Friday, October 31, 2008

'Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out, Contagion to this world. ~ William Shakespeare

It seems appropriate to post about my latest obsession, Twilight, on Halloween.

A few weeks ago Polyhymnia lent me the 4 book series. In all fairness, she did warn me that Twilight was addictive. But I didn't take her warning seriously and now I am stuck - obsessed with a neo-gothic teen vampire romance. I called her when I was half way thru and accused her of being a literary crack dealer.

Yes, I know how cheesy that all sounds - teen vampire love. And the books are not without flaws. The author's gratuitous use of the words "dazzle" and "smug" are reason enough for censure. However, the world and characters she's created are compelling. Love blazes in the all-or-nothing, forbidden fruit way that the teenage girl lurking in the back corner of your mind will devour. Fans have even been saying that Edward (our hero) is the new Harry. Nonsense, I say. Harry was never as sexy.

OK, so am I encouraging you to read these books? NO. Absolutely not. Consider yourself warned: Twilight is like crack- highly addictive, chocolate coated crack. Thank god I only have to wait until November 21 for my next fix, when the movie comes out. Other addicts are welcome to join me and Poly at the midnight showing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bike Ghana

Right now my trusty (and now shamefully slightly rusty) bicycle is in a shipping container bound for Accra, Ghana.

On Sunday my dad finished his "Bike Ghana" fundraising and bicycle raising drive for Bishop Dominick's parish in Techiman, with a collecting and packing party. He was hoping to send 50 bicycles, some donated clothing, and a few odds and ends, and collect enough in donations to cover the $4k shipping and container rental fees.

In the end, he received 150 bicycles, a large amount of clothing, 2 computers, 4 sewing machines and some religious art destined for Bishop Dominick's diocese. He also received enough in donations that he could pay the overhead and still stock up on spare tires and parts. Since the container only fit 100 bikes he was able to send just the best/most suitable ones (mountain and hybrid bikes in good shape). The remaining bikes are going to be fixed up and sold on ebay to make further donations to the Ghanaian diocese.

My Pop is a constant example to me of how one person can make the world a better place. He saw a need and worked to fill it in a meaningful and creative way. I was so happy to see him pleased with the success of his efforts, and to see him share that success with the many volunteers who came to support the bike drive.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Star (nee Wing Shing)

Aaaaaaand...... we're back!

On the way to my folks yesterday, Phineas and I were both hungry. On a whim I suggested that we swing down Avenue U to see if any dim sum place had opened to fill the gap left when Wing Shing closed suddenly. We've been in denial - not accepting, refusing to move on. Phineas was skeptical.

As we drove down the street, I could see a banner outside of where my long gone dim sum joint of choice had been.... open under new management!!! I was thrilled, but apprehensive. What if it really was new management? Would they still serve dim sum? Would it be a different style of cooking? Was it too much to hope that it would be similar?

When I swung the door open, a familiar smell and sound greeted me. And a familiar waiter!!! I knew I was home. Hurray!!! Same staff, same decor, same food, same, well, everything. Oh, except for the flat screen tv on one wall. I have no idea what it is doing there, but if that is all that has changed, I am as happy as a clam... in black bean sauce, of course.

Friday, October 24, 2008


This week I received a very unexpected package in the mail: a belated birthday gift from 2BSewing. The box was stuffed with all kinds of sewing goodies including gorgeous vintage buttons, a rainbow of embroidery threads, 2 pin cushions, satin pins and an assortment of other fantastic goodies. I'm going to have so much fun using it all. I've already put the pin cushions to use (um... I am red-faced to admit that prior to this gift, I had been using my ironing board as a pin cushion), and the awesome luggage tag with my initial (my chosen initial, not my given one) is currently dangling from my small suitcase.

Thanks again, 2B!!! You made my week!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Altered: Sometimes the simple idea is the most elusive.

Why did it take me a year to figure out that I could just take this tee shirt in a bit to make it fit better, rather than letting it languish in my drawer? DOH! Anyway, it fits much better now that it isn't too big.

Also, this was my first mini-project on a knit fabric, rather than woven. I used a small zig zag stitch rather than a stretch stitch - 2b had recommended this and it worked beautifully. So, now I am feeling a little less fearful of the black jersey I recently purchased.

Naturally, now I am planning to go thru all my tee shirts to see which ones could fit better. Oy vay, another can of worms has been opened.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finished: Harry Potter Robes

On Saturday, I had my nephew try on his new wizard robes. I am pleased to report that they fit better than I had hoped. The shoulders and top fit with room for a sweater or sweatshirt underneath. And the length was pretty good too. So on Sunday, I finished the project by hemming the bottom and front, adding the ties and ironing on the Hogwarts patch.

After Halloween I will post picture of the boy wizard.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cookie Monster Experiment: 48 Hours

Last night I had a work related event, so Phineas baked up batch #3 for me. When I arrived home, I inspected the cookies - they didn't look much different than the 24-hour version. I took a slow, deep inhalation: the aroma was positively luscious. Science be damned! I gobbled up three cookies on the spot. They were definitly a more grown up cookie - not overly sugary, much more mellow and rich in their sweetness; even more melded and complex. So much for dinner, I thought to myself as I wolfed down another cookie.

The superior version of the chocolate chip cookie.
BTW this photo is a dramatization. There was no plate involved in last night's binge.

So the final verdict: It really surprises me, but resting the cookie dough makes a HUGE difference. The article was totally right. The 48 hour batch was even better than the 24 hour version and totally blows the unrested dough out of the water. I will be resting my cookie dough from now on. Well, at least for as long as I can exert some will power...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cookie Monster Experiment: 24 hours

Last night I baked batch #2 of my chocolate chip cookies after the dough had rested in the fridge for about 24 hours. These cookies basically went right from the fridge to the oven. When they were done, I scientifically compared them to the previous batch - a difficult job involving many samples - but I was up to the challenge.

The results: The rested cookies were clearly better than the non-rested ones. I have to admit that I am surprised by this; I thought that the difference would be imperceptible. But it was clear. Batch #2 cooked up puffier and had better texture - crispier on the outside and gooier on the inside. This could be explained by the simple fact that the cookie dough was cold and drier than the day before.

However, the flavor was also better in a subtle but tangible way. I've always found the Nestle's Tollhouse recipe a little too sweet for my taste, but I used it because of it's mention in the article. Normally, I cut back the sugar by about 1/3. This time I made it to the directions. When I directly compared a cooled cookie from each batch, the unrested batch tasted more sugary in comparison with the rested batch. The flavor of the second batch was somehow more melded or rounded - fuller. Don't get me wrong, it had the same amount of sugar, but the sugar taste wasn't so assertive.

Does that make sense? I'm not sure. We'll see the results tonight to see if there is even more change.

Stash report

My sewing stash has virtually doubled overnight!

I'm not usually an impulse buyer. However, during my daily lunchtime walk on Friday, I passed a fabric store that had a going out of business sign in the window, and before I knew it I was returning to my office with 16 yards of assorted fabrics. I only stopped buying when it occurred to me that I would have to carry it all back to my office and then home.

In addition, on Saturday morning when the mail came, a few basics that I had ordered on line arrived too. So, I am rolling in fabric now. What a happy situation!

Here's my loot:

Cotton for Phineas' future shirts. You can't really tell
but one is striped and the other has checks.

Camouflage denim, black twill and khaki

Fuscia ombre satin, camo with a flower print,
and the backdrop is black jersey

I have some general ideas of what some of these fabrics will be used for, but it may change. I have no idea what the ombre will become, and I am pretty excited to have it in my stash. I wish there were more hours in the day for sewing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cookie Monster: Kitchen Experimentation

MMMM... warm gooey cookies

A few months ago - when the oven was broken - I read this article in The Times. It suggests that resting your chocolate chip cookie dough up to 72 hours before baking enhances the flavor, texture and browning of the cookie. It all has to do with how the eggs are absorbed by the butter-coated flour. I was intrigued. So, now that Autumn is officially here and the oven is repaired, I decided to put this article to the test.

I used the Nestle Tollhouse recipe (you know, from the back of the bag). According to the Times, the original recipe did call for resting the dough over night, but that step was cut, most likely because, well, who has the patience to wait overnight for warm cookies or the forethought to make the dough ahead? AND who has the will power not to gobble up the raw dough?

Anyway, here is my first batch, made at zero hour from the freshly made dough. And let me tell you, they are mmm-mmm good; crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside, fresh from the oven...

About 2/3 of the dough is in the fridge aging. Stay tuned as I bake additional batches at 24 and 48hours and report back.

Robes for a Boy Wizard

Hogwarts robes!
I have a really bad feeling that I am never quite going to get around to making anything for myself. I had planned to spend my sewing time this past weekend working on pants for myself. However, looking at the calendar, I realized that I needed to get cracking on Orpheus' Halloween costume if it was going to be done in time for trick-or-treating.

The Neue Mode pattern that I used turned out to be peskier than I thought. First, it didn't include seam allowances, so I had to add these myself. It wasn't a big deal in itself, but their were a lot of curved pieces, which really slowed things down.

My other issue with the pattern is, perhaps, a matter of what was lost in translation, since the original instructions are in German. (And my college German is way too rusty to really understand them.) In English, the instructions are vague and minimal. At times I had to wing it. I'm glad I made Phineas' shirt first, because I definitely leaned on that experience for installing the collar and the sleeves. I also added top stitching in a few areas where it wasn't called for, like the cuffs of the sleeves.

Anyway, I really do like how it is coming. Next steps: After Orpheus tries it on, I will hem the bottom and finish the front center hems, adding the ties. And then it will need the Hogwarts patch sewn on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Birthday shirt complete!

This weekend I finished the birthday shirt I was making for Phineas. I had worked on it little-by-little since last posting about it. By Friday, all I had left to do was the buttons and button holes.

I hadn't sewn a button hole since my PJ project way back in January. I had forgotten how much testing, adjusting and re-testing my sewing machine needs to get the button hole just right. It turned out to be very good practice. I also learned how to use my previously neglected button sewing foot. I'm not sure that it was any easier than hand sewing the buttons, but it was another good skill to learn I guess.

I think this shirt - which was supposed to be a test run - looks pretty cute on Phineas. I will tweak the fit on future models. The shoulder size is fine and it fits well across the back. However, there is extra material in the front (to accommodate the American beer gut?) that Phineas doesn't need, so I definitely need to taper the front somehow. I will have to consult a few sources before deciding how to do this without throwing off the rest of the fit. I may also shorten the sleeves a touch.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Want fries with that?

Hot dogs in their pet store habitat.

Last night, since the muses were meeting up in the Village, we stopped off at The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill, an art installation by the elusive British artist known as Banksy. I was able to capture these domesticated hot dogs on film. I think my favorite installation was the Leopard - a faux fur coat with a tail that swished back and forth.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lyle's Golden Syrup

One of the things I did at the end of last week was stock up on Lyle's Golden Syrup, which I will be using in my pecan pie experiments. It isn't the easiest ingredient to find, but Phineas learned that a British ex-pat import store in the Village carried it, and so I trekked downtown to pick some up. (I later learned that my local wine store/gourmet market carries it, too. Oh well. Lesson learned.)

If you are not familiar with Lyle's, it is basically cane syrup with added vanilla. In the UK it is used for baking, drizzling on pancakes, and other sticky applications - basically where we would use maple syrup or honey. Four tins should be enough for working on my corn-syrup-free pecan pie recipe. However, if it isn't or if I need more to make my Thanksgiving pies, I now know where to find it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Final Birthday Reflections

I had a wonderful birthday weekend! I've been planning to buy a new and upgraded sewing machine for myself this fall and my parents and sisters are all contributing to it as a birthday gift!

Because it wouldn't be a birthday in my family without my mom's fluffy chocolate icing, here is the recipe. Even a cake from a mix is somehow more special with this icing.

  • 1 pt heavy/whipping cream
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
Mix the sugar and cocoa together in a small bowl. Pour cream into the bowl of a stand mixer (large bowl and hand mixer is ok too). Start whipping the cream on high. When it starts to thicken, turn the mixer off and begin adding the cocoa mixture in thirds, beating to incorporate after each addition. Keep beating. When the icing holds a medium stiff peak you are done. Do not overbeat. Makes enough for one generously iced cake.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Happy 33 to me!

Today is my 33rd birthday and I am thrilled about it. Thrilled!

I've always loved my birthday!

Looking back at the last year, I have:
  • traveled to Asia for the first time
  • witnessed the weddings of my sister and 2 of Phineas' brothers
  • learned a new hobby (sewing!)
  • finally become an Elite level frequent flier thanks to trips to: Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, London, Bath and Boston
  • cooked up a storm and baked many batches
  • seen my wonderful friends fall in love and get engaged
  • taken a class in Archaeology
  • eaten my way thru several vacations and new places
  • watched the little children in my life grow, and also grow more interesting and dear to me
  • fallen in love with Phineas again at least a dozen times
  • finally got glasses
  • grown, even if my plants have not done the same
  • become more flexible - in mind and body - through yoga
  • celebrated, learned, tasted, girl-talked, laughed, experienced, enjoyed...
What a great year it has been! I can't wait to see what this next year holds.

**** Edited at 2.47pm: Duh!!! And I launched a blog! How could I forget to add that to my list?!?!? Whoops! ha ha ha

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Assembling the pieces

Part of the fun of sewing is finding the right fabrics, trims and notions for each project. Since I already have the fabric and pattern for Orpheus' Harry Potter wizard robe, lunch today was spent finding the extras.

Red polyester satin for the collar and sleeve facings from Mood:

And a Hogwarts patch for the lapel, courtesy of Ebay:

I'm really tickled about the patch. I can't wait to get started on this project!