Thursday, October 29, 2009

And More Pockets

Well, it's back to the treadmill day for me, since my neck and shoulders are feeling back to normal. However, I have enjoyed evening stints in the craft lounge over the last few days. It was fun to see the incremental progress I made on this diaper bag.

Front side of the bag, pattern nicely matched up.

The outside of the bag is nearly complete. Pockets are made, and I'm in the process of sewing the pieces together to be the outer shell of the bag. Next, I will work on the zipper and inside of the bag. Before putting it all together.

Side pocket, attached to (pocket-less) back of the bag.

I probably won't be able to devote much time to sewing until over the weekend. Hopefully, I'll be nearly done by Sunday night and ready to begin my next projects.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Muses and Monsters

Today is the day that Erato and I were supposed to be off from work to go museum-ing and shop for fabric. But it has been a bumpy week for the Muses. Erato is laid up with a respiratory infection, and I am stiff from being rear-ended on Monday evening. So, we have postponed our date until next week.

However, since I am taking it easy on Dr Kiang's advice (she says 'heating pad... no running and lots of chocolate'), I am finding time for weekday craft lounge visits. And it seems to be all about babies. Here is my latest.

The colors look a bit washed out in this photo.

And further work was made on diaper bag #2. It is at the point where it is still all flat. Basically, I am in the pocket-making phase. Lots of pockets.

I am also working on the organizational phase of my Fall Wardrobe project. It is rather ambitious, and I might have to refine my plans (read: rein in my expectations). Right now, I am planning 4 tops, a skirt, a sheath dress, 2 trousers and a bag. We'll see.

Lastly, I am thrilled about another craft lounge date that I have next month with Magenta and Dr Kiang. As Magenta put it, we will get together for a "pre-holiday jewelry making party with a box of stuff we have 'hanging around' our drawers and craft rooms". I don't make jewelry, but I'm sure I'll find something crafty to do!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chinese BBQ

One of my pantry staples is a chinese barbecue sauce that is made almost entirely from other pantry ingredients. This sauce is sweet, spicy and garlicky, and goes equally well on ribs as it does on chicken. I've made it so many times, that I don't actually measure ingredients anymore, but over the weekend, I took the time to measure amounts so that I could tell them to you. Here goes:
Chinese BBQ Sauce
6 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbs rice wine vinegar (cider, sherry or other is ok)
1 bottle hoisin sauce (20oz or so)
1/3 cup soy sauce (I use some dark and some light)
2 tsps honey
1 tbsp sesame oil
Saute the garlic and pepper in canola until fragrant and starting to brown. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Add next 3 ingredients and simmer until sauce thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and wisk in the sesame oil.

Last night, Phineas and I made a bunch of chicken wings to go with Monday night football. Just cook the wings either on a grill or under the broiler until nearly done. Slather on sauce for the last few minutes of cooking, and you are ready to dig in!

And then today, leftovers became part of a bento lunch with fried rice, bok choi (hidden under wings) and cucumber.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baby Cakes!

The reason I called Mar Mar last week, was to ask about cupcakes. Since she is a mom and loves to bake, I figured she would have a go-to recipe. She did! We both love the King Arthur Flour cookbook, and she directed me to their Devils Food Cake recipe (here).

The cupcakes were for Dr Colin and Mandie's house warming/Jack-n-Jill baby shower, which Phineas and I went to on Saturday. I used the same vanilla butter cream icing that I made for Dr. K's shower, but this time remembered to take pictures!

Store bought decorator icing makes dressing up cupcakes so easy!

There are a few secrets to success for the Devil's Food Cake - and for baking, in general - that should not be ignored. First, your butter and eggs must be at room temperature. You can gently warm the eggs in a bowl of tepid water. You can cut the butter into small pieces to speed it along, but please do not use the microwave. If it melts, you've just wasted your butter because melted fat cannot hold air the way solid ("plastic") fat can. Use the melted butter and you risk a flat cake. (Letting it re-solidify doesn't work).

Second, when a recipe says to "cream" butter and sugar, you really need to go at it for a minimum of 5 minutes. Again, this is about incorporating air into the sugar and fat elements. It will make your cake or cookies rise and have a light texture. Extra beating = extra air.

Finally, since the recipe does not advise on making cupcakes, my final directive (from Mar) is to bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes and that you will get 24 -28 cupcakes. When they are fully cooled, ice and enjoy!

Edited on 11/17: Um, how on earth did I forget to add that this is now my go-to recipe for chocolate cupcakes, too? Well, it is. They were that good.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Married to Mr Freeze (For Mar-Mar)

Last night I has a long chat with Mar-Mar. You see, for various reasons she ended up agreeing to host her family's Thanksgiving at her home while nearly 9 mos pregnant. (Don't ask.) So, she has questions about how much she can make in advance and freeze. Little did she know that I am married to Mr Freeze himself.

From the NY Times article on freezing food.

Earlier this summer, when Mark Bittman wrote an article about how you can freeze most food, Phineas' response was a smug "well, duh!" He will freeze anything. And by "anything" I mean he has frozen all of the following: couscous, beans and lentils, cookies, mashed potatoes, tomato paste, habanero peppers, birthday cake, blueberries, nuts, fresh ginger, cheese, white rice... the list goes on. Actually, in addition to all kinds of meats, dumplings and breads, this is basically what's in the freezer right now (the cake in question is chocolate mousse cake from my birthday.) Between the freezer and pantry, Phin and I could easily survive a 6 month siege by brain-eating zombies before turning to cannibalism. But I digress.

Anyway, in going through the list of everything that Mar wanted to serve, aside from the turkey (ie: stuffing, mashed potato, gravy, squash soup, veggies, apple pie, pumpkin pie) there is only one item we were unsure of freezing: Pecan Pie. However, according to, it's fine. And this truly tickles me, since I have already invested lots of time experimenting with pecan pie. So, naturally, I am now feeling like I should make extra pecan pies this year so that I can cut them into single servings and freeze them.

Gosh, Mar. We really are bad influences on each other! Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue Plate: A Tale of Two Dishes

For the Blue Plate, I like to feature "weeknight" dishes: meals you can cook with pantry items or with leftover ingredients from weekend cooking. This week's Blue Plate is a little of both.

On Sunday, I spent the earlier part of the day in the kitchen cooking for Polyhymnia, who will most likely not have time once my future nephew finally arrives. For health reasons, Poly eschews carbs, but her husband grew up with and loves Italian food. So, to satisfy both of their needs, I made a batch of "lasagna" using eggplant instead of sheets of pasta. I dipped each slice of eggplant in an eggwash before browning in a pan. Then I layered them in loaf pans (a generous 2 person casserole size) the way you would a lasagna - alternating eggplant, sauce, cooked ground beef and sausage, ricotta cheese and a mix of mozzarella and fontina. While I was at this project, Phineas was busy laying in our annual winter store of wontons and dumplings.

Winter bounty: dumplings, wontons and lasagna.

Now there are several mini eggplant lasagnas in the freezer, waiting to be delivered. I used up all the eggplant and meat, but had leftover ricotta. So, for today's Blue Plate, the ricotta and my endless appetite for nuts were the primary catalysts.

Just a few weeks ago, there was a recipe for pasta with walnut sauce featured in the NY Times which called for items I had on hand, plus ricotta. Perfect! All I needed was broccoli raab, which I eat regularly anyway.

Corkscrew pasta with walnut sauce and broccoli raab.
Phin added a 'healthy' amount of black pepper to his bowl.

The sauce requires no cooking and can be made in the time it takes to boil water for the pasta. I used hazelnut oil instead of walnut oil, but using all olive oil would be fine, too. And to make this dish even easier, the broccoli raab is blanched right in the pasta water. I didn't bother shocking it in ice water.

The verdict: this is a keeper. It was creamy and flavorful and not overly heavy. It will definitely be a regular this winter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Regrouping: Craft Lounge Edition

On Saturday night, I (thankfully and exhaustedly) returned home from my last bit of travel for the next month. I spent Sunday regrouping and prioritizing my fall projects, doing some cooking and cutting, and taking a luxuriously long nap.

All things considered, I did well on my September sewing goals - 3 are completed, and 2 are underway. So here is my list of what's next starting with what is already in progress, at least as far as crafts are concerned. More on cooking later this week.
  • Diaper Bag #2, for my sister-in-law Mandie, is in the works. Yesterday, I cut out all the pieces and it went significantly better than last time. This will also be a tote-style bag, like the one I gave Polyhymnia. In fact, even the fabric is the same, except it is in pinks and yellows instead of navy and turquoise. Here it is:
  • Bibs and Onesies: I finally figured out how to transfer the embroidery patterns well! What I really should have done is trace the patterns to the stabilizer and then attach the stabilizer to the bibs/onesies. Anyway, expect some cute embroidery soon
  • Magenta's pants. I must re-draft the pattern.
  • Diaper bag number #3, which I already have fabric for.
  • Fall Fashion Overhaul: My wardrobe needs help and RTW is just not cutting it. So, I have plans for 2-3 tops, a skirt and at least 1, but hopefully more, pants. More on this in future posts. I hope to be wearing new things by Thanksgiving, but that may be a stretch.
I am also thrilled to say that I have a few sewing-oriented dates coming up. Erato and I are playing hookie to spend a day in NYC shopping, museum-ing, sipping wine with our lunch and otherwise laughing at all the busy people rushing to work. Then, Erato, Poly and I will be getting together to do some Christmas-oriented sewing and crafting sometime between now and the holidays.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Want Fries with That?

After my birthday dinner, I chastised Phineas for not making enough oven fries to go with his Oktoberfest menu of sausages and fixings. He protested that he had made a whole 5lb bag. "Impossible!" I told him.

It was not until I was hanging out with Magenta and Dr Kiang that I learned the real truth. Apparently, the potato wedges were a (silent) big hit and all five pounds were gobbled up. I guess I hadn't thought about how much time and how many batches it has taken for me and Phin to really perfect our method of getting oven fries that are crispy and delicious. So, since M and Dr K demanded that I reveal "the secret", here it is.

Crispy Oven Fries "Secret" Method
  1. Place a large baking sheet in the (cold) oven and heat the oven to 400 or so degrees - you want it hot!
  2. Prep potatoes: Cut up your spuds (Phin likes wedges best because then you can get them browned on the 2 cut sides)
  3. Dress spuds: Toss with oil (I use canola), generous amt of salt and whatever herbs/seasonings you want (garlic, rosemary, pepper, paprika, etc).
  4. When the oven is heated, take the scorching hot pan out of the oven and give it a quick spray with Pam or other cooking spray. Arrange potato wedges with one cut side down (they should sizzle a little when they hit the pan).
  5. Bake for 20 min until browned on one side. Flip to other cut side. Bake for additional 15 minutes or until nicely browned on both side.
Really, it is the high heat and the heated pan that enables the potatoes to brown nicely. The oil and then cooking spray ensures that they don't stick. I don't measure anything and neither does Phin. So, use your judgment and also tinker with time and temperature so that the recipe works for your oven. Happy French Fry Friday!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hurdles and Goals

This is about how I felt

Well, what can I say: Justin and I are not getting along so well right now. Between vacation, a chest cold and lots of travel (and the chaos that it throws the rest of my life into), my running training has been patchy at best. But on Tuesday night, I tied on my sneakers in earnest and tried to get back into the groove with Justin coaching me along. It did not go well.

The paths that I normally run are unlit, and it is now too dark out by the time I am ready to go for my run. So, this was also my first treadmill run since June, and I am now more used to an undulating course and an undulating pace rather than the steady pace of the machine. Basically, I started out too fast, got out of breath and then things went down hill from there. Clearly, I lost some of my cardio strength during my hiatus. Depressing.

However, I view this as a challenge. And no challenge is complete without a goal. So, my first official 5k race will be a Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot". Phineas has even picked one out for me. That gives me 6 weeks to rebuild what I have lost and then build up to 5k. Considering that my training program was only supposed to be 8 weeks long to begin with, I am feeling pretty good about things. We'll see how optimistic I am after tonight's run!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PS - Changing Pad

You would think that after handily finishing the diaper bag for Poly's baby shower, that the matching changing pad would be a cinch. Well, it wasn't. Or rather, it was, but only after dealing with a few materials issues.

The pattern called for non-fusible fleece for padding between the two outer layers. But after two unsuccessful tries I decided that I was never going to get the non-fusible fleece perfectly smooth, and that there was no good reason not to use fusible fleece instead.

Next, one side was supposed to be coated in fusible vinyl, which I had trouble finding a suitable one (read: easy to use) locally. And by locally, I mean the garment district. I tried 2 other fusible and one sew on vinyl before settling on Therm O Web fusible vinyl with gloss finish that I ordered on line. It was the only one that really fused evenly and reliably for me.

After these hiccups were sorted out, this was literally a 30 minute project from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New toy!!

While I was in DC, helping Dr K prepare for the wedding, Phineas picked up my long- awaited, brand spankin' new Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 850 sewing machine. He was very clever about the whole thing. H-V has just introduced the Sapphire 855 - the next generation of this machine. So, Phineas found a store that was trying to sell the last few 850's it had in stock and was able to finagle a significant discount.

This machine sews so beautifully and has so many features that I don't even know where to begin singing its praises. I spent most of yesterday morning playing with some of the 100+ stitches and figuring out how to do some of the basics.

A few of the many decorative stitches.

The computerized system has a rather high IQ. It tells you to adjust the thread tension based on the fabric you are sewing and the stitch. It also suggests what needle size and foot to use for various stitches and fabrics. I forgot to change the tension a few times, which is why some of the test stitches are a bit puckered.

Pajama bottoms

My first mini-project was to finish the pj bottoms which I started with Erato a few weeks ago. They sewed up beautifully and quickly. My first impression - now that I have it in the Craft Lounge - is that the Sapphire 850 is an incredibly functional and user friendly machine. Everything about it was easy, easy, easy! Made to make sewing enjoyable.

I barely scratched the surface with what the Sapphire can do and am raring to go with my next project. So stay tuned for more sewing adventures.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Love Love Love!

Magenta got some great shots of the couple being their silly selves.

On Saturday, "I do's" were said, cupcakes were eaten, and I was able to add to my growing collection of pictures of Dr Kiang and Ivan, in which one or both were hamming it up for the camera. Typical!!

Look at how gorgeous Dr K looks, rockin' her Michelle Obama
inspired wedding dress and flanked by her smokin' hot entourage.

What a great wedding and what a great couple. Thanks for letting me be part of your special day!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Dear Dr Kiang,

I am so looking forward to your wedding on Saturday, but I have this one tiny confession to make first. I'm having some qualms. Serious ones. About the card I bought you.

You see, I spent quite a while looking for the right card in all the places that I usually have luck finding nice cards. But I am still just not sure about the one I ended up with. It isn't that it has humor that could be considered tacky. It doesn't. And I steered clear of the card that had a pop-up wedding cake with lighting and a soundtrack of Pachelbel's Canon in D when you opened it. What I was looking for was a card that had a pretty but unfussy outside and a simple, non-cloying message inside. A tall order! And I did find it, more or less. It's just that... well... in an act of desperation, when all hope for a simple card was gone, I found it at.... at... at Kmart. (hangs head in shame.)

Now, I know that you are a lady who likes a bargain. Target's profits in the northeast would collapse with out you. But lets not forget our conversation on Saturday about my very cute, but admittedly made-of-plastic shoes from Kmart. You suggested that if I had to put gel insoles in to make them wearable, that perhaps I ought to just start with shoes that actually came with insoles. Can I really give you a card, arguably on the most important day of your life, that I bought at the same place that I got $12 plastic shoes that lack an insole?

I don't know. But, personally, I am having some trouble getting over the $1.99-ness of the card. Oh, yeah, did I mention that it was on the clearance rack? Well, it was. So there is that too.

Anywho, I just don't know what to do and time (and card stores) are running out. So, you will probably be stuck with my cheapo card. But aren't you glad that you have a friend to think about such weighty topics in the run up to your special day? I thought so.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I generally bring my breakfast and a snack to work and buy my lunch. But lately I've been bored of the lunchtime offerings near my office. Then the NY Times ran an article on the growing popularity of bento boxes, and I knew I had my answer to boring lunches.

A very simple explaination of bento, or obento, is that it is the Japanese word for a meal served in a box. However, a bento can be very simply rice, veggies and meat or fish packed in a plastic container, or it can be a "cute bento" - a child's school lunch full of fun accessories and fanciful presentation meant to trick them into eating good-for-you food, or it can be elevated to an artform with carved fruits and veggies and the like. Anything goes. But the whole point is to create a balanced meal that is easy to transport and pleasing to the eye.

So, I was thrilled to get a bento box for my birthday. Mine is a slick 2 tiered one in blue and white. Each lid doubles as a cooling/gel pack once you freeze it, so no worries about keeping my lunch fresh. It also came with dividers, so you can partition your food. In general, you are supposed to pack your box pretty tightly, with 3 parts rice or other carb, 1 part protein and 2 parts vegetable. Including two different veggies/sides is traditional.

Here is my very first 2-tiered bento box creation.

Top tier: Breakfast and snack

This tier has cut up strawberries topped with yogurt, granola and honey on the right, and a pile of baby carrots on the left.

Bottom Tier: Lunch

Tier two has a bed of couscous topped with a few slices of sausage, asparagus and poached sliced shrimp on the right, and cut up red pepper and broccoli on the left. I have to say that this bento was pretty easy to put together thanks to the leftovers from my birthday. All the veggies are leftover crudites that were already cut and blanched. The slivers of sausage were also from my bday. The couscous and shrimp were last night's dinner.

I'm getting hungry just writing this post. Anyway, my goal is to try to bring in my lunch twice a week, depending on leftovers. Whenever I make a good looking box, I'll post it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

And Now for the Loot!

Um, I would be remiss if I didn't say how my Muses and friends spoiled me rotten this birthday.

First off, I got my much wished-for bento box, which I will be posting about on Tuesday. And I received a visa gift card, which I will be using to buy some accessories for it.

Double level Bento Box and Insulated Carrying Bag

Next, several people gave gifts to support my sewing hobby. Even those who did not feel comfortable buying a sewing gift, gave me gift certificates specifically for sewing purchases. And I know they are all the kind of people who hate giving gift certificates, so it meant a lot to me. I also received a gift certificate to Mood, in addition to a shopping spree sponsored by Erato at the fabric store of my choice. We are planning a day to take off from work together. Hurray! And my mom and dad gave me 3 yards of a grey pinstripe fabric that has a lovely hand. "For trousers", mom says, and she is right - it will be great for pants. I am rather intrigued by it. Check out the name in the selvage.

Exclusive Armani Collection: could it be genuine?

Phineas, aside from cooking a birthday feast for me, has found my next sewing machine at the price I want (picking it up in the next day or so). Luckily, I received some funds from mom and dad to buy some additional accessories (presser feet!) for it.

I also have to give a special shout to Calliope, who, whenever I ask for slippers or pjs - which is quite often - gives me slippers or pj's. I love pajamas, especially as a gift. And she always makes sure I get them. I think we are just in sync in that department. And of course, Linus and Orpheus picked out a necklace and earrings for me and then helped me celebrate. Linus helped me blow out the candles on my cake and Orpheus threw confetti on me. All in all, an excellent birthday party!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Birthday: Joie de Vivre

I'm backdating this post to my actual birthday, even though it is going up a bit late. As you know, it's been a bit busy these last 6 weeks or so.

Anita Ekberg's famous frolick in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini's La Dolce Vita

I didn't have much time to prepare myself mentally for my birthday. But as Phineas and I were driving home from my Oktoberfest-themed birthday, I was thinking about the past year and the next one to come. I couldn't stay focused on my accomplishments and goals because my mind kept wandering to happy places and faces. And the phrase that kept coming to mind was Joie de Vivre.

I look out across the world and on my life, and I feel elated. I feel younger this year. I feel prettier. I feel more talented this year. I feel more adventurous. I feel smarter this year. I feel confident. I feel appreciated. I feel loved this year. I feel happy with me. And I don't have it all figured out, but I think that loving myself is at the heart of my happiness in the world around me. Here I am at 34, feeling more myself than I ever have before.

So this year, my birthday gift to myself is to encourage my joie de vivre, because, after all is said and done, it is the happiness and joy that makes life so sweet.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Blogger: Erato

So while Clio is (was) in the UK, I was invited to guest blog about my first sewing project!!! So here goes:

If you’ve been following Clio’s blog she’s already posted pictures of the pattern we were working on to make our pajamas. If not, you can read about it here and see the fabric we used here.

Sunday was the day we had set aside to really make some progress on our project. We had previously traced and cut out our pattern, added seven inches in length to the legs of my pants, (Yes, seven!) pressed the fabric and pinned the pattern to the fabric. We met for a quick dim sum and then got to work.

Now it didn’t seem like a lot to do or very complicated. Cut out fabric, sew the four pieces together (two pieces for each leg) add elastic and hem. Now, I should have been tipped off to how tricky this would be from my previous lessons. For example, pressing the fabric doesn’t mean ironing it. It means picking up the iron and pressing it down on the fabric to get out all the wrinkles, not sliding the iron along the fabric to get them out. I after about four or five hours hard at work okay, there may have been quite a bit of gabbing, gossiping and caffeinating) I was burnt out. We decided to wrap up after I had completely fudged my elastic casing and all of my stitches had to be ripped out. We left the pants still needing elastic and hems.

Monday I got home, still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sewing fest from the day before. There had been so much to remember and I was still a bit discouraged by my elastic casing. So I puttered around the house avoiding the project until I really had a chance to see how much work we had done and how little was left. I decided to give it another shot and was pleasantly surprised when 45 minutes later I was wearing my new pjs!

All done sewing and ready to hit the hay.
Notice the lack of visible ankle!!!

I haven’t told Clio this, yet, but I was so proud and excited of my Pjs, on Wednesday I came home from work and made a bag for my shoes. I carry my real shoes with me to work in my purse and wear my Fit Flops. This used to mean I had a pair of shoes in a plastic Rite Aid bag in my purse at all times. Now I have cute little sack with handles to put in my purse. No more crinkly plastic bag sound every time I take out my wallet.

Bag, purse, shoes.

I winged it, so I wasn’t sure what stitches to use for the handles and despite my best efforts it may be a bit trapezoidal, but I got in some good practice and it does the job it was made for. Hopefully when Clio is back we can hit the fabric store again and help me pick out a nice easy pattern for my next project!