Saturday, January 31, 2009

Homemade soft pretzels, seriously.

I've had a busy last couple weeks, with very little down time for all my favorite home activities like cooking and sewing. So this morning, instead of getting work done that needs doing, I used a free hour to make soft pretzels from scratch! I've been wanting to do this for several months now, so perhaps its best just to go and do it so I can remove that desire from my brain and make space for other things. I used Alton Brown's pretzel recipe since it had such great reviews, and because he always seems to know what he's doing. Let me tell you, they turned out great, and actually didn't require as much effort and time as you might guess. They came out of the oven about an hour ago, and I've already had three... I didn't use pretzel salt on these, since I always pick it off anyway. I instead sprinkled regular salt over the top, which worked out quite well. The lovely picture above is brought to you in part by my new camera. So far I'm impressed!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


If anyone has contemplated removing high fructose corn syrup from their diet, and needs an extra push, check out this article. Do I think this is alarming? Perhaps slightly, though it doesn't sound wide-spread enough to really get freaked out about. Still, I've been thinking about avoiding this ingredient for some time now. No time like the present!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This week in food

Perhaps you've figured out by now that I'm a bit obsessed with food and creating things. This week I tried out three new recipes, listed below in order of preference:

This was seriously good. I've never made real chile rellenos, and only started to eat them about a year ago. This recipe captures the essence of the dish, but modifies it so that rather than battering and frying the stuffed chiles, you instead bake them in yummy fluffy eggy goodness. I omitted the chorizo, and instead stuffed the chiles with a combination of cheddar jack and feta cheese. The feta added a really nice flavor and a less melty texture to the stuffing. This will be made again many times over.

Quinoa Vegetable Paella
If you aren't yet familiar with quinoa, I would recommend checking it out. It is similar to cous cous, only it contains quite a lot of protein. Plus it's really fun to eat. This recipe would be a great way to try quinoa for the first time. It's chock full of veggies, very healthy and tasty. If I were to make this again, I would probably kick up the spices a bit, since I tend to like flavorful food. This dish keeps with the traditional flavor of Spanish paella, which tends to be more subtle in taste.

Orange Berry Muffins
I happened to notice a copy of Dorie Greenspan's celebrated cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours while visiting my mom the other day. Having read a lot of blog entries from Tuesdays with Dorie, I've been coveting this book for a while, and so borrowed it for the time being. It is chock full of some great recipes, many of which I can hardly wait to try out. Since I was expecting a couple house guests this weekend, I thought it would be great to make some muffins that could be munched on at any time. The orange blueberry muffins caught my eye, and so I whipped these up late Thursday. The muffins have a mild orange flavor, and are subtly sweet. I would rate these as a solidly good muffin. They don't bowl me over, and I don't find myself eating ten at a time, but they are certainly a pleasant thing to eat in the morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vintage Pattern Thursday

I bought a whole pattern book for a sweater similar to the one above. I still haven't made it, and actually have kind of a love/hate relationship with the look of it. It's certainly compelling somehow. This particular pattern book has some very interesting styling choices.

Speaking of which, I've seen the image below several times, and it always makes me do a double take.

Apparently this coat comes in sizes both for yourself and your mini-self. Gotta love those early photoshop attempts!

Project bridesmaid: unconcsious inspiration

I came across this Vince dress on net-a-porter and noticed that it has nearly the same fabric I purchased at joann! Mine has all these tonal yellow dots applied to the fabric--though in a zig-zag pattern. Cute stuff!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I think I'm getting the hang of this

I've been in a sewing frenzy since returning from my holiday break, and I've made more progress on my sewing skills than the past couple years combined! Isn't it great when all of a sudden you finally start to get something?

This weekend I took a long wrap skirt that I bought in India and turned it into an adorable dress. The wrap skirt was perfectly nice, but I haven't worn it in years, as long skirts aren't really my thing, and wrap skirts make me nervous. It also had a prominent tear on the front that I did a terrible job mending. The fabric is this great handmade, hand printed fabric from a store called FabIndia. If you are ever in India, I'd highly recommend finding on of their stores. The fabric is beautiful, and the clothes they make are catered both to Indian and Western tastes.

The skirt, before.

As I mentioned before, I recently chose New Look 6824 as my 'it' dress. My idea was to really work on this one pattern to find the perfect fit. I started out by doing some pre-cutting work. I measured myself very carefully, then loosened the tape measure at each location to figure out how much ease I liked at each location. I made sure to move around during this process to get a good idea of the minimum ease necessary. I then took the tape measure to the pattern pieces and carefully calculated the finished garment measurements at the bust, waist, and hip for each size in my ballpark. This took a while, but was totally worth it. I ended up having to cobble together three different sizes at four locations, and added 5/8" to the length of the bodice. This clearly demonstrated to me that going by the finished bust measurement just won't cut it. I was a bit unsure of my frankenstein pattern adjustments, but honestly I couldn't be happier with the finished result:

New Look 6824 with straight skirt, no sleeves, and soft small cowl collar.
(Click any image to enlarge)

I think this dress came out so cute--it's very classy, yet has a certain vintage and lively quality to it. Also, I wanted to thank the nice ladies who left comments on my last dress post about invisible zippers. Although I've been using invisible zippers this whole time, I never knew I was installing them wrong. This goes to prove that it's always a good idea to show detailed shots of your shoddy work in public for others to comment on. Perhaps you'll learn something very very useful! I came across this wonderful invisible zipper tutorial, and as a result have the best looking zipper I've ever installed. I also experimented with making a full lining for this dress. It was very experimental, and worked better in some locations than in others, but I'm happy I did it. Perhaps if I read a bit more about linings I'll be able to improve this skill as well.

My sewing confidence is improving dramatically. I'm loving this.

Project bridesmaid

I need to find a yellow dress to wear in an April wedding in Jamaica. This is great news, as I love yellow, and can pick out any dress I like. Now, I already have a nearly perfect vintage yellow dress from the 60s or 70s that I found at a thrift store a couple years ago. The problem is that it's a thick knit polyester that is absolutely sweltering to wear in any sort of heat...probably not the best choice for a Jamaican summer.

Back to the drawing board, I found a couple potentially cute looking dresses online over the holidays. They just came this week, and well...

Above is a $30 dress I ordered from Chadwicks. I figured it would probably be cheap quality, but it looked good in the picture, and for the price it was worth a try. Despite ordering a size down, this this is still quite large and sack-like on me. Although I certainly wouldn't (and couldn't) outshine the bride, I would like to look cute for the pictures as this is a family wedding, and the pictures will likely be around for eternity! On another note, this dress arrived with several dark smudges on the reverse. I find that a bit strange for something brand new out of the packaging...

Next up is a dress from Vera Wang's Lavender Label that I found at bluefly (on sale twice plus a discount code, so much cheaper than currently advertised). I was a bit unsure on the color, but the cut looked interesting. I was really disappointed to see it in person. The cotton sateen reminds me of those yellow reflective vests one might wear while directing traffic. Although it is difficult to see in the photo, the bodice is also very large on this dress. I realize these photos make the dresses look more flattering than in person, so you'll just have to trust me on this!

So what's next on Project Bridesmaid? Well, on a trip to Joann fabric this weekend, I found this great yellow cotton fabric and decided on a pattern already in my stash. So the dresses above are being returned, and I'm going to try my best to make a professional looking yellow dress for the wedding. If that doesn't work out, I'll crawl the internet again. I do have until April, but knowing how hard it is to find a properly fitting dress, I may need all the time I can get!

Warm oven

More baking this week!

I made onion pletzels two ways following this recipe. Yes, you read that right--and I must admit that half the reason I made these was because I thought the name was funny. These are made with a yeasted egg dough akin to challah, with onion, poppy seed and salt on top. Quite tasty! The first half batch was made according to the recipe. I found this a tad too strong on the onions, so for the second batch I briefly sauteed the onions first. They are really great right out of the oven, and save well for a few days in a sealed container. I've also seen them made with thinly sliced potatoes on top, which greatly intrigues me. Bring on the starch!

Yesterday I listened to one of my favorite podcasts--Radiolab--as I was sewing. They just had to mention chocolate cake, and a few hours later, wouldn't you know, I was craving chocolate cake like crazy. Seeing as I have very little willpower in these situations, I found myself searching for a chocolate cake recipe that could be made with the few ingredients I had on hand. I ended up going with this cake recipe, which just happened to be vegan--which is great news for my vegan friend/co-worker, as I should still have leftovers for tomorrow! It came out beautifully, tastes great, and you'd never miss the eggs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

And the winner is...

Camille of Camille's Kitchen won last week's vintage knitting pattern giveaway! No new giveaway to post today, but I'm sure I'll find some other goodies when I have a chance to rummage through my stash. Congrats to Camille, and thanks everyone for playing! Stay tuned, I should have some fun things to report shortly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Vintage Pattern Thursday

I've got my eye on knitted chevrons this week.

I love the look of that over sized blue and silver evening shell above, from 1966, and that dress below is pretty fantastic in so many ways.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

North African flavors

I've been intrigued and inspired by the flavors of North Africa since I visited Paris' Quartier Latin as a teenager. Since then, I've had the pleasure of traveling to Morocco for a couple months, and always seek out North African restaurants wherever I live and travel. This weekend I tried out a couple new recipes that were both simple and delicious. Above is a Moroccan-style potato and egg sandwich, mid-preparation. When I saw this recipe, it made me think of going on a late night sandwich run with my travel-mate to this place where you could get egg sandwiches stuffed with french fries. The perfect late night guilty pleasure. I seasoned the potato-onion-pepper mixture with a liberal amount of cumin, salt and pepper, and a good dash of cayenne. It was perfect, easy to prepare, inexpensive, and something I am sure to return to when I'm seeking comfort food.

Last night, in the interest of making more of my own bread, I prepared Flatbread with Dukka. Dukka is an Egyptian spice and nut blend that I came across in Australia--apparently it is pretty popular there--I had never heard of it in the US. I bought a small pouch of dukka at Herbie's in Sydney, but had yet to open it. This recipe seemed like the perfect way to sample the dukka and make some simple homemade bread. It turned out delicious, crunchy in some areas, softer in others, and the warm nutty spice blend sprinkled over the top. Also very good for breakfast!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Minimalist giveaway #2

I used a random number generator to choose the winner of last week's pattern giveaway, and the winner is....

Mama Gina of Associated Bag!

Thanks everyone for stopping by and entering. This week's giveaway will also feature vintage patterns, but this time for you knitters:

First up is "All Time Favorites to Knit and Crochet" a pattern book from 1967 (I had to use a Roman numeral converter to figure this out from Copyright MCMLXVII!). This booklet features a lot of coats, some dresses and sweaters, a hat and a few items for men. Some of the pictures are truly priceless. The second pattern is a pattern copy I purchased from yesterknits. It is a Patons pattern from Great Britain (hence will have British terms and needle sizes) and looks to also be from the 60s.

This giveaway will run for one week (til Saturday 17 January). Please leave a comment below to enter--one per person, and you must leave some way for me to contact you (blog, email, ravelry id, etc) or your comment will not be entered. Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vintage Pattern Thursday

This week: the good, the interesting, and the funny.

Mail order pattern 4906 from the 50s or 60s? I adore that neckline, and love the button detailing on the front and back. I'm seriously tempted to get this for myself, as I think it could be the right size...but I'm not sure if I'm sassy enough to pull this look off!

I've been intrigued by this and other similar wrap dresses for some time. From the looks of it, you don't need to do any real sewing--just attaching the fabric at the shoulders, and finishing the edges. It looks pretty cute, but I always wonder how well it stays closed--I mean, wrap skirts can be tricky enough, but a wrap dress? Simplicity 7572, 1960s.

And lastly, I couldn't help myself! I guess I've never seen a pattern for men's undies before. Do they still exist? I just love the pattern art on this one--like you just happen to be catching these guys since they wouldn't dare pose voluntarily. Simplicity 1960 from 1947.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Note to self

Make every future project in a delicious shade of Kaffe Fassett's Shot Cotton (seen above in Grass). The warp and weft are two different colors, which gives the fabric this gorgeous richness and variation. I love love love it. The color above was purchased for an upcoming top secret project. If this is any indication, it will likely be stunning.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New year, new sewing

It seems like every time I'm away from my machine for a while, all of a sudden I get this urgent need to sew. It happened again over the holidays, and so upon my return I immediately started working on McCall 5658. Normally, I'm a fairly conservative dresser, so one-shouldered dresses seem a bit flashy to me, but I've seen a few really great ones lately, and I like my shoulders, so I figured why not give one a try?

My original idea was to use some vintage yellow drapes from my stash to make the skirt, to fashion something like I talked about oh so long ago. I learned a lot while making this dress. Lesson 1: I am not currently capable of working with anything but woven cotton. Try as I might, this vintage fabric was far too fussy for me. By the time I realized this, I had already made the bodice in black cotton sateen, so I searched my fabric stash for something else that might work. I finally settled on a black print with tan and purple that I bought in Cameroon many years ago. Although I was never in love with this fabric, I bought 6 yards, since that is how fabric is sold there. It was among the most muted fabrics I could find, so at the time I figured it would be easier to work into my American wardrobe.

In Cameroon, people regularly wear the same boldly patterned fabric from head to toe--I find this a bit overwhelming on myself, but while making this dress I learned lesson 2: my somewhat bold African prints could totally work as the skirt to a dress with a solid colored bodice. I actually really like this look, and I especially like that the busy fabric is not near my face--I think you can get away with a lot more in a skirt.

I'm still struggling with fit issues--both in knitting and sewing. And I think the big culprit is ease. I picked my size based on my measurements, and trusted the pattern company and their idea of the appropriate amount of ease. I was a bit skeptical of 2 inches of ease on a bodice that really needed to be fitted, but I went with it anyway. Sure enough, the bodice is pretty huge on me, which almost works, but any wrong move could result in a wardrobe malfunction.

The tricky part is that the skirt seems to have the right amount of ease--I think I'm going to have to cut a different size in the bodice than the skirt next time.

Despite the fit issues, I'm actually very happy with this dress. I think it looks cute, is both a bit dressy and very unique, used up some of my stash fabric, and best of all--I think this was my best sewing yet! I am most proud of my zipper. Although it's not perfect (still a few puckers, and wonky stitching near the top) it is light years ahead of my last zipper. My secret? I used this wonderful tutorial at Sew Mama Sew that has you glue the zipper in place before top stitching. Genius!! And thank goodness, I found a washable glue stick in the house I'm subletting! This experience has been very encouraging--unlike many other previous failed sewing projects. I think I'm starting to make progress.

Next up, I'd like to make several dresses from one pattern in order to perfect a basic dress that fits me well. I've chosen New Look 6824. It has a great 1960s vibe, and many options that I really like.

Thanks for stopping by and don't forget to enter my giveaway!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Minimalist giveaway

Over my holiday in Chicago, I was thinking a lot about minimalist living. Now, this is something that is frequently on my mind, and I've probably mentioned this here before. I think what triggered this latest stream of thoughts was a visit to my friend TG's house. She has this great minimalist decoration thing going on in her apartment. Her furnishings are all very nice--and mostly unique vintage pieces and artwork--and I think you notice their uniqueness all the more because each stands on its own, free from clutter. I am constantly torn between wanting to have only the bare minimum in possessions, and my love of stuff--especially unique vintage finds, and items I picked up while traveling the world. That being said, I know that I have a lot of things in my life that I don't actually need, and can part with, and so I think it's time to do a little spring cleaning.

Luckily for you, I've decided to offer some great things as giveaways here on my blog! I'm hoping to do this semi-regularly (perhaps even weekly) but won't commit to a time frame since I know my schedule will become very hectic shortly.

M I N I M A L I S T G I V E A W A Y # 1

Free to a good home is this sewing pattern from 1967. It makes an A-line dress with either a side-tied collar, or round collar. The pattern is uncut, and appears to still be factory folded. Instructions are complete, pattern appears complete. The pattern is size 16, bust 36. It's a great pattern, but it's not the right size for me, and I don't love it enough to figure out the alterations.

-leave a comment below to enter the giveaway--one comment per person, please.
-you MUST give me some way to contact you (email address, blog, flickr, whatever).
-a winner will be chosen at random in one week (1/10/09).

feel free tell your friends!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vintage Pattern Thursday

Things I love.
Bold, earthy patterns paired with golden yellow accents. (Butterick 2978, 1960s)

Subtle, dark lace and soft, flattering lines (Butterick 2636, 1960s)

Feminine necklines, softly gathered skirts, skinny belts and sparkly fabric (Vogue 4848, 1957)