Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Peppy and Cheap: Mini Embellishment Project

Most people have one or more specific items which bring out the penny-pincher in them; one thing that they just can't justify spending their hard-earned dollars on. I am incredibly cheap when it comes to tee shirts. Why? no clue. But it bugs me to no end when retailers take a plain tee, stitch a tiny amount of ruffle/ribbon/trim to it or add a few gathers and then jack up the price to $36.

Anyway, my inner Scrooge cackled all the way to the register the other day, as I scored some cute, but plain scoop-neck tees for $5 each at Old Navy. They had a pretty feminine shape that I thought had potential. So, once I got them home, I took the black one:

And $6-worth of trim from Pacific Trimmings:

And made my own flower trimmed tee.

I think I may add a few more flowers to it - it's looking a bit too conservative for me. But I am totally psyched at this $11 effort, all done while sitting in front of the TV.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekends and Evenings

It's difficult to maintain focus and not get frustrated when you are a weekend and evening sewist. And lately, my other pursuits, which I love and could not give up - yoga, cooking, running (oh my god! did I just say I loved running? I really must be losing my marbles!) - are cutting into my evening time.

But after last week's visit to New York Elegant Fabrics, a garment district store I hadn't been to before, I think my mojo has started to return. There were so many beautiful and fun fabrics. I also scored some patterns on the cheap from SewingPatterns.com. Here they are:

How ridiculously cute is that duck stuffy?!?!

And this is for me. I have made so many other people bags/totes.
Time to make one for myself!

Anyway, I have a mini embellishment project that I am working on in the evenings (I'll post about it soon), and I plan to get lots of sewing done this upcoming weekend, since I have Friday and Monday off. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meet Justin, my personal running trainer

I know what you're thinking. The resemblance to Lee Adama is striking.
But this is how I picture Justin.

Justin is my Ipod Personal Running Trainer. With the help of his 4 Weeks to 1 Mile training program, I ran my first mile last night. Considering that I haven't run this far since freshman year of high school, I'm really quite proud of this modest achievement.

I couldn't have done it without Phineas' help, either. He planned the route that we ran, which ended with a gentle downhill to help me to the finish line. And he trotted along with me at my ridiculously slow pace, toting a water bottle and encouraging me along the way.

Now, on to the 8 Weeks to 5K program...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mmmm... gnocchi

For whatever reason, Phineas and I were on a picture-taking roll last night. So, here is the gnocchi making adventure in pictures.

Mound up your grated/riced potatoes and make a well in the middle.

After kneading in an egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg, add 1/4 c of parmesan.

Then add flour, 1/2 c at a time or as needed. (We used about 1 1/4 c.) Phineas was a sweetie and kneaded the flour in for me since I hate touching raw flour. (eeeewwwwww).

Gather the dough into a ball and cut it into 6 pieces.

Roll each piece of dough into a half inch log and then cut half inch pieces. Then shape your gnocchi by rolling the pieces into balls and give them their characteristic lines by rolling them down the back of a fork with your thumb.

Cook them exactly like you would cook pasta. About a minute after they float, they are done.

And now for the sauce, made almost entirely of leftovers!

While the gnocchi were cooking, I sauteed some fresh chopped sage in a little butter and then added some remnants of Serrano ham (you could use proscuitto or bacon) that were left from the weekend.

When the butter was browned and the whole thing was fragrant, I added some (again, leftover) half and half and Parmesan cheese. (Really, I don't think I could cook without Parmesan. It is an absolute staple for me for weeknight cooking.)

Reduce the sauce until it is thickened to your liking and adjust the salt/pepper. Add the drained gnocchi to the pan. I also added a little of the cooking water since my sauce had thickened a bit too much.

Enjoy your gnocchi with a side of broccoli rabe or a nice salad. Buon Appetito!

The gnocchi were light and delicious. I think they could have been lighter if I had used a ricer instead of a grater to make the potato more fine. And I would add more salt to the dough (2 tsp). The only real challenge was that it took a while to get the hang of shaping the gnocchi. Half came out rather ugly and misshapen. But they all tasted great!

This was a truly over-the-top weeknight meal. However, cooking the potatoes the day before made the gnocchi making much more manageable and less time consuming (one hour from ingredients to plating up). It really did not take long for the dough to come together. What I would recommend is making a big batch of gnocchi and freezing it for weeknight use, which is what we did with the left over half of the batch that we did not cook up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Potatoes. That was the starch of choice for my family when I was growing up. Sure, rice and pasta were served once a week for variety, but your daily carbs were from spuds. Mashed, boiled, baked, as fries, in stews and casseroles, or however else you could dream of serving them. I get many fewer potatoes now that I live in a Chinese-American household. So, for the Blue Plate Special this week, I am making potato gnocchi.

Gnocchi was not a part of my childhood diet, but I love them anyway. The really good ones are light and fluffy; the love-child of penne and mashed potato. MMMM...

For tonight's adventure, I am using a recipe from Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastianich, that doyenne of Italian-American cuisine. Here it is:
3 large Idaho/baking potatos (about 1 3/4 lbs)
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
pinch nutmeg
1/4 c grated parmagiano-reggiano
2 c flour as needed
To prepare for tonight's gnocchi making, last night I baked the potatoes and then peeled and grated them. Tonight I will make the gnocchi dough basically using the same method as pasta making - mound up the spuds, make a well and add the wet ingredients in the middle. Add flour as you knead until the dough is the right consistency. Then shape the gnocchi and cook.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly...

As usual, I didn't get as much crafting done over the weekend as I would have liked. But I did make some good progress on a few of the projects I outlined on Friday and not so good progress on others.

The Good
My maxi dress is ready to be cut out. I just have to spend a little time laying it out so that the pattern falls attractively.

And this tank top is also ready to be cut from a slinky black jersey from my stash.

The front pattern piece looked rather large once I cut it out, so we will have to see how it goes. I am not a good judge with knits since my experience so far is pretty limited.

The Bad
My final piece of pattern prep work was for Magenta's pants. Unfortunately, that did not go very well. I was a very inexperienced sewist when we decided to make her pants. And the patter that I made from her pants has several major flaws. This project really is one step forward, two back.

Also, my "Editing" didn't go so well. I thought that the pants and capris that I wanted to alter would be a cinch. But neither worked out quite as easily as I thought, so I have some finessing to do.

I did sew the button holes onto Phin's too snug shirt. Buttons will be added in front of the tv during the week and then I will post a photo or two. Why ugly? Mostly because the project just irritates me. In addition to the shirt being snug, I've decided that the fabric is cheap. I got it on sale, so it was actually cheap. But it just doesn't feel great and the fabric looks like it has little pulls where I sewed the button holes.

Finally, I am trying to do a spring/summer cleaning and get rid of clothing, books and all kinds of things that I just don't need/want. One thing I don't know what to do with is the growing bag of scraps that I've accumulate thru sewing. The scraps aren't really big enough for other projects or to use as rags, and I don't know if I can find a purpose for them. Any suggestions?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekend Crafting: So many projects, so little time!

I am trying to psych myself up for a weekend of craftiness. I'm not sure how far I will get, but here are the projects/tasks that I have to choose from (in no particular order).
  1. Maxi dress - trace/cut pattern and lay out pattern on fabric.
  2. Tank top - trace/cut pattern and lay out. I've had this in my to do pile for a while. I've been wanting to work with more knits and it would be good to have a TNT tank top pattern that I could add different kinds of embellishments to. I plan on making pattern D (worn by the girl on the cover) in black jersey
  3. Summer Pants for Magenta - true the pattern that I made last year and prep fabric
  4. Phineas' shirt - buttons and buttonholes. It is going to be snug on him. But since he has decided that he is going to trim down a bit, it may fit very soon. Anyway, at least it will be out of the "to do" pile
  5. New pants sloper - At some point this weekend, I have to have Phineas take careful measurements of me so that I can get to work on a new pants pattern. I bought a roll of enormous graph paper for the job. And, once I get a good pants pattern, I have any number of great fabrics to turn into pants for myself.
  6. "Editing" - The pile of clothing that needs alterations has overtaken the rocking chair in the corner of my bedroom. Time to deal with it!
For most of my sewing "career", I've worked on one project at a time. But lately, I've been trying to have several projects in the works simultaneously. That way, I can group my tasks for maximum efficiency (ie. trace multiple patterns at once, cut several projects in one session, etc) and also, if I get stuck or frustrated on one project, I can work on another until I am ready to return to the first. The goal for this weekend is to get these projects started so that I will have things to work on over the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More menagerie

Warning: Please see the spoiler alert at the beginning of this post if you are pregnant.

I've continued to work at my embroidery and finished the rest of my menagerie. Since these practice ones went reasonably well, I ordered a few more patterns from Urban Threads and now just need to stock up on onesies, bibs and other embroider-able baby accessories.

Mr Oliphant is complete

And here is a friendly hippo with birdie pal

Now that these are complete, I may send them thru the wash again to see how they hold up under real conditions. Children's clothing takes a beating, so I want to make sure these are not too delicate to actually use. Plus, I want to make sure that the thread is color-fast, and the stabilizer and tracing carbon actually is water soluable.

I need to learn more about embroidery. I've got a growing sewing library and tons of cookbooks, but not a single resource for embroidery. It seems like such a quaint little hobby; to sit with my hoop stitching away, no?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Street Meat a La Phineas

As your regular Blue Plate contributor was on the DL recovering from a bout of exhaustion nephewitis, tonight's special will be brought to you by me! Me! Me!

Street Meat a la Phineas
The roots of this blue plate dinner comes from my weekend supermarket run, taking advantage of pre-Father's Day specials. Sunday's dinner was Surf and Turf for Clio's gang: grilled beef tenderloin with chimichurri and a side of grilled Maine mudbugs aka lobsters! I usually butcher a whole tenderloin myself, so in addition to the roast, steaks were cut for my folks, brother and sister-in-law. The remaining scraps were cut up into chunks suitable for this entree - beef souvlaki/gyro/kebab (whatever you want to call it!) wrapped in a pita with tomato, lettuce, cucumber, lemon yogurt sauce ("white sauce" for you street meat aficionados) and red sauce (sriracha hot sauce).

All the components, ready to go.

First, season the chunks of meat with an assortment of herbs (dried thyme, rosemary) and spices - curry powder, paprika, pepper, salt, chili powder, cumin, coriander is what I used but feel free to choose whatever you like or, more importantly, have! Next, dice up some cucumber and tomato ( the grape tomatoes seem best out of season), shred some lettuce and make the yogurt. For the yogurt, I used Greek style but any plain yogurt will do. Season to your liking-I used lemon zest, lemon juice (used for flavor and to thin out the consistency), salt, pepper and a little chopped scallion for bite and color.

Next up, saute the beef quickly in a little oil to get a nice brown crust.

Now make your pita. Take one of those large, soft pillow-type pitas and layer your stuff, as little or as much as you like. No need to be shy-no one can see how much stuff you put in it after it's wrapped up!

Wrap it up and don't forget the extra napkins ( See! I have some manners after all!) Enjoy. Next week will be back to your regular scheduled kitchen tour guide.

PS: Whats everyone cooking for Father's Day?
PPS: Lest the food police come down on us, a side of crisp sauteed green beans accompanied the stuffed pita :)
PPPS: Sriracha is really spicy and good especially when you have a fresh bottle! Look for the rooster label. Additional information for addicts or addicts to be can be found here and here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No match for a 3-year-old

I took yesterday off to watch my nephews, Linus (3) and Orpheus (6). We had a wonderful day and the weather stayed sunny long enough for our afternoon at the playground. However, I have learned that one Aunt Clio is no match for two energetic nephews. Not even close!

Normally scheduled posts will resume just as soon as I've recovered from our day of fun.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Has anyone seen my sewing mojo? I can't find it anywhere.

Feeling the need to shake myself out of my pants fitting funk, I bid on and "won" a pattern for a maxi dress on Ebay yesterday.

Elated by my "win", I headed to Metro Textiles, which is rapidly becoming my go-to fabric store when I have a project in mind and need instant gratification. It isn't the largest fabric store in the area; in fact it is a rather small space. But it is chocked full of a rapidly changing inventory of the best priced fabrics in the garment district (IMHO). And then, of course, there is Kashi, the incredibly helpful owner. Just tell him what you are making and he will begin pulling out bolts for you. Or if he catches you admiring a fabric, he will tell you exactly what you ought to make it into.

For my maxi dress, I bought this fun knit:

The pattern repeats every 30 inches or so. I bought enough, I hope, that I will be able to lay out the fabric in a way that goes really well with the dress pattern.

And, just because I liked it, I bought this not-your-average plaid:

Ordinary plaid, dressed up with silver flowers.

I had seen it on an online fabric store for $12/yd plus shipping. Kashi gave it to me for $5/yd. I think I will either make it into a jacket (Kashi says jacket) or perhaps a pencil skirt for the fall.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer halter top: complete!

So, I broke down and bought more hooks and eyes so I could finish my top.

Please ignore the fact that I look somewhat stupefied in this photo.

As I mentioned, I had to do a lot of resizing while I was sewing, and I had to make it more babydoll-ish than the shirt pattern actually is, on account of my hips. It came out looking a bit more...er... sexy than I intended. When I picked out the eyelet fabric, I was thinking that I would wear the top with capris and cute sandals to summer bbqs. But I'm not so sure about that now.

I need some suggestions: what should I wear this with and to what kind of events?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I'm not the kind of person who gobbles chips, pretzels or candy, but set a big bowl of popcorn in front of me and I can't stop at one kernel. I actually make popcorn at home about once a week with a hand-me-down air popper that came from the 80's. I love it.

A few months ago, I went to Eric Ripert's Westend Bistro in Washington, DC, which is the more casual cousin of his famed NY flagship, Le Bernardin. On the bar menu: Truffled Popcorn with Parmesan. I had to order it. This was definitely not the kind of popcorn you would down with a large coke while watching a summer blockbuster! It was savory and refined, earthy and salty, rich, yet light... the kind of thing you would nibble with a crisp glass of white wine or a martini. I've thought about it often since then. So, last night, I decided to make my own rendition.

Truffles are not for everyone. In the last several years, restaurants have been shaving them over positively everything in the culinary equivalent of 'keeping up with the Joneses'. Most times you barely notice them. But when allowed to take center stage, they are earthy and musty, with an assertive funk. Like I said, not for everyone. In this dish, the sharp saltiness of the parmesan is the perfect foil for their meatiness. Here is my version of this oppulent popcorn.

Truffled Parmesan Popcorn
Pop 1/2 cup of popcorn in an air popper, on the stove or in the microwave. While still hot, toss with 2 tsps melted butter, 2 tsps truffle oil (I used white, you could use whatever you prefer) and 1/4 c grated parmesan. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. Next time, I may add some black pepper too.

Anyway, to wash down this salty treat, I made an equally grown up soda: Ginger Ale. Well, not really ginger ale, but I made a ginger-infused simple syrup which I used to kick up an otherwise boring glass of selzer.

"Ginger Ale"
Make your Ginger Syrup by taking equal parts sugar and water (I used one cup each) and putting over a med-high heat.

Use the back of a spoon to scrape the skin off the ginger

While this simple syrup is coming to a boil, peel and chop about half a branch of ginger (5 inches - more if you like a strong ginger flavor), add it to the syrup and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
Simmering ginger syrup

Turn off the heat and let it cool to room temp. Strain and store in the fridge. To serve, just spoon a tablespoon or so over ice and fill with seltzer. You could also brush it on chunks of pineapple and then grilling them (wonderful over vanilla ice cream) or use in any kind of cocktail that calls for sugar or simple syrup or would benefit from a hit of ginger (eg: ginger mojito, ginger champagne cocktail).

Somehow, this all made a Tuesday night much more interesting and refreshing than normal. Do you have an interesting take on popcorn? Or a cocktail that is your signature beverage? I hope you will share with me!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday Snack Attack

I have long maintained that one of the best things about being an adult is occasionally deciding to skip dinner and just have dessert. Or ruining one's dinner by filling up on junk.

So, this week I am featuring popcorn and soda as the Blue Plate Special. Naturally, these will not be from a bottle or bag, but will be a more adult version of these movie house classic snacks. Stay tuned.

Call me Eeyore

I didn't post yesterday because I was in an uncharacteristic gray mood. I had the day off and time to do whatever I pleased, but somehow, nothing would do.

Phin wasn't feeling well, so I went to the Craft Lounge. But sewing was not going well. The shirt I am making for Phineas is snug, with no room to let it out. I spent half an hour trying to find a hook and eye closure to finish my summer top, but never found my stash. And the muslin draft that I am making from my pants sloper made by Connie Crawford is enormous. I suppose that everyone goes thru a phase where they feel like they can't do anything right and that they will never be able to make beautiful pants for themselves. But yesterday, these setbacks seemed more like catastrophes to me.

Too. Damn. Big.

When I tried on the pants draft, it was so large that I pinned in 7 1/2 inches at the waist and thru the hip and thigh. And once I began pinning, it just made the pants look distorted. How on earth could a pants pattern made to my measurements be that off? So, out came the measuring tape. It turns out that this is a lesson in why you should be measured in your underwear or very light clothing. Essentially, the pants I made could fit over the jeans I was wearing the day I was measured. My hip measurement was 2 inches smaller and the crotch length 4 inches shorter than what I wrote down at the class.

Yesterday, I viewed this as a major setback - I was in that kind of mood. But after a tripto the gym and a very good chat with MarMar, which helped remind me of the truly important things in life, I was able to view it as an opportunity to fly solo and create my own sloper - slowly and carefully - from better measurements. Perhaps this really is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back process, but I am going to start again and stick with it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Reading: Jane Austen Meets Shaun of the Dead

Last summer, I went thru a Jane Austen phase, reading Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility in a short span. Then I went through a vampire and other ghoulish creatures phase. So, with summer approaching, a mini-revival of the two, albeit a silly one, is in order.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies follows the plot of the classic romance, but with the English countryside beset by legions of the undead. You will be pleased to know that the Bennett girls are master zombie slayers, famed for their "Pentagram of Death" fighting formation as well as for their beauty. I am only a few chapters into the book but I'm hooked. If you love P&P and laughed at Shaun of the Dead, this should be right up your alley, too.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mini Menagerie

Spoiler Alert: This post contains info on and photos of baby gifts that I am making. So, if you are currently pregnant, either stop reading now or start practicing your surprized face. (Up to you which route to go.)

My sister, sister-in-law, and very excellent friend, Mar Mar, are all pregnant and due in the Fall. I am thrilled! Not only am I looking forward to having three more little ones in my life (I love being an aunt!), but the crafting possibilities are virtually endless!

One of the many reasons I decided to learn to embroider is that there are loads of cute things you can make for babies. So, a few weeks ago, I ordered some embroidery designs from Urban Threads and a package of onesies to test the patterns on.

I used iron on, tear-away stabilizer so that the onesies won't stretch while I embroider. Also, I learned my lesson and this time used transfer paper (like carbon paper) rather than an iron transfer. It is water soluble, so should not leave any kind of marks behind. Oh, and the designs are reusable.

I am still getting the hang of embroidering, and doing it on stretchy fabric definitely adds a challenge, even with the stabilizer. Here is my mini menagerie in progress...

Mr Giraffe, my first test.

Mr Elephant, where I think I am hitting my stride

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sayonara, Carbonara

I added peas to our Spaghetti alla Carbonara last night and served it with a side of broccoli rabe, which was sauteed with olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. There were no leftovers.

While we ate, Phineas and I talked about what winter recipes would be shelved for the summer (stew, chili, most pastas, soups, casseroles). Summer cooking revolves around the grill and the farmers market. I can't wait for the fresh corn, tomatoes, basil, cucumber, zucchini and squash to come in!

Recipe note: I ended up using only 1 oz (half a cup grated) of parmesan cheese, not 2 oz. This was plenty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cogito, ergo sum

I normally don't put blogthings on my blog, but I really like this one. It may not sum up exactly what I am, but hits the nail on the head with what I strive to be.

Your Word is "Think"

You see life as an amazing mix of possibilities, ideas, and fascinations.

And sometimes you feel like you don't have enough time to take it all in.

You love learning. Whether you're in school or not, you're probably immersed in several subjects right now.

When you're not learning, you're busy reflecting. You think a lot about the people you know and the things you've experienced.

Back to the Blue Plate

As the weather turns warm and we do more of our cooking on the grill, Phineas and I like to eat the staple dishes that carried us through the colder months one last time before the summer heat sets in. So, for this week's Blue Plate, I am making one of our weeknight staples: Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

The recipe I use is based mostly on a Mario Batali recipe, but without some of the flourishes. It relies on a few simple, but good quality, ingredients. Here goes:
1/2 lb spaghetti, linguine or any long pasta
1/4 lb (4 oz) pancetta, or use guanciale or good ole bacon
2 oz parmesan cheese (1/2 cup grated)
2 eggs
olive oil
salt & black pepper
While you bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti, do all of the following: Cut your pancetta into small strips and brown it in a pan with a little olive oil. Drain, reserving the drippings. Grate the cheese. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the parmesan and a generous amount of black pepper. When the pasta is just al dente, drain and quickly add it to the bowl with the egg and cheese mixture. Use tongs to toss the pasta around, coating it with the sauce. Add the pancetta and continue to toss until the sauce thickens a bit. If it is not smooth or saucy enough you can add some of the pan drippings, olive oil or a little bit of the pasta cooking liquid.

Additions/Variations: Saute onion or garlic in the pancetta pan and add that in. If you want to make it vegetarian, omit the meat and add frozen peas (cook along with the pasta or saute with onion/garlic) or another veggie. Parsley - or any other chopped fresh herb - would also not be out of place in this dish.

Wow, I am getting hungry just thinking about this.

On egg safety: Adding piping hot pasta to the egg mixture cooks the eggs. But if you are not convinced or excessively worried about undercooked eggs, you could always use pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute product.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Phineas' Shirt: Shear Taboo

One of the first things that you learn as a sewist is to never ever, under any circumstances, ever cut paper with your dress shears. Cutting paper and cloth with the same scissors is the great taboo of sewing, which will lead to your ruin. Ok, maybe not your ruin, but it is generally viewed as a big no-no because it will dull your shears.

One of the shocking things that Connie Crawford said in her Sew Like a Pro talk was, in the fashion industry, everyone cuts fabric with paper. They pin uncut fabric to a layer of paper to stabilize it, pin the pattern on top and then cut thru all layers. Scandalous! She explained that doing this prevents the fabric from pulling, shifting or distorting while you cut it.

I've always felt that I was not particularly good at cutting - ragged and uneven ends, notches that don't line up perfectly, etc. So, this weekend - after checking over my shoulder for the sewing police - I cut out Phin's shirt using this method. Success! It went so smoothly, and cut so easily/evenly/exactly, that I will never ever cut without paper again. Giddy with my triumph, I quickly moved on to cutting out the muslin for my pants sloper. Again, success!

Neatly cut shirt pieces.
And then I looked down at my shears. Hmmm. So be it. Shears are a means to an end. Let them get dull. Their purpose is to enable my sewing. If I have to replace them in half the time, at least I will have beautiful projects to show for it, which - after all - is the point!

PS- I didn't make much progress on my own top. I am currently seeking treatment for zipperphobia.