Sunday, March 28, 2010

and a little something for someone else

When you're in academia, certain times of year (the end of each quarter, for example) are bad times to have a birthday. Other academics are too overloaded to celebrate; heck, you're too busy to enjoy it. So a pal of mine and I have decided to select an "academic unbirthday" on which we can celebrate our birthdays without being late, and without trying to juggle the most demanding times in our line of work with our personal lives.

We haven't selected dates yet, so for now, this necklace is just plain late. Oh well! The center is made of fluorite chips on eye pins, strung on a short bit of chain. It's flanked by agates, coconut wood, turquoise, and some pearls that you can't see.

Happy academic unbirthday, my friend!

coral and blue for me

just a little something I tied up for myself over the break: glass and plastic beads, pearls, dyed agate (the purples), turquoise, brass chains, and some kind of volcanic stone. Haven't decided what to wear it with yet, but it was a fun time-waster.

more silk for spring

I seem to keep sewing silk blouses over spring break. Maybe it's the season, or the recent return of the sunlight (not today, of course, now it's pouring).
(the inspiration)

Whatever the reason, I love these crinkle silk pocket tees from j. crew, how about you? They're on sale for $29.95 right now, but even at such a deep discount, I couldn't justify the expense - especially because they've sold out of my size in the cedar colour, which I loved. However, I did buy some lavender-label crinkle silk from last winter, in both a bright chartreuse and a lovely kelly green. As I tried on a kelly green oxford shirt in a consignment shop while browsing with my mother last week, everyone crowed over how good the colour looked, so I figured I'd use that as an indication that I should cut up the darker green silk for this T-shirt.

(my guide)

I needed a little help to make it; I have oodles of trouble sewing with slippery silk fabrics; they slide all over and I usually end up with wonky seams and things that don't fit somehow. So, a basic Simplicity pattern to the rescue! At only $6.55, plus a couple bucks for thread, it's a lot cheaper than the sale shirt (I got the silk on major clearance at $1.95/yard and bought enough to get free shipping).

I skipped adding a pocket to mine because the way I see it, the pocket's just for show, anyway, and I'm not sure I'm quite cool enough to pull off the late 1980s quotation that this shirt seems to be. So, no pocket. I also ended up cutting the scoop neck on pattern D a bit larger and trimming with bias binding I cut from the remaining silk (I did try it with the facing first, but it was a mess, and much too small of a neck opening).


I think it turned out well! I did a bit of googling and reading up, and it seems that steaming wrinkles into silk is the way to make permanent crinkling. Although my fabric had a light overall crinkle texture, I wanted sharper and more irregular texture like the j. crew original. So after finishing the sewing, I lightly dampened it, squeezed it with a towel to remove excess water, then cranked my iron (dry, no steam!) to the highest setting, balled the top up on my ironing board and basically commenced to burn and/or steam the heck out of the fabric, pressing the iron down for 10+ seconds at a time on a section of the fabric, then moving it. I turned the blouse itself two or three times, so that I could steam/burn all sides of it. It worked! It was still a bit damp when I stopped and hung it to dry; I'll be sure and post if for some reason these crinkles don't hold permanently, but I hope they do.

frugal wedding: bargain silver

I do realize that one doesn't have to buy silver for a wedding dinner - you can rent, you can use compostable bamboo utensils, you can ask friends to borrow theirs. For me, however, outfitting this table is the opportunity to amass themed tableware that I can reuse for a long time. So, in that vein, I thought that in addition to using our nice flatware, I'd work to accumulate a set of mixed silverware.

I made a good start today. I almost didn't open the chipped, paper-covered chipboard box, as the lady at the antique store told us, "this set's in bad shape." She wasn't kidding - look:

yeah, those are cobwebs linking those two dinner knives together. The sugar spoon is from another set entirely. There are seven dinner knives, seven little spoons, three salad forks, six dinner forks, and eight large spoons. And of course, it's all tarnished.

But let's do the math here: I figured I can eke six settings out of this box, as we're not going to bother with separate salad and dinner forks (we're dining alfresco by candles in mason jars; I think we can get away with eschewing salad forks!), and for $45, it's a good deal.

As for the tarnish, I had just the thing:

Town Talk Silver Polish Spray is amazing. Spray it on, rub it off with a clean cloth (I use rags I cut from Cass' old flannel pajamas - the cotton nap is perfect for getting into the grooves in the floral pattern). A bit of energetic rubbing up will really bring out the shine. You don't have to buy this stuff from the British homepage, as I think many stores carry it - Restoration Hardware certainly does, Williams Sonoma may, and I think I've even seen it at my local Ace Hardware here in Greenwood, which has really nice cleaners available.

I did about a dozen pieces in less than 10 minutes:

Nice, huh? We looked them up: they're Oneida's "Briar Rose" design (silver plate), from 1948. I love how long the tines on the dinner forks are - they're so elegant.

We've also started picking up the table linens and are wrapping up the china (I have a few more pieces to show you). The linen napkins with the pick-stitching detail are from Goodwill; I only found 4, and whitened them up with bleach. A few threads are missing here and there from the pickstitching, but at 50 cents apiece, I think they'll do. Under them are 8 ivory cotton napkins from Value Village - more basic, but they'll do if I can't find enough linen by August. And the new china pieces? Lenox's Solitaire line. I picked up 4 salad plates and 4 saucers on sale at Goodwill for a total of $12. Considering that saucers were originally $15 apiece (the price tags, yellowing with age, were still stuck to the undersides), they were a nice find!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

new necklace: recycled leather

A new necklace! This one is made of some leftover fabric scraps I got in a swap, leather sequins (more on this below), glass beads (the smallest beads) and smoky quartz beads (the medium and large beads).

I can't seem to recall where I saw these necklaces - I thought it was on For Me, For You, but it might have been Unruly Things or frolic! or somewhere else altogether. Regardless, I saved the image so that I could remember to copy the necklace on the left.

I cut all of the leather sequins by hand from scraps of leather that I salvaged when I worked in retail. You see, when I worked in a certain women's boutique, all of the leather goods came on specially padded hangers. The pants and skirts would come with a little rectangle of leather that had been placed between the ridged grippers on the pants hangers and the garment, to keep the garment from developing ridged patches while being shipped. Unfortunately, we knew our clientele would not carefully replace those leather pieces after trying something on, so I had to remove all of those pieces before moving the garments to the floor.

I hated all the waste in that store. I actually started a recycling program that eliminated 80% of our waste and saved us money (because recycling was free, but we paid for our garbage service by the trashbag). I'm not a vegetarian, but I do hate to see animal products go to waste, even scraps of leather like this. So I started stacking them up, and slipping them into my bag. I never knew if it was kosher with the company or not - I figured it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and no one ever noticed that I was taking these things home instead of throwing them out. I still have hundreds of these things, about an inch to two inches wide, and about 3 inches long, in various shades of tan, brown, and black. Most are suede.

So, for this project, while it would have been nice to use a firmer leather, I wanted to use up some of these scraps. I lightly pressed them with a dry iron on low setting to get them all flat, then, using a die I bought from a leather goods shop online, I scored about 5 leather "sequins" into each piece. I had to cut all of these circles by hand, which took a while, but the sewing went really fast, at least. I made up a pattern for the base using paper, then cut and stitched it out of some scrap fabric. All of the sequins and beads are sewn on by hand, but even with some 300 or 400 of these 3/4" sequins to attach, I was able to stitch about 3/4 or more of them on in a single evening while playing board games to boot.

I still have lots of those leather bits left! I'll have to come up with another project!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


day's beginning: baking soda bread

(3.5 c. white flour, .5 c. dark rye flour, 1 c. wheat bran, .3 c. brown sugar, 2 Tbl baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 c. warm milk + .5 c. nonfat plain yogurt [whisked togher = 1.5 c. buttermilk substitute], 1 egg, .5 c. currants plumped in cognac, 2 Tbl fennel seeds)

night's end: working by candlelight, enjoying a last bit of wine, and cutting an old shirt of Cass' into 2" squares for the maybe-someday postage stamp quilt.

in between: a Czech final, and a dinner feast: soda bread with irish butter, radishes and salt; crock-pot corned beef (10 hours and not a bit dry!), turnip and potato mash, candied carrot slices. Raspberry-rhubarb rolypoly with cream for dessert. Joe's homebrewed imperial stout, a pot of tea, wine. Cards.
In other words, a most excellent St. Patrick's Day. Slainte!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

and because it's springtime

and we ate out/ate junk a lot during the last few weeks of the quarter while I was struggling under the workload, we are most DEFINITELY lightening things up around here, start undoing some of the damage we've done.

This is the "Fennel, Leek and Mushroom Pasta with Cashew Cream" from The Millennium Cookbook. On the whole, this isn't my favourite cookbook, but there are some real gems in there, like this little dish, which is like the vegan equivalent of stroganoff. yum! We used spinach penne this time, and upped the cashew cream, the nutritional yeast, the green peppercorns, and had to substitute a splash of Chinese five spice for the nutmeg. The extra green peppercorns, in particular, are a must.

The excess cashew cream was a VERY good idea, so was properly blending the cashew cream this time: I added the water very slowly and kept the food processesor going for several minutes at a time. The result? A smooth, thick cream rather than a watery suspension of nutty granules this time. Seriously, yum.

never too late? (handmade holidays: the march edition)

I had this thing about 80% done at the end of my winter holidays - and it's taken me this long to do the last little bit. It's been a beast of a quarter and no mistake, but my parents are coming for spring break (on Sunday!) and I'll finally be able to give my mother her present. Uhm, at least they live in Boise and she's often cold!

yeah, it's a big 'un. Probably about 8 feet long.

bundles up nice, at least!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

what on earth will we call it?

I was making apple crisp one night this winter - or at least, I thought I was. I sliced all the apples and lay them in a great big baking dish (I am mad for fruit crisps and fruit desserts, always have been), then went into the pantry to get the brown sugar and spices - but we were almost out of brown sugar! I used a little, saving some for the topping. Went back into the pantry to get the oats for the topping and found we were out of those, too! Gah, what's going on around here?

So, change of plans. I put all of the brown sugar in with the apples and tossed them up a bit (maybe 5 apples, thinly sliced?). I set to work making something I usually avoid - a custard. I have a really sensitive stomach that can't handle a lot of animal products (not that you'd know that from reading this blog - it's all cheese this and butter that, but really I have to eat very little of these things that I make!). Still, it seemed the best way to salvage what I had. So. Into about 2 or 2 1/2 c. of skim milk, I whisked one egg. I added a touch (maybe 1 or 2 Tbl) of white sugar, a splash of Mexican vanilla, and then about 1/4 to 1/2 c. of mochi flour (a fine white rice flour used to make sweet rice desserts). I whisked and whisked, and poured the custard mixture over the apples.

Baked at 350 F. for about 45 min-1 hour. Let cool. Slice/scrape up (it's a little hard to get out and doesn't necessarily look that attractive), and enjoy! It was a hit - and we enjoyed the sweet apple taste of success for a few days before it was all gone.

gifts that keep giving

Months ago, a friend of mine sent me a few books. It took me until the end of winter break to finally get around to reading and learning more about the one. The other is still waiting, sadly - that's the life of a grad student: if it doesn't happen in the summer, it's not happening until next summer. Alas. These books were the perfect pairing, too: a short novel about food and love, and a cookbook about making artisan breads in no time at all. The latter is called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and it really does deliver what it promises. Granted, I need to go out and buy a proper container to keep the dough in in the fridge, and a stone on which to bake it, but it's totally been worth it. I have a recipe that I prefer for black Russian rye in The Bread Bible, but for fluffy custard-like interiors with flaky outer crusts, the five-minutes-a-day recipes are perfect.

Above are my first two loaves. Below is how we served them: just after Imbolc, we hosted a Shabbos dinner one Friday night with Jewish and Muslim friends. None of us are really all that devout; what matters more than doctrine to us is how we live in this world, and coming together to break and share bread is one of the most important things I think we can do.

We served our slices with St. Andre triple-cream brie topped with Mt. Vikos glazed and roasted figs, which I chopped into small pieces and then poured over the cheese with their beautiful sauce. There are Boat Street Cafe pickled plums on the side, also chopped for easy spreading, and a bit of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese that you can't see.

We did a big meal that night - we tried out this salad of sauteed leeks and pear slices over frisee from Epicurious, made the Field of Greens meyer lemon beurre blanc and served it over oven-roasted fennel, mushrooms and green onions, then served one of Gordon Hammersley's killer lemon-herb roast chickens over roasted red onions with garlicky mashed potatoes on the side, and finished it off with this pine nut cake with the orange salad and big dollops of strained nonfat yogurt (which, I have to say, really, REALLY made the dish).

In short: we stuffed ourselves with citrus to welcome an early spring (which really has been an early spring, thanks to El Nino this year). It was delicious, and delightful - I only wish my book-gifting lass could have joined us. L., I'll have to make it up to you!

frugal wedding - thrift store china

The quarter is winding down. I have plenty of things I've been meaning to post here - food, mostly, but a few crafts and a bit of sewing, but I've had so little time. What I have to show today is a little less original, but since we're planning to celebrate our marriage this summer in the form of a backyard dinner that we want to be both stylish AND frugal, I thought I might document the process here. Who knows? Maybe someone will be inspired. So. You've already seen my ring. (Full disclosure: it cost $400.)

Today I want to post a few pieces of the table service we're putting together.

When I first moved to Seattle and started my life with my long-time best friend and new boyfriend, my parents packed the china my maternal grandparents had given them a long time ago along with me. So now, nine years later, when we tie the knot (yep, same guy! I knew he was the one from the start - honestly! I even told him so!), I'm happy that my parents' china is the foundation of our own collection. As we build this collection, we're also donating our old "daily use" plates in order to conserve space in our kitchen.

The plan for this celebration is to have a dinner and salad plate and saucer for everyone, in a mix of styles. We're limiting ourselves to a colour scheme: white/off-white china with gold/silver/platinum details - mostly tipped rims, that sort of thing. However, because I love plant motifs, I'm really happy to have found the Mikasa Salisbury pieces at Value Village today. I didn't take them all, though I felt awful for breaking up the set like that, but I worry that if we are going to "mix it up," as they say, we need to be committed to really mixing it up.

I think they key to making this look "anthro" rather than "thrift store" is attaining a critical mass of coordinating pieces. I think it's already starting to come together quite prettily - and wait until I show you what we want to use as tablecloths! We have months until the dinner and are already about a third of the way there after two weeks of looking, so I think we will be fine. In fact, I think pretty soon I'd like to start scouring antiques stores for one-offs that might bring some more unusual patterning into the mix. Though I'm trying to stick largely to china, I really love 1880s Ironstone, especially brown transferware - so if I can find any good pieces that I can afford between now and the dinner, they will go into the mix!

Now, even at the thrift store, china isn't always the cheapest thing. I spent $30 today on 10 salad plates, 5 saucers, and 4 teacups (now that I write that out, I'm thinking "huh, okay, maybe that's not so bad?"). Last week I spent $26 on 7 dinner plates and maybe 5 or 6 saucers. So I imagine we will be well over $100 just for plates. But as we're not having a wedding and don't plan to rent a hall, are doing our own cooking and hoping to have some of our guests provide some of the music live, I think we can afford a little splurge for a slightly eccentric set of servingware that we'll be able to use (and easily add to/replace broken pieces) for years to come! Plus, c'mon - 3-pc. service for 25 or 26? That's a LOT of dishes for $100.