Thursday, November 20, 2014

Barking Mad.

In order to be really happy, I need to do something creative every day.  Usually those things happen with some sort of needle and some sort of thread.  But sometimes they happen in the kitchen.

Lately I can't get enough of making chocolate bark.  I got onto the idea from an article in Midwest Living magazine.  I have no idea why I get this magazine - I've never subscribed or paid for it, it just shows up every couple months!  The November/December issue had a nice spread with all different kinds of chocolate bark recipes, and I couldn't wait to try it.

I've been posting pictures of my bark on Instagram, and people are going kind of nuts.  But it's super easy to do!  The article linked above tells you everything you need to know - really it's just melting chocolate and putting some stuff on top.  But I went ahead and took some pictures today when I made some up, so I could share it with you all.

My big take-away from this article was the part about fake tempering chocolate.  I've always melted chocolate over a double boiler, but you can easily scorch it that way if you're not careful.  This way is so easy and gives great results - the chocolate comes out smooth and silky.

Start with block chocolate you like.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  I used Trader Joe's Pound Plus - 17.5 ounces for $4.99!  And for those of you with no Trader Joe's nearby, don't fret:  apparently you can order this stuff off Amazon!   For each of the following "bars" I used about 4.5 ounces of chocolate.

Chop the chocolate fine.  This is the hardest part of the whole thing!  But the finer you chop it, the faster it will melt.  You could also grate it, but chopping is easier for me.

Place the chocolate in a bowl, then float that bowl in another, larger bowl half full of very hot tap water.  The water I used was about 125 degrees F.

Now this is VERY IMPORTANT - do not let ANY water get into your chocolate.  If it does, the chocolate will "seize" and not melt.  (This is a problem I've had with using the double boiler, because of all the steam it produces.)

Every once in a while, give your chocolate a stir, making sure not to let any water get into it.  It should be completely melted and smooth in 10 - 15 minutes.

Carefully lift the bowl out of the water and wipe the bottom with a paper towel to continue protecting the chocolate.

Pour it out onto a piece of parchment (or waxed) paper, then sprinkle your prepared toppings on it.  You can do your topping prep - chopping and such - while the chocolate melts.  I spread mine to about 1/4" thick; that 4.5 ounces gives me a bar that's about 8" x 4".

I got creative with my first one today and did a combo I've been thinking about for a while:  Turkish dried figs, walnuts and Urfa pepper (a spicy, sweet, smoky red pepper from the southeast of Turkey) on top of 45% dark chocolate.

I made a second bar with white chocolate, which I love but Hubby hates.  Teeheeeheeee!  This one has almonds and candied ginger.

And finally I made one of the recipes from the article:  "The Macaroon."  This one has toasted slivered almonds, shredded coconut and a sprinkle of sea salt on top of 72% dark.

And here's the first one I made a few days ago, now half gone.  This one had walnuts and cranberries, and Hubby loved it.  I've been putting a few pieces in his lunch for the last few days. <3

I've really had fun making these and I think it would be a great activity to do with kids.  There are so many topping possibilities, it's been fun thinking about what to do next.  Of course, it would make a great gift or party theme too.

If you decide to try it out and come up with any creative combinations, let me know!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FO: Anna's Garden Shell Top

Back with more Alabama Stitchin'!!  These days, AC projects and working on my Starmore sweater are all I seem to want to do.

Almost two months ago, I previewed a kit I had purchased over the summer from Alabama Chanin:  the Anna's Garden Shell Top.  I started working on it some time later, and finished it a couple weeks ago.  Today, I finally wore it when I went out for coffee with Alicia, so I took a few pictures before I left. 

I purchased the size Medium kit.  The fit is OK, but not as good as I could make it if I'd traced the pattern from the book and adjusted it for my needs.  I was surprised that the shoulders were a bit wide - surprised because my shoulders are on the wide side.  The top is also quite long.  I could easily cut off a couple inches from the bottom.  And of course, on my body, it would benefit from a sway back adjustment.  But it's a t-shirt, and none of these things are going to keep me from wearing and enjoying it.

Here are some up-close pictures of the garment, and then some modeled pictures.

From the front:  you can see that the cut of these tops is quite curvy, which I like.  The neck is also  high - a true jewel neckline - which I don't mind but I know a lot of people dislike.  I believe that this top uses the "T-Shirt Top" pattern from the Sewing + Design book, so you could replicate this look if you wanted to.  (The kit is no longer available.)

On the back, you can see the stitching from the label.

And here's the label from the inside.  Love. It.  I feel so cool knowing this label is in there.

The reverse applique sections were worked in backstitch using four strands of embroidery floss.  After working my first AC project with button craft thread, I wasn't sure I'd like the floss but I really loved it!  It's so silky.  The floss included in the kit was black and grey variegated.  It makes for an interesting look - I would use variegated floss again.

I was surprised when I received the kit that the cream piece for the inside was not the full width of the front piece.  Now that the top is put together though, I think it's a good thing - this fabric is quite thick.  The appliqued side almost feels like padding on my shoulder, and the weight of it tends to pull the top to that side.  Here it is from the inside, cut away after stitching.

I attached the bindings with cretan stitch again, and worked the seams inside felled.

And I finally bought a pair of black jeans, just to go with this top.  I don't think I've had a pair of black jeans in 25 years!

Here's a better look at the cutwork from the side:

Despite its imperfections, I'm happy with this project.  If you are tempted to try this technique but intimidated by all the hand stitching, a project like this - no sleeves, cutwork only on a small area - is a great place to start.

A couple days after I finished this, I started on a new AC project.  I just couldn't stand not having one on the go!  I'm trying different techniques with each project, so that one is very different from the 3 I've already done.  I'm not sure I like it quite as much, but I am having fun making it!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Starmore Sweater: Cutting Open a Steek

The weather has turned cooler, and that means I've gotten back to working on my Starmore sweater.  I spent a fair amount of time on it yesterday and managed to finish the first sleeve. 

This morning I cut open the steek for the second sleeve, and took a video while I did so.  It looks like the last video update I did on this sweater was a year ago, and there were some comments in between asking to show how the steek is cut.

I apologize for the poor focus - I had the camera to my left side, which meant I couldn't always see the screen to see if I was in focus!  But I think it's clear enough to give you the general idea.

So you see - nothing to fear!  If fear of steeks has kept you from working a Fair Isle sweater, fear no more!  If it's the massive amount of work involved though - well, I'm afraid there's no way around that. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Elephant in the Room: the Demise of the Stash Diet

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I fell off the Stash Diet wagon quite some time ago.  I bought a lot of fabric over the summer - partly because it filled the void of not being able to sew; partly because Hubby saw some guitar-print fabrics he wanted for new shirts; partly because I was high on Emery Dress fumes and wanted Emery Dresses in All The Fabrics.

But there's been something else going on as well.  More and more, I've limited what I share on Flickr, and that is mostly because I've gotten a fair number of creepers following me.  It's gotten to the point that I've decided to completely delete my Flickr account rather than continue to deal with it. 

That is a personal decision, but as one of the administrators of the Stash Diet, I felt I should let everyone know.  There are still a few members who are actively participating.  Perhaps someone would like to take over as an administrator?  If so, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Last Two Questions

Well, gotta say:  this whole thing has felt like a school assignment, LOL!  More proof that I only want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it :-)  Anyway, here are the answers to the two questions I left unanswered yesterday.

My friend Cyndi asked this:  "I'd like to know why you don't put recipes on your blog. I know you have some great ones to share."

Here's some background.  Cyndi and her husband and son are friends of ours from St. Louis, although none of us live there now - we moved here and they moved to Portland, OR.  But when we all lived in St. Louis, we spent quite a lot of time together, and it often revolved around food :-)  Dinner at our house, cookouts at their house.  And my favorite:  picnics at some of the local wineries.  It may surprise you to know that there's a hilly, wine-growing region just west of St. Louis, and lots of the wineries have outdoor patios where you can bring your own picnic and buy some wine, then have a nice meal looking out at the beautiful hills.  So much fun, and such great memories.  

Stef (who I had the pleasure of meeting the spring before last) asked:  "Do you cook any recipes passed down from your mum or a close relative? If so, what?"  Stef's on a blog break at the moment, but if you scroll back through her pages, you'll see lots of mouth-watering photos of food.  But she's still pinning great recipes on Pinterest, and I've found plenty of good ones through her.

Here's the thing, Stef:  my mom has never liked to cook.  She still doesn't.  And my dad was a pretty picky eater.  So we grew up on a mostly meat & potatoes, hot dogs and hamburgers type of diet.  And casseroles of course - it was the '70s, after all :-)  So I don't have a lot of family recipes.  But there is one.

My mom makes the BEST potato salad in the WORLD!!  And here is her recipe. 

Billie's Potato Salad

5 lb. potatoes
2 lb. bacon
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
dill pickles, chopped, and some of the juice from the jar
garlic powder

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until done, about 45 minutes - 1 hour.  Drain then allow to cool.  Peel off the skins and slice the potatoes into a large bowl.

Chop all the bacon coarsely and brown in a frying pan.  Add the chopped onion when bacon is almost cooked, and continue cooking until caramelized.

Pour the bacon and onion mixture, along with a bit of the bacon grease, over the potatoes.

Add in mayonnaise or Miracle Whip and pickles to taste, along with some of the juice from the pickles.  Add in seasonings to taste and mix well to combine.

Now, I should probably admit that I myself have never made this recipe.  But Mom made it for many family gatherings, and I always stuffed myself with as much as I could!  If any of you try it, let me know!

And I'll go back to Cyndi's question to wrap it up:  I'm not really sure why I don't post recipes!  I never really thought about it, I guess!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Agenda Answers the Hard Questions

And some of them were hard, because like I said, I'm not at all introspective.

I was surprised I received so many questions, and that so many of you were willing to play along.  Sam has already posted a response to my question with a tour of the beautiful town in which she lives.  Check it out if you haven't seen it already!

Let's dive right in.  There are probably too many to handle in one post, so we'll see how far we get before it becomes a yawn-fest.  Please feel free to skip this if you're only here for the crafts!

Susan asked:  "What's your favorite story from your childhood?"
I have two brothers who are 6 and 7 years younger than me.  My next younger brother is quite the outdoorsman, and even from a young age used to love to go fishing.  We grew up 2 blocks from a lake, so when he was little (maybe 5 or 6) I'd walk down to the lake with him so we could go fishing.  Thing is, he wouldn't actually touch a fish!  And I wouldn't touch a worm!  (Still won't!)  So we made a pretty good team - him baiting the hooks, and me taking the few fish we caught off the line.  I think I got the better end of the deal!

He's way bigger than me now, LOL!

From Sam"I'd love to know what your perfect day would be."
Wow, Sam - this one was fodder for quite a few daydreams!  But in the end I decided to plan a perfect day that is actually within my grasp.

It would start, as all my days do, with a delicious cup of coffee made for me by my wonderful Hubby.  Then we'd head off for a nice long hike - preferably in a pine forest.  (OK, that part is not easily within my grasp, but a girl can dream!  Here's a selfie I took in Austria last month, enjoying the wonderful aroma of a pine forest.)

Big inhale!

Then, by some sort of magic, we'd be transported to some wonderful outdoor lunch spot, our hiking clothes having been replaced with something more chic (and preferable hand-sewn!).  We'd enjoy a delicious meal and a glass of wine or two while gazing upon some spectacular scenery.  After lunch we'd pop into a museum or gallery for a look around, then head home for a quiet evening watching some sort of comedy on Netflix.

Hmm, not super original, but I think it points to the fact that I have a darned good life!  I do a lot of these things pretty often, and feel blessed to be able to do so!

Tracey asked:  "I would love to know if you have always been so creative or is this something that has evolved over the years?"

Well, I can't remember a time when I wasn't making something.  I was lucky to be born into an extended family of crafters, artists and musicians, so I pretty much grew up with it.  My dad especially loved to experiment with different kinds of crafts and he and I used to enjoy exploring new hobbies together.  Just like Dad, I have one enduring craft love (knitting and sewing; Dad's was woodworking) but have tried a whole slew of other things.  I'm definitely my father's daughter!  But of course it was Mom who taught me to knit and sew in the first place.

Here's a Barbie dress I crocheted when I was probably about 7.  Don't ask me how it's supposed to go on!

Andrea and Lisa are both curious to know how many pairs of shoes I own.   Well, I have to admit this is kind of embarrassing for me.  My love of shoes borders on obsession - it always has.  I own far, FAR more than I need; shoes are my biggest extravagance.  I had to count the other day and I'm in the neighborhood of 150.  I do feel compelled to note that among the group of friends I used to hang out with in St. Louis, this was not a huge number!  We did a fair bit of going out and going to events back then.  And this is a collection that goes back close to 20 years.  I also do need to do a good weed-out.  But it's kind of silly:  there are some things I've been saving, in case my nieces want them in the future!  I remember being thrilled at receiving some "retro" pieces from my aunt when I was in my teens and early '20s, so I keep some of the cooler stuff around for that reason even if I'm not using it.

Me and Sal, having Fancy Shoe Knitting night.

Lisa  also asked what was the latest book (or books) I read.  Here are the last few:

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson - a small book, but it took me ages to read because it was kind of melancholy, so I wasn't always in the mood.

Quiet by Susan Cain - devoured it in a of couple days.  All about introverts, of which I am one.

And because I love reading for hours and hours when I'm on vacation, I read a bunch of Edith Wharton novels when we were in Turkey and really enjoyed them.  I was a French (literature) major in college, so I missed out on all the American and English literature that most people read while I was busy reading the French.  Now I'm going back and fixing that! 

Sonja had this question:  "Who would you be in an alternate universe? Is there something totally different from what you do now that you always wonder what would have happened if you'd explored it?"

I would be a mom :-)  We wanted to have children but I was not able to.  We were able to move past that disappointment and are quite content with our lives as they turned out, but I do sometimes wonder how things would be now if we had been able to have kids.

Shar asked what is my favorite time of day and why.  Definitely morning.  I'm such a morning person that I go to bed early (seriously early, like 8:30) so I can get up early in the morning.   I like the quiet, solitude and peacefulness of early morning.

early morning park bench in winter

There were two more questions which both related to food, so I'm going to answer those in the next post.  Thanks to all who played along!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bourbon and Blazers

As I said earlier in the month, October is all about blazers Chez Agenda.  Alongside my other projects, I've been slowly working on a pattern for a tailored blazer - an item which I'd love to own but which I rarely find to fit well in RTW.  You'll see why later in the post.

My friend Shar and I had been talking about doing a blazer sew-along in the fall, and so "Bourbon and Blazers" was born.  The name came from the title of an email I sent her referencing our plans and thanking her for the recipe for Salty Bourbon Squares she'd sent me.  Since we knew we'd be sharing a lot of our progress on Instagram, we decided to use it as our hashtag.  To our delight, a couple of our sewing friends have decided to join us:  Lisa and Andrea for sure, and maybe even a couple others are thinking about it.  We are all going at our own pace - there are really no rules or structure.  We're just having fun exploring the making of a tailored blazer together.  Please join us if you care to!  #bourbonandblazers

I had several blazer patterns in my stash from which to choose, and in the end I settled on McCall's 6172.  This is a Palmer/Pletsch pattern, which means it has lots of fitting advice, and fitting alteration lines are already included on the pattern.  Since I'm familiar with the Palmer/Pletsch method and fit is one of my biggest concerns in this project, I thought it would be a good place to start.  It turns out that all my sewing buddies have chosen this pattern as well!  I think it's great, because we will be able to compare apples to apples.

I started this project at the very beginning of October and just yesterday was able to trace off my final version of the pattern.  Between tracing, tissue-fitting and re-tracing, I've got about 10 hours into this project already!  I'm hoping all this work will pay off in a big way.

First I started by tracing my four main pieces:  the two fronts and the two backs.  I started with only these four because I wasn't sure if I should use the size 8 or size 10.  A quick tissue-fit of these main pieces verified that the 8 is the right size for me to start from.  It's interesting to me that my Palmer/Pletsch instructor also put me in a size 8, and all the adjustments I needed for this blazer were the ones I needed on the sheath dress we did in our class!

Once I had the correct size, I traced off all the other size 8 pieces, and then got started with my tissue-fitting.  I wish I hadn't done that though - I forgot that the shapes of the linings and facings would change to correspond with the new shapes of the front and back pieces.  So in the end, I ended up re-tracing those as well.

For my tissue-fitting, I was a little over-zealous at first, and had to back some of my adjustments out.  Once everything was done though (over the course of several fittings) I had made TEN adjustments!  No wonder the RTW blazers don't fit me well!  Here's my list as I kept track:

And here's what it says, but in the order of the adjustments:

* broad back adjustment of +1/4"
* shallow upper chest tuck of -1/4" 
* dart remains as it is - I shortened it a bit at first but decided I liked the original better
* forward shoulder adjustment -1/4"
* sway back adjustment -3/4"
* low round back adjustment +1/2"
* increase side seam from waist down +9/16"
* increase back side seam (between center back and side back) from waist down +3/16"
* make tuck corresponding to shallow upper chest tuck (-1/4") the length of the upper sleeve piece parallel to grain line, so that sleeve cap fits into new, smaller armscye
* full upper arm adjustment +1/2"
* shorten sleeve -3/4"

WHEW!  With all that tape, you can see why I wanted to re-trace my pattern pieces.  I have a bad habit of forgetting that I have tape on my pieces and then ironing over it and gunking up my iron!

Here are some pictures of my pieces in progress, in no particular order.

re-traced upper sleeve on left, adjusted sleeve on right

Paper Blazer, front

Paper Blazer, back

shallow upper chest tuck - extends all the way across the lapel; forward shoulder seam line

broad back adjustment and low round back adjustment

sway back adjustment

increased seams at hip area

final fit

I'm very happy with the fit I've achieved.  I only look unhappy in the photo because I've been suffering from sinusitis and a cold for the last several days and I had a massive headache!  Also, a pin was sticking me right in the armpit :-)

At this point, I was ready to re-trace my taped-up pieces and adjust my lining and facing pieces to match - the work of another couple hours.  But VOILA:

My pile of beautiful, fresh pattern pieces is ready to go!  I'm hoping to start on cutting out my fabric today!