Wednesday, December 31, 2008


As I'm wrapping up my last day at home, and the final day of the year, I find myself reflecting on some great old family photographs that were brought out for the reunion we held a couple weeks ago. I look at these images of my grandmother and feel so inspired--not only by the strong go-getter of a woman she was, but also by her consistently stylish appearance. Knowing that she made many of her outfits--and her children's--by hand, makes me want to continue to hone my sewing techniques, and especially inspires me to keep trying to tackle vintage sewing patterns.

She looked so great in all of these high waisted shorts and skirts, and how adorable is that swimsuit above? I also love the little black and white dress worn my my little mom in the first picture. I think that would still look adorable in an adult-sized version.

Well, I meant to wrap these thoughts into a post about new year's resolutions, but I seem to have become a bit side tracked! While I don't have any resolutions per se, I would like to reach some new creative goals this year--all of which I will share with you in due time. This year, I also look forward to following my grandma's example above, and graduating with my master's degree this coming August.

I wish you all the best for the new year. Thanks so much for all of your warm feedback in 2008--your kindness really goes a long way.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dreaming of [a] home

I like to daydream that I own a house and that I have impeccable decorating sense. My latest dream is to make a thick shag rug from recycled t-shirt strips similar to the amazing ones by talkingsquid. How fantastic does that look on the wooden floor? There is a tutorial on the Craftzine blog. As near as I can tell, all you need is a large enough piece of mesh rug canvas, some cut up t-shirt strips, and a latch hook.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Making macarons

Making homemade French macarons is not as hard as you might think! I tried to make these a few years ago without much success. I hadn't realized at the time that the secret to a perfect, delicate macaron is using only the finest, most perfectly ground almonds and sugar. This year, when invited to a holiday cookie exchange, I figured was the perfect chance to try a challenging recipe. I couldn't decide between a standard flavor, or a more exotic flavor combination, so I decided to make two: chocolate macarons with bittersweet chocolate ganache, and cardamom macarons with white chocolate orange blossom ganache. I searched the internet for some good recipes, and started out by preparing the dry ingredients in advance. My local health food store sells almond meal made by Bob's Red Mill. It's a bit pricey, but adds some wonderful flavor to baked goods. I didn't think the meal was fine enough for macarons on its own, so I put it through a food processor with powdered sugar, and then sifted the mixture. I was able to prepare the dry ingredients a few days in advance, then put them in a ziplock bag to bring with me to Chicago for the holidays.

Once home, making the macarons was actually quite simple: beat egg whites and sugar til stiff, fold in dry ingredients, pipe small rounds, bake 12 minutes, make ganache and sandwich cookies. Not bad at all!

For the double chocolate macaron batter I followed the recipe from David Lebovitz's blog. Then used the ganache recipe from Serious Eats. Please note, you don't need very much ganache at all--I went overboard then cursed myself for wasting so much perfectly good chocolate! As you can see above, the chocolate macarons came out beautifully--check out their perfect feet! They were light, chewy, the perfect shape, and everyone was impressed.

For my signature cardamom and orange blossom macarons, I altered the same recipes with inspiration from Foodbeam's Rose Macarons and La Tartine Gourmand's Cardamom Macarons. Unfortunately, I think I was a bit too experimental, and would have benefited from following a tested recipe. The cardamom meringue didn't bake properly--the shells were empty, and the foot was too thick, browned, and sugary. They had a nice flavor, but just weren't quite right. I'd really love to perfect this recipe--and try out other macaron recipes--these are just such a special treat, and completely worth a little extra effort.

Filled, sandwiched and ready to eat!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Vintage Pattern Thursday

For those of you celebrating Christmas, I hope you're having a wonderful time with your loved ones. For all the rest--my best wishes for the New Year. Just a quick update to show you another great vintage knitting pattern. This one is a fantastic pattern book from 1942. I love the tailored look of these outfits--I think they would be flattering on many shapes. I particularly adore that long jacket! How fancy would you feel wearing that--perhaps in a dark, muted evergreen color. The patterns above are from Fleishers #69 from 1942.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More quilt talk

I'm still quilt scheming. Now that I've chosen a pattern, and come up with some general color ideas, now it's time to find the fabric. I'd like to stick with solids, but would like to throw in a few solids that have a very subtle pattern--like tonal stripes, or maybe a solid with different colored warps and wefts to give extra color depth. I'm fairly sure that I won't find much I like at the local box fabric stores, so I'm looking online. It's so hard to compare colors and really understand what you'll be getting. Just now I came up with a little helpful trick to compare colors from online fabrics. If you have a Mac, you probably have a great little application called Grab (I think there is something similar on PCs as well). This allows you to take a screen shot to save as a TIFF or JPEG, and you can also use it to capture a selection or window. I use this frequently when I want to remember a particular image for later inspiration. Today I used Grab to capture a selection of each fabric I was considering so that I could move them around and compare them to see how they might look in person.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vintage Pattern Thursday

I've been working on a lot of secret projects lately that I can't show on the blog for one reason or another quite yet. As a result, I find that this is slowly becoming a food blog--which is fine--but I'd hate to completely let the crafty part of it go. I was thinking this morning of trying to add a regular feature that would show where I find some of my inspiration. I absolutely adore vintage clothing and patterns. I do own quite a few, but lately have been amassing more of a virtual collection of images. Sometimes I love the color, or maybe the styling, or a small detail. I like to look back on these images to draw inspiration when thinking of new things to create. So, welcome to Vintage Pattern Thursday. I'll be sure to post links to where I find them--although I don't have the time to knit them all, perhaps one of you will fall in love with a pattern and knit it up for all to see!

I found the above image here, and was instantly drawn to the cinched, belted waist and those fantastic arrows. It is from the Vogue Knitting Book, 10th Edition from 1948. I doubt I could ever be so color coordinated, nor have I yet been able to pull off the belt-over-sweater look, but I sure would like to master this look.

This one is my favorite image of late--I think she looks so graceful and elegant, yet entirely comfortable. I love the drape of the sleeves, and how they are nicely fitted below the elbow--I wonder how fine a gauge one would need to get a material like that--I'd bet this was worked on 0 or 1 sized needles. Again, I adore that red/coral colored belt (and could easily see me working this color combination into a knit at some point) and the plaid skirt is fantastic! I have my doubts about handknit skirts, but this is perfection. Found here, from Vogue Knitting Book, 11th edition, 1948.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Colors and quilts

I'm on the quilt scheming phase again, and just picked up Denyse Schmidt's lovely Quilts book to help me along. I must admit, as much as I enjoy reading and finding inspiration in books, I'm often reluctant to actually purchase them--too often I feel weighed down by my possessions, and therefore try my best not to add to them unnecessarily. That being said, Denyse's book has some really great quilt designs that are exactly what I was looking for, and just what I need to give me a push in the right direction. I'd recommend checking this book out if you're into more contemporary quilts, and don't know quite how to start.

As I'm planning my theoretical first quilt, I'm trying to decide what colors to choose. I did a little googling to see if there was a good website that would let me play with colors to choose a palette. I found one, and though it's a bit annoying with all the ads, it worked pretty well for me. Click here to see the color palette I'm currently thinking about, inspired by this absolutely gorgeous quilt-in-progress on flickr. square one studio's quilt kind of breaks my heart, I love it so much. But alas, I'll just have to settle for the picture.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Whip up (a great online craft community) listed the Shalom Cardigan as one of 'the best free knitting patterns on the web." My sincere thanks! Click on the link above to see the rest of their favorites--I'm a fan of many of them!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Citrus invasion

I am swimming in citrus fruits today. I excitedly bought my first box of clementines for this season (by far my favorite variety of orange), then before I knew it my lovely neighbor brought over a bunch of tangerines from her yarn (above) and my orange tree is nearly ripe. Having come from the cold midwest, I'm not used to this kind of bounty in winter!

I don't trust myself to eat all of the fruit before it spoils, so I figured that I should come up with a bunch of great citrus recipes to help things along. Last night I made some orange pecan waffles (I also have a nut surplus in my cabinets) and froze them. I'm still working on finding the perfect waffle recipe. This one worked out alright, but was perhaps a bit too runny and not fluffy enough. Still, very nice and will be great for easy breakfasts.

Next up, this morning I made friands with a bit of the tangerine zest, and gave a few to my neighbor in thanks for the fruit. One of my friends once told me that her mother never returns tupperware to friends empty--she always adds a nice little treat. I think this is a fantastic idea, so I thought I would return my neighbor's basket with a homemade goody made with her fruit. I hadn't heard of friands until I lived in Australia this past summer. These are great little cupcake-like creations made primarily with ground almonds. They should be oval in shape, but I only had muffin tins handy. It's a very nice, easy recipe that marzipan lovers will enjoy.

Finally, I made this Cous Cous Salad with tangerines, raisins, almonds, and a savory yogurt dressing. I left out the shrimp to make it vegetarian, and halved the recipe, since it's serving size is 24!! This was also very simple, and has a nice flavor combination. Quite like Indian Upma--of which I am a big fan.

As you might guess, I still have dozens of oranges, tangerines, clementines, lemons, and limes. If you have any great recipes to share, I would love to see them! I'm hoping that my orange tree will be good for juicing, but the early ones I tried had a slight bitter flavor--which might be ok--I'm planning to give it another try soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pumpkin waffles

What is a girl to do with a four-day weekend, extra pumpkin pie ingredients, and a borrowed waffle iron? Make pumpkin waffles, of course! I'm not usually much of a breakfast person, but waffles sure are fun to make. I had great success making lemon yogurt waffles with this recipe, and then decided to make a bunch of pumpkin waffles to pop in the freezer for future lazy mornings. This pumpkin waffle recipe seemed a bit flawed to me. I'd say 3 teaspoons of baking powder is way too much, and the batter needed more flour and butter. I had the hardest time getting the waffles to keep from separating in the center, and an even harder time peeling them off of the waffle iron. I ended up turning the temperature down pretty low and cooking them for a good long while to drive off excess moisture. The lemon waffles had neither problem, but they did need a bunch of added milk to thin the batter. In any case, I love love love the idea of flavored waffles. They don't even need toppings, but could be a very nice vehicle for fruit.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Shalom now available in 3 languages!

I am pleased to announce that the Shalom Cardigan pattern has been translated into French by Chaton mignon, from bazookatz. She did a wonderful job creating a new PDF with a mix of my pattern and her own lovely work. Un grand merci à elle! To get your very own copy of the French pattern, click here or visit the sidebar to the right.

If anyone would like to translate Shalom into another language, you are most welcome to do so. Please let me know so I can properly credit and link to your translation.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Southwest explorations

I spent the day exploring some nearby areas with a couple good friends. In the process I was able to experience some things uniquely Southwestern. We stopped by a Southwestern food heritage festival, which was small but nice. There was a woman demonstrating tortilla making using a very cool convex wood burning stove. She stretched the dough until they were paper thin--quite impressive!

We also stopped by the San Xavier del Bac Mission. The 'white dove of the desert' was very interesting--from historical, stylistic, and preservation standpoints. The imposing white building can be seen for miles around, and is really striking against the clear blue Arizona sky.

I love these religious candles--there's something very cool about them. The mission only allows candles purchased on site to be lit--I think they use special candles with low smoke/volatility so the newly restored wall murals don't get sooty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

busy busy!

Hey there, strangers! Thanks for all of your lovely comments in recent weeks. I think of you often, but have been too busy in my real life to find time to work on my virtual life. I have done a bit of knitting and pattern tinkering recently--nothing I can share yet. But I can show you some of my pictures from exploring the Southwest and cooking.

Selections from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:

I especially love this last one. It's from an alligator tree--so beautiful!

I found a new Indian grocery store to frequent in my neighborhood and stocked up on some ingredients:

Then proceeded to make two delicious Indian dishes from Tarla Dalal recipes. First, the rather complicated (but well worth the effort) Kofta Biryani. It was a delicious mixture of rice, falafel (with an Indian twist) and palak paneer, minus the paneer. Give it a try when you have a free afternoon and feel adventurous! I added potatoes, since I was in a potatoy mood.

I also made Shahi Aloo with a friend who wants to learn how to cook--I started him off easy with peeling and chopping. He did an excellent job. Shahi Aloo is a great way to prepare potatoes with a nice level of spices, and the sweetness and crunch of raisins and cashews, respectively:

My very good Chilean friend had a birthday last week. I asked her to describe her favorite cake, which involved layers of pancake, chocolate, marzipan and lucuma (a fruit I doubt is available here). I decided to make my own interpretation: a crepe cake with homemade chocolate frosting and marzipan creme.

I used a combination of three recipes, for the crepes, the frosting, and the marzipan. It came out looking a lot sloppier than I had wanted, but it was quite tasty and my Chilean friends got a kick out of it!

I also made a brief stop in Tombstone, Arizona. Not something I'd go out of my way to see, but it was entertaining for about 20 minutes.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This week in pictures

I voted! This is my first time living in a state where the majority will likely be voting against me [not counting my brief flirtation with the green party...] That made my early vote all the more satisfying! I hope all of you who are eligible will be voting this year.

I officially decided that Karina's Kitchen is my favorite food blog of the moment, and Whole Foods agreed! Her sweet potato black bean enchiladas won the Whole Foods budget recipe challenge. I couldn't resist trying the recipe myself, and let me tell you, this is definitely my favorite from recent memory. There is such a wonderful and complex combination of flavors--sweet potatoes, tangy lime, green chili, black beans...yum! Next time I plan to make more of the green chili sauce--I always seem to end up without enough enchilada sauce.

I spied some changes around the neighborhood. There are even more birds hanging out on the wires above my street--an unbelievable number! Also, my garden is still in bloom. I'm not used to nice weather at this time of year--I can see how people get used to this!

I went to a wool festival at a local farm. There was some beautiful handspun yarn available--a bit too rich for my blood, but it was great to see what the local artisans are up to. We also got to see a wonderful variety of goats, sheep, llama, and alpaca! The regal llama above was probably my favorite of the day--though some dreadlocked goats came in a close second.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Experiment in progress

I'm pretty sure that the last thing I need right now is yet another hobby...

But I didn't let that stop me from staying up and trying some experimental quilting with scrap fabric. I've been thinking about learning to quilt for at least ten years now. I think I might have finally wrapped my head around the idea. I'm torn between really old traditional patterns, and more contemporary free-form quilts. This weekend I stopped by the local used book store and picked up a great book from the 1970s:

American quilts and how to make them features some beautiful images of quilts from the early 1800s, as well as outlines of the pattern pieces needed to make them. They remind me a lot of some of the quilts at the Winterthur Museum, where I spent a fair amount of time in the past two years. I really love some of the applique quilts--they look like gorgeous wallpaper. I've also been very interested in the quilts from Gee's Bend for the past several years. I particularly love these free-form takes on the traditional log cabin pattern:

(Image from Gee's Bend CD)

(I'm not sure if the above one is from Gee's Bend, I can't figure out where I found this image--apologies!)

As I obsessively combed the internet for quilt inspiration, I also happened upon some gorgeous Hawaiian quilts. I don't think I've ever seen these before, but apparently there is a very strong, unique quilting tradition in Hawaii.

Not only are the shapes and colors amazing, but take a close look at the quilting--I just love the way those contour lines look.

Above: contemporary Hawaiian quilt made by Deborah Kakalia, courtesy of the Bishop Museum.

Click here to see another amazing Hawaiian quilt [it's mustard yellow and white!] and to find some free quilt patterns. I'd love to try one of these out, though I'm fairly certain that those large appliques would be very difficult to cut out, and even more difficult to sew down without crazy puckering everywhere. Perhaps I'll work my way up to these one day.

Do you have any favorite quilts or quilt patterns? I'd love to see them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend productivity

I finally broke out the sewing machine. I celebrated the occasion by using some stash fabric to make my second version of the ever popular built by wendy simplicity dress. I made a combination of the long dress (sleeves and length) and the top (elastic neckline, lack of darts and pockets). It couldn't have been easier--I didn't even have to mark anything! I'm moderately pleased with the results, though I think I'm much more into fitted garments these days--or at least volume and shapelessness in an artful way. This dress doesn't quite fit that bill, but for what it is, it's not bad. I ended up inserting a side zipper to insure that it would fit over my head. Despite the fact that I have inserted quite a few zippers, I find that mine still look like train wrecks. Has anyone come across a fool-proof zipper tutorial?

I also [finally] finished my basket from Australia! This started out as a mat, then became a shallow bowl, and now turned out to be a deeper bowl. I'm pretty happy with it--it's a bit wonky, but I think that just adds a lot more personality. The colors are slightly more vibrant in person. Very earthy.

And finally, my most delicious creations this week: arancini and pumpkin cookies. I loosely followed the recipe on Shawnee's blog, but instead of stuffing these yummy rice balls with fresh mozzarella, I mixed up some shredded spinach, chives, feta, and egg for the stuffing mixture. To make the arancini, I used an ice cream scoop to shape half the rice mixture, put in the stuffing, then formed the other side of the rice. They turned out really crispy and yummy. I ate them with a simple homemade herbed tomato sauce.

For a potluck I made these great pumpkin cookies from a friend's recipe. The pumpkin puree makes these cookies nicely moist and almost cake-like. They're really addictive!

Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 c pumpkin
1 egg, beaten
2 c. flour
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, and pumpkin. Add egg, then dry ingredients and vanilla. Drop by spoonful onto ungrease cookie sheet (though I prefer using a silicone mat). Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes. Frost with powdered sugar icing, if desired.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday food and culture

Mmm, another delicious Sunday dinner courtesy of Karina. This week I found myself tempted by fall flavors: mashed potatoes with hearty stewed veggies in the form of Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. I grew up eating a fair amount of Scottish cuisine. Although we never technically ate shepherd's pie, we did have mince & totties (minced meat with mashed potatoes) on a fairly regular basis. I attempted a different version of veggie shepherd's pie a few years ago, but it didn't turn out very well. Karina's recipe is a definite winner. I followed it fairly closely, but with my own improvisations, as always. This will make a great fall and winter staple.

This weekend I attended a fantastic local food and culture festival: Tucson Meet Yourself. Having grown up in a large city, I really wasn't expecting this small festival to be as diverse and interesting as it proved to be. There was food from all over the globe: from Hungary to Laos to Native American fry bread tacos. Not to mention performances from well over twenty countries, and craft demonstrations from around the world. I snapped a few photos today of some of the artists at work. Above is a Turkish man painting underglazes on a ceramic plate.

A mini pig pinata and paper cut-out banners from Mexico.

Navajo rug weaving.

And just to show that there was a little something for everyone--some tricked out cars to demonstrate Tucson street culture.