On Fish

My cousin’s youngest is a very precocious 4-year-old redhead, who seems to think that she is Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

Clearly, she needed a Flounder.


On Baby Slings!

The baby shower has now past, so it’s safe to post the full details of the all-consuming Baby Thing – a Baby Sling!

My sister actually had the original idea; since most every commercially sold baby sling we’d ever seen was made with some very pretty – and very girly – floral print, she wondered if I could find a baby sling pattern and then make it from more manly fabric, for the sake of my brother.  I thought this was an excellent idea, and soon set out to find a pattern.

There were two patterns readily available among the patterns at my local JoAnn’s.  One called for velcro fasteners… no.  The Simplicity pattern called for parachute clips… winner!

I took my boy and my sewing expert roommate with me to choose male-friendly fabric appropriate for the project.  We quickly determined that the corduroys and heavy polyesters would be far too hot for Houston in the summer, and settled on finding a denim outer and light cotton lining. We quickly found an adorable cotton that was off-white with a fantastically cute jungle print in brown, and the grand victory was a dark denim with embroidered brown paw prints.  I was so thrilled with my purchase I spent the next week showing it off to everyone I knew – except for my brother, of course.

Naturally, I managed to put off starting the thing for two months.  When I went to cut the fabric, I found myself short on fabric.  After a panicked run back to JoAnn’s for more, I was able to restart the project with a little more than a month before the baby shower.

Naturally, I wound up working until midnight on the last possible night.  It will surprise no one that I hit a few snags along the way.

The pattern called for gathering the ends of the large middle section, and I blew two hours trying to successfully achieve this gather, breaking the thread, removing said broken thread, and trying again.  Then I established that the gather was not skinny enough for the end pieces, and was way too thick for the machine to stitch through anyway.  So I blew another evening yet again removing the gather stitching, and pleating the thing instead.  As a side note, Karen thinks it looks better pleated anyway.

Then of course, I broke a needle and had to consult the expert roommate again to decipher the cryptic needle classification system on my box of replacements.

I still haven’t quite mastered the art of sewing in a straight line, and I really haven’t mastered the curved stitch, but I am getting very good at pulling out crooked stitches and trying again.  Those little crossed squares holding down the straps are particularly cruel to make, especially since they went over the thickest layers of fabric.  To add insult to injury, I spent two hours making them really pretty, only to find that I’d stitched them down to the wrong side.  Again, I’m really quite good at pulling out stitches now.

I’m not 100% happy with the final result, but lacking a bigger, heartier machine and the kind of skill that only comes with lots of practice, I am definitely satisfied with what I have created:

On Eleventh-Hour Victories

The baby thing is more or less successfully completed.  More if no one looks too closely at the visible seams.  Less if anyone looks too closely or we count the casualties:

Aside from my sanity and a good deal of pride, I lost two sewing machine needles (the 90/14 snapped pretty quickly; the 100/16 bent just as I finished), bent one hand sewing needle, and have worked my fingertips into a rather persistent state of pain.

I can’t quite believe I managed to run yet another project up to the eleventh hour, especially given the three-month head start I gave myself.  I’m just glad I managed to finish tonight.  I was seriously contemplating taking the sewing machine with me when I go home to Houston tomorrow night if I didn’t manage to finish tonight.  The shower is on Saturday, so I’ll be posting the pictures of the actual project then.

On Cooking

Mom was the cook in our house for the vast majority of my formative years.  Dad did weekend breakfasts and the occasional fancy meal.  I learned to properly mix pancake batter, operate a microwave, and sneak cookie dough when Mom wasn’t looking.

Then a series of events converged to change my view of food.  First I went off to school, and spent five and a half years living in a dorm and eating all the terrible things one eats when living without a proper kitchen.  Somewhere in that span of time, my father discovered he is gluten intolerant.  Then I graduated, moved home, and discovered the Food Network.  In other words, I had a very serious desire to have real food, Dad’s new diet required that we actually put some serious thought and creativity into household meals, and the television was giving me ideas.

The key to a gluten-free diet is controlling exactly what goes into the food. This is most easily accomplished by cooking from scratch (analyzing ingredient lists on box meals will cause painful eye strain). My parents were largely satisfied reusing the same dozen or so recipes from GF cookbooks, but I was itching to get more *creative.*
My hypothesis was simple: gluten-free dining can be achieved by cooking normal recipes, either with GF substitutes or using recipes that don’t call for wheat products.
It was a great idea.  The logic was sound.  Just one issue:  I really hadn’t ever cooked from scratch before.  Those pancakes?  Bisquick.  Mom made waffles from scratch, but those required separating egg yolks and… well, that seemed complicated at the time.

I tackled my new project just as I had every other creative endeavor – I dove in head first, and learned by trial and error.

First I found recipes that never called for flour.  My sister-in-law pointed me toward the free recipes on the Williams-Sonoma website.  There was this recipe for enchiladas verdes, with chicken in corn tortillas topped with a tomatillo sauce.  I learned to cook chicken until it falls apart, and that there are tortillas actually designed for use in enchiladas.  I also learned that serrano peppers are really quite hot, even when doused in sour cream, and that sufficiently spicy food actually can cause someone to break a sweat.

I became addicted to Ace of Cakes.  Honestly, who wouldn’t?  There are cakes, and pretty things, and super-nerdy New Englanders.  I, too, wanted to learn the Ways of the Cake.  My ultimate goal was to successfully produce gluten-free baked goods that were actually edible, unlike most of the mixes we had already tried.  I quickly discovered that the best way to proceed with GF flour substitutes was with a variety of flours, and that said flours are kind of ridiculously expensive.  So I started baking highly glutenous cupcakes and muffins with cheap normal flour, just to get the hang of this baking-from-scratch thing.  My predilection toward modifying instructions made the learning curve a little steeper than it needed to be, but I soon found my savior in Alton Brown, who translated the small words of the average recipe into a more detailed language I could understand: science.  (Seriously – I started taking notes while watching Good Eats.)  Eventually I was producing baked treats that were both tasty and aesthetically pleasing.  My coworkers and neighbors nobly sacrificed themselves, ensuring the experimental pastries didn’t go to waste.  Once I was confident with a recipe, I made smaller batches with the GF substitutes and proudly presented them to my father.

As I spent more time in the kitchen, I learned a few more things.

I learned that my mother’s favorite meal is anything that she didn’t have to cook.  (Just… try to take it easy on the garlic.)

I learned that spices are fun!  My boyfriend introduced me first to Italian herbs, then white pepper, then red pepper.  My life has not been the same since.

Most importantly though, I learned that cooking is cathartic.  There are so many things to do, so many sensory experiences.  Hot and cold.  Dry spices and cooking wine.  Garlic. The transformation that occurs when you add corn starch to a skillet full of tasty things simmering in their own juices to make an even tastier sauce.  Watching meat cook.  Trying new vegetables.  The happy burbling sound of a rolling boil.  Chopping.  Slicing.  Crying your eyes out over a really fresh onion.  The careful chemistry of baking.  Tasting the sauce as you go along until it’s just right.  Cooking utensils. Trying something new, and discovering that it tastes better than the stuff that comes in a box.  It generates all the satisfaction of beads and charcoal and yarn and clay, but then you get to eat it too.

Now that I’m no longer living with my parents, I don’t have the pleasure of a sit-down meal with an appreciative audience, but I still live in my kitchen.  No matter how stupid things get at work, I can come home to my refrigerator full of raw ingredients and make something.  I can dump all my frustrations into my over-sized pot of tomato sauce along with the red pepper and garlic, knead out my exhaustion with from-scratch pizza dough.

Last night I made a really fantastic deep-dish pizza, with a sauce spiced just the way I like it (a lot), and a heaping pile of cheese. Tonight I’ll be slow-cooking the pork butt that is currently marinating in my refrigerator.  Why spend six hours cooking something I won’t even get to eat until tomorrow?  Because it feels good.

…and because I’ve been craving the stuff for months, so waiting one more night won’t kill me.