Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My latest obsession: the easiest dress ever

Back in the fall, I discovered my new favorite fabric store, Girl Charlee (click here for a referral link, then I'll get a little credit if you're a new customer). They sell exclusively knits, and they're AWESOME!

I ordered two fabrics with nothing specific in mind. The chevron was so perfect that I was afraid to do anything with it. Finally, I'd had enough of winter and decided to make myself a really simple dress that turned out great! Before shirring the waist, it took me less than an hour to make :) Shirring wasn't 100% necessary; a nice thick belt would serve the same purpose.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vegan Irish Potatoes

Ever since developing an allergy to milkfat, I've tried to make Irish Potatoes around St. Patty's Day and failed several times. You see, they're pretty much solid butter. And they're delicious.

In case you have no idea what an Irish Potato is, it's a cinnamon-coconut St. Patrick's Day treat that looks like a potato but doesn't contain any. Though they didn't originate in Ireland, they are Irish in the Irish-American sense. In highly Irish neighborhoods in the greater Philadelphia area, every bakery and candy shop carries their own version leading up to March 17th - the grocery store even carries them. The boardwalks of the Jersey Shore carry them all summer because it's always St. Patty's Day down the shore!

I first learned to make Irish Potatoes in 2nd grade. We had a substitute teacher, and we made Irish Potatoes and a green goo science experiment with corn starch and water (I think it has a name - it's both a solid and a liquid at the same time). That teacher later landed a permanent position, but she's always been the Irish Potato lady to me. My grandmother also made them when we were younger, and I picked up the tradition during college.

In the past several years, I've tried using margarine and a mixture of margarine and fat-free cream cheese, but they always ended up too soft and didn't taste exactly right. To compensate for the texture, I would add additional sugar, and then they'd be sickeningly sweet. Enter coconut oil. I LOVE coconut oil, both in the kitchen and out. I can be a little picky about using coconut oil because I don't like the subtle coconut flavor in all combinations, but for something which a strong coconut flavor it's perfect. 

This year, my grandmother actually had two boxes sent to me. I commented that I wouldn't be able to eat them because I'm allergic to milkfat, and she replied that they didn't have any, only sugar, coconut, butter.... Ummmmmm, yeah. What's butter? I was actually glad that when they arrived they were just the grocery store kind and not some fancy variety from a candy shop in the city!
Grocery store-brand Irish Potatoes my grandmother had sent. I'm allergic to them (butter), but it's no big loss, this brand doesn't really compare to the fancy candy shop varieties.
So without further ado, I hope you enjoy my milkless (and therefore vegan) Irish Potatoes!

Recipe (makes 25-30):
1/3 c. Coconut flakes
1/3 c. Confectioner's sugar
1/3 c. Coconut oil (warmed up until it's just about liquid but not quite)
~1/3 tsp. vanilla extract (a little under 1/2 tsp.)
~2 tbsp cinnamon 

Mix the vanilla into the coconut oil directly. Mix the sugar and coconut. Stir together with a spoon, and then put your hands in the bowl and knead it like a bread dough. It should come together easily but also flake easily. If it's too difficult to ball up, stick the entire bowl in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to soften the coconut oil a bit more. If it's too soft, place the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes.
Consistency of the Irish Potato "dough"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Individual Chicken Pot Pies for the Carrot and Pea Hater

Every once in a while, I totally crave simple American flavors, like a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup or a flaky chicken pot pie. Unfortunately, my husband hates cooked carrots and any form of peas, which are arguably the best part of a chicken pot pie.

I managed to come up with some tasty substitutions that ultimately required more work but appeased both of our tastes. I've made them twice, once with pumpkin for the orange-colored veggie, and once with butternut squash. I think I prefer the pumpkin, but both are good.

You'll notice that most of my measurements and times listed in this recipe are approximate. You can vary it to your taste - it's definitely more of an eyeballing recipe.

Chicken Pot Pies (6 individual pies)
2 refrigerated pie crusts (like Pillsbury)
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup chopped onions
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3-4 cups chicken stock (I use chicken base and dissolve it in water)
~5 refrigerated chicken tenderloins (about half a pack)
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2-1 cup chopped string beans
1/2-1 cup sliced pumpkin or butternut squash (I like to bake for 15 mins before slicing)
1-1.5 cups potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

The ingredients, other than the onions

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring is here, spring is here!

And that means I can start my seeds (well, that I started them nine days ago).
Basil, Cilantro, Chives (though I think two basil seeds might have escaped to the chives section). All growing well in their Chinese takeout container, basil especially!
String beans! Growing fast!

Snow peas
The string beans are in the black pot, and the snow peas are in the tan one. Both have teepees to grow upwards.

Wedding Rehearsal Dress

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the prep for my wedding last June was kinda frantic. Between defending/graduating/moving in the few months leading up to the wedding, there was a LOT to do right there at the end. Case in point: two days before we left to drive to the wedding location, I hadn't even designed my rehearsal dress yet. I threw it together using royal blue peach skin fabric. I am now completely in love with this fabric. The top didn't fit very well, so I added pleats after the fact. Overall, I'm pleased with how the dress turned out, and I wore it again to a friend's beach wedding later in the summer.

The skirt was the original "easy breezy skirt," and the top was modified from my standard bodice pattern that I use as the base of most tops.

The dress was perfect for my rehearsal. The only problem: in my haste to print out directions and contact information about five minutes before it was time for the rehearsal to start, I forgot the beautiful bouquet my attendants made me at my bridal shower :(

At the rehearsal
Re-wearing the dress at a beach wedding
Back of the dress
My lovely bouquet that I left right on the bed in my rush to get to my rehearsal on time!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What's the fabric for those popular "Muslin Swaddling Blankets"? Not Muslin in the US!

Image source: http://carly67.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/aden-anais-classic-47-by-47-muslin-swaddling-blankets-review-and-give-away/
As my own friends are starting to have babies and I've been browsing gift ideas, I keep coming across the same thing over and over again: a gauze swaddling blanket, like those made popular by Aden+Anais. Unfortunately, Aden+Anais calls their blankets "muslin swaddling blankets," confusing a country full of DIYers who desperately want to make their own creations.

Why do they call their fabric muslin, when it's not at all what we call muslin in the US? Well, apparently muslin means two very different things in the United States and in other countries, and the founder of Aden+Anais is from Australia. 

What Europeans call MUSLIN, Americans call GAUZE. What Americans call GAUZE, Europeans call CHEESECLOTH. What Americans call MUSLIN, Europeans call CALICO. Not surprisingly, "Muslin (American English)" redirects to Calico on Wikipedia. However, what we call Calico in the US is a different beast entirely! 

Here's some clarification to help you make your fabric selection for your own "muslin swaddling blankets" or other sewing projects that require a fabric by one of these names!
United States - "bubble gauze" or "crinkle cotton" or "gauze"   
UK/New Zealand/Australia - "muslin"
Source: fabric.com
This fabric is fairly soft, very thin, and wrinkly. You see it most often in flowy skirts or in the oh so popular swaddling blankets. It comes in a variety of colors and sometimes prints.
United States - "muslin"   
Elsewhere - "calico"
Source: fabric.com
This fabric is scratchy and firm but inexpensive. It usually comes in white or off-white. It's most often used to make practice garments for pattern fitting ("make a muslin"), for a distressed/rustic look, or for utility purposes.

United States - "calico" or "printed quilting fabric"
Elsewhere - no special name
Source: fabric.com
This fabric is very stiff, generally used for quilting. It does not flow well, and it's also not very strong. Technically, calico in the US has a floral print, but I think any quilting fabric with a small repeating print can fall into the calico category.
United States - "cheesecloth" 
Elsewhere - "gauze"
Source: fabric.com
This fabric is not really used in apparel or much sewing at all. Instead, it's used in the kitchen or for cleaning.
So, you want to make your own swaddling blankets? Or anything else out of that desirable fabric? If you're in the US, you want to order "bubble gauze" or "crinkle cotton," sometimes listed as simply "gauze." If you order muslin, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you're in Europe, though, then muslin is what you want!

If you're in the US, here are some sources:
Fabric.com sells gauze - click here for their selection. I've used it for my own clothing. It starts off a little scratchy, but a few washes (especially with fabric softener - I use unscented/free of dyes fabric softener) will soften it right up. I've made a blouse with this fabric that pre-dates the blog. I'll do a retroactive post on it soon! I also made a dress a LONG time ago.

Michael Levine also sells "cotton gauze - crinkle cotton" - click here for their selection. I haven't purchased fabric from them before, so I can't speak to the quality. I did get a few swatches, and it seems good.

Joann Fabrics sells gauze as well - click here for their selection. I've heard that they rarely have a large color selection in store, but they have more colors online, and you can always dye white gauze to the color of your choice!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vogue 1241: final product

I just realized I never posted this! Along with many other posts, it got set aside because my computer was running really slow. You can expect a slew of posts now!

Here's the final product for the sew along this past fall: Vogue 1241
Dress front
Dress back
Ready for a wedding in my new dress
Dress in action

Winter citrus tree update

Sad news: Meyer Lemon kicked the bucket this fall. I tried everything in my power to save him, but it didn't work. I'm not sure how exactly this happened - the tree that looked so much better over the summer very quickly met its demise, seemingly due to root rot even though it got the same waterings as Mr. Orange. Hopefully I'll be able to find a new one locally in the spring (the ones I've ordered online are so tiny that it takes a lot of coaxing to get them to grow). 

The good news is that Mr. Orange looks amazing and currently has four tiny tiny green oranges right now. Additionally, the Bearss Lime tree that I bought near the end of the summer is also doing well. 

Since moving them inside, I've only been watering them about once every two weeks even though my house is incredibly dry. This has prevented root rot so far (the soil stays damp for this whole time), but the leaves and fruit don't like the dryness of the air. I keep them in my bedroom window, which is the warmest place in the whole house and also the sunniest. I run a humidifier at night (for myself as well as the plants), but I've also started spritzing the leaves with a spray bottle and using a big clear plastic bag as a humidity chamber on occasion.

Here's a photo update, with details about what I'm doing to keep them thriving!

First, Meyer Lemon. He died just before Thanksgiving. All his leaves fell off. I tried rinsing the roots (which looked pretty dead) in a really dilute bleach solution and replanting in a small pot of fresh seed/cutting starting mix, but it just didn't work. After another month, I got rid of the remains.

Dying tree just before Thanksgiving
All the leaves fell off within just a few days
My attempts to save the tree failed.
Next, Calamondin Orange. The first pictures were taken the same day as the lemon pictures. This tree is doing great. It had a few blossoms around Thanksgiving, and one turned into a tiny green fruit. That fruit shriveled up and fell off, though, because it was too dry. Some other buds did the same before even making flowers. Now that I've had some more blossoms, I'm being more careful with the humidity and haven't lost any more fruit so far.

Back in the summer when I was caring for this tree, I accidentally broke off a little branch. I tried rooting it, and after about two months, it finally grew roots! Now the root system is continuing to grow, and I might be able to convince myself I see evidence of new growth. Time will tell. That's the itty bitty tree in the purple pot.
Orange tree just before Thanksgiving

Flower buds just before Thanksgiving. These didn't bear any fruit because the air was too dry.
Orange tree today. It lives with rosemary (grown from a cutting),  some ginger (rooted from kitchen ginger), and the little orange tree (grown from a cutting) hanging on its pot. The spray bottle is to keep its leaves and buds moist enough.