. Add bacon bits and toss again. Place one pear half on each plate and mound greens beside it.

this recipe only slightly adapted from Gordon Hammersley's "Bistro Cooking at Home," perhaps my all-time very most favorite cookbook ever.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

happy, happy birthday, baby!

Cassidy turned 28 on Friday. I spent the week fussing over cake ideas and cake-decorating schemes - that is, until he shut me down! "Don't worry about it," he said, "they'll have a cake for me at work. They always have cake for people on their birthday." And re: a party? "Eh, let's just have a quiet year this year," he said.

Well, thought I, a reprieve! And I laid the matter to rest.

You know how the story goes: the gal who usually arranges the cakes wasn't there. No one knew it was his birthday. No cake. And Friday night was quiet, and I think he was surprised to find himself missing the usual celebration. "I think I'm starting to understand what it was like for you," he reflected - referencing my constant loneliness my first few years in Seattle, when putting myself through school left me bereft of any sort of social life.

Poor guy! So Saturday night (had to wait for the day's heat to pass), I whipped up his favorite cake. I have made this cake for his birthday something like 4 or 5 years running now, and I have to say, this is the best chocolate cake recipe I've ever found. I'm not actually very particular to cake at all - but this one, this one is the exception. This is actually a very pared-down version: just one layer, no fancy decorating. But I frosted it - per his request - with Irish Cream buttercream frosting, and sang him a happy birthday as I brought it out.

"You're the first one to sing it!" he smiled. We each had a very thin slice - then he had two more! - and dang, if it wasn't every bit as good as I remember. =)

happy, happy birthday Cassidy! I wish you many more - cakes, that is.

The Perfect Chocolate Cake

Irish Cream Buttercream (note: I found this a little TOO buttery, so I nearly doubled the Irish Cream and added extra confectioner's sugar until the consistency was right)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

fall wardrobe #3: eyelet blouse


well. this is fall-wear in Santa Barbara, sure. ;) I've had this eyelet forever - it was given to me by a friend back when I was first on my own and couldn't afford things like fabric for fun sewing projects. I didn't want to use it until I had the perfect summer project, and so here I am, six years later, finally putting it to use.


the details: top designed and pattern drafted by myself, of course. Yoke is lined. Top of yoke is trimmed with ivory mesh net, bottom is trimmed with red stitching detail. Yoke, hem, armholes, etc. etc. are trimmed with red bias binding that I made from some red-and-white quilting cotton. Top ties at the neck in the back with the same binding, stitched closed. Binding is also used as flat (not corded) piping along yoke edge. Body is unlined and somewhat sheer, so I do have to wear a top under it. Small pleats shape it at the yoke, and it has a shirttail hem.

experiments with self-timer

Saturday, July 14, 2007

fall wardrobe #2: the print shirt

I also like to call it my "loud shirt," because the colour combination of bright pink, plum, warm brown, dark green, greige, and black is ... well, loud. To me, anyhow. Plus, I find the print slightly jarring, with all those sharp angles. However, this top was basically cheap as free to make. The fabric was something (along with 5 yards of navy silk dupioni) that my mother scored for me at a Habitat for Humanity "garage" sale years ago. I never knew what to do with this print - which is, I think, poly or nylon to boot! - until I was suddenly inspired by the rage of pattern and bright colour right now. It is getting votes of "very Marc Jacobs" over at craftster. I'm quite flattered, though I admit I don't get the reference - which season/collection?

The details: top is empire seamed with a gathered bust, and bottom is cut on the bias for stretch and nice drapey movement.Puff sleeves are gathered along the top of the shoulder, but slit over the top of the arm. The underside is gathered into cotton twill tape that ties the slit closed over the arm, creating an adjustable, somewhat open "puff sleeve." Top closes with a side zip and hook. Pattern is original - drafted on my dressform. Length of twill-tape ties at neck is TBD.

next up: either I try and use up some eyelet (approx 1 yd), or 2 yds of striped silk or I recon a blue silk shirt. The recon may come first, as I've been putting off doing something with it for ages, and I'm trying to get through old projects first these days. I'm welcoming any suggestions re: the eyelet in particular. I know I want to do a blouse, but what? Some kind of gathered, yoked top, maybe? I was thinking if I could find some vintage crocheted lace for the yoke and line it?

Friday, July 13, 2007


Genesis. 30 x 30. Oilbar and pencil on canvas. 2007.

after skipping a free trip to Knott's Berry Farm (as a chaperone) in order to read and paint yesterday, and getting up and painting all morning, I have accomplished the dubious: finishing this today. I honestly didn't think that I would, and I'm really pleased both that I finished, and with how it turned out. I think I learned a lot during this. I wish I could go back and do some parts over, only ... I don't want to touch it. My fingers are pretty stiff and I need a shower, as I didn't get one this morning, owing to the need to finish. I'm behind on my reading goal for the week, but oh well, can't win 'em all, can you? And seeing as it will be 10-14 days before this is ready to travel and be photographed, I have plenty of time to read while it cures.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

garden update

fuschia begonia shelters under a shady rosemary
I bought some new plants yesterday, as I've been working toward filling in the few gaps in the inside bed. I ended up getting some things I hadn't planned on - azure blue germander, 1 gallon pots for $2.50 each! - and as a result, I expanded my border bed out front today. Wow, what a difference soil-building makes! The uncomposted soil took a couple hours to excavate. No matter - it's composted now. I don't know that the condo association allows us to alter our front beds ... but I'm out of planting space, so I see myself doing this again before too long.

the interior bed - the light here is so harsh, it's hard to get a decent picture, so let me tell you: chives in the foreground are in a pot, the bed is planted with tuscan blue rosemary (3), thyme-leafed fuschia (2), begonia fuschia (4), mint (2), parade rose (1), mexican heather (2), and some cockscomb and moss rose.
my lemon verbena is floppy; it needs to be staked. Chives in a pot, and behind, the newly expanded bed: cockscombs, moss roses, and an azure-blue germander. I'm thinking of shaping these lovelies into standards, just for fun. Further back: a little glimpse of rosemary, a lot of pineapple sage, and the briefest peek of lavendar.

from the far side of the bed: newley planted rosemary (tiny! it'll grow!), cockscomb and moss roses, a dusty culinary sage, the second germander, then loads of pineapple sage and lavendars (purple alyssum peeks underneath), with jasmine climbing in the corner.

I finally packed the chives into a pot. Zaha found them immediately and began snacking. I may have to move them back out, I don't know how long they'll last if she eats them at this rate.

a final shot. Azure blue germander, moss rose, cockscomb, pineapple sage, and lavendar.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

watermelon gazpacho

apologies for the blurry picture! This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart. All measurements are "ish," so feel free to fiddle. The result is wonderful: a light, fresh, pink-and-green (Lily Pulitzer forever!) concoction of refreshingly cool with a hit of spice that keeps you lapping up the juice. Enjoy!
approx 6.5 c. peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped watermelon, plus 1 cup finely chopped.
2/3 - 3/4 c. cranberry juice
1 c. chopped cucumber - I used 2/3 of an English cuke (a bit more than a cup)
1 c. chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/3 c. packed fresh mint leaves, minced
1/3 c. packed fresh parsley, minced
juice of one lime
2 - 3 Tbl sherry vinegar
1 Tbl jalepeno pepper, minced (I used one seeded, deribbed jalepeno. It turned out pretty hot.)
combine 6.5 (approx) roughly chopped watermelon and the cranberry juice in a blender. puree until smooth. Press through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Discard pulp. You should have about 4-5 c. juice.
Add remaining ingredients to watermelon-cranberry juice: additional finely chopped watermelon, cucumber, celery, red bell pepper, red onion, mint, parsley, lime, sherry vinegar, and jalepeno. Stir to combine, seal with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Allow at least one hour to marinate; the more the better.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

fall wardrobe #1: recycled sweater

Thus begins my fabric/recon stash clean-out and my fall-wardrobe construction. There are things I want, money I lack, and fabric to clean out, so this is my solution! I constructed this lined sweater from two grey cashmere sweaters of Cassidy's that I fulled in the wash. I scrapped the holey fronts. I lined it with leftover baby blue knit, and trimmed it with lightweight woven cotton from my stash - both to lend structural support to the cashmere. I made bias trim for the neckline, but as it's a scant 1/4 inch, it necessitated hand-sewing with tiny little stitches.

The sleeves are kind of a bubble, with a little pleat on top of each arm that I may tack down later with a button, but haven't decided yet. There's a lot of origami-esque pleating and folding on the runways these days, so I may just leave it be.

yes, the hem dips down in two points on the front.

it secures at the neckline with a leather button-tab that I secured/embellished with gold stitching. Buttons are reproductions of an 1890s poppy button - nothing fancy, just found 'em at the craft store.

Yes, it's kind of boxy and folkloric. I keep reading that boxiness is coming back (ha! take that, skinny jeans!) so I thought this would be a nice, structured way to try it out for fall. It does feel lovely on - it's so fluffy and cozy, I keep thinking it should be paired with a poodle skirt.
next up: the kinda-loud slippery print fabric that I've been trying to figure out how to use for about 5 years. I hope to draft patterns - and maybe start cutting and sewing? - tonight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

as american as ... ?

How American is apple pie, anyway? Oh, I know, I know, it's a cultural construct, part of the ethos of American identity, but doesn't anyone find it funny that these Donna Reed types were all baking apple pies in the 50s, with America deeply embroiled in a Cold War with the nation that is actually the native birthplace of the apple?

Food for thought. Actually, I do love apple pie. However, Cassidy doesn't. For some strange reason, he can't brook apples and cinnamon together. Seriously! So I haven't made one in a long time. Don't fret, I still have a tendency to bake myself an apple for breakfast of a wintry morning, or to stew a large pot of applesauce (just ripe with cinnamon and nutmeg!) on an autumnal afternoon. These are food rituals of my family, and cherished ones.

For the Fourth, however, though I don't consider myself the most ardent patriot, especially in these troubled times, I can't help but want to bake a pie. Maybe that's some measure of the American identity in myself. For all that it's so chic and urbane to be a cynic, I always choke up at the national anthem, I still salute the flag - even if not outwardly, there's definitely that kind of reverence in me that I can't locate or contradict, and I still want to make something picnicky for the Fourth of July.

So. Hopefully photos of the rest of the spread later, as the watermelon gazpacho I threw together is a picture of adorableness, but for now, I've made us an American pie. Not apple, no, but blueberry - a native fruit of this country. The crust really gave me hell last night, something I've not struggled with for years - perhaps it's this new climate? - but eventually I got it, and to boot, this is my first non-runny pie in years. We've already sent a slice, along with other food goodies, to a sick colleague this morning, so I can vouch that the filling I licked off the knife is very tasty!

Happy Fourth, everyone! Cassidy made espresso drinks and sourdough waffles for us for breakfast (my starter is really kicking into gear, now that it's 10 days old), which we topped with berries and cream for a suitably patriotic-looking breakfast with some friends. We're shipping off to have a swim in the ocean for a couple hours, and then we're going to churn some fresh vanilla ice cream for the pie this afternoon and make real, meat burgers (we haven't done this in a while) before we hunt for a good viewpoint for the fireworks show off the pier tonight. How lucky we are to live in such a prosperous country where young people like us can have such a day together. Here's to you, ol' red, white, and blue!

check back tomorrow for pics of my newest sweater project!