Monthly Archives: September 2009

Wherein We Try Our Hands At Sewing

My side of the couch, where I do all my quilting and stitching, is on the left side. This is nice because I get a fabulous view of the garden and the trees across the street. This is not nice because I’m constantly dropping my spool of thread and scissors over the side; it seems I’m very right-handed, and very clumsy. Back when I was cross stitching, this wasn’t a massive problem. I could always grab a different set of scissors and just use a different silk to work on a different portion of the design until I felt like getting up to dig my supplies out from under whatever dust bunny had engulfed them. But with quilting, missing your thread is a much harder situation to work around. Also, the sound of a plastic spool of thread bouncing, bouncing, bouncing further away from the couch was starting to drive me batty. It was time to find a solution.

As I pondered what to do, what to do, I remembered flipping through Anna Maria Horner’s book “Seams to Me” while at my friend Sarah’s house. One of the fabulous projects in the book is a pin cushion/sewing supplies caddy. Perfect! All I needed was some fabric and someone to run the sewing machine for me (I will relearn one of these days, just as soon as I completely banish from my memory the frustrations of using industrial grade machines in the NYU costume shop freshman year). Enter “Apple” from Timeless Treasures and Boomer.

I had few 1/2 yards of Apple which I impulse bought a few months ago and was beginning to despair that I’d never find the proper fabric to show off how adorably autumnlonging it is. It took a few days of psyching myself up to cut into it, but ultimately, I really don’t want to be a fabric hoarder. (Plus, there’s still plenty left over to have jauntily sitting atop the stash so that when I walk through the living room I can stop and admire it and squee over the little apples on the trees.)

After an hour of cutting, and a quick trip to PQW for fusible interfacing, it was time to start construction. Boomer ran the wedges through the machine, and got the tube of interfacing and fabric all ready to go. Then I sat down to sew the two together. Turns out the bit in the directions about how “your pieces might not have the same circumference and you might have to go back and redo all your seams” wasn’t joking. So Boomer re-ran the wedges through the machine and it was time for take two. Remarkably, it worked! Perfectly! And then next handful of steps worked perfectly too! In a mere four hours or so, I had a completed — nay, perfectly completed — pin cushion/sewing supplies caddy!

Owl Pincushion

OK, so when I say “perfect”, I really mean “not horrible”, or maybe “adequate”. Heh. But I couldn’t be happier with it! It accomplishes the goals of being a) on the right side of the couch, b) big enough for scissors and thread (bonus: it also holds the USB cord for the camera which up until now lived under the couch cushion where it migrates when we’re not using it), and c) full of “Apple”-y squeeness! So as a finished product, it’s fabulous. As a project? It was fun, but I’m never going to be a one-day-to-start-and-finish-a-project kinda gal. At least not unless I’m really motivated by the sound of a spool of fabric bouncing away from my seat.

[By Pookie]

So, while Pookie was busy making her fancy, intricate, kick-ass project, I was busy undertaking my own adventure in sewing: a pillowcase. Yeah, a really complex and intricate project, I know.

You see, it all started when I decided it was time to break out flannel sheets for my bed. It’s been a few years (flannel and I have a very tempestuous relationship), and when I first dug the sheets out of the linen closet, I thought I was missing a pillowcase. My immediate thought was, “Yay! I can make flannel pillowcases out of those adorable Be Merry fabrics they had at PQW!” Then I found the missing pillowcase and thought, “Aw, crap. This sucks. Now I can’t make flannel pillowcases out of those adorable Be Merry fabrics they had at PQW.” Then I thought, “There’s no law saying I can’t make those pillowcases! Screw it! I’m gonna go to PQW tomorrow to buy the supplies!”

Of course, when I got to PQW, it turned out they didn’t have much of the flannels left, so I bought the pillowcase kit they had for the regular quilting cotton version of Be Merry. Which is just as well, because, like I said, I have a love/hate relationship with flannel sheets.

Now, I love hand-piecing quilt tops, but I actually want to use my Be Merry pillowcase, so that was going to require something terrifying: using the sewing machine. I’ve sewn on a machine, like, once or twice in my life, enough to be completely intimidated by it. But honestly, there is no excuse for being too afraid to machine-sew a pillowcase. It’s three long, straight seams, basically. It is literally a sack. So I forced Boomer to sit next to me and hold my hand through figuring out how not to burst into tears and run away from the machine while sobbing, “Do it for me, Boomer!”

Here’s what I learned while making this extremely simple project:

1. Don’t sew the top of the pillowcase shut. If you do that, especially as the very first step, you are going to either have to add a step #2 for tearing out the first seam you sewed, or you’re going to have to add a final step of “imagine a pillow inside your flat, sealed pillowcase”.

2. Using a sewing machine to make a bunch of long, straight seams is extremely easy, but also requires a level of focus that hand piecing doesn’t call for. I much prefer not having to pay attention to what I’m doing.

3. The construction of a pillowcase, with decorative trim and coordinating band, required a lot more mental gymnastics and visualization that I care to admit, but…

4. …this was, from start to finish, a two-hour project, including a lunch break and a lot of tearing that first seam out. Now, I love, love, love, love, love the finished product, and fully intend to make many more seasonal pillowcases. I think this a great way to get to use adorable fabrics that I can’t figure out how to put into a patchwork quilt pattern. But I also found the process to be a bit unsatisfying. I mean, when I spend $14 on fabric and a pattern, I don’t want the project to be done so quickly. I like to spend time immersed in my projects, getting to really experience the fabrics and the feel of the whole piece. I’m delighted to have my Be Merry pillowcase, but as crafting goes, I’m not about to cast aside months-long quilting projects to start an etsy pillowcase shop or anything.

Christmas Pillowcase

Anyway, in the end, I have created a delightful pillowcase that is good from afar but far from good. And I promptly found a place online that was selling the Be Merry flannels so I can make a coordinating case to go with this one. Just so I’m ready when I’m in the “love” part of my love/hate relationship with flannel.

[By Schnookie]

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Filed under Pins and Needles

The Holiday Sachet: I Like The Ginger! I Like The Creamsicle!

Because I am a really dedicated, serious worker, I spent an hour-long strategy meeting at work this past Friday contemplating my emergency grocery list and what I was going to do with the items on it. You see, I’d spent the morning, being the dedicated employee I am, perusing recipes on epicurious and ended up settling my heart on trying out this one for cold sesame noodles for lunch on Saturday. That meant I’d have to stop at the store on my way home from the office to get a variety of items including fresh ginger. So there I was in my meeting, thinking hard about what the extra ginger I’d be left with could be used for. My standard approach to excess ginger is to infuse ginger syrup and use it in some kind of ice cream-y cocktail, but we didn’t have any ice cream in the house and I wasn’t about to buy any (we had other dessert plans for the weekend), so as the business-related conversation swirled around me, I cast about to think of another cocktaily use for ginger syrup.

Now, the meeting I was in happened to be located in a conference room that I very strongly associate with late fall and early winter. I’ve worked at my company for over five years, and have spent many an hour during all seasons in that room, but for some reason, whenever I’m in there, I feel like it’s November. So while I was thinking of what to do with ginger, I suddenly got a blast of “HOLIDAY SEASON IS STARTING!” nostalgia, the kind that goes waaaaaay back to when I was about six. I remembered making, that one year, those sachet things where you stud an orange with cloves and tie it up with pretty lace (perhaps apocryphally I also remember putting said sachet into a drawer in my room and finding out what happens when you let an orange go for too long. Again, I might be making that up), and that’s what sparked my inspiration:

I would infuse the syrup with ginger and cloves!

I know. I’m a super-genius. You can say it. After making the sesame noodles (which were delicious and extremely simple, if you’re considering making them), I chucked the extra peeled ginger into a small pot, added 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar and three whole cloves, heated over moderate heat (while stirring occasionally) until the sugar dissolved, then strained it. Easy-peasy, as they say.

So today was the day for cocktails (to be enjoyed with football, of course), and my final recipe measured out as follows:

2 oz. vodka
1 1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 oz. ginger-clove syrup
A splash of cranberry juice (for color)

Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Holiday Sachet

This is an extremely girly drink, because it tastes, as Pookie put it most aptly, like a gingered creamsicle. But that’s a really good thing! And thank goodness it’s tasty, because I’ve got tons of ginger-clove syrup left over. Guess we’ll be drinking these all week.

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky

Where’s The Statler Cake?

The scene: our local grocery store, after work the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was a long day, and I wasn’t terrifically engaged with the task of meal planning for the week. As I wandered the aisles absently, out of the blue I was struck by the strangest inspiration. I needed to make Waldorf Cake.

September 12, 2009

Back when I was in high school and first started cooking, my one resource was our tattered old Betty Crocker Cookbook, fondly known in our household as “Betty The Crock”. When I was feeling especially fancy and ambitious, I decided to make this Waldorf Cake, which is an angel food cake filled and frosted with chocolate whipped cream. Yeah. Super fancy.

Waldorf Solid

Unlike when I was a kid, I made this angel food cake from scratch. I used the “Dessert Bible” recipe, which I’m too lazy to recount here. That said, I’m never above using angel food cake mix; that stuff is delish.

Waldorf Hollowed

Once the cake’s all baked and cooled, you lop off the top about an inch down, then hollow out a trench around the whole cake, leaving 1-inch walls. The best part about it is that you then get to eat all the tender angel food cakemeats that you’ve removed from the center.

Waldorf Filled

The chocolate whipped cream is nice and straightforward, just three cups of whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, 3/4 cups of cocoa powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Whip it all up, fill in the trench, try to pack out the air bubbles, then place the top back onto the cake.

Waldorf Topped

Once the top’s patted onto the cake, you frost the whole kit and kaboodle with the whipped cream.

Waldorf Frosted

This cake is hilarious and delicious. It seems so delightfully Sandra Lee to be cutting tops off angel food cakes and slathering it all with whipped cream. And today was especially fun because as soon as I mentioned it to Boomer, she wondered aloud whether this was the cake her aunt made every year for her cousin’s birthday. Any cake that brings on a wave of “growing up in the ’50s in the Midwest” nostalgia is a good cake in my book.

Waldorf Sliced

I am so glad I made this today, because I feel like I’m 16 again and inordinately proud of my mad baking skillz. I should break out Betty The Crock a bit more often to try my hand at silly retro desserts. Ambrosia, anyone?

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under Baked Goods, Fancy Dessert