Friday, January 30, 2009

Welcome to Clio's Test Kitchen!

One of the first cookbooks I bought as an adult is The Best Recipe, by America's Test Kitchen. You may know them as the folks behind Cook's Illustrated magazine or on a more personal level from the Chipole-Lime Dip that I make for parties. Their mission is to find the best version of popular dishes from both the past and present through trial-and-error and repeated testing. This ensures that their recipes are always tasty and virtually fool-proof for home cooks, even if they are not particularly adventurous.

The ATK folks really helped me master the basics and build a repertoire of solid crowd pleasers. As I became a more experienced home cook, I learned to trust my pallet and rarely stick to recipes anymore. However, I still always reach for The Best Recipe when I am contemplating a baking project or trying to figure out what to do with all the apples I just picked or when I have a dish in mind and want a reference for ingredients or amounts.

Anyway, the ATK folks recently launched a new PBS show called Cook's Country, a companion to that magazine, where they cook classic American dishes. Yesterday, I went to their website to get a recipe from the show and saw this ad:
If you're interested in joining a select group of volunteers who help test our recipes before they appear in print, please click here to find out more and register as a recipe tester for Cook's Country magazine.
If you need to even ask if I "clicked here", then you don't know me. I am a born hand-raiser. So, now I am officially registered as a volunteer recipe tester and will be sent my first recipe to test in about 1-2 weeks. After that, I will receive roughly one recipe a week and have 1-2 weeks to make it and give feedback. Since this is on a purely volunteer basis, there is no obligation; I can pick and choose and skip weeks.

I am extremely excited about this, if you can't tell. So, here is my mantra (repeat after me): I will stick to the recipe, I will stick to the recipe, I will...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jacket: Progress Report

Sorry I haven't posted in some time. I've been simultaneously dealing with a cold and traveling for work. And, let me tell you, Chicago is not the place to be in January. And definitely not with a cold!

That said, last weekend I made really good progress on my jacket. I attached the ruffle border, which you can sort of see in this picture (above). I really need to stop crafting in black if I want better pictures for my blog.

After I took the photo, I actually went ahead and pinned the sleeves to both the jacket and the lining. So, now all that needs to be done is sewing them on and then attaching the lining and jacket together. With any luck I will finish on Saturday and be able to plow ahead with the diaper bag project.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stash: Oh Baby!

Longtime friend and muse, KK, and her husband are expecting their first child in about two months time.

The parents-to-be at the holidays

On Saturday, I took advantage of a clearance sale at my local fabric shop to pick up material to make a shower gift for KK. She has decided not to learn the baby's gender in advance, so I don't know if I am crafting for a boy or girl. But I decided that a pretty and feminine diaper bag (or diaper bag) - rather than a cutesy one - would be up her alley, and mine too. Here is the fabric I chose for her - pretty and durable, I hope.

Sorry about the wrinkles, I washed it before photographing.
And haven't had time to iron yet.

I also could not resist this fabric, which is just too cute and funny. I love that it is gender-neutral, yet bright and fun.

Seriously, don't you just love the giraffe?

I am not sure what it will eventually become, but maybe a changing pad or something like that. We'll have to see!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


My pants are officially done! Yay! Over the weekend, I re-attached and finished the waistband, hemmed the legs and added a Five Muses tag.

In the end, I am pleased and proud of how well they fit and look, even though they are not without little flaws. For example, I have to work on my zipper skills. I tried an invisible zipper for these pants and it is not quite as invisible as it could be. Anyway, you will get a final photo once I have finished the matching jacket.

Jacket lining hanging over the pants.
I began work on the jacket on Saturday. I started with the lining, which is coming along just fine. The jacket does not have any kind of closure - zipper or buttons - which makes it somewhat easier. However, I have still not done any garments that call for lining. So, that will be a first.

Oh, and I've already purchase fabric for my next pants; a wool blend in a basic black pinstripe.

For some reason this looks brown, no? It is really black.

Fresh from the oven

Phineas continues his bread baking. He decided that too much water is to blame for the final texture of the bread being a bit denser than he would have liked. So, he has some playing around to do with it.

These loaves are from the same batch of dough as the mini baguettes. Over the week, the flavor definitely developed in the fridge, becoming a little sour dough-like. Mmmmmm...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Spain on the Brain

My next business trip to London is coming up in March. When I booked my airfare, it was so reasonable that Phineas has decided to join me for a few days in the UK, and then we will journey on to Spain for a week+ vacation.

I've never been to Spain, and Phineas has just passed through. So we're excited to go somewhere new to us both. Our itinerary is not fully set, but, due to our flights, we will definitely start out with a few days in Barcelona and end with a few days in Madrid, with a day trip to Toledo.

There are 3-4 days in the middle that we are trying to decide on. At this point I think we will head to Andalucía in the south of Spain to see the Alhambra (in Granada). We may also make stops in Seville or Córdoba.

Here are some miscellaneous facts about Spain:

Capital: Madrid

Population: nearly 45 million.

Government: Spain is a monarchy; the present king is Juan Carlos I, who inherited the position from General Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975.

Where is Spain?: Spain can be found on the Iberian peninsula in Europe, a piece of land it shares with Portugal and Gibraltar. It also has a border to the north-east with France and Andorra.

Famous Buildings & Monuments: Spain is the home to La Sagrada Familia, the Alhambra, and the Prado and Reina Sofia museums in Madrid.

Famous Spaniards: Spain is the birthplace of artists Salvador, Dali Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez, and Pablo Picasso, opera singers Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, architect Antoni Gaudi, Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, pop singers Julio Iglesias and Enrique Iglesias, actors Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, flamenco-pop act The Gypsy Kings, film director Pedro Almodovar, rally driver Carlos Sainz, poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, author Miguel de Cervantes, historical leader El Cid, golfers Sergio Garcia and Seve Ballesteros, cyclist Miguel Indurain and tennis players Rafa Nadal, Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.

What else is Spain famous for? Spain invented paella and sangria. Christopher Columbus, though probably not Spanish (no-one's quite sure), was funded by the Spanish monarchy.

Has anyone been to Spain? Let me know if you have recommendations!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bigger than a Bread Box?

Mini Baguettes a la Phineas
For Christmas, Phineas received the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as well as a baguette pan and some other baking paraphernalia. He is a bread lover and had wanted the book for some time.

So, I was thrilled last night when I arrived home to a very yeasty aroma in the kitchen. Bread dough rising. Then, midway thru the morning today, he sent me this photo of his mini baguettes. They are about 1/3 whole wheat flour and the rest white flour.

Phineas has already eaten one for lunch. I am getting hungry just looking at it...

Anyway, he reports that the crust and flavor was good, but that he needs to tinker with the cooking time. Since this is only about 1/4 of the dough, I am sure that there will be more loaves - and posts - to come.


Here (finally) is a photo of the finished makeup bag that I made for Dr Kiang for her Bday back in November. As you can see by the cosmetics peeking out, she is putting it to good use!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pants: Sewing and Un-Sewing

The problem with my pants is that I keep changing. I've been working on them so slowly that each time I think I am done, I try them on and they are too big again.

Zipper and waistband, pre-ripping-out

Yesterday I made what I hope are the final edits. Then, I added the zipper and attached the waistband - they looked really good. I know this sounds strange, but they looked like pants. Like the kind you would buy in a store. Well, just without a hem. You know, not home made.

But after putting them on to measure the hem, I decided that the waist was just too high, so I ripped the waistband out again to lower it by half an inch or so. Oh, I also decided in the end not to line the pants. From the start I wasn't happy with the fabric I was using, and it was causing no end of headaches.

I have mixed feelings about these pants. Half of me thinks they are going to be great. The other half thinks they will never be done. However, ALL of me thinks they are a really good learning experience. My sense of how to fit clothing has truly evolved. And my confidence is high after seeing how the pants looked with the waist and zipper.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Craft Lounge 2009

I completely over-scheduled my week off at the holidays and left myself absolutely no time for crafty pursuits. I have a growing list of projects, some started, some promised and some just in my head. Here is the round up.

Still not complete:
  • My pants and matching jacket - I've essentially been working on this since August!!!!!!!
  • Buying a new sewing machine
Gifts/promised projects:
  • Pants for my nephew Orpheus
  • More shirts for Phineas with fabric from my stash
  • A diaper bag for a friend who is having a baby
In my head:
  • More pants for myself!
  • A sweater/shrug made in knit.
  • Altering most of my pants and several tee shirts
I am taking some time off in the next few weeks specifically to get the first two taken care of so I can move on to some of the other projects that are waiting for me. A muses' work is never done...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Caramel Conundrum!

Disappointed. Incredibly so. I was so pleased with how each item in our Santa's Kitchen goodie boxes came out, that the let down of the following is immense.

Last night, I ate one of the caramels that we had made and then lovingly wrapped in colored foils. When we made them, they were unbelievably good. But when I tried one last night... uuugh!... it had crystallized. It tasted good, but it was no longer smooth and caramel-like. The texture was more like maple sugar candies - very grainy.

On top of being disappointed and confused about why/how this happened, I am rather embarrassed. We gave away almost all of the caramels. And so, all our nearest and dearest now have bad caramels made by us in their possession. Double uugh!!

Anyway, I am going to try to figure out why this happened - was it how we made the caramels, or how we stored them? In the interim, any feedback from my uninteded caramel victims would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

A few weeks ago, when I posted about my pants alteration, Magenta asked, "How are you losing all this weight with all this fabulous food cooking in your kitchen? Please share." It seems like a good time of year to try to answer this question.

First, let me say this: I just don't believe in dieting. Exhibit A: this blog. I just can't limit myself to 1200 calories a day or not allowing myself to eat certain foods. That is no way to live and, for me, would be a surefire recipe for a major flame-out in a halo of brownies.

That said, here's what I've been doing and why. Back in March, I had a particularly constructive conversation with my new doctor about my health issues and concerns. He broke weight management down to this: calories in, calories out. Simple as that.

I adopted two tools that have helped me get a handle on this very basic concept: a food journal (calories in) and a pedometer (calories out.) Seeing things in black-and-white forced me to realize that 30 minutes on the elliptical could not make up for the other 23.5 sedentary hours of the day. And, even though I was super strict with what I ate from Monday thru Friday (low/no-fat, etc.), I was lax about how much, and also more than making up any calories saved on the weekend, when I tended to indulge.

So, I changed little things. Going along with my doctor's very simple version, my entire strategy is: eat a little less, walk a little more. That's it. No magic, no radical diets, no long hours in the gym, no hard-and-fast rules. I do, however, have some daily goals.

To achieve the eat a little less portion, I used a few on-line tools to figure out roughly how many calories I should be eating a day for my height and ideal weight. That is roughly what I try to stick to on a daily basis. This actually means that I sometimes eat more on the weekdays than I had been eating. So, I have more energy during the week and arrive at the weekend able to make better decisions and, consequently, eat much less.

On the walk a little more front, I decided that 10,000 steps a day - which is considered to be a "moderately active" to "active" lifestyle was a good goal for walking. I include all the steps I take in this number, whether at the gym, in the office, on the street or wherever. This is actually a pretty reasonable amount to walk, which does not require super-human gym hours.

This approach is slow, but eventually I should reach a very healthy weight and already know how to eat to maintain it (ie: not a "diet"; I am eating and exercising the way I should be every day of my life, and eventually my weight will sort itself out.) My willingness to be patient has made it much easier to be persistent and accept the changes I've made as permanent. Since I haven't drastically cut back calories, I haven't felt deprived or hungry. And I am not too harsh on myself. I tend to look at things in terms of the week. If I eat a bit more one day, I just balance it out by eating a bit less for the next day or two. If I have a sedentary day, I just make sure the next day is an active one. No magic, just common sense. I am, in fact, a little embarrassed at how easy it has been.

Overall, I feel as though I've found a better lifestyle, one that makes me happy and is easy to live. And it has cascaded into other areas of my life. More energy during the week makes me more eager to walk and exercise. More exercise means I drink more water and sleep better at night, both of which have helped my skin to look great recently. Better sleep also helps my energy level, my sense of well being, which enables me to deal with life, and my decision making about food and exercise and all things. It all feeds off itself.

This post is getting long, and I am sure you are still wondering what exactly I am eating (right now it is a piece of a brownie that a co-worker brought in) and how hard I am working out. I'll elaborate in future posts. I'll end this by saying, I don't know if my approach will work for everyone, but, after 10 months and 30lbs, I know it is what I can live with quite happily (she says as she eats a few last brownie crumbs). And at this point, wherever my weight finally settles is ok with me since I feel like I am happy, healthy and beautiful.