Wednesday, December 30, 2009

a beautiful winter salad

Only slightly adapted from Martha Stewart, this was bright, crunchy, green, and delicious. Perfect for holiday entertaining or - in our case, paired with brown rice pilaf - a light winter dinner.

1 fennel bulb
6 oz green beans
1 pomegranate
1-3 oz sheep's milk feta (vary according to your preference)
mesclun salad greens or watercress
2 Tbl. pomegranate molasses
2 Tbl. mustard (we used stone ground)
1 Tbl. honey
1/4-1/3 c. olive oil

halve a medium fennel bulb lengthwise. core. slice thinly. Place in a bowl, toss with the juice of 1 lemon, and set aside. (Juice keeps the fennel from discolouring while you make the rest of the salad.)

trim 1/3 to 1/2 pound of green beans and cut into approximately 2" lengths. Blanch in boiling water, about 1 minute, or until they are a vivid bright green. Quickly drain and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Let cool in the ice bath, then drain, pat dry, and set aside.

Whisk together 2 generous Tbl. pomegranate molasses (Whole Foods carries it, and you can also find it at many mediterranean import shops), 1 Tbl. honey, and 2 Tbl. mustard (we used stone ground). Add about 1/4 to 1/3 c. olive oil in a thin stream, whisking to emulsify into a thick dressing.

Seed 1 pomegranate.

Place half a bunch of watercress, rinsed, or a handful of mesclun salad greens on a plate. Drain fennel. Arrange fennel and green beans over lettuce. Top with pomegranate seeds, crumbled sheep's milk feta (so much better than cow's milk feta!), and drizzle liberally with the dressing.

Handmade Holidays 2009 #3: a smocked silk necklace

A very sweet friend of ours recently visited Japan for a couple of weeks. She brought us back some thoughtful little gifts, including sake, a sashiko kit (which I am looking forward to doing with her, as she picked one up for herself, too), and some silk samples from the markets. The beautiful silk samples are just big enough to make a little necklace like this (it is about 5 or 6 inches wide at the widest part of the "fan" there), and it seemed like a nice way to thank her. The metal findings and chain are brass, and I put two pretty freshwater pearls on it, too.

Now, all the credit for this idea has to go to tinctory, who makes beautiful smocked necklaces from silk (aren't the feather ones amazing?). She dyes her silk in beautiful individual dye baths that she makes from plants, and her smocking is far superior to mine. But - alas - I couldn't afford to just buy one of her pieces. As she's kind enough to show you "how it's done" in some pictures in her flickr account, I used those images as a guide and gave it a go. Not too bad for a first try - I hope my friend likes it!

Handmade Holidays 2009 #2: personal accessories

I don't really like handkerchiefs myself, but I think that's because I have such bad allergies. I want a Kleenex and then I want to throw it away. But I know not everyone feels this way, and so I decided that I would make and embroider three handkerchiefs for a friend of mine who does use handkerchiefs for the holidays.

I bought the good stuff: Irish hanky linen, from I hope pale blue is okay, because it was expensive enough just buying the one colour that was on sale. I bought a half-yard, and cut three squares (12.5 inches on each side) from it. To make a rolled-edge seam, you need a good hot iron. Fold the edge over 1/8" (tricky!) and press. Fold over again and press. You now have a 1/4" rolled hem. Stitch in place - I did all of mine by hand with a blind hem stitch. Repeat on all four sides.

I also embroidered mine with colourful monograms in cotton embroidery thread (what do you think? too childish? I showed my fella and he said it was cute, but he also laughed. I'm not sure that's a good sign?), just for fun. The letter is in classic satin stitch and the accent is in back stitch. I worked each section separately, so no long tails connect any of the pieces on the back of the work - which is almost as pretty as the front. Even though it takes me a bit of extra time and caution to keep the back as neat as the front, it's a goal I strive for when I can't hide the back of the work.

To create a monogram pattern, I googled "monogram" and picked an accent that I liked and printed it out. I could see through the linen just enough to trace the monogram with a water-soluble pen. I had them all embroidered in an evening, while watching Return of the King. I think I'm done with embroidery for a while!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

a new dinner!

My break is almost here! I'm at that point in the quarter where I have a few more hours to put into housework, crafting, watching old movies (Annie Hall and North by Northwest the other night) and cooking. Especially on the cooking and housework fronts, my boyfriend deserves a break - he has to do almost all of it during the thick of the quarter, so once my schedule frees up, I like to start treating him back, as a way to say "thanks!"

So, last night I made the Pressed Chicken with Chestnuts, Porcini, and Cipollini Onions from Sunday Suppers. I served it on the carrot puree that they made as well. It was really, really good! New things are hit or miss around here, and he did NOT like the last recipe I made from them (a salad of watermelon and mint with caramelized onions and feta - I thought it was awesome, by the way), so he was really skeptical. But, a total hit this time. We'll definitely be doing this again.

I paired it with a pear crisp loosely adapted from Gordon Hammersley's Bistro Cooking at Home: I cored and chopped 5 pears and mixed the fruit with about 1/2 c. dried cranberries, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, and about 1/4 c. sugar. Mix together, pour into a glass baking dish. Top with a crumble topping made of oatmeal, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. I don't bother measuring this anymore, but there are lots of options on epicurious if you need a little help. Bake at 350 F for 40-55 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and topping is lightly browned. (We top ours with a splash of cream.) Yum!

leather, mesh, knots and chains

so, I saw this necklace in this post on Unruly Things, and I really fell in love. But I don't exactly have $250 for a necklace. I didn't even buy wire. Instead, I made this out of some of that copper mesh ribbon - you know this stuff? it's actually woven in a tube - that I pulled over an equal length of braided leather cord. Well, to be honest, I outsourced that labour - it was time-consuming and frustrating and I had lots of homework. So my darling boyfriend did that part for me. Then I used a big clamp/crimp clasp to secure the mesh around the cord at the ends. It was easy to make the knot just following the Samma picture, and the leather cord is stiff enough that it firmly holds its shape.

I added the bronzy chains at the back because it wasn't nearly long enough for a necklace after I'd done the weaving (note: I began with 36 inches of mesh-covered cord - I needed to start with at least 54 if I wanted the necklace to be all one piece), and crimped a few bronzy jump rings around the mesh/cord part for texture. If I could do it over, I'd put a darker leather under the copper so you could appreciate the texture and contrast better, but oh well. I think it might be a nice piece for summer - especially if I ever make that olive green silk into a pretty dress!

Whaddya think? For about $20 or $30 of materials, it's not a bad option, I think.

Handmade Holidays 2009 #1: for my sweetie

the holidays are fast approaching and I thought this year I'd post a few things earlier, in case some of you are - like me - still making things, or maybe even still looking for inspiration. This one isn't even finished yet - but on the off-chance that he actually looks at my blog for some reason, at least he won't see the whole thing.

Now, I don't make a lot of things for my partner - or at least, it doesn't feel like I do. A Halloween costume here, a pair of really loud pajamas there ... that's about it. But upon learning that he really loves patchwork and starting to hear more often that he likes the things I make and that I should make HIM a shirt from that cool fabric I bought for myself, etc., I've realized that maybe he would like to have more personal things made for him. I mean, I do all this sewing and embroidery for everyone else I know.

So, in addition to the clothes that he really NEEDED, I decided to embroider a little something for hanging on the wall. It's the second stanza of Pound's two-stanza poem, "The Garret," which I can't read without thinking of him and the beautiful early dawn hours in the height of summer. You know those mornings, when you can smell the coming heat in the air, but while it's still just a promise - not there yet? Yeah, those mornings.

So, to do this, I typed up and printed out my poem, about 24pt font. (I used a font he likes, too.) I gently ironed two pieces of Solvy together with a very low iron, with a piece of paper between the solvy and my iron to prevent messes. This just kind of welds the two pieces of Solvy together. Normally, one piece is fine, but if I'm going to make a lot of holes very close together (say, when working words?), I find a single sheet of Solvy can tear and then my design warps before I'm done working it.

Once the Solvy is fused, I laid it over my poem and traced out the poem using a permanent pen (I use sharpie). When the solvy dissolves, the ink doesn't transfer - it's fine. I also drew rectangles on my solvy to use as guidelines for sewing my borders. You lay your Solvy sheet over your fabric and slip the pieces into your hoop together. When you're all done sewing, soak the sucker in water and the solvy will dissolve, leaving only your work! Its a nice way to make an embroidery pattern for yourself.

I stitched the poem in a combo of running and stem stitch, with french knots to dot the i's and make periods. I'm working two little borders around it, one in palestrina knot, and then a blanket stitch and laisy daisy combo that I found through google. When it's done, I might reinforce it with some fusible interfacing on the back, and then I'll find a little frame, probably without glass. It'll be just over 5" X 7" with the borders.

I hope he likes it ... because I sure like him a lot =)

Monday, November 23, 2009

beautiful design from Colette Patterns

Okay, I know that the last time I posted about sewing, it was to complain about commercial patterns. However, we all know that all commercial patterns are not created equal and I have to say, Sarai of Colette Patterns gets it right. In a big way. And I'm a little bundled up here, so you can't fully appreciate it, but trust me, this has been one of my favorite apparel-sewing projects ever. It's so darned satisfying to take the time and make something really beautiful, and Sarai is a genius at fit - because this thing is really beautiful!

This post and shout-out is long overdue, but since I've been hauting her shop's blog and waiting for her new fall patterns to come out (this Friday, Nov 27!), I may as well tell you now that I am SUPER impressed. This is the "Beignet" skirt (they have the cutest names!), still currently available in Sarai's etsy shop and through her blog. Though medium-weight fabrics are recommended for this skirt pattern, I made mine up in bulky herringbone silk suiting (it's constantly mistaken for wool suiting, it's so heavy). The skirt is fully lined, the waistband and button facings are self-lined; even the pockets are lined. The skirt has six panels, twelve buttons, beltloops and a matching belt, and fits like a dream.

I am SOLD! Plus, Sarai's patterns range from 2 (or even 0?) to 18, which is an amazing labour of love to grade all these different sizes. Cruise on over and check out her beautiful designs, if you haven't already! I'll be biting my nails until Friday...

Yep. Watermelon rind pickles

Growing up, I remember my Dad always talking about watermelon rind pickles. His mother (my grandmother) used to make them, and they were his favorite thing as a kid. But you can't find them these days, he would say, with just a touch of nostalgia and wistfulness in his voice. They sure were good, he'd say.

While in Virginia, one night some locals, friends of a friend with whom I was traveling and working, feted us with a dinner party at their home. They were the most delightful people. As we finished a very tasty meal and leaned back over dessert - spiked watermelon cubes - and conversation continued to range over politics, the state of the economy, history, and art, we got to talking about watermelon. And wouldn't you know it? My hostess voiced with that same wistful nostalgia a fondness for watermelon rind pickles. Which, apparently, were not to be found in the Virginia shops these days, either.

And then, one night while eating out at a fancy restaurant, my friend and I were served pickles and chutneys with our bread - including watermelon rind pickles. Oh lordy, I get the hype. They're sweet, they're spicy, they're a little chewy. Oh goodness, they are tasty! Why don't people make these things anymore?

Well. I had a mission, clearly. A bit of digging, and a bit of swapping around, and here's what I've come up with:

I use this recipe for the process because when it comes to canning, I trust the government to keep me from giving myself and my loved ones botulism. They know what they're doing.

(just to confirm, here's the process in brief: I salt brine the watermelon pieces overnight, then drain and rinse. Gently boil the pieces in fresh water for for 5-10 min, then drain again. Pour the reduced syrup/pickle over the drained, cooked pieces and let sit for another 8 hours. Then I cook for 1 hour in the syrup, then can and process for 10 minutes using the boiling water method.)

However, that syrup/pickle recipe is REALLY sweet, so I substitute this pickle/syrup recipe. And since I'm out of pickling spice lately, I just pop in a few cardamom pods, some juniper berries and mustard seeds, up the peppercorns, whole cloves, and other spices a little bit, and call it good.

And they are good. Really good. So good, in fact, that I had to make and can a fresh batch for my Dad's birthday because I'd gifted and eaten all but one little jar of the first batch (whoops). When summer rolls 'round, give 'em a go! A little bit of effort, but totally worth it - for novelty's sake, if nothing else. Oh, and I like to leave just the tiniest layer of pink flesh on the rind for these - it's a softer, toothier texture before you get into the pickle proper, and from what I read, sounds like a lot of home chefs and home canners who still make these delicious little edibles feel the same.

a batch of warm, flaky love on a grey day

I've been holding out on you. I'm sorry. These are amazing. And easy. Try 'em. I made one change: my puff pastry came in a 20-oz package, 3 sheets. So I used all three. And I cut each sheet into 9 pieces, as another reviewer suggested. Just the right size - and so delicious.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the hardest thing in the world is debating if you pick the pepper before it's entirely red, or if you get it when only the sunniest side is red. If you wait too long around here, the bugs get in and eat half of it up, so this is one of the more dramatic ones (accented by a branch I did not mean to tear off, whoops.) I have to say, it's been lovely growing peppers this year! It's so great to just pop whatever's ripe in the oven for a few minutes, let them cool, and to have fresh roasted red peppers around for nibbling almost any time you want them!
I think my flower-arranging skills are improving.
one thing really frustrates me about patterns and about buying clothes online: for some reason, even though I know my measurements - and I know how to take them, I used to work in costume shops - ordering clothes in my size doesn't necessarily mean they'll fit. I mean, I've ordered things that have turned out to be three sizes too big. As with vanity sizing, I find this inconsistency frustrating. For one thing, it's a lot of work to keep track of all the different numbers that one wears in different brands/stores. For another, I feel like I'm the only one being honest in this interaction, and I wish there was a standard of measurement.

You can probably tell where this preamble is going. This cotton jacquard has a rose pattern woven in. And this corset-style cami is fully lined in lightweight cotton, the bust cups reinforced with interfacing, the back zips up, etc. It's beautiful. And after all the work of carefully sewing up this pattern, it came out too big. I think I might just try wearing it over a T-shirt or something for fall, if only because I can't stand the fact that I wasted my time and fabric. Dagnabbit.

I think I'm giving up on fitted patterns. Oh wait; I still have Colette's Beignet to make. But I put indie designers in a separate category, and Sarai still has my faith.


isn't this a happy sight? They look so cheerful and plump. Better yet; they're low cholesterol. That's right. The dough for these is made of flour, water, yeast, and mashed boiled potato and potato water. (As in, not butter, like most of these delectable doughs.) The only real difference is that the bun itself tastes more like a lightly sweetened potato bread bun, rather than a super fluffy calorie-whammy. So, if you like potato bread (I pretty much like potato anything), these are a great option! Plus, without all that butter and fat in the dough, I think it's okay to make a cream-cheese frosting for these (and, in fairness, I do think they need some kind of icing on them). I made mine with neufatchel.

They're really good, too. I've been making these for about 8 years now, though I don't do it often because they really are a lot of work. I like to put extra raisins and chopped nuts in. Give 'em a whirl!

out with a bang

whew, back from Virginia and with tons of back posts to put up! Here we go!

Owing to a little project that I'll post shortly, I had some extra watermelon lying around last night. I thought I'd try this recipe from Sunday Suppers, and what a great idea! I used a sheep-and-goat's-milk feta, and ignored all proportions of the various ingredients, mixing at will. It was delicious; I think it's foolproof. We paired it with fresh French filet beans that I've been growing up the side of our house (at last! a good use for those tiny side-flowerbeds next to a driveway: beans!). We simply washed and trimmed the beans and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil and butter. voila!

we're drinking ours with a Reserve Pinot Noir (released this summer) from Riverbench, a relatively new winery down in the Paso Robles/Los Olivos area of southern California. I'm really impressed with these folks, although I do think the reserve Chard was better last year than this year. Seriously, if you like a truly oakey Chard, try their Reserve. I've never had such a toasty, buttery bottle before - or since.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

African Wax Prints #2: The World's Loudest PJs.

Um. Not exactly his style (or mine). Primus is one of the two leading beers in Rwanda. Boyfriend's sister drinks beer and thought this was funny, but it was just too bright. Still, I made up the PJs, aligned the pattern better than I'd realized - note, serving wenches right on the crotch, oops) with the elasticized waistband and all. He tried them on - and then quickly took them off again.

A friend of ours fell in love with them; we gave them away. He still needs PJs (his old ones fell apart; in fact, I used the old ones to make a pattern for these), but wants something in a ticking stripe or a lightweight linen. I can't say that I blame him, or that I don't approve his taste; french ticking and linen are some of my favorites!

Another installment of PJs is likely on the horizon.

African Wax Prints #1: The Mandala Dress

My boyfriend's sister returned in August after spending the last year in Rwanda. She brought some African wax-print cottons with her, to make garments for herself, her brother, and me. I should clarify: she brought fabric for me to make these garments. I didn't have cash to buy her a birthday gift this year, so I figured the time spent tailoring a dress to fit her specifications and her body would be just the thing.

So here we go: this is a Vogue quick-sew pattern, probably from the 90s. I swapped the long full skirt from one view and paired it with the V-neck, V-back from another view. I had to alter the skirt to make it longer, and take some of the fullness out of it. My boyfriend's sister is also a bit busty, so there was some fidgeting around as I had to use two different sizes of the pattern and accomodate her petite stature by taking some of the height out of the midsection panel, but in the end, somehow I managed to make it all work!

I lined it in muslin as this cotton was so thin I couldn't self-line it without creating the shadow of the pattern showing through. BF's sis asked that the pattern be asymmetric on the front and picked where she wanted the bits of the mandala to appear. I forgot to ask her about the back, and so made the back symmetric (nothing to disguise/reduce there). I aligned the four skirt panels to get the whole mandala to appear and though my dress is twisting a bit on this bit of clothesline, yes, the two mandalas are parallel/the two sides of the skirt are symmetrical.

Quite a bit of work, but worth it, I think! I hope she likes it!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a jump on fall

I decided last winter that I wanted one of these beaded bib necklaces, and I put a little effort in at the tail end of Christmas break. This is how far backed up I am on projects: I just finished it today. Finally. whew. It's big, but it's simple; I might add some more frills to it later, but I kind of like the clean graphic quality it has right now. And it's fairly large for my frame, I should add: from tip to tip, the bib is about 4 1/2 inches wide, so I'm not sure I need to overwhelm myself with my jewelry.

The beads in the main body are tri-cuts my partner's mom gave me; she bought them decades ago and they probably actually date from the 40s or 50s. They're this beautiful purpley-grey-brown colour, and sparkle from the cuts. Nice! The edging is in peyote, simple black 12-ought seed beads. I worked it on calico leftover from a skirt I altered, backed with fusible web leftover from a home project. The strap is leftover leather thong strung with stone and pewter beads my partner's mother bought in Mexico. All in all, I paid about $5 for the fusible faux-suede that I used to back this thing, that's it.

Much better than dropping $230+ at a store for a new one. I think I might try wearing this layered with some chains; any thoughts?

just us

another quiet night at home, music on, candle lit, a bottle of wine and a nice dinner and dessert together. We sat on the couch and ate and talked and clinked glasses and analyzed this wine (Big O Wine's 2007 Chardonnay): I said peach with a faint hint of anise lingering after; he figured out that there's banana at the end, too, and there's a middle note of warm vanilla.

Pears with Blue Cheese:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast a handful of walnuts (approx 7 min in hot oven). Remove walnuts when they become fragrant and are lightly toasted; set aside.

Cut two pears in half and core (we used Taylor Gold). Melt 1-2 Tbl. butter in a skillet over med-high heat. When melted, place pears, cut side down, in the pan. Cook until pears are golden-brown and beginning to soften.

Transfer pears to a baking dish, cut side up. Stuff the hollow where the core was with blue cheese, mounding it slightly. Place the pears in the preheated oven and bake, perhaps 7-10 min, or until they are tender. If you like, switch to the broiler and brown the cheese a little.

Remove pears from oven, sprinkle with the walnuts, and drizzle all with honey.

Mm-mm; perfect for a mellow night in with your sweetie!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

more summer bounty

before mixing: a panzanella-esque salad of chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, marjoram, greek oregano, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Topped with a puree of tomato, bell pepper, and garlic. Cold cooked shrimp and homemade garlic croutons were added before serving.

a plum galette, before baking. It's a bit of a crummy photo because it was snapped at 1:30 am.
Some guy tried to break into our house Monday evening at about 5:30pm. I was here when it happened - note: the ankle straps on the shoe redux held up just fine as I ran at the guy, yelling my head off (that is, before it dawned on me that he still had the open utility knife in his hand that he'd used to cut open the screen of our bedroom window; then I stopped). He ran off .We probably won't see him again. Still, I'm having a hard time sleeping through the night without jumping at noises and shadows. So Tuesday night/Wednesday morning I stayed up and arranged plum slices instead; I figured I may as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lulu, meet Chloe (another tale of shoe redux)

A shoe DIY like I've never done before. I bought a pair of Lulu Guinness wedges second-hand without trying them on (when will I learn?) and with my narrow feet, of COURSE they were too wide (again, when will I learn?). Swapping didn't work, so I faced the unpleasant prospect of donating them and just losing the cash I'd dropped (only $45, but still, that's a lot for me) or trying to sell them.

OR. I could try and fix 'em up so they WOULD stay on. Does anyone else remember those super-cute black Chloe wedges from a few years back, with the big leather ties at the ankles? I sure did. And so I DIY'ed my Lulus to make 'em more like Chloes. And it seems to have worked!

Here's how I did it (illustrated - click photos to enlarge and see detail):

Materials: wedge pumps, leather ties, studs, exacto knife, shoe goo.

1.) align your leather tie where you want it to sit on the shoe. Press a stud into the strap near the bottom edge (but not quite AT the edge, you need something to cut into!) so that its pointy ends mark where it will go.

2.) still holding your strap in place (fyi, I made little pen marks on my shoe to use as a guideline for where the strap went), now press a stud in near the top edge. You want it to be close enough that it will help hold the strap near the top of the shoe, but not so far that the prongs overshoot the edge of the shoe itself.

3.) lay your strap down flat. Press another stud roughly halfway between the marks for the top and bottom studs. Set all studs aside.

4.) Using a fresh exacto blade, gently cut through the leather strap to the backside. My straps were made of nice kidskin leather left over from when I cut a pair of $5 thrifted elbow-length gloves into tiny little gloves that just covered my palms. (a la SJP in that SITC movie - or was it just SITC? I've seen very little of either, really, but I loved those tiny black gloves!) Anyways, I cut a kind of balloon shape with the longest tails my leather scraps would allow, and sewed them into these straps (the bottom of the long thin tube was still open at this point; I didn't bother to sew them shut).

5.) see? Just gently poking the exacto blade through the leather on the back. THe hardest thing was keeping those two layers from shifting (hence the tension as I hold it), and not punching the exacto blade through too far, which I did at least once on every strap.

6.) Once you have all your cuts made (I had twelve per strap: each of the 3 studs had 4 prongs), work your stud through from the front to the back of the strap.

7.) The hardest part is getting the tips worked through the back. I suppose if you were using a single strip of thicker leather, you would have an easier time of this. Work them all through once, just to make sure everything lines up and works. THen take them out (I know, it's sisyphean).

8.) Open those windows! Now, uncork your shoe goo and gently press a little INTO the tube. Wrap the end in paper towels (to absorb and wipe away the excess) and gently press the ends of these tubes shut, sealing them together with the shoe goo.

9.) Add just a dab of shoe goo to the TOP of the strap, where each stud goes in - one little dab where the center of each stud will be.

10.) Prepare to get that shoe goo on your fingers (which you are NOT supposed to do, according to the instructions). Press the studs back through the strap again, pressing tightly from the back so that the top of the strap is adhering to the underside of the stud. Wipe away any excess shoe goo that may have squelched out the sides of the studs with paper towels.

11.) Here's what it looks like on the reverse. Make sure those points are all exposed - press them through if they aren't. This is also a time to make a little shoe goo repair to any large cuts where your exacto blade slipped and cut a huge slit in the leather - apply shoe goo, wiping away excess, over each of these on the underside of the strap. Let the straps dry at least 24 hours, and up to 72, before applying them to the shoe.

12.) Step 12: shoe torture. When I applied the straps to the shoe, I first placed them against the shoe and pressed, so the points of the studs' prongs pressed a little mark into the side of the shoe. I then took my exacto blade and made little cuts into the shoe for the prongs to go into (note: if your prongs can go THROUGH the shoe, so much the better. Cut through the shoe, push those prongs through, and use needle-nosed pliers to press the prongs down tightly against the inside of your shoe.) My studs' prongs were too short, so I just made little knicks in the leather to help each prong find its proper place.

13.) Open those windows again. Slather the back of the strap with shoe goo, and place, feeling the prongs kind of click into the places you've cut for them in the shoe. Secure the strap to the shoe - I used two clothespins per strap, and a rubber band to hold the bottom of the strap against the curving underside of the shoe. Yes, I am slightly damaging the leather with the rubber band and I feel bad about that. But at least I am salvaging the shoe to wear again!.

14.) Let these cure - again, 24 min before removing pins, and up to 72 before donning the lovelies.

17.) Don the lovelies and giggle at your own cleverness. I haven't worn these OUT yet, so I'll keep you posted as to how well this crazy DIY holds up. FOr now, it's looking good!

Monday, July 13, 2009

string around a finger

I want to remember to make this again. We had a surprisingly autumnal/wintery dinner this evening, and it was delicious. Think how great it would be in autumn! I had a lot of things I needed to use up: a baked sweet potato, waiting to be made into the tart, and blueberries (for the tart and other things), figs (only four of them were still good), and kale going to seed in the garden.

So I chopped up the good figs and cooked them with the blueberries - and cooked the blueberries down a bit more this time. No cream on hand, so a small splash of nonfat milk (didn't want to think the potato too much) had to suffice. I used less sugar overall, and less brandy, and cooked the sweet-potato-custard in this frozen (thawed) pie crust for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F while I cooked the berries. I cooked it for another 20 or 25 after adding the berries on top - basically, until the pie crust was all nice and golden brown.

We had it with dinner: slices of local Essential Bakery walnut bread, roasted beets (his were dressed with horseradish vinagrette, mine were dressed with a simple lemon juice vinagrette) and crumbled chevre, roughly chopped steamed kale topped with a gruyere cheese sauce and nutmeg, and a glass of merlot.

Oh, and candles. Seems a must-do for a quiet dinner for two, curled up on the couch, food spread across the coffee table, sipping and eating and chatting.

Yeah. I think this will be pretty fab in autumn, too.

Friday, July 10, 2009


You told me not to make a fuss, but it really wasn't a fuss; it was my pleasure.

Dinner: roasted peppers wrapped around either a.) smoked mozzarella and basil or b.) chevre and chopped herbs; a big bowl of fresh-picked peas from the garden (crisp and uncooked, just de-stringed); a bowl of vegan yam and sage gnocchi topped with olive oil, salt, pepper, a touch of parm and a generous sprinkling of chopped thyme blossoms.

... and dessert:

Lemon-curd strawberry tarts with lemon thyme and lavender. Pastry crust has a touch of lavender and the faintest bit of cinnamon. I decided to take the time (aka: fuss over it) to make them pretty.

Three bottles of wine, lots of candles, and a long card game that kept the three of us at the table (me wrapped in a blanket) long after dark. (When night fell, Cassidy took down the patio umbrella and they watched the stars by candlelight between hands.)

These are good days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

a good day.

happiness is finally getting things done. Nearly completed this canvas on spring break. Then got a few glazing coats in during a crazy spring quarter, but didn't get the final coat on until today.

Olivia Bee is my hero. She's simply amazing, so talented.

sanctuary. oilbar and acrylic on linen canvas. 24x24. 2009.

and after I finished this, I ate one of these, with butter and honey. And a whole pot of Harney and Sons' Bangkok tea. With cream and sugar. (yum) :

lemon cream scones (see beth hensberger's the bread bible). flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, cream, eggs, cinnamon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

garden to table

though I don't really like hot days, I do love summer evenings. Soft light, comfortable temps, and the garden starts to pay for itself and forms the basis for a little frugal experimentation in the kitchen.

witness: peas and purple chard (the latter doggedly overwintered our snowstorms this year. good plants! good garden!)

I added some things we had knocking around in the pantry and fridge and this is what we came up with:

The rice pilaf is just some arborio (2 c.) I cooked up with the last of the black olive tapenade (Trader Joes), about 3-4 Tbl; the last half of a preserved lemon (Sur La Table), chopped; all of the chard, roughly chopped; a few scraps of roasted red pepper (Trader Joe's), chopped; and about 15-20 dried Turkish apricots (PCC), quickly sliced into strips. I tossed everything in with the water at the beginning, and aside from stirring periodically and adding more water about halfway through, it cooked up like normal rice. We topped it with a bit of goat cheese (Trader Joe's) that I have on hand for stuffing roasted peppers tomorrow. The apricots we found to be a particularly good mix with the olive and preserved lemon.

For the peas, I thinly sliced the last two good onions in the pantry and tossed them in a saute pan with some olive oil (too much, really). We caramellized them over med-low heat while the arborio was cooking away. When they started to really get good and brown, we added the peas and began stirring, adding a couple pinches of sel gris, about 2 tsp. brown sugar, and a liberal dusting of freshly ground pepper as they cooked. When crisp-tender (and just before the peas lost their brilliant green colour), we turned off the heat and let them sit until the rice was done.

voila! We served this up with a drink also made from leftovers: a bit of simple syrup infused with juniper berries that I made for the solstice, the last cup of pear nectar, some sparkling mineral water (long since gone flat), a couple shots of gin (Tanqueray's brilliant Rangpur Lime offering), and some ginger ale for bubbles. Delish.

Finshed the book on Havel. Working away at cleaning my closet, the shibori dress, and reading Annie Dunne, and perhaps tomorrow I'll have more to show and say.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

more forthcoming...

a bit dusty around here, eh? Sorry about that - spring quarter was about the maddest one I've yet had. The last four weeks I've done nothing but exams, then fall desperately ill, defend said exams, traipse off to the Czech Republic, and return with five days to write two seminar papers and grade a ton of stuff for my 101 students. Upon completion, I plunged immediately into house cleaning and preparation for tonight's annual Midsommar party. Whew. So, photos forthcoming, and more real work to show around here after summer really kicks off.

In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about summer. Here's that dreamy ideal summer goals list that I always fail to complete (partly because I add to it as I go along!):


Acts of Courage - Open Letters - Swann’s Way - To the Lighthouse - Between the Acts - Something on William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement - Julia Child, My Life in France - Glass Bottom Boat (Herman’s new book of poetry) - Dylan Thomas; look for “Poem in October” - Anais Nin's diaries (?) - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Overhaul Yeats paper - Research Trial of Six - Work on Thorne research?

CK buildings/red roofs - and then...?

Green silk blouse (BBW pattern) - Lengthen Moroccan blue dress - Shibori stitch, dye, lengthen, and embroider Maggy London dress - Use tussah cocoons: collar on blouse (neutral Japanese twill)? Dress from ice blue silk? - Make pale green knit into cowl-neck tee? - Vest from one of the two vest fabrics - Marc-Jacobs-esque obi/waist corset-esque belt from lemon plaid - Buy BBW jacket pattern, make up in lilac wool? - Shopper bags – 2-3; (+ tulle produce bags?) - Doll - Plush

Other Needlework:
Finish beaded bib necklace - Cut apart openwork sweater, rework with brown merino in crochet? - Finish stitching fulled vessel.

Other hand work, etc:
Get rough diamonds? - Stud a pair of shoes. For kicks. - Make 2-3 new pairs earrings - Make hair thing for fall (acorns?) - 5 things post from facebook: DO.

Friday, April 17, 2009

quick eats

made these for dinner a couple weeks back and boy were they ever good. Then we had leftovers that I ate for a few days. I've been meaning to share them, because they were so simple and quick. I think they'll be really nice this summer. We could make them smaller and they'd be great as part of a cool dinner on a hot night, or as hors d'oeuvres.

johnnycakes with chili jam and goat cheese

1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar (I reduced this to about 1/6 c.)
1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
1 Tbl baking powder
1 1/4 c. milk
2 large eggs, room temp
1/3 c veggie oil, plus a bit for the pan
2 Tbl unsalted butter

1 15-oz can of corn kernels, drained

4-8 oz goat cheese (we used chevre)

pepper jelly (we got pepper jelly with ancho chilis - it was all we could find at whole foods, but it was so excellent I encourage you to do the same! It was nice to have a little heat with the sweet)

Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients. Add wet to dry and stir until batter is just combined; fold in corn kernels.

Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat and rub with enough oil to coat surface. Working in batches, drop batter into the pan - basically, you're making pancakes. Make them whatever size you like. Cook about 60 seconds per side or until golden brown and heated through.

Spread each johnnycake with the jam and top with crumbled goat cheese.

We served ours as part of a makeshift feast for five, with some sauteed kale, some cherry tomatoes roasted with reduced balsamic vinegar and a fruit salad. yum.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

rainy night comfort food

there's a reason there are 1274 reviews of this recipe on Epicurious: the Double Chocolate Layer Cake is incredible! I don't really even like cake, normally, but this one is extra-special. The trick is pulling out before you think it's quite done: it results in the darkest, most moist chocolate cake I've ever had.I've never made their ganache coating, actually, but I've mixed this with a range of other fillings and frostings; it's such a reliable go-to-base. I'm not sure how many times I've made this now - maybe seven different birthdays? No birthday tonight; I promised C some soft, delicious sweet cake to comfort her. Maybe not the best thing for someone having tooth problems, but comfort is comfort, right? Right!

So I made one cake layer for her, and poured the rest as cupcakes so the bf could take them into the office tomorrow. But we'll have at least one tonight ourselves, with this big Sicilian blood orange that I bought as a special treat for us. It's been a wet and windy day, a bit on the cold side, and I have given up trying to force light "spring" meals for a few days. Nope, tonight we're going to have a potato gratin with leeks and fennel (and provolone and parm...) on a bed of frisee for dinner. And then you-know-what for dessert!


I hate to throw things out. I think that's because my parents always showed me (by example) how many things could be reused in creative ways; well, that and I'm kinda cheap. I like to get the maximum mileage out of stuff.

My friend E gave me a really nice clove-spice-scented soy candle a year ago, in a little mason jar. I used to call it the "study candle" and light it before I would read; it just kind of make the atmosphere nice and cozy-comforting, good for working and not feeling like I was missing out on life somehow. Anyways, I finally burned through the last of it, and put the candle in the freezer a couple weeks ago (I learned this trick from Martha; I freeze all candleholders to easily remove wax). Due to the odd shape of this jar, though, a lot of the wax wasn't burnt, and it seemed such a shame to waste. So after I carved it up and pried it out, washed the jar (we use mason jars to hold homemade salad dressings, chutneys, reduced vinegars and etc. in the fridge), I set the wax in a little metal bowl I could stand to sacrifice.

A bit of reading suggested that my linen kitchen twine might work as a wick (I'll let you know if this turns out to be a bad idea!). I cut a length of it and tied the end around a small ball of wax, squishing it into the bottom of a candle holder. I wrapped the extra around a pencil set over the top of the candleholder. I melted the wax in the metal bowl over a pan of simmering water. I was worried that pouring it all in right away might make that button at the bottom melt and release the wick, so I used an old plastic spoon to ladle the wax in, bit by bit at first, pouring the rest in after I was sure I had a good layer of solid wax holding that wick down.

turns out there was just enough wax to fill the candle holder, how perfect is that? I don't know if this is a new low (melting down and repouring candles), but I'm pretty excited to have another study candle. Obviously, I'm procrastinating at this very moment, so I probably need one to get me back on track!

Monday, March 30, 2009

(yet another) lunch for one

School breaks can get a little lonely around here; everyone else is still working, and I haven't established strong social ties to the community at my program yet. Plus, on top of everything else, I'm a terrible hermit. My breaks are centered on long lists of things I want to get done in order to be a happy, well-rounded, and satisfied person for the next three months in which there will be no time for creative expression, gardening, or home repairs - and while it makes me rather productive and satisifed with life in general while in grad school (I recently received an email from the president of a graduate student body in my field that described our education as "the horror of graduate school"; I not only disagree with the sentiment but also am rather taken aback by such negative language!), it does leave me rather lonely at times.

I've found that putting time and consideration into the small rituals of the day is a good way to remind myself that this time off is a luxury, even if I'm alone. It seems to help put things in proper perspective. So, one day, I cooked the last of the salmon raviolis (recipe below), and served it up with leftover salad (greens, half a plum, sliced, and a small handful of toasted walnuts tossed in a dressing of equal parts walnut oil and mirin, with a bit of dried thyme, and salt and pepper) and some leftover beets (tossed in a bit of olive oil and lemon juice, with grated lemon zest) topped with a bit of chevre we had in the fridge. And nice big glass of water. I put on some Bach (performed by the lovely Lara St. John) and lingered long over lunch and Stoker's Dracula.

And life is good again. Yes, I know, I'm easy to please.

Salmon Raviolis (adapted from The New Cook by Donna Hay)
1 package fresh pasta sheets, or about 40 wonton wrappers (I bought fresh lasagne noodles and cut them to the size I wanted; no measuring really necessary)
cold water

approximately 6 oz. salmon fillet, skinned, boned, and chopped
1/6 c. creme fraiche or sour cream
2 (heaping) Tbl ricotta (I used part-skim)
1/4-1/2 tsp wasabi powder (I used a heaping 1/4 tsp, but wish I had used more.)
1 Tbl chopped fresh dill
cracked pepper

mix filling ingredients together. Place a bit of filling on a square of pasta or wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in the cold water and wet the edges of the square. Wet the edges of another square and press over the first. The water will make these edges sticky/gluey so that they will seal together better. Try not to trap too much air between the sheets, but avoid pressing down on the filling and making it ooze out between the layers. Press gently with the tines of a fork to help further "seal" edges, being careful not to press too hard and punch holes in the pasta.

I placed all of my raviolis on a baking sheet that I'd lightly coated with a dusting of semolina flour. I cooked some of them right away (6-8 minutes in boiling water on the stove), but the rest I put in the fridge. The fridge helps to dehydrate them a bit, which I find make them hold up better when they cook, so it's actually my preferred approach to refrigerate them for 8-12 hours before cooking, if possible.

The original recipe served these in a cream sauce, but I like them better (and it's easier on my stomach) served with a light drizzling of olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper.

A Tale of Two Silks (some spring sewing)

Let me just say that I expected this project to fail. I am, as a rule, NO GOOD at all with delicate silk fabrics - they slip, they slide, they move all over the place when you're trying to sew them. It's a mess. I also tend to work only in solid fabrics, or in random all-over patterns (you might have noticed?). There's a reason for this. I in no way expect to be capable of cutting patterns properly on the grain; I've done it in costume shops, but I seem to be far too impatient to manage it at home.

So, stripes and silk, what was I thinking? And yet ... it turned out perfectly. (You might not be able to tell from the photo, but just trust me - if those weren't perfect 45- and 90-degree angles, I'd own up.) I even matched the stripes on the front-to-back pieces of the body, so they wrap around continually.

I'm still not sure how that happened.

This is a Built By Wendy pattern for Simplicity. I guess the pattern is technically discontinued, because when I tried to buy it at my local fabric store this summer (and thus avoid paying shipping fees), they told me as much. However, in September, I was still able to order it from Simplicity's website, so if you think you might want to make this someday, I recommend snapping it up sooner rather than later (the only caveat is that this pattern runs small - it only comes in sizes 4-12, and size 12 has a 34" bust and 26.5" waist).

The only alteration I made to the style A garment (blouse) was to cut it with the style B (tunic) length, so that later I could set the hem where I wanted it to be on my rather tall frame. I had a 3-yard piece of silk, so that I could have the freedom to rotate the pattern pieces and change the angle of the stripes. I have a fair amount left over, but I'd still recommend using at least 2.5 yards if you want to play around this way.

And it must be simple, because I didn't mess it up. Granted, I found the inset (the diamond-piece on the front) so difficult that only sewed the bottom seam and part of the each side seam on my machine. I left perhaps an inch or more on each side unsewn, as I could NOT seem to get that corner to lay flat on the machine. After botching it for the third time, I realized I could leave that little bit, and then by turning it right and pressing, I could get that corner point to lie perfectly flat and just hand-stitch. Hey, whatever it takes to get the job done, right?

Here's the back. Isn't that bias finish on the neckline (and ties) fantastic? The finishing is great on this garment - the yoke and inset are all self-lined, and there is even a nice bias facing for the armholes. Everything is covered and contained, which is probably good for such a delicate fabric. When I saw how nice the yoke was when all finished, I decided to use french seams on the sides, to do the whole process justice. In short, it's as pretty on the inside as the outside.

And though this isn't nearly as impressive, I also took the hem down on this beautiful silk dress by Laundry that a friend bought for me way back in September. We'd been out cruising secondhand clothing stores together at the end of our visit and I tried on this dress and, well, it was perfect, if a little short. "Oh, if only it had about 3 inches of hem to let down," I sighed - and turned up the hem to find (voila!) three inches to let down.
But even with this kind of miraculous clothing-wish-granting, I couldn't justify the $36 price tag and left it behind, on hold. My clever girlfriend, KNEW I wouldn't go back until long after this beauty was gone - and that I'd regret not getting it - secretly stopped by and snapped this up on her way out of town. True to form, two weeks later I went back. It was gone. I was sad.

And then it showed up as a late bday gift. Gotta love those old friends, who know us oh so well!

Monday, March 23, 2009

like a burst of sunshine

I almost finished this on winter break - almost. So it wasn't too much work to finally polish it off at the start of this one. I can't wait to wear it - I left the simple leather ties fairly long so that I can tie it up on my collarbones, or let it hang down over a t-shirt.

the stones are carnelian - I bought two strands of varigated chips, but only used part of one (oh well; they weren't pricey, not even as chips go). Each chip is on a tiny silver headpin (handmade by etsy seller piecesofve - who, by the way is a delight!), made into a loop on the inner side. They are all strung by their loops and kind of packed together to make a rope of pretty colour!

As to sorting and stringing them to achieve this effect, it wasn't difficult: I put all of the little stones, on their headpins, in a bowl. I strung two at a time, then switched to the other side of my linen twine and strung two more; this keeps the fade even (the first time I strung it, I did five at a time - bad idea). As far as knowing which ones to string, you just sort of relax your eyes and pick the darkest pieces in the bowl, and work your way through all the colours. It's pretty simple - and it's not an exact science.

I think I'll wear this all spring! It's great because it's kind of like a bib for a gal who doesn't like a whole lot of heavy bib-type jewelry (ie: me).

do you have a FLAG?

dear friend,

do you remember how I promised to make you a flag for your kingdom?

well, I hope these will do. Winging your way, birthday girl!

PS. I made lots in case you wanted to use them for, say, a reception table or something. (wink, nudge)


These little garlands sure are a lot of work; I suppose they don't have to be, but I like it when all their little edges are finished and sealed inside, and they are washable and therefore durable. I think, if you're going to go through the bother of putting one of these together, you should a.) like the fabrics and b.) make it to last and be reuseable! So I back all of my triangles in the same fabric, sew on two sides, turn, press. I trim the tops, and then slip them into the ties that hold them together - this time I used seam binding (almost 60 feet of it!) for my "strings/ties."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

retail therapy of the crafty kind. restocked their sale section, people! And through midnight Monday (Sunday?) there's a coupon for $5 off any order: weknd309. Plus, they give free shipping on any order over $35. I love this place! I get about 99% of my fabric there, because they always have lots of beautiful natural fibers. (There are also home decor and quilting fabrics, so tempting!)

So, I bought some fabric today, even though I haven't had a chance to tear into my last order of fabric yet. I figure my summer is pretty much going to be spent cleaning, reading, painting, and sewing, so I'm snatching up deals so that I have options in the months ahead. Here's what I snagged (sorry for the blurry little swatches):

3 yds of a 100% silk suiting fabric in navy with a feathered herringbone. I'm thinking that's good for a skirt.
1 yd of a 60 %wool/40% silk plaid in pale yellow, blue, and white (a vest?).
1.5 yds 100% silk suiting in a black/iris mini-check. Another vest, maybe a more substantial one.
2 yds 100% cotton sateen damask in a rose pattern, in goldenrod. To be honest, I'm hoping to try and find a bustier pattern. I haven't made a proper corset/bustier since I was an undergrad working in costuming shops, but the last one I made (for a production of The Country Wife) had 18 panels (god, what a pain to cut), so I know I'm capable of doing it AND matching the grain. I'd really like one to layer over blouses, or to wear under jackets (after seeing a shot of this look in a recent Lucky Mag), and this shade of yellow would pop!
3 yds 100% cotton swiss-dot in black with a floral print. Either a slip or a blouse.
3 yds 100% silk lightweight shirting fabric in a blue and white stripe.
2 yds. 100% cotton swiss-dot in a pale ivory/blue/tan floral print. Also, slip/cami or blouse.

Normally I have terrible buyer's remorse, but not today. See, I have been lusting after a certain blue-and-white-striped tee at Anthropologie, which is on sale on the website for $30 (plus shipping, of course, which would have been $7 or $8 dollars). So yes, I've spent an extra $10, but I've picked up 15.5 yards of fabric, that not only includes blue-and-white silk to make my own stripey top, but seems to make a nice little palette. If only I were a faster sewer, I could put a whole spring wardrobe together out of these.

Who needs to drop $30 on a dry-clean-only cotton t-shirt, anyway?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

forced calm

it's go time. I have about 10-11 days in which I need to prepare a 20-minute presentation and write 50-pages' worth of final papers. Yikes. I keep telling myself, "don't panic. Just don't panic." Part of this not-panicking was forcing myself to get started on one of those papers tonight. It's only two pages (if that), but hey, it's a start! I think I'm about to stop for the night (hence, dilly-dallying on the blog!), read just a touch more, and get some sleep. I probably won't have finished the entire 300-page book I needed to read for seminar tomorrow, but I'll fall within 30 pages of the end, and that seems good enough, at this time of the quarter.

In the midst of all this, I really am trying to keep my head. I had a bit of a cry last night - induced by the charlie-horses that have been visciously attacking my feet (I think it's just stress), but part of me just sobbed for the relief to sob and let some of this out. But other than that, I've really been trying at least to sleep more, to stay on task and work rather than let myself get distracted with worry. And this weekend, I spent one hour Saturday setting up the garden with Cass (peas and lettuce are in, netting is up and staked. Fingers crossed!), and on Sunday, when he was out skiing with his father all day, I cleaned and cooked in addition to homework.

I think it was good for me. Certainly, it was nice to have some nice food (like a vegan waldorf salad, and cooked azuki beans with mochi flour and coconut milk) to eat in my lunches. I'd planned to make this cake weeks ago, and after replacing the lemons about three times, I vowed to finally try it. Now, I'm not a big cake person, but this Pistachio, Almond and Lemon cake is really something else. Click the title to link to the recipe on Epicurious. I didn't change a thing on this one.

Okay, I may have added a bit more vanilla, but I love my Mexican vanilla, so don't blame me. Also, I think my oven runs a tetch on the cold side, but I had to bake this sucker for at least double the 45 minutes in the recipe, so I think that may be a typo in the recipe. Worth the wait, though. With very little flour, this cake is primarily made of ground nuts. It's moist, just sweet enough, and slightly sticky without being heavy or dense. With an eye to the fat content (see above: it's made of ground nuts!), Cass packed most of it in the firm on Monday, where it disappeared rapidly with morning coffee. This is my idea of a perfect coffee-accompaniment: it's flavourful and has enough personality to be just fine on its own, and it's not dry. And have I mentioned how wonderful it is on one of these soft grey afternoons we've been having, with all the sudden spring rainstorms? With a little tea or coffee, it's just the thing to get me going again. I shared some with a sick colleague this week; he proclaimed, "this is love. LOVE." There you have it.

A final note: the recipe includes an orange salad as accompaniment to this. I didn't make it; actually, I made JUST the orange salad weeks ago, by itself, for dessert. It was quite good, actually, as a light fruit dessert. I'm sure the two are beautiful together, but I have to say, they're also stand-up options on their own!

I'm back to the books. If you don't see me for another 10 days, you know what I'm doing!

Monday, February 16, 2009



I bought these boots on etsy with a bit of money sent to me by my grandmother for the holidays. I suspect they are new old stock from the late 80s, as their thin crepe soles show no wear whatsoever. They are really slim, which is great: for once, it'll be a good thing when the leather stretches/relaxes a bit.

... but I thought they could use a few minor changes...

I had a shoe repair man take the back seam in a little (easy to do, since they are exposed, and there's no lining) so they would fit my ankles and not flop around.

I polished them with cordovan shoe polish - a rich purply brown, that I knew would get into the leather's texture.

I replaced the original laces (one was torn, anyway!) with the last bit of leather thong I had leftover from an old Halloween costume.

ta-da! better, no?