Friday, December 30, 2011

handmade holidays: coming soon.

cannot wait to show you this project; I've been working on it (off an on; drafting patterns for clothes for this guy has been a HEADACHE) for most of the year and now it is finally going out in the mail to my friend who probably has no idea I've been engaged in such silliness (it really is very silly, I was giggling all evening as I finished it and even Cass couldn't help but laugh at it all). As soon as it's landed, I'll post better pictures. Ah, the packages - winging their way out a bit late this year, friends. If yours hasn't come yet, hold tight! I'm slowly getting through it all!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

handmade holidays: plaid shirt

believe me when I tell you that matching the plaid was nerve-wracking. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to cut out the pattern and which parts were most important to match (the way the shirt is cut, with a back yoke, and pleated back, it's actually impossible for all of it to line up perfectly). So, I matched the vertical stripe on the center of the back yoke and the shirt back. I matched the sides of the shirt front and shirt back, but didn't worry about the sleeves. I wanted the verticals to match on the pockets, but decided I didn't care about the horizontals - I actually wanted the pockets to be a little less camoflauged against the shirt front.

All in all, I don't think I saved a penny over just buying him a j.crew shirt for Christmas. BUT I have the pattern, which I can use again. And I won't always have to use such expensive fabric - I used a nice medium-weight yarn-dyed plaid, which means the stripes have been woven in (as in, the shirt is actually made of differently-coloured threads - and it looks the same on both sides) not printed onto a woven fabric. As he tried it for fit, he even commented that it's heavier than his other shirts (some of which are rather flimsy, if I do say so myself). I say good! It'll last longer!

It's a great fit, isn't it? I used Colette Patterns' Negroni, in size medium. For any other tailors or seamstresses out there interested in this pattern, I've heard that the arm holes can be small on some who have very muscular arms or a broad chest. For reference, Cass is about 6' 1/2" or 1". He wears a size medium in jcrew shirts, but a size large in gap (or a medium tall). He doesn't have very broad shoulders - we've never found a man's blazer that doesn't look oversized on him. He told me that the sleeve openings on this, far from being too small, were just right - whereas some of his other shirts use a really large opening, so that the body of the shirt pulls up when he raises his arm above his head.

It's a bit of a labour of love, matching plaids and painstakingly pressing and doing all of those flat-felled seams (the arm openings AND the side seams are flat-felled seams), but the result is a quality garment with a good fit. Score yet another win for Collette patterns - so far, every pattern (see this skirt, this dress, this blouse, this slip) I've tried by Sarai has turned out an excellent garment that fits amazingly well. Sarai, I thank you!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

holiday spice: gingerbread scones with candied ginger and orange

ohmygoodnessyum. I have a new favorite - also, I think my holidays needed a bit of gingerbread a LONG time ago. I made these scones by modifying this recipe for gingerbread raisin scones on epicurious. According to the reviews, the original was a little dry, so I added extra liquids and increased the flavour and incorporated something better than raisins: chopped candied ginger and bits of candied orange peel.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons dark molasses
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a baking sheet and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and spices in food processor and pulse to combine. Add pieces of cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a large bowl, combine half and half, egg, molasses and vanilla. Add flour mixture and ginger and orange peel and stir together until just combined. Gather dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Pat into a disk, about 6" diameter. Cut into eight wedges.

Place on buttered baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes, then cool on a rack.

note: the scones didn't puff so much as just spread out as they baked. But they taste INCREDIBLE, like soft moist gingerbread cakes. Yum. We're serving ours tonight for dessert at our friends' place, with roasted chunks of apples and a bit of whipped cream.

happy holidays, indeed!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

handmade holidays: this year's wrap

I'm quite pleased with how this turned out this year - especially this little package, isn't it pretty? Instead of buying paper, I saved the leftover scraps of Cole and Sons' Forest wallpaper from when we wallpapered our kitchen this summer, and used them to wrap up all the presents. Though arguably rather expensive to use as wrapping paper, I'm not sure what to do with the remnants otherwise - and I'm loathe to waste something so pretty.

I tied up Cass' presents with green garden twine and little paper tags; aren't they pretty under the tree? Our tree is all decorated in ivory, clear, silver and bronze glass ornaments in the shapes of acorns, pomegranates, icicles, and pinecones, and our tree skirt is a simple semi-circle that I made from some heavy-weight silk/cotton suiting fabric I bought for a song several years ago. I definitely have a thing for forest themes.

god jul!

the winter solstice occurred at 5:30am this morning. The longest night of the year, the shortest day; already the days are lengthening - just think! Seattle's shortest days are about 8.5 hours long, our longest ones about 16 hours. That's a big change - and turning back to the bright side of the year always feels happy and hopeful for me, especially when we have such a beautiful winter day on which to celebrate. The light is going down, at 3pm, here in Seattle - it'll be twilight here in 90 minutes - but isn't it so beautiful on these trees? I'm glad I've been able to get out and about for the last few nice days; KOMO is calling for a WEEK of rain starting tomorrow. (Well, it has been unseasonably dry; we can't really complain, not in good conscience. I know Cass was looking forward to a great ski season this year, but for a "la nina" cycle, it's been uncharacteristically dry.)

the light on the tree inside might not be so majestic, but that's only because it comes into its own at twilight. You'll just have to trust me on that one - the camera doesn't really do it justice after dark.

Wherever you are, whatever holiday you celebrate, I wish you a very happy and joyful one! More from me over the next few days - I'm finishing up another gift for Cass, a new shirt (and hoo boy, is it ever intimidating to sew men's clothes! the precision involved is crazy).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

light winter fare

made this salad the other day for the first time and I thought it was delicious. Cass said he could do without the dates, but to each his own.

dressing: mix together 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 part red wine vinegar and 2 parts olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper. (So, make as much as you'd like!) whisk together in a bowl or place in a canning jar, screw on a lid, and give it a good shake.

toast a half cup of hazelnuts (or so) in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven and place in a dish towel. Rub to remove the inner skins, then chop nuts.

Toss a generous handful (or two) of arugula with about one tablespoon of the dressing (just enough to lightly coat the leaves, but not so much that they are soggy/limp/weighed down). Place in a bowl and top with 4 medjool dates, pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters, a few tablespoons of chopped toasted hazelnuts, and 1 or 2 oz of good, fresh goat or sheep's milk feta, crumbled.

I have got to get some more sheep feta and make this again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

handmade holidays: a twist (loop?) on the classic handmade scarf

I ran into one of my girlfriends on campus the first day I wore my hot pink handmade silimba loop scarf and she flipped. "You have to make me one!" she said. She wanted it in pink and purple - such a girl! I accidentally made the fringe so long on this one that I was at 4 balls of yarn just to finish the purple, so I hope that just-purple will do.

Btw, if you want to make yourself a silimba loop, here's how it works: chain a loop the length of your scarf (the original is something like 60 inches? - but keep in mind - as I somehow always manage to forget - that it is going to stretch as you make it, so make it shorter than you'd like your final scarf to be). Then single crochet. I do the center on a size Q crochet hook - it's a monster, yep. With big, fat wool and a softie wool-acrylic blend here for my friend's sensitive skin (it's Lion's Wool-Ease Thick and Quick).

Then it's simply a matter of chaining the fringes. This scarf has one fringe loop for each of the single crochets. My pink one has two. Up to you. For the fringes, I used a size N hook, so that the chain is a bit tighter and more compact than the center of the scarf. And that's it. It can be done in two evenings, easily.

handmade holidays: winter citrus gifts

I can't believe the holidays (the actual holidays themselves) are basically upon us! The lines at the post office were crazy today; I still have to get my brother's package out to him - and it's not even complete; the actual baked goodies/candies haven't been tucked in. I'll have to send some to my parents to hold for him.

I got back to an old favorite this year: candied orange peel. These are actually candied satsuma peels. Cass will eat 5-7 satsumas a day, and he saves the peels in a tupperware for me in the fridge.

It's quite easy to candy orange peels. It takes a bit of time, but most of that time you do not need to be watching the peels. First, simmer the peels in water over low heat for about 2 hours, until the white pith becomes waterlogged and can easily be removed by scraping a spoon over the inside of the peel. Drain all the peels and sit down and scrape the pith away, being careful not to tear the peels. Then cut the zest into strips or little bits or whatever shape you like, removing the thick "navel."

Combine equal parts water and sugar in a sauce pan and stir/whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the zest and simmer over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes. The zest can either be tossed in fine sugar and laid out to dry on aluminum foil (as with the pieces above), or you can skip the sugar-sanding and just lay the strips out to dry. The non-sugared pieces take several days to dry and remain a bit sticky, but I like the non-sugared ones better. A bit more bitter, a bit less sweet - and excellent additions to gingerbread, a must for true fruitcake, and I think I may look into making lebkuchen with mine.

Now on to the new recipe: I am trying out my first batch of preserved lemons. I bought two big bags of Meyer lemons at the grocery store (they're in season now - and for a limited time, if you don't live in Southern California. Pick some up and enjoy their sweetness for months to come!). I used the basic American/Moroccan style, which means you cut a lemon almost into quarters, not quite cutting all the way through the lemon so that the four pieces are attached together at the base of the fruit. Then pack about 1Tbl. kosher salt into the lemon - really mash it in. Place the lemon in a freshly-sterilized jar.

Now I have to pause for a brief digression about these jars! I only recently learned about these jars- they are German canning jars, brand name Weck, invented in 1900. Crate and Barrel just started carrying them for a very reasonable $4.00 - $4.50, depending on the size of the jar. The rubber rings need to be replaced each time you use the jar for canning/sealing, but that's it. The lids can be reused! - and if you are simply using the jars to store dry goods in your pantry or leftovers in the fridge, the rubber rings can be used over and over again. I like the idea of using these instead of tupperware: none of the danger of leaching chemicals if you want to reheat your food in a microwave!

back to lemons! So, you put your salt-encrusted lemon into the jar and kind of mash it down in there. Keep going. Every two or three lemons, sprinkle some spices in over the lemons. I used coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cloves. I decided not to add chilies, but that's pretty traditional, too. Keep smashing the salt-encrusted lemons in on top of each other - the juice will start to run from the lemons and fill the jar. When your jar is almost full, pour in some freshly-squeezed lemon juice to cover the last lemon (if your lemons haven't juiced enough to cover themselves already) and pop a lid on that sucker.

Now, most of the recipes I read say that this jar sits out for 30 days, and that you should shake it once a day to keep the salt evenly distributed. That means: no canning, no processing; these are not technically sealed. I'm not surprised. I've made the famous turnip pickles (recipes for which can be found in basically every arabian country, all basically the same) that are also a kind of fermented pickle; the salt and lemon juice are going to safely cure the fruits for you. However, a freshly sterilized jar is highly recommended (even though these were brand new, I boiled the lids and jars for 20 minutes and then let them dry for 2 hours in a low-heat oven, handling them only with freshly-washed tongs, not my hands). I actually put the rings on and put my jars in a water-bath and processed them (boiled them) for 10 minutes, just for added security. I also plan to store these in the fridge once they've been opened, though that is probably not necessary, either.

So there you have it: preserved lemons. Aren't they beautiful? And so tasty. I love to throw them into a rice pilaf or add chunks of them over mediterranean dish. They are so flavourful and bright! They would be lovely gifts, too, but since I only have the two full jars (and I'm not sure how well these Weck jars would hold up with the jostling of going through the US post??), I think these babies are staying at our house. Besides, they won't even be done for another three weeks!

Monday, December 12, 2011

handmade holidays: holiday sparkle - that you can eat!

oh, hello, blog! Sorry about that - school, life, etc. getting in the way of me making things. Well, rest assured, more to come. I just proctored my students' final exam today; let the grading begin!

So, what are these fabulously purple sparkly things above? They're sugar plums! Yeah, like "Sugarplum fairy" and all. I always figured there must still be a recipe out there somewhere, but I'd never really thought about what it might be.

LinkThen I saw these: Beakman 1802 sugar plums at Williams-Sonoma. Four sugarplums, a total of 2oz., for a whopping $22. ouch. They sound amazing: figs, dates, apricots, a bit of brandy, a bit of orange oil, spices... yum.

So, after a bit of digging around on the internet, I found Alton Brown's recipe, which is similar: fig, prunes, apricots, slightly more unexpected spices (caraway, fennel, cardamom). No orange oil, but I bought some from the natural foods section of the store and just put a few drops into the mix. They are delicious; our favorite barista at our favorite coffee shop said it was like eating a disco ball! Don't you want to eat a disco ball at your new year's party? =)

I think this recipe could be similar to the one used by Beakman: if you put in 2/3 c. each dates, apricots and figs, and substituted orange oil for the orange zest, the ingredients seem to be just about the same. But I prefer the spices in Alton Brown's recipe - the caraway was totally surprising and delicious - and I think the prunes may be more traditional, even if they turn some off. So, I'll probably make Brown's again (maybe with some dates?) and I'll add some brandy to the mix and let it ripen for a few days before rolling in sugar or coconut (coconut sounds good).

Give 'em a try. They don't take long at all to make. More from me soon - sterilizing some weck jars and I have two bags of meyer lemons sitting on the table... oh yes!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In honour

of my birthday, Cass created a holiday cocktail - it tastes like eggnog, which delighted this eggnog-lover who is allergic (alas) to the eggs:
The Saggitarian
1 oz coole swan
1 oz batavia arrak
.5 oz dark rum
.5 oz allspice dram (aka pimento dram)
ground cinnamon
combine all ingredients and shake over ice, then strain for a glass of holiday cheer!
A note on some of these ingredients: Batavia Arrack is a precursor of our modern rum, now considered to be the rum that sailors probably drank in the 18th century. Its ingredients remember European trade routes, as it is made from sugarcane *and* Indonesian red rice (the "east indies" meets the "indies"). It tastes like rum but with a distinctive earthy funk.
Coole swan is a dairy cream liquer. You could substitute Bailey's irish cream, but the whiskey flavour will be more pronounced in the drink.