Monday, September 16, 2013

[what's cookin'] A Picnic

Yesterday was the Homestead Museum's annual Ticket to the Twenties event.  It's a free two-day tribute to the Jazz Age complete with live music, dancing, films, games, and even fashion shows.  It's the perfect event in Southern California for a twenties-style picnic.

For this year's picnic, I thought I would try my hand at a couple of Jazz Age recipes thanks to  I wanted picnic foods that might have been served up at an outdoor luncheon in the 1920s, so decided on a couple of sandwiches and a potato salad.  But due to a few dietary limitations and allergies, I did decide to alter the recipes a bit.  So long as they kept to the style of the foods, I was okay.

The sandwiches came out well, I thought.  I chose a mock-chicken salad sandwich on white.  I looked up several chicken salad recipes on the site and used the information to guide my mock creation.  Honestly, it really was not that different from contemporary "chicken-salad."  Some "chicken" (in my case, I used chickpeas), some mustard, salt, pepper, vinegar, and--of course--mayonnaise.  Celery was often added, too.  Yep, pretty much what most folks call chicken-salad today.

The second sandwich that I chose was a cheese sandwich.  While not using camembert specifically, I used a similar soft, rind cheese that had a wonderful bite to it.  Quite tasty, albeit a touch messy to make.  I opted to thinly slice the cheese and place the slices on the sandwich, though I did consider cutting the cheese in half horizontally and then scooping and spreading the soft cheese sans rind onto the bread.

The potato salad recipe that I used as my inspiration include cayenne and Tabasco.  My husband is allergic to both, so I opted for black pepper and HP sauce instead.  (Sure, I could've chosen another recipe as there are plenty, but by the time I was getting around to making the salad, I had to chose one for which I had on-hand most of the ingredients and that would be nice at a picnic.)  The end result had a lovely tanginess and was quite tasty.  Yet by the next afternoon (I made the salad the day before the picnic), it was much more bland.  I here I thought the flavors would marry well.  Drat.

Otherwise the picnic was lovely.  We brought out some good china on which to dine.  We sat in the shade and sipped vintage sodas and lemonade.  My friend, Tricia, brought even more to eat: deviled eggs, sandwiches, fruit salad, and a heavenly apple pie and blueberry cake!  We were stuffed!

I certainly want to picnic again, but perhaps will wait a touch longer in the year as yesterday was just a bit too warm for my tastes.  Perhaps next time I will try a few other era recipes to share.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A new (electronic) addition to our haus

Roughly two weeks ago, a damn broke.  To combat the constant presence of dog hair on our floors, I used money I’d been saving to buy a floor-cleaning robot.  (I subscribe to the "Throw Money At It" school of problem solving whenever my limited budget allows.)

Brian would've preferred
this model
Now that two weeks have passed, I can say with certainty that it was among one of the best, albeit costliest, gadget purchases we’ve ever made.  Not only does it keep our floors looking good, it amuses the heck out of Declan and myself.  As it navigates the floors, I think it resembles a drunk stumbling its way through a crowded party as it bumps, turns, bumps, rumbles along, et cetera.  I can almost hear it muttering, "'Scuse me... pardon me... whoops..." as it makes its way from place to place.

Most users would probably only run the robot once or twice a day.  Declan, however, likes to push the button on it, so our “Rocket,” as Declan calls our yet-unnamed Roomba, get’s quite the workout.  But as our floors have really never looked better, I certainly don’t mind.

Now if we could just figure out what to call ours...

Friday, July 26, 2013

[what's cookin'] Family Movie Night means POPCORN FOR DINNER!

Leftovers, anyone? How about a beer?

When my eldest was younger, we often designated Friday evenings as “Family Movie Night.”  Now that Declan is getting older, I have brought back our movie-watching nights.  He is still a touch too young for it, not usually sitting through the entire film (though animated or “puppeted/Muppeted” features fare better), but it gives all a night to come together and have fun.  

Taylor, my eldest, is always invited, of course, but being a young woman with different priorities, she is absent from the festivities from time to time.  (I could write a whole post on how watching children become highly independent adults is both heartbreaking and wonderful.  I miss that kid like crazy, but she needs to have the freedom to make her own choices about how she spends her free time.  But I digress.)

Recently, I heard about the idea of Popcorn-for-Dinner.  I think that it’s a great idea for Family Movie Nights.  Everyone can forage for leftovers, or make their own quick meal.  I whip up a few batches of my famous (and addicting) popcorn.  And we all graze while snuggled on the couch watching a movie.  It’s pretty perfect, actually.  (And Declan WILL sit for a long period of time if the popcorn bowl is in his lap.  He is a fiend for popcorn.)

Here’s my recipe for amazingly good popcorn at home.  I do not usually measure the ingredients, choosing to season to taste, but these measurements are a good starting point.  Obviously feel free to adjust proportions to your tastes.  Enjoy!

Lily’s Omnom-popcorn

6 cups of prepared quality popcorn*
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (I use an oil sprayer)
2-3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (Bob’s Red Mill brand is widely available, not to be confused with brewer’s yeast)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Garlic powder, optional

*I use an old-fashioned, crank operated, stove-top oil popper.  I provides the tastiest popcorn I’ve ever enjoyed.  I pop mine with about two tablespoons of Earth Balance spread or high-quality butter.  If i’m feeling particularly fancy, I add a splash of truffle oil.

In a large bowl, toss popcorn with olive oil.  I use a sprayer and spray the top, toss the popcorn, spray the top, toss the popcorn, repeat until the popcorn has a light coating of oil.  Sprinkle nutritional yeast and toss until evenly distributed through the bowl.  Add salt and, if desired, a shake or two of garlic powder.  Eat immediately for best flavor.

Do you have any weekly/monthly family traditions?  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

[in stitches] A Casual Shirt for My Fella

New shirt!
A few weeks ago it was so uncomfortably warm that the idea of cooking dinner brought on fears of combusting from the heat.  Our solution was to dine out at an air conditioned restaurant.  The second time that went out, I noticed my husband was wearing the same shirt as before.

"It's the only nice, comfortably shirt that I have," he explained.

He does have a few nicer-looking button-up shirts, but they're mostly polyester.  The shirt he was wearing was 100% linen, the perfect choice for a hot day.

When we returned home after dinner, I began to look up possible shirt patterns for him.  I wanted a short-sleeve, button-front shirt with a collar, preferably with a yoke, too.  Vogue had exactly what I needed!

The next day, I headed to my local fabric store.  My husband wanted linen (which I can get inexpensively at LA's fabric district), but I thought I'd see what was available nearby.  I found two good 100% cotton options; a tiki print in blues and browns, and a red plaid.  I bought both.

The pattern recommended no obvious diagonals, so I purchased more of the tiki print than recommended.  Really the only issues were the yoke and collar, but the extra fabric allowed me to cut them on the cross grain to keep the pattern upright.
His "catalog" pose

The pattern and instructions were pretty straight-forward.  The project worked up quickly and easily. I was able to do everything by machine, too; including the buttons.

My husband loves the new shirt and claims it to be very comfortable.

While I've started the red plaid shirt, I haven't found time yet to finish it.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

[what's cookin'] I think I can?

I have had moderate success with refrigerator pickling.  But I’ve yet to really dive into full on canning.  My new favorite blog, though, has me wanting to give it a try.  I’ve got a few glass jars. I’ve got a few canning tools. I can boil water.  So, what’s holding me back?

Well, for starters, I’m not a big jam-eater.  I confess, I have a mild repulsion to hot fruit.  Okay, more accurately to hot berries.  Apples, pears, peaches are all perfectly fine for pies, but for the love of all that is pure and good--berries should never be heated.  They become a slimy ichor of yuck.  I shudder just thinking about it.  Granted, I am touch more forgiving of jams are they are usually enjoyed fresh from the ‘fridge, but our haus seems to be quite fine without stocking any spreadable fruit.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t can jams.  But I’ve yet to encounter any other canned food that leaves me salivating.  (Not that I’ve been looking too hard, mind you.)

So, do you can?  What are some of your favorite recipes?  Are any of the beginner-friendly?

Monday, June 24, 2013

[peaceful parenting] Mama Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barney

Around the time that my daughter was born, a new children’s show was all the rage.  Rage being a key word here as it also produced a LOT of push-back from parents, adults, and older siblings annoyed by the cloyingly saccharine song so famously associated with the show.  

I was one of those parents.  The show and its predominate purple protagonist left me so piqued that I engaged in strategic channel changing and PBS viewing schedules just to avoid exposing her to the show.

My efforts paid off, she never was much of fan.  (She only later learned of the show’s existence when she started preschool.  But always preferred to watch other programs, much to my relief.)

Flash forward to today, and I find myself dealing with the purple menace in a much bigger way.  Declan has, completely on his own, discovered the show via Netflix and Hulu on our tablet computers.  (Oh, if only both of those programs allowed parents to individually filter out certain shows!)  
Here's the techno-savvy lad now

Through no prompting nor training on our part, Declan has learned how to open the tablet, start the appropriate application, switch the application to the kid’s catalog, browse the options, pick a show, and watch it.  He is also very adept at rewinding and replaying key parts, particularly theme songs and musical numbers, over and over again.

Obviously, I’m no fan of some of his choices in viewing material.  My language makes that plain.  So why have I chosen to not only allow him to continue to view these shows, but also defend and support his tastes?

Well, I feel that to do otherwise would be shame him for being himself and expressing his tastes.

As much as I may not be a fan of cavity-inducing children’s music, it does not hurt him at all.  Whereas if I turned the situation from supportive to adversarial, someone must win and someone must lose.  That sort of relationship can cause harm; definitely to our relationship, but also to his developing sense of self.  So, instead of instituting a ban of B-word in this house, I’ve chosen to find acceptance.

Some may find my support to be a bit on the extreme side.  After all, would censoring his exposure from a children’s TV show *really* be that bad?  Honestly, I think that it might.  I’ve decided that my role in his life is to be a partner to him, and that a huge part of my “job” is to be supportive of his interests.  If I start to dismiss his curiosity and interests at this stage, how can I show him that I truly am interested in helping him to explore his world later on?

I’ll admit that this is perhaps a departure from some folks’ views of more conventional parenting.  But I’ll wager that even those people can cite a time in their adolescence when their parents chose to be adversarial at a time when they could have really used support instead.  I know that I can recall a few.  I can even recall moments when I really should have been more supportive of my daughter.

How do you as a parent view your relationship with your children?

On a somewhat related note, Declan has also--on his own--found Family Guy.  In some respects, I think that is almost more annoying than the dentally-challenged T-Rex.  No, it IS more annoying.*

*Yeah, I’m not a fan.  Too formulaic, too sophomoric, not witty enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[in stitches] A New Dress for Daughter

Years ago I picked up a vintage reproduction pattern of a tabard-style dress.  The pattern, no longer in print, featured a quick-to-sew "Walk-Away-Dress" that had no sewn sides.  Instead it wrapped from front to back, and back to front to create the closures at the sides.  I made one for myself and liked the dress well enough, but there were a few issues.  Minor ones, that kept me from making any more dresses from the pattern.

While browsing through one of my favorite sewing blogs, I saw an older post about the Walk-Away-Dress.  In the post, an updated version of the dress pattern is featured.  Alas, THAT gorgeous pattern has not been reissued.  But a similar pattern from Vogue was reissued (and is, of this writing, still available).

But there was still something that kept me from making the dress.

Flash forward to a week or so ago.  I had finished a very sewing-intensive costume and wanted something fun to make. Plus, I was hoping to work on something that could try out some new skills.

I decided to make the Vogue dress, but not for me, for my daughter.  I also decided that I wanted to try my hand at pattern drafting by adding a peter-pan collar to the dress.  My daughter chose a darling cotton lawn fabric of blue with dots of white and green.  For the collar, we settled on a true red fabric.

As the pattern that I picked up ages ago was the wrong size for my girl, I did have to due some alterations.  I was excited to try out Nancy Zieman's Pivot and Slide technique.  The adjustments were so easy to make using the pivot methods and quickly produced a new, well-sized pattern.

I used my toile to underline the bodice, but decided against underlining the skirt.

The dress worked up quickly, though I did pause at one point to see if my local sewing machine shop had a specialty foot for attaching bias tape.  (They didn't, alas.)

In putting together this dress, I did feel pretty good about my collar pattern and how that all came together.  It also proved to be another lesson on bias binding, but I've only concluded that I'd really rather just get a specialty foot and technology to the fiddly work for me.  And I think I may become a devotee of the pivot and slide technique.

I would like to make this pattern again--again with the collar, too.  I think that the collar really sets this dress apart.  Linen may be a nice choice, or another cotton lawn.  But if I did it for myself in the cotton, I would probably underline the skirt, too.

Do you like to try out new skills when you sew?  What sort of projects do you enjoy?


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