Monday, June 30, 2008

Sewing Impossible: Mission 1

Magenta's iron on skull appliqué from M&J
I had 2 near impossible sewing projects lined up for last weekend... the first was Magenta's beloved summer pants. I had assumed that we were ripping apart, taking in and breathing new life into a pair of pants. But I was wrong. We are duplicating her favorite pants... without a pattern. Or rather, making our own pattern. Thankfully, they are a pretty simple design that is at my skill level.

Last Wednesday evening, we met at Mood for what turned out to be a frustrating shopping trip to look for fabric. We're looking for a 100% cotton which is almost a gauze, but heavier and less see-thru, and with a nice drape. We didn't find what she wanted, but we did pick up trim and other items at the incomparable M&J Trimmings. I was slightly relieved when she opted for the above applique rather than this one:

I'm just not ready to dust off our Poison
cassettes and relive 1989, are you?

Magenta is a crafty gal and had procured a roll of tracing paper for our weekend crafting. We set to work creating the pattern and by the end of the day it looked good - or at least like a pattern for pants ought to look. This was very encouraging! (Me, surprised.. naaahhh. Well, maybe just a little...)

Anyway, more news when we find the right fabric.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Chapter on Dim Sum

I promised a "chapter on dim sum" a while ago and never quite got around to it. But I've been seriously needing a fix since Wing Shing closed (yes, it is still shuttered). So, here finally is the good, the bad, and the ugly dim sum experiences that I've had over the last few years.

The Good - My tops include the shrimp and snow pea shoot dumplings (picture at right) that I had in San Francisco at Great Eastern. The buttery tender shrimp and fresh pea shoots seasoned with garlic was a marriage made in heaven. In Hong Kong, Luk Yu Tea House served top notch perfectly steamed classics and was one of the most satisfying dims I've summed - especially the steamed pork buns. And the place has ambiance.

Shrimp paste 'fish' in broth

The Bad - Is there really such a thing? Well, maybe. Any dim sum served at a breakfast buffet in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau. And probably most other places. It just isn't good. I strongly suspect that this variety of dim sum comes from the freezer. Blech.

The Ugly - Phineas has a nose for finding truly local gems wherever we travel. This is normally fantastic, but it backfired one afternoon in Hong Kong. It turns out that, although I was ready for the local cuisine, I was inadequately prepared for the local manners... or hygiene... or lack there of.... You get the point. I fled, giving thanks all the way to the door that I had recently had all my shots updated.
My favorite - bean curd rolls
My observations:
  • Dim sum doesn't vary all that much from place to place. And there is good dim sum to be had around the world - even Hong Kong doesn't have a monopoly.
  • Ordering from a check-off menu trumps the carts. This is heresy to some, I know. The carts are fun and can add to the experience, especially for the uninitiated. But all of the best dim sum I have eaten was ordered from a menu and it arrived steaming hot and perfectly fresh, unlike what you often get off the carts.
  • Cost is not an indicator of quality. The dim sum I had in Toronto was $$$, and it was beautiful to look at, but woefully under-seasoned and rather spottily done (some came fresh and hot, other items seemed like they were sitting around).
  • In general, if you aren't somewhere that pays the bills by serving dim sum, just skip it. Resist the urge to try it at the breakfast buffet.
  • Dim sum is enjoyable by yourself, as a couple or with a group. With a group you get to try more things, but by yourself it is still so perfectly portioned that one or two items makes a great meal.
Ducky dumplings (duck and foie gras) at Lah Wah Heen in Toronto.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Still in Progress

Polyhymnia, stylin' in her new beach duds...

The sarong pants I am making Polyhymnia are still in progress, but the kimono top and fun beach tote are finished!

In fact, I pulled the tote bag together in a few hours on Saturday. It was easier than I thought.

So easy, in fact, that I even added a pocket for sunglasses and sunscreen (we Muses burn easily in the sun).

The sarong pants are coming along nicely. Poly tried them on on Sunday and they fit well! So yesterday, I spent the afternoon ironing and hemming. It took all afternoon because of the flowy-openness of the design. There simply was miles and miles of 1/4 inch finished hem.

At this point, each project is still a learning experience. What I learned about sewing and myself yesterday is that after about 4 hours, I start doing really dopey things, like forgetting to switch the stitch length from basting back to regular. This leaves me with the waist band and ties to re-do.

So, New Rule: no more than 3 hours of crafting at once.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lobster Three Ways: Part II

I really hope they don't sue me for copyright infringement.

Part two of our Lobster Three Ways was Butter Poached Lobster Claws. The basic method is to make a beurre monté and then poach the claws in it. Here's what Thomas Keller, the exec chef of French Laundry and Per Se had to say about it in Food and Wine, which I also hope doesn't sue me.

"Beurre Monté can be made in any amount using the same cooking method. Bring the water (2tbsp or so) to a boil in an appropriate size saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and begin whisking the butter into the water, bit by bit, to emulsify. Once you have established the emulsion, you can continue to add pieces of butter until you have the quantity of beurre monté that you need...

"...Poaching lobster in beurre monté is the perfect way to cook lobster and it’s also an easy way to cook lobster.... Make your beurre monté, bring it to 180°, 190°, pop your cleaned lobster tails and claws in beurre monté, and let them poach for five or six minutes. I would eat them straight out of the butter myself."

We also threw a few cloves of garlic in with the claws and then served the left over beurre monté in ramekins for dipping or (cardiologists, cover your ears) drizzling onto your filet mignon or mashed potatoes.

Is there a term for plagiarizing on your blog? Cause this post really is one big rip. What can I say, I'm having a busy week...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Pets

Friendly Snails

Orpheus is adept at finding snails in Pop's garden. On Sunday, he found a snail crawling up a bottle of blue glitter glue that he had left in the yard when it rained. He lured it off of the glitter with a few dry leaves and before you know it the two of us were watching it travel across a path of leaves we created on the picnic table.

Later, Orpheus thought it might be hungry, and we looked on-line to find out what snails like to eat. We fed it baby carrots, strawberries and grape tomatoes. We also learned that snails like company, so Orpheus set about finding a friend for it. It was around this point that Orpheus started calling it his "pet snail" - "pet snails" once he found it a friend.

When he asked his mom, Calliope, if he could keep the snails, she made the mistake of saying, "It's Pop's house. Ask him." She was sure that Pop would say no. But he didn't and now there are 2 snails living at Clan Headquarters. Grandma, naturally, had the perfect plastic tank for it in the attic. (Teachers!)

It has been decided that the snails will be released back into the wild when Orpheus goes to spend the summer with his dad on Monday.

Here's what we learned about snails from the web and our own observation.

Some snails have been known to live up to 15 years.
Snails usually travel in irregular paths, often traveling in a circle. (We witnessed this.)
A snail can crawl upside down. (Ditto!)
Snails are nocturnal animals which means they are more active at night.
Garden Snails mainly eat garden plants and vegetables.
Garden snails hibernate during the winter and live on their stored fat.
Garden snails can survive a fall from the height of a five year old's outstretched hand. (We learned this first hand, too.)
The garden snail is cooked and eaten as a delicacy called escargot. May 24th is National Escargot Day

Tasty Snails.... he he he

Pants in Progress

Darts and Seams

Last night I started the actual sewing of the pants for Polyhymnia. One thing I've learned: a lot of sewing has nothing to do with needle and thread. There is an inordinate amount of ironing. If you hate ironing, sewing is probably not for you.

Sewing the Crotch

Anyway, the pants now have stay stitching, darts at the waste (basted only), and a crotch. Once Polyhymnia and I have a fitting session, the darts will be adjusted and replaced with permanent stitching, and a waist band and hems will be done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lobster Three Ways: Part I

For Father's Day, we decided on a Surf & Turf menu for my Pop. Phineas and I were in charge of the lobsters and decided we would serve them 3 ways to utilize every ounce of meat - Lobster Croquetas, Butter Poached Lobster Claws, and Stuffed Tails. To prep the lobsters, Phineas had them par-steamed by the supermarket and then disassembled them at home (tails removed, claw meat de-shelled, and leg and knuckle meat de-shelled). Today, I will focus on the Croquetas... mostly because I can't stop thinking about them. Muy delicioso!

Lobster Croquetas
This recipe is from Jose Andres, the executive chef of Jaleo, my favorite tapas restaurant. The base of the croquetas is a very thick bechamel. The original recipe is made with chicken and ham, but I substituted the lobster meat from the legs and knuckles, and you could really use whatever kind of meat or veg you wanted in them.
  • 1 stick butter (unsalted)
  • 1/2 Spanish onion diced
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 6 oz lobster meat, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg or other herb/spice of your choosing
  • flour, eggs and breadcrumbs for breading
  • oil for frying
Melt butter over low heat and add onion. Saute until translucent. Add flour and stir until evenly disbursed (it will make flour and onion pebbles). Cook for several minutes until golden. Add milk. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to shape by hand. Stir in lobster, salt and seasoning. Spread out onto a cookie sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, mold into wine cork size/shape logs. Bread the logs (basic flour-egg-breadcrumb method) and fry until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Makes 40-60 depending on how large you make 'em. Enjoy.

These were outrageously good. We made them small and all 60 disappeared. Next time, I think I will probably do a more traditional ham and chicken version too. In fact, I think that subconsciously I posted the recipe in the hopes that someone will find an excuse for me to make them again soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fish on Friday

Here fishy, fishy, fishy...

It seems that I've replaced my 3 o'clock chocolate chip cookie habit with a 1 o'clock fabric habit. This is better for my waistline, worse for my bank account.

After cutting out all the pieces for Polyhymnia's sarong pants on Wednesday, I had a good amount of fabric left over - enough to make a cute accessory or two. So today I found myself at Mood looking for coordinating fabric to use as a lining for a fun beach tote to go with the whole beach ensemble.

Ok, that is a bit of a stretch. I didn't just happen to find myself at Mood with a swatch of the pants fabric conveniently tucked away in my purse. The lining could have waited; this cute fishy fabric could not. I spotted it last week with the new arrivals. By today it was nearly gone. So I had to scoop up at least a small amount for my stash.

Now, what should I make with it....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Here we go again

The following chat that I had with Magenta yesterday morning can only be filed under "what have I gotten myself into?!?!?"

M(agenta): we need to do your wedding album
and we need to make me a pair of summer pants from an old favorite pair
I am desperate for these pants
me: ok
to both

To the uninitiated, this may seem ok. But let's stop and remember what happened the last time we went on a crafts bender together...

As Magenta would say, no good can come of this! He he he. I can't wait! And hopefully at the end we will not have an inappropriately animal printed Magenta.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Santa Clio

Over the weekend, I delivered Calliope's purse to her. She liked it a lot. Yay!

I also had a fitting session with Polyhymnia, before I finished her kimono top. It looked like a very good fit! Next Sunday, we are going to have a fitting session for the bottoms (um, which I will have cut and basted together by then...)

It definitely felt like Christmas, despite the heat!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dim Sum Panic II

Yesterday, Phineas had to pick me up in Brooklyn and he took the opportunity to do our Chinese grocery shopping on Avenue U. Naturally, he made a point of walking by Wing Shing.

It was still closed (so much for my wishful thinking that it would magically be open), but Phineas gathered some info. It was closed by the Health Department. Uggers!

I guess that the roast ducks and cha siu pig hanging in the front window were not being kept at the proper temperature. The dim sum carts were probably in violation too. Oh, and their way of carrying pig carcasses through the dining room periodically probably wasn't good. sigh

This can't be up to code. But sooo yummy...

Hopefully they will fix the violations and reopen. Keep you posted. And in the meantime, I will be on the hunt for a new dim sum spot for us.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

In the Mood

I had a little mishap with the fabric that I bought for Polyhymnia's sarong pants. (Nutshell: I have never in my life been so glad I pre-washed the fabric, because oh boy did it shrink!) So, yesterday afternoon I found myself at Mood, just a few blocks from my office. They really have a spectacular collection of fabric, and I hope Polyhymnia likes what I picked out for her.

I was initially thinking of going with something in the blue/turquoise family, but I thought this was really fun and the material had a nice give to it without being too stretchy. It should hold its shape, but I think it will conform nicely to my sister's lovely curves rather than being baggy or loose and frumpy.

Since the pants were temporarily put on the back burner because of the fabric issues, I forged ahead with kimono top that I am making to go with it. I think it is the best thing I have made to date. It is hard to see from this picture, but it is a white eyelet fabric and the top has gathers at the bust and across the back. It will have ties in the front as soon as I attach them and finish the seams.

I really really hope it all fits well. Obviously, I can alter anything that doesn't work, but I am really just hoping that the pattern is well proportioned and a nice fit.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Dim Sum Panic!

On Sunday, Phineas and I wanted to stop for dim sum on the way to my parents and Wing Shing, our trusty neighborhood restaurant, was closed. CLOSED! As in no lights, gate down, door locked closed.

Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't panic.

I'm panicking.


I really like these diagrams with things parts pointed out.
It is becoming a running theme on my blog.

Now that some weeks have passed, my Pop has had time to reflect on his trip to Ghana and even earned $100 for his article in The Tablet.

In Ghana, education is highly valued, but schools are few and far between. Most children walk several miles to and from school each day and many walk as much as 10 miles each way to get to school. Ten miles! Each Way!!!! While he was there, Pop asked Father Paul, a friend from Ghana, why no one rode bicycles to and from school. Answer: they can't afford bicycles.

Now, my dad has at least 2 bicycles in the shed that have not been used in years. Good working bikes that just have no riders. (You see where this is going.) He would happily part with them if they would help someone. But why send 2 bikes, when other parishioners are bound to have bikes rusting in their garages too and it would be cheaper to send a whole shipping container full than just two?

One of the things I like most about my Pop is that he is a doer. When he sees a need in a community, he works toward filling it. So, now there is a parish-wide campaign to recruit working bicycles (mountain or hybrids are ideal since the roads in Ghana are iffy) and raise money for them to be shipped there. Collection will take place at the end of the summer and I have already pledged my trusty Trek hybrid to the cause. This week Pop was going to contact local boy scout troops. There is bound to be an Eagle Scout or two who needs a service activity.

Anyway, Pop has plans to visit Ghana again next summer and I agreed to go with him, which means more vaccinations. This way, I will get to see how my bike is making a difference. Hooray!