Friday, May 28, 2010

Reasons To Write

I have been rather busy as of late, but I felt like writing about it would not be the best use of time. I have learned through a odd serendipitous set of circumstances that I may in fact be wrong. Yesterday was the last day for tutoring at 826 Valencia for the school year. We held a party for the kids, and I also worked with some of them on last minute end of the school projects. As I went along saying my end of the year "so longs" to the staff, one of them showed me this treasure chest full of handmade leather bound journals. They were gorgeous, and I was, I have to admit a bit jealous of whomever was going to get one. Little did I know that would be me. I was offered one but had to make a promise to fill the pages with writing. This used to be something that I would have never blinked an eye at in high school as I was a prolific writer back then. I felt as though this was my calling back into the fold.

I selected this one as I liked the fact that the hands of the clock were frozen in time. To me writing it the ability to freeze moments in time forever, allowing you to share them with others if you so choose or keep them for yourself to cherish later. I also really liked the saying in this particular journal. It really clicked with me and how I feel about friendships. I have decided to fill this book with thoughts I have through the day or things that catch my eye. Hopefully that can bud into some more serious writings. It is almost like my jogging program to get me back into shape, only with writing. So to whomever made these beautiful journals, thank you. Your time and effort has paid off for one writer at least. It was by far one of the more thoughtful things I have gotten to be a part of lately. It is always nice to be surprised with an act of kindness like this to keep you from becoming jaded to the modern world.

In other news, I finally got product pictures taken on Wednesday and will be posting those pairs of pants for sale most likely on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Etsy Store. Want a sneak peak? Go to the Fabulous Pants Facebook page and become a fan for pictures of new items before they hit the store. New pictures will be posted over the weekend sometime for your purusal. Now to get down to some sewing. Hopefully I can manage this after today's workout. ;)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jogging for Dessert

I know that I have said it before, and I am going to say it again. I love desserts... apparently too much lately. I gained weight after leaving the working world before we left for California and briefly lost some, then gained it all back. I blame my love of all things dessert. When we went to Vegas I ate more desserts at the buffets than anything else. A whole plate of them I am sad to admit, and so it comes with great regret that I am back to the couch to 5K jogging program. I just cannot give up that slice of cake or pie or pudding or cookie after dinner. Something has to give, and for now that is my rear being attached on the couch. I know that I have chronicled my exercise program start last year when we were at the old apartment that had a weight room. I have also been tossing around the idea of buying an elliptical, but when I really got down to thinking about it, we live in California. It never gets so cold that I would have to exercise inside like I would in Illinois. So, with out the weight room to hide me, I have started trying to redo my progress on the couch to 5K by jogging outside. It was terrifying at first. People will probably laugh at how out of shape I am even though I don't look it, but really I decided their opinions did not matter. I wanted to be in shape. I want to be able to run and catch that train and make it without getting on board and panting like I ran a marathon in the 500 feet I ran. I have decided this is the best course of action, and I have to stick with it. Day one was Monday, and it went well. I am going to leave for day two as soon as this posting is done before the predicted afternoon rain showers show up. I always learned in my exercise and behavior classes that one of the best ways was to publicly state your goals. So, here it is. I want to do the couch to 5K running plan on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week. I also want to make sure that traveling is not a hindrance to this, so no vacations from the program aside from Chaos Wars, which is physically very demanding.

The first picture in this entry (before the exercise commitments) is my first attempt at making flan. It turned out really well and was a perfect compliment to my cake baking obsession of late. Most of the cakes I make need just egg whites, and I hate to throw out the yolks. Custards take up the slack of the yolks perfectly. I guess that means when I make cake one week look for a custard the next! I made these to go with our taco night on Monday. The peas in the other picture came from the patio garden. I am thinking about ditching the beans next year in favor of a round of peas only. This may be amended if the beans suddenly start to do something good. Perhaps I will sneak in a late fall round of peas out there. I used them in a beef stew that I made last night for us to combat the nasty rainstorm we were having. Lately it has been more like California winter than spring or summer here. I made some lean bread to go with it from the freezer. Have I mentioned how wonderful those new bread baking books are?

Well it looks like it may be sunny enough for the jog and hopefully some product pictures. Now... off to jog away that flan!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shop Progress

Yesterday was surprisingly productive, partly due to the rain storm that did not arrive. I was getting ready to go out for my walk, and I saw what seemed to be impending rain clouds. I checked the radar and decided that it was too risky, so I went into the studio and set to work. While the rain did not show up until later it must have inspired my African violet to bloom. Spring showers and May flowers and all.

In this burst of productivity, I tried to get some pictures of the chocolate pin stripe pants in our blue stairway. There was just the right amount of light, but I could not get the pants to fit right. They fit much better before I started loosing weight, so I guess I will have to figure out how to model these or break down and get someone else to model them for me. I may have a few fitting ideas up my sleeve, so that I can get them uploaded to Etsy without them looking too weird. I would say, though, that these pants are great for someone a bit bigger than myself. They are also great for a business casual setting.

I have been working on these wonderful olive filigree style Jakarta pants. I really love this fabric. It is an unusual fabric for me to pick, but it just looked so great I had to have it. Here they are just after I finished sewing them up. I will have to wait for a sunny day with low wind before I can photograph them and get a listing up on Etsy. It is, as I have mentioned before, rather difficult to photograph these fabrics. They often times will look washed out or the embroidery designs will not show up on the photograph. Full sun seems to be the only solution to this. I am rather shocked to see how well this fabric photographed just in the craft studio. It is pretty close to correct for the color and the embroidery actually comes through.

I also settled on the final motif for the bottom parts of the elephant and peacock belt. I drew some flower doodles that I make often and satin stitched them in and also added fern stitch for the vines. I have one finished and another one started. There are three more to be done, and then all I have left is some mini tassel making for the elephant's tails and decorations for their mirrors. It will be rather intricate once finished. I am almost there on finishing this, and I can't wait to reveal it to you all. First, though, I need to buy more floss for the tassels. I can't seem to estimate exactly how much I need. I am keeping notes if I ever get crazy enough to make a belt like this again.

I got so many things done that I could not believe there would be time for a personal project, but there was. I worked on a 25 yard skirt for myself. I have the black fabric all cut and began serging the edges tonight. Today I am going to work on the stitching of the tiers and the gathering stitches. If I am lucky, I can get the first two tiers tied together before I leave for tutoring at 826 and class at Fat Chance. Here is to hoping I am as productive today as I was yesterday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Walking Route

My new walking route is, in fact, five miles long. This makes me a happy woman. I now know that if I take that way I do not have to rely on the pedometer and can leave it at home. Sometimes in my want to get fit, I find myself obsessed with those step numbers rather than enjoying the act of walking. My new walk takes me around Lake Merritt in Oakland. It is a nice and picturesque route. There are plenty of people about as well, so that makes me feel more comfortable in taking it as well. There are all sorts of things to look at, so it makes the walk go just that much more faster and is more relaxing. I saw all manner of birds on the water like pelicans and egrets. There were ducks of several varieties and also tons of Canadian geese. The lake renovations have also brought about some new gardens with plants to look at, and some very tall trees were spared as well. They arch high over head and provide a nice dose of shade here and there.

One of the nicest things about the walk yesterday was seeing all the new baby geese. Seeing all those goslings bobbing around made me flash back to my childhood walks with my Grandmother around Lord's park in Elgin. We would take corn and bread with us to feed all the ducks and geese and the deer, elk, and buffalo that were at the park as well. Those were some of the most fun times of the summer. This is of course if there was no rain. It was a continual joke around the house that if we were in need of rain, I should be sent to Grandma and Grandpa's. It seemed like every time I would go there over the summer for a sleep over, it would rain, and we would be stuck inside rather than being able to go to the park. This trend seems to be continuing with this latest walking route. After my walk yesterday, there were unpredicted pop up showers. Today, I am preparing to go on this walk again, and, you guessed it, there are rain showers in the area. I am not going to let this deter me, but I will not be bringing the library books for fear of them getting wet.

Then it is time to really finish up those pants and also work on the belt. I finally decided on the final motif for the embroidery of the bottom parts. Today I will get those done... I hope. Here is to getting out earlier than I thought to get started on the day!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Coconut Cake!

The last week and weekend was a busy one. My parents came to visit from Illinois, and it was a fun time. They arrived on Thursday, and after finding out there was water in the basement back home, we tried to relax and have fun. I made homemade gyros and pita breads with a nice Greek salad while my Dad tried to find an earlier flight home. For dessert I made the chocolate strawberry pie recipe of my sister's.

On Friday, we went and leisurely walked around the Union Square area after a great dim sum lunch. It was fun doing some window shopping, and my parents picked up some kitchen items to take back with them. I managed to be good in all the kitchen supply places but broke down and bought myself two shirts. They are super comfortable and look great. On Saturday we went wine tasting in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was a fun trip, and I really enjoyed myself. Most tastings were free, and most of the wineries were small and very intimate. I enjoyed the small family run ones the most. Dan and I even bought six bottles of wine along the way.

On Sunday, we dropped off my parents at the airport and started working on cleaning up the house and resetting ourselves for the week. There was laundry to do as well as picking up all the items that were left around by myself during the whirlwind of activity of the visit. Now the chocolate strawberry pie is not Dan's favorite. He is a huge fan of coconut though, so I decided to make the coconut cake that we saw on a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen. Currently you can get the recipe on their website for free. If you are interested, I would go and get the recipe now before it goes away from being a free one.

It was a really easy recipe and only required two odd items, coconut extract and creme of coconut. They are both available at most local grocery stores. This cake was the official final nail in the coffin for me with boxed cake mixes. This took just as much time to make as a boxed cake, and the results are just so much better. I had made boxed cupcakes recently, so it was a good comparison in texture and flavor between homemade and boxed. The texture is just so much better. I also tested all the items one by one as I was making them. The low sweetness of the cake balances out the very sweet frosting. The toasted coconut is also a great texture on top of the whole package. I cut this recipe in half successfully for one of my mini cakes, and it halved easily with wonderful results. The only adjustment I would recommend is cutting the time used to toast the coconut. I had to cut my toasted with some raw because it was all too well done and not enough raw. Now, I just need to find something to do with the saved egg yolks. Any ideas?

Today I am off for a five mile walk since I could not yesterday due to the rain. I am also hoping to finish up the olive filigree pants that I started yesterday. They are coming along beautifully. I am hoping that I can finish them today and get them photographed tomorrow, but they are predicting rain again. I guess that means more sewing if I cannot photograph to list. Well I am off for that walk. I cannot wait to test out the new walking route and see if it is exactly five miles. I am also timing myself to see how long I take. I would ideally like to take less and less time each walk. Here is to getting in shape to continue eating cake!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quilt Plans

I don't really need any more hobbies, but ever since I started sewing, I always held onto my fabric scraps. I just could not see throwing away what seemed to be good fabric that I could someday find something to use it on. I have always admired quilts, especially Amish style quilts, and I thought perhaps someday I would start quilting as well. I even bought my first quilt, a hand pieced and hand sewn Amish made quilt, at a quilt auction in the Amish area of central Illinois. I love it and admired the careful handwork and designs sewn all over the simple patches, but I am constantly worried about over using it. We need another one to help rotate it out of service now and then.

Now, I finally think the scraps are out of control enough to have to put them to a purpose. I am working on designing my first quilt. I am looking at using these fabrics from some of my first sewing projects and some more recent acquisitions in a broken Lone Star style design. I need to decide on some other fabrics that I would have to buy for the framing pieces of the Lone Star. I am not sure which of the colors I would match up, but I am thinking about the yellow and blue as being the ones I highlight. I have used an on line coloring program to work out different ways to place the colors of fabric. I just cannot decide. I know I want the yellow in the middle, and then I think the blue, then black, the red, and finally yellow tips. The other configuration that I am thinking is yellow middle, black, blue, red, and yellow tips. I guess I will just have to cut out some pieces and play with it before deciding. Any thoughts on what you think would look better? I will post pictures of any progress that I make.

Today, the goal is to finish up the hand embroidery of the belt. I ran out of the thread that I needed for the double feather stitch, so a store run this weekend was necessary. Now that the threads are back in stock, the sewing can commence. I also want to get my new black skirt cut out and mostly assembled today. They are lofty goals, but doable ones. I also would like to get my walk in today for the 10,000 steps, but I think the weather will prevent me from doing so. Late rain showers are in the area again today, and while I love the gloomy weather and we need the rain, I don't particularly want to walk in the rain today. Hopefully I can figure out a solution for the exercise. Well so much to do and so much inspiration. I am off for sewing goodness.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Belt Progress

The belt has been making some progress. I sat down yesterday and started on the final group of hand stitched embroidery. I am doing a double feather stitch in the gold color of the elephants and other designs on the belt. It is turning out quite well, and I am very pleased with myself and how even the stitches are turning out. I guess all the practice with hand sewing over the years is finally paying off.

I hope to finish up the feather stitch today. Then I need to trim the tassels and sew the belt all together. It is turning out so well, and I am loving it. Will I make one for myself? Doubtful. I think this is destined to be a one of a kind belt due to the many hours of thought, labor, and love that went into its making. Throw in the fact that I cannot get the yarn that I made the tassels out of anymore, and you have a one of a kind piece. While I could replicate the embroideries again, I could never make the same kind of tassels for this. A big part of the design for this belt was inspired by those yarns. I cannot wait for it to all finally go together and be the show stopping belt that it is meant to be!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cheater Cream Puffs

As I talked about yesterday, I love desserts. Cream Puffs are up at the top of the list. I used to beg my Grandmother to make these for me, and when I was a kid I was sure they were so hard to make. Once I headed off to college, I asked for the recipe from her, and I found out that they were really not all that hard to make. I did not think about blogging this recipe until after they were in the oven, so there are not many pictures of the early steps. I apologize for that. Hopefully from descriptions alone I can walk you through the process. Why do I call these cheater cream puffs? Well they are filled with instant pudding, so no need to be a custard making master for this recipe. They are fast to make and easy too. It makes for a quick midweek dessert. So, without further ado, here is the recipe for cheater cream puffs!


~ 1/4 cup butter
~ 1/2 cup water
~ 1/2 cup flour
~ 2 eggs at room temperature (this is important)
~ Your favorite cook and serve pudding. I usually use vanilla. I think it turns out best
~ Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Let the eggs sit until they reach room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the water in a saucepan until boiling. Add the butter, reduce the heat to low, and melt the butter. Add the flour and mix until it is fully incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate them. The dough should be really thick and putty or pasty like. It will also be a lemony color. Place the dough by the spoonful on a parchment lined cookie sheet. The dough should make six full sized cream puffs. Make sure to pat down any tall peaks in the dough. I am not sure if you can make mini cream puffs with this seeing as I have never tried. If you do try it, let me know what you find out about the cooking times. Bake the cream puffs in the 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes. When they are done they should look like this:

While the cream puff shells are baking, make your favorite filling. I typically use Jello brand vanilla cook and serve pudding. Once I cook it, I make sure to pour it into a bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap so the skin does not form on the pudding. While I love pudding skins, I need all the pudding that little box provides for the filling for these shells. Make sure to cool the pudding completely. When you are ready to serve them, slice them in half with a serrated knife. The interior should be rather hollow. If it is not, you can just push the middle out to make it hold more of the filling. Fill with pudding. If you like a chocolate top like I do, melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave and spread on the top of the cream puff. Simple and easy! Make sure that you do not fill the puffs until right before you want to eat them otherwise they will get soggy and not be pleasant to eat. You can keep uneaten shells in a plastic bag for a few days before they get stale, but I am sure they will be gone well before then!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walks and Library Visits

I am a sucker for desserts, and lately, I have noticed that I am not keeping up with my eating. So, after a disastrous first bout back into exercise by trying to run the stairs in the building, I decided this week to start more slowly. I have started walking with a 10,000 step goal for each day. On Monday I met it, and yesterday I was just a few hundred steps short. I tried a route on Monday that was pretty long but not quite long enough for the full 10,000 steps, but it was supplemented by more walking to meet with Dan to go to a Long Now talk for the full amount.

Yesterday I walked a new route, to the library. I decided to try and visit the Asian branch of the Oakland public library. It was a wonderful find. There were so many books dedicated to Asian forms of crafting, from Asian forms of quilting and Sashiko techniques to paper lamp crafting and bamboo work. There were also many books on traditional textiles of different regions of Asia. I also picked up a book that was full of neat sewing projects for different types of quilted handbags and pouches. It was inspiring and a place that I am sure I will be visiting often. There is nothing like piles of free books that I can borrow to make me a happy woman. Plus, using the library saved me a $40 mistake, purchasing an out of print book that really did not have the information that I needed. It feels good to come out ahead of the game once in a while.

In looking at all of these books, it got me motivated again to work on the elephant and peacock belt. I have some more tassels to make for it as well as some more hand embroidery. Once those things are done, I should be able to sew all the pieces together. I am not sure why I am so hesitant to finish off this belt, but I think some of it may be due to the extreme care and amount of time I have spent on it. I am going to make a good go of getting close to finishing it by the end of the week. I would love to photograph and list it next week. I will post rough pictures of the finished belt here as soon as it is finished. For now I need to look for a longer walking path for today's walk before I sit down for some embroidery work on that belt!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weekend Discoveries

Over the weekend, I finally got the picture of myself and Mr. Keller off of Dan's phone. It wasn't the best of photos of myself, but then again I was not planning ahead, so the phone photo is the best I can do. He was really nice and even listened to me extol the virtues of his pie crust recipe. It saved me from my recent run of awful pie crusts and turned the act of making pies back into a joyous one. The food at Fleur de Lys was also so wonderful. It inspired me to get back to trying my bread baking, especially after eating the very tasty fig and pistachio bread that they were serving. I set to reading my copy of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day on Saturday. Bread making started right away.

First thing on Saturday night, I started my bread dough. I also resisted my usual urge to skip ahead and make something complicated. I instead did the responsible thing and started with the first recipe. It was for lean bread, and it was really quite easy to whip up. All I had to do was mix all the ingredients in the mixer for two minutes, then it was time to let it sit for a while. Next, instead of kneading the bread, I performed Reinhart's stretch and fold technique. It was really easy and involved stretching and folding the dough four times, flipping it over, and letting it rest again for ten minutes before repeating the process again a total of four times. At the end of this, it all went into the refrigerator for an over night ferment. When it was two hours ahead of baking, I found this glorious dough waiting for me.

The next step was to divide the dough. This recipe makes two large loaves or four to six small loaves. I opted for the six small loaves because, let's face it, fresh baked bread is the best and most tastiest bread! Plus with there being only two of us eating it at a time, small loaves mean less day old bread. The other wondrous thing about this recipe is that it can be frozen or held in the refrigerator for up to four days. This means that one could start their bread over the weekend and have fresh loaves for that week and the next in the freezer and refrigerator. Your baking day involves only the shaping, resting, and then baking of the bread itself! Brilliant! I shaped one loaf, saved two in the refrigerator, and froze three.

In the end, this is the loaf that came out of the oven. I think it was a bit too brown, but it was the best bread I have ever made. It was also the least time consuming and least work I have ever done for a fresh baked bread. It makes me think that I will be casting off the plastic bread bags forever. Later in the book, Reinhart covers rolls and sandwich breads, and if they are all this easy, I will be making my own bread from here on out. This also opens up the possibility for true Chicago style hot dogs because I will be able to supply us with the poppy seed buns.

We served the bread with a broiled salmon. We marinaded the salmon in some olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper, and then broiled it quickly. Both mangoes and avocados were on sale this week, so we made a fresh mango salsa with red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and red pepper to go with the fish as well as fresh guacamole. While it broke my usual one grain per meal rule due to the chips and bread, it was a great tasting meal. I truly enjoyed every bite.

A quick gardening note before I head off for a walk outside. When I was watering the plants on Sunday, I found the first pea pod forming. I thought I would share a picture. It looks like I will have several more soon. I am so excited to think about some of my own fresh peas off of the balcony. There were also some new seedlings popping up in the soil as well. Some very small green scarlet onions have shown up as well as cilantro and thyme. More of the red sails lettuce and some more beets have also joined the ranks. It is exciting to see something you plant appear from the dirt. I will keep my eyes peeled for more little shoots and hope to see more soon.