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!