Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

A Life Lived Backwards

We are now a month in to the new year and facing a dramatically changing world – both at home and abroad.  This seems like a good time for me to explain my belief in living life backwards.

Far too many of us sort of drift through life doing what is expected of us or what we ‘have’ to do, with little design or intention.  Do you work at a job you hate because you need the money?  Does your current life bring you joy, fulfillment, satisfaction?

I believe in living backwards:  Start with my total goal of what my ideal life looks like, then figure out how to get there.
Many people tell me how ‘lucky’ I am to have such a wonderful husband, they ask me wistfully where I found him and if he has a brother…  And it’s true, he is amazing and I am lucky.  But it’s not an accident or mere luck that my husband is so perfect.  I had stopped dating, resigned to being single rather than settling for the wrong guy.  When I met him, I told him on the first date that I was looking to get married (in general, not necessarily to him), and that if he wasn’t open to the possibility of commitment then he should tell me now.  He was very taken aback, but after a little thought he decided he was open to the possibility.  I spent the first week of dates ‘interviewing’ him to see if he met my criteria and if we had compatible life goals, views, and interests.  I even laid out my expectations for how we communicate and fight, how we handle major life issues, and what kind of marriage and relationship I wanted to have.  I got lucky in that he was compatible, wanted the same things, and was willing to compromise with me.  But if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have kept dating him let alone married him.  Now, this approach seems really cold-blooded to some, but it did ensure that I didn’t waste his time or mine, it ensured that we were on the same page from the very beginning of our relationship, and it did ensure that we have a very solid foundation to our marriage.  The start of a new relationship is the best time to be pragmatic – before you get emotionally invested.

So, are you ready to live your life backwards?

  1. Sit down and think carefully about what your ideal life looks like.  Where do you live? What do you do with your day? What kind of relationships do you have? Be sure to also think about what you enjoy doing and what skills you have that you want to use or skills you want to develop.  The more in detail you go, the more successful the next step will be…
  2. Plot out how to get from here to there:  Do you need further education? How will you make that happen? Do you need to master a certain skill set? Find a class or just start with some books from the library and YouTube! KNOW YOURSELF – make sure your desired goal is what you really want and your plan needs to be realistic for you -if you aren’t academically-inclined, a future that requires a PhD might not be right for you.  I am very impatient and a little lazy, so any life goal or plan that requires very patient work (like being an art restorer) is totally out for me (there is a reason I created the Good Enough philosophy!!)  Be aware that as well as you may know yourself, you may be wrong about things.  Maybe you are generally impatient but for the right thing you have unlimited patience… maybe you could be an art restorer after all! I know lawyers who hate conflict but have been shocked to find they love being a litigator (which is all about direct conflict!) Don’t get so locked in to ‘knowing yourself’ that you don’t try new things.
  3. Finally, make choices that further your goals.  Evaluate opportunities – will this help me towards my goal or take me in a different direction? (Sometimes we find wonderful things in other directions, but not if they are pushing us to stay where we don’t want to be!)  Look for the right opportunities – volunteer for an extra work project that will let you develop skills you need, sign up to teach something you need to practice with, develop an article on your topic and submit it to local publications or the office newsletter.  Find role models – people in your or a similar industry who are doing what you want to do and study how they got there.  Call them and ask for an informational interview and pick their brain about how they got there and what they like and don’t like about their job.
    Be ruthless – you may have to make very difficult choices about work, time, and relationships, and friends and family may feel threatened by your plan – especially if you want something very different than what they have.

Don’t forget to stop periodically, at least once a year, and evaluate where you are, make sure your desired destination hasn’t changed (if it has, redo your plan and continue towards the new goal!), check for trends and changes in your industry that will impact your plans and adjust accordingly.

I made this choice very very early in my life, and have been living pretty close to my ideal life ever since!  Nay-sayers will try to shoot you down with archaic notions of ‘paying your dues’ by doing something you hate before you’ve ‘earned’ the right to enjoy your life.  I believe that life is too short to waste it on something you don’t love.  These goals are not impossible and they aren’t just a luxury for the rich.  This does require discipline and dedication and lots of hard work, but it is possible and achievable!

What are you going to work towards this year?  I have 3 books I’m working on that I need to make serious progress on; I have some art competitions coming up I’m racing to finish pieces for; I’m growing my textile business; I’m starting to study for law school which I will be starting this fall; I have my Fulbright stint abroad coming up, and I have a number of smaller personal and collaborative projects that I’m also trying to juggle.  I’m hoping this year is a very full, successful, productive, joyous, and healthy one for us all!!

Would love to hear from you about your plans and goals for the year!

Delicious Apple Roses

UPDATED POST!!
I kept seeing these gorgeous, easy, pastries online and decided I must make them!  They are indeed easy, and make a dramatic statement that is sure to impress your guests!  I made several batches (I got carried away and bought too many apples), and did something different with each batch.  In the first batch, I added lots of spices and additions, but you couldn’t really taste it and the second batch – without spices or additions – was even better, so you can add a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of ginger, and a sprinkle of nutmeg… or just let the jam carry the flavor…

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Easy Apple Roses

Makes 12 Roses.

Ingredients:                                           

  • 1 box (2 sheets) of puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 reddish-pink apples (I used Pink Pearl)
  • lemon juice (about 1 lemon’s worth)
  • 4 tablespoons of preserves – your choice of flavor
  • spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc. to taste) (optional)
  • powdered sugar for decorating (optional)

Time: about 30 minutes prep time, plus 45-60 minutes baking time.

Directions:
1. Mix the lemon juice with some cool water (about equal amounts) – this will be used to keep your apples from browning as they are cut.  Core the apples and slice them paper thin.  Leave the peel on – that adds the defined colored edge to your roses.  As you slice them you can either dip them in the lemon water and then lay them in a bowl or you can layer them in a bowl first and periodically splash them with the lemon water (I’m lazy, did it that way, they didn’t discolor and it was very quick and easy).

2. Lay a large piece of parchment paper on your counter (I use butter knives to weight it down).  Unwrap the thawed puff pastry, there will be 2 sheets inside the wrap, each sheet is folded in thirds.  Take 1 sheet and place it on a dinner plate – still folded.  Microwave for about 15-20 seconds, just until it’s soft and easy to work with.  Lay it on the parchment paper and unfold it.

3. Put the 4 Tbl of jam in a glass dish and microwave for 15 seconds to soften.  Use a butter knife and spread a little less than half over the pastry.  Don’t worry about getting it EVERYWHERE, just mostly cover the dough.

4. Microwave the bowl of sliced apples on high for about 1-2 minutes to soften them (see note below on the time).  You can also simmer them with water on the stovetop if you prefer for a few minutes (but why?! It’s much more work…).  Whether you microwave or simmer, they should be cooked just enough to bend without breaking – not actually get cooked.  If you bend one and it snaps, cook for another minute then test again.

5. Cut the dough along the two fold lines, then cut the resulting 3 rectangles in half making 6 narrow strips.  Take your bowl of apples and layer the slices along one half of the dough – the rounded outside edge of the apple should hang out over the edge – they will be your rose petals.  Sprinkle with spices if desired.  Lay the apples almost edge to edge -leave just enough space to pinch the dough closed.

6. Preheat the oven to 375º F (190 º C), and prepare a muffin pan – butter and flour it (or use spray) if it’s metal (I’ve tried it without spray… you want spray!), you don’t need to do anything if it’s silicone.  Fold the dough in half, encasing the cut edges of the apple. Pinch the ends shut. Gently roll the strip up – the apples will try to pop out and the jam will ooze out, but persevere!  You will find the trick to a smooth roll lies in being gentle and supporting the apples.  Immediately pop the completed rose into a cup in the muffin tin. Make the others the same way.

7. Bake for 40-60 minutes – until dough is baked all the way through and lightly browning.  You can tent the top with foil for the last 10 minutes if it’s getting over-browned.  Delicious served warm with French Vanilla ice cream or by itself.

NOTES:
I don’t like the Pepperidge Farm brand puff pastry – the dough has an odd aftertaste, but it’s almost impossible to find any other brand.  If you use something else you like better, please let me know!  The next step is to make my own, but did I mention I’m very lazy….??

This seems to bake better (for me at least) on the top shelf rather than on the middle shelf.  The batch made in the middle took FOREVER (over an hour) to bake and then ended up unevenly done.  The top shelf browned very nicely and ended up a little overdone because I left it for too long – expecting it to be closer to the first batch.  In retrospect, 45 minutes would have done it.

A word on flavors: The first batch I made I used strawberry and cassis cream jam (very mild flavor), added lots of cinnamon, a tiny pinch of brown sugar, a dash of ginger, and a fine sprinkle of nutmeg.  I also cut the dough into thirds instead of sixths.  The second batch, I used coarse-cut bitter marmalade, no spices or sugar, and cut the dough in sixths.  You couldn’t really taste the spices in the first batch (think I may need to experiment with this some more), and the second batch was MUCH better and easier – cutting the dough in sixths instead of thirds is vital, though the orange chunks were a little too large.  The third batch was with black raspberry jam – really nice fruity flavor, and I love how the dark juice from the jam tinted the roses! UPDATE: So far, the tasters agree that the orange and the black raspberry are both delicious, but the orange is edging the raspberry – tasters like the sharpness of the orange in contrast to the softer flavors of the pastry and the apple.

I had my husband cut about 6 apples at once, and have made 24 roses so far and easily have enough apple left for another 12 roses (EDIT – I did indeed make 36 roses).  I’ve been keeping the slices in the freezing cold garage in a covered dry bowl.  They are only now (almost a week after cutting) starting to brown slightly, so this has been a great recipe to stagger baking with!

Microwaving the apples!  On my first and second batches, I had a big bowl full of sliced apples, so I nuked them for 1.5-2 minutes and they were perfect.  By the time I was halfway through my third batch, the bowl was nearly empty, so when I put it in for 1.5 minutes they cooked much more than I wanted!  (It’s that I forgot, I’d added a little raw apple that was very fresh and thought it needed the longer cook time, but then the apple that was already soft-ish in the bowl cooked!).  I was very upset and you can see the difference in the before-baking photo – the raw, rosy, slightly-softened apples on the left, the overcooked, limp, yellowy ones on the right.  However, when they came out of the oven, they were identical and perfectly delicious.  Lesson to take away is that this is a pretty forgiving recipe and don’t worry if you screw up a little!

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When you put your roses in the pan you will notice a little column of dough in the center of the rose.  It’s difficult to avoid, but if you have an especially thin and soft piece of apple, lay it on top of the closed dough just before rolling the strip up (see photo below), then you’ll have a curl of apple in the center instead.  Otherwise, you can put a little dab of jam in that center – still attractive and delicious!  Note the difference:  The rose on the left has the apple on top of the dough before curling, the one on the right does not:

Here is the apple on top just prior to rolling:

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First batch: Melted butter to brush them closed, dough cut in thirds instead of sixths, lots of spices….imag6290

This is how you layer your apples in your dough and then fold the dough closed. (This is the first batch, so your dough won’t be that wide and your apples will not be so snugly enclosed, but you get the idea…)apple-slices

My much prettier third batch – much nicer without the abundance of dough.  Note the jam leaked on the front row and burned a little.  This happens sometimes.  This is (one of) the big differences between how I bake and Pinterest (where this never happens and everything looks beautiful and perfectly staged!)….imag6319

My first batch – too much pastry (dough cut in thirds), no pan spray (they didn’t really stick except where the jam burned, but I did find the spray made a difference in getting them out easily!), with strawberry and cassis jam, and without center apple pieces:
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My second batch – a little overdone and with no pan spray, with marmalade, and without center apple pieces:
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My third batch – perfectly done and with pan spray, with black raspberry jam, and with center apple pieces:
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See what I mean that this recipe is practically fool-proof?!  No matter what I did, they looked and tasted great!

Would love to hear from you if you make this or have any advice or feedback!

New Year Fruit Cake

Hope you all had a wonderful winter holiday and new year!

After 6 years, my Armenian husband and I (Jewish) finally negotiated what we want for holidays and family traditions, and in the sudden peace and happiness that descended on me when this issue (which has been tremendously thorny to me) was settled, I was reminded of my own family’s traditional fruit cake made for the winter holidays, it was a rare treat – a dark, flavorful, rum-soaked, rich delight that I adored.

I’ve never understood why fruitcake is so often the butt of jokes, when it can be so delicious!  The origins of the cake hark back to Roman times, though since they thought rotten fish sauce was the ultimate condiment for everything, I’m thrilled the recipe has evolved a bit…

The Smithsonian wrote up a little thing about the history of the fruitcake HERE .

This is a perfect winter holiday recipe – surprisingly simple (I had remembered it as a complicated, laborious, difficult process, but it wasn’t!!!), warming and delicious, and laden with rich candied fruits, nuts, and exotic spices like nutmeg and cinnamon that all symbolize prosperity for the new year!  Despite all the alcohol soaking it, it’s not very boozy and is safe for kids to eat.

Darcy’s Candied Fruitcake – The Original Version:

1 Cup (C.) chopped dates
1 C./8oz candied pineapple OR citron
1 C./8oz candied cherries
1 C. chopped dried apricots
½ C. dried cranberries
1 pound/16 oz pecan pieces

Mix the chopped fruits with 2/3 C. spiced dark rum and 8 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, and let soak for several hours.

Sift together:
4 C. flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Beat 8 eggs till frothy

Cream 2 sticks of softened butter with ¼ cup white sugar and 1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar

Add the eggs, and:
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Mix the eggs and spices with the creamed butter, and slowly add the flour mixture.  Stir until well-blended (do not over-mix) – batter may have a more ‘foamy’ or spongey texture than other cake batters.  Add the fruit and rum mix and stir until well combined.

Pour into a loaf pan lined with a strip of parchment paper (see photos) – it will rise a bit as it bakes!

Bake until a toothpick or knife poked into the middle comes out cleanly – about 2-3 hours.  Invert onto a rack to cool.

After the cake is cool, slowly pour another 2 cups of the spiced dark rum over the cake, pausing often to let it absorb (I did this as 2 sessions, 1 cup of rum each.  A little would puddle on the plate, but would be rapidly absorbed – I was done and the plate was dry within 30-60 minutes.)

The Quick Version:

I stumbled on this when I was in a big hurry to make this AND desperate to clean out my cupboards (good combination for me that has birthed many delicious recipes!).  Honestly, I now like this version better!

Use candied diced citron, candied cherries, candied pineapple – anything that is candied in those ridiculous neon colors (seriously, bright green cherries?!) goes in – preferably it comes already chopped, but I was so lazy I just tossed the cherries in whole.  It worked!  Because everything else was in nice pieces, and the cake was cut into slices, no one noticed the big cherries and it just made a nice variety of textures.  Add the dried cranberries and anything else dried and fruity that you have laying around (I had about 5 dates, and some trail mix fruit bits, and I didn’t have EXACTLY 16oz of pecans.  I could do either 12oz or 18oz because of the bag size, so I went with 18oz.).  Follow the rest of the recipe as written, except for the sugar: I used ONLY the brown sugar in the original quantity, and just omitted the white sugar entirely.  I think it was sweet enough as it was and had a very nice, moist, flavorful taste that was not chemically or rummy nor was it too heavy or too spicy or too sweet.  The little kids who ate a slice didn’t seem to notice the alcohol so I think the cake is heavy enough to counter any alcohol effects.

A NOTE ON PANS:
When I made this last time, I decided I wanted enough for several holiday parties we had coming up, so I doubled the recipe and poured half into my fancy bundt pan, and half into a large loaf pan (which normally equals one cake), but everything seemed so full and I still had batter left over (HOW?!) so I started pouring what was left into mini loaf pans.  This turned out to be a very good call since I’d forgotten the batter rose while baking, and the oven was nearly flooded!  I filled 6 mini loaf pans besides!!  Of the finished products, I left the mini loafs soaking in about 2 cups of rum for a week, and served the 2 larger cakes immediately.   The large loaf pan cake ended up being the best – it kept its moisture well and was very good.  All the others seemed a little drier and not quite as flavorful and balanced, even immediately on cutting.  Since this was also the easiest size and shape to make… I’m happy!

Note the parchment strips in the mini loaf pans, baked on the mini cakes… makes removal from the pan very easy and mostly very clean (a couple of the minis lost a corner), and the paper easily peels off the cake without damage.

Sugared Cranberries

I wrote about the various eggnog cakes with sugared cranberries last year, but the berries have been incredibly popular (and festive!) that I’ve taken to plopping them on top of just about everything!  Since everyone keeps asking for the recipe, I thought I’d present it again.  Remember, this works not only for things like cranberries (which are so incredibly delicious prepared this way that I call them ‘crackberries’), but many other berries and edible flowers (like pansies and violets) as well!

The cranberries will only keep about a week, so I make a lot and SMOTHER a cake with them, which will be fine because your guests will scoop extra onto their plates!

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Ingredients:
2 cups fresh cranberries (places like Costco are generally much cheaper than the grocery store)
2+ cups sugar, divided
1 cup water
Directions:
1. Make simple syrup by bringing 1 cup sugar and water to a simmer in a saucepan. Simmer until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring often.
2. Pour simple syrup into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
3. Add cranberries and stir to coat.
4. Refrigerate cranberries in syrup overnight, stir periodically.
5. Using a slotted spoon, remove cranberries from syrup and let sit for a few minutes to dry a little (you want them moist and tacky, but not soggy).  Put about 1/2 cup of sugar in a large flat-bottomed bowl, and roll the cranberries in it – a few at a time – until they look frosted.  You may need to periodically scrape out the damp sugar in the bowl and replace it with fresh sugar, because it will get damp and clumpy and uncooperative. (I like to put the clumpy sugar in a tupperware container and save it for my tea/coffee or use it for the cake or whatever.  I hate throwing out perfectly good food.)
6. Set cranberries aside to dry a little more.
Here they are, jazzing up a cake.  I love baking the cakes in a bundt pan if I’m going to be using the berries, because then you have a really nice hole in the middle to stuff with berries!

On Failing and Dreaming…

I’ve spent the day sitting on the couch watching the snow fall in endless drifts, working on my computer, and thinking about what the past year has brought and what I want for my future.

This year has been one of incredible growth for my little textile shop – we’ve smashed milestone after milestone, and I have had so many challenges and opportunities both personal and professional.  I would love for my shop to growth to be linear (well, at least for a little bit), and to fling myself with abandon into the many new things that await me, but I find myself mentally hesitating and sometimes even sabotaging myself by being unfocused and not actually taking the steps needed to pursue my dreams.  In trying to figure this out, I keep coming back to one of Amazon’s mantras – Think Big.  This is a specific trait they look for in candidates – the ability to think way beyond the current reality and imagine a much bigger, better, reality.  My husband, who helped interview candidates during his tenure there, said that was the single trait that most sunk otherwise-promising candidates.  I, too, am struggling to Think Big.  My personal and professional dreams are accessible, all I have to do is reach out and grab them.  But apparently I’m afraid to.  And what really kills me about this is that THERE IS NO CONSEQUENCE!  If I try and fail I will be in literally the exact same position I am now – which is pretty damn good, honestly!  If I try and succeed, then that would be AH-MAZING.  Really, there is no possible way to screw this up, and yet, I’m refusing to jump.

Do secret fears of being unworthy hold me back? Am I afraid that if I try and fail than I will consider myself an utter failure so am trying to protect my self-image? I don’t have answers, but I’m going to try to get an early start on my New Year’s resolution: JUMP, DAMMIT!

I’d love to hear from you: What’s holding you back? What dreams are you still reaching for? What is your resolution? And especially, what are you going to do to actualize it?

Amazing Armenian Stuffed Pumpkin

When my Armenian husband and I were first dating, he made this much-beloved traditional stuffed pumpkin filled with rice, dried fruits, nuts, and spices, (called “Ghapama” – which means ‘cooked in a covered pot’) and brought it to an Armenian party…. which caused all the mothers to swoon with delight and pull him aside to tell him about their daughters.  This dish basically has legend status, there is even a popular song about this dish! (“Hey jan ghapama, hamov hodov ghapama” – which means ‘Dear Ghapama, tasty, fragrant ghapama’.)  The song claims that when ghapama is made, over 100 guests will come – judging by the response every time we bring it, I can totally understand that!!

I just made this for a holiday party, and was asked for the recipe, so am posting it here for everyone.  Please note that I didn’t measure things, so quantities are approximate at best.  Also note that there is no ‘standard’ recipe for this dish – it’s a pumpkin stuffed with rice, fruit, and nuts – beyond that, the details depend on the individual cook.  So feel free to substitute any fruits, nuts, and spices you personally like (can even use an acorn squash instead of a pumpkin)!  This is my personal twist on the traditional version – with more of a Middle-Eastern/Fall Harvest flavor.  This is such an easy recipe, but makes a dramatic and delicious presentation for any fall/holiday party!

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Darcy’s Version of Ghapama!

Ingredients:
1 medium regular pumpkin, or 2 smaller pie pumpkins
2 cups basmati rice
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
½ cup each: chopped dates, pomegranate-flavored dried cranberries (Craisins), mixed raisins
½ cup glazed pecans – pieces or coarse-chopped
1 cup walnuts – pieces or coarse-chopped
1-2 Tbsp. each: brown sugar, molasses, pomegranate molasses, date molasses
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup candied orange peels in syrup (both the syrup and the peels) (I love the Italian ‘Toschi’ brand!!)
½ – 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ginger powder
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
¼ cup hot water

Directions:

1. Wash and dry the pumpkin(s). Cut off the top in a circle  – it will be the lid.
2. Scrape out all the guts.  Rinse and save the seeds for roasting if you want
3. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add rice, stir, cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Cook rice for about 15 minutes. Rice should NOT be completely cooked. Drain any excess liquid.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the partially cooked rice, fruit, nuts, spices, and sweeteners.
5. Loosely stuff the rice mix into the pumpkin; pour the ¼ cup hot water over the top of the filling.
6. Line a baking pan with heavy duty aluminium foil.  Put the pumpkin in the pan, put the top of the pumpkin back on and bake at 350°F for about 2 hours or until soft. Insert a toothpick into the pumpkin to determine tenderness.

You can either plate this as a whole pumpkin and let guests scoop everything out (you eat the soft pumpkin flesh with the rice) or you can cut the pumpkin into starburst-like wedges when you serve.

* A final note: The more ‘exotic’ ingredients can usually be found at your local Middle-Eastern market.

 

 

The Knit Challenge

Before I tell you about the knit challenge, I have to share this story with you.  Today I went to one of my sewing groups, and a member I barely knew and had no real previous interaction with handed me the sweetest card she’s tried to mail me – congratulating me on my Fulbright.  It was so incredibly adorably sweet!!!  Talk about Giving Warmth!!
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On to the knit story… that same sewing group just had a knit challenge.  A couple of months ago, members were instructed to bring a piece of knit fabric – either one piece that was 2 yards long or 2 pieces that were each one yard long.  They were anonymously redistributed and members had until today to make something. Though I was happy with the fabric I got, I couldn’t find any design I liked, and so the day before it was due (of course), I bit the bullet and picked a pattern I thought might work…. (Mind you, I was the co-presenter and one of the more expert knit sewists in the group, so I had a certain standard expected of me… GULP!).

Here’s the fabric I received, it’s from JoAnn Fabrics, their Nicole Miller line.  A nice weight, soft hand, I’m guessing a cotton blend.

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My weight keeps fluctuating right now, so I prefer drapey tunics.  I chose McCall’s 7437, view B (the one the model is wearing), from my stash:

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I decided to actually make the pattern as shown (for me this is shockingly irregular, I did the same thing last week with the gray fleece cocoon kimono trimmed in pink plaid – I must be getting sick or something! I never make patterns!) – though without the fringe.  I thought the fabric print was too busy to make the whole garment out of it (plus, I’ve never been able to make a whole garment out of just one fabric…), so I paired it with a magenta slinky knit from my stash.  I wasn’t happy with the poor design for the hemming, so I redid it and just bound the bottom hem and back neck in the black jersey seam-binding from my shop (find it HERE).  I didn’t like how it hung without sleeves, but once the sleeves were in, it was kind of cute.  I wanted to break up the color block a little more, so I choose to make the sleeves in solid black – I used the jersey crepe from the shop (HERE), and since I’d banded the shirt body with the black jersey trim, I decided to finish off the magenta colorway and band the sleeves with it.  All in all, I’m fairly happy with how it came out, though obviously the shoulders need to be raised.

What do you think?  Have you sewn with knits before?  Want to try our challenge 😉  ?

Cocoon Kimono

I’m not sure what to call this jacket – it has kimono sleeves and a cocoon bolero shape, and Burda calls it a cardigan, though it doesn’t fit my notion of a cardigan (which to me is more shaped, though that isn’t the definition).

Anyways, I wanted an easy project that would go together smoothly (it’s been a rough week!), so I just grabbed Burda pattern 8027:

I chose fleece for the weight, ease, and no fraying – and I realized that because of my former custom sewing business, I have tons of fleece – in patterns and designs I wouldn’t wear!!  Anyone want to swap or buy a bunch of children’s fleeces in exchange for adult designs?!

ANYHOO… I barely had enough gray for the body, and some plaid for the border – which I cut on the bias.  In some places, I was actually short a hair, but it worked out ok.  The problem with fleece is that it stretches, so when I needed to ease the band around the jacket body in, it did fit nicely, but now it puckers very slightly in places.  Not enough for a non-sewist to notice, but enough that I will probably go back and sew some kind of trim right over the line where the plaid band meets the gray body.  I think it looks ok, it fits fine, and for once I don’t immediately hate it 😉  Oh, I may also put a single clasp on the front at the bust line. I skimped on fabric and made a size 18 with about 2 yards of fabric (1 of each), and made the whole thing – start to finish – in one evening.  Because of the curving shape, I did not even try to get the plaid to come out perfectly at the center back, and I think it’s ok.

What do you think?  Have you ever made this jacket?

A Word on Housekeeping…

First, let me start by reminding everyone that today is Election Day in the US.  Living in a democracy places certain obligations on us. In exchange for having a say, we must speak up.  In exchange for a trial by a jury of our peers, we must serve our peers as we would wish to be served.  So please, recognize the privileges we have and turn out and vote! Vote for the candidate that you feel best serves your interests, your vision for the future, or if none of them, than the one you think is as close to the center as possible since it’s the polarization of the extremes that divides us so much.  When you are summoned for jury duty, show up and don’t try to get out of it, and do your honest best!  Remember, there are many other systems we could be living under that wouldn’t place such obligations on us but would also not give us the kind of freedoms we claim to cherish.  Thank you.  *Stepping off my soap box*

Ok, sorry about that – I get very excited by civil obligations and how we can build a better society.

On to housekeeping!  I recently realized that while my house is always messy, my soul craves organization and neatness.  I keep buying storage bins and organizers in the faint and illogical hope that if I own the right bins, then my life will be magically organized.  Since I don’t actually know what to do, I end up with a pile of empty bins and a messy house…  I invited a friend to help me hang art (since I SUCK at hanging art – I can make art, but then I put it in a pile.  My notion of hanging art seems to be limited to one piece per wall.), and since she’s SO organized, I asked her for advice on my mess.  She looked in astonishment at the disorder and told me that I was very organized already, I was just trying to over-organize!!  Well!!!  That was a bit of a revelation. When I started thinking about this, I realized that I spent my childhood arranging the kitchen spice drawer alphabetically, but at the same time kept losing things because I would put them away in the wrong boxes…  So I began pondering the psychology involved.

My parents’ home was messy with stacks of books and papers.  They knew where everything was, and it was certainly livable (and clean!), but there was a very thin layer of papers on most surfaces. My mom loved a certain Chinese friend who would enter our home and survey the papers and smile with pleasure, “Ah, the home of a scholar!”.  It’s true, my parents were artists and scholars, and so was I.  Thus my eternal desire for order was confounded by both a lack of models and the inevitable mess that being an active artist and scholar creates.

I’ve started offering to host events and meetings at my home to ensure there is an incentive to regular housekeeping.  But the day my friend came over and created a gallery wall for me and told me I was OVER-organized, I realized that I feel deep down that if it can’t be perfect why bother trying (total violation of the Good Enough Philosophy!), and so I never do anything and have no energy to even tackle anything -I get almost no housework done in a day, I’m perennially exhausted and stressed by the mess.  Since my friend came, though, I’ve had so much more energy!!  The public areas of the house fell into perfect order in just a couple of days, and the mess is properly put away and organized, not just shifted to the private areas!! The private areas are next on my list!!

I’m not sure how long we will be able to keep this level of perfection up, but it’s an amazing feeling to have things starting to fall into place!!  After more than 5 years of upheaval, it’s ASTONISHINGLY freeing to look around the house and have order.  To be able to have people drop by without notice and they can have a welcoming space to walk in to.  My husband and I both love entertaining, and are so excited to have a space that allows for that!  I have more energy and a better outlook on life – I’ve been struggling with depression for the last few years, and a huge part of it was the damage caused by the first movers and the trauma of living in broken chaos for 2 years while we fought our way through the courts.  This really helps!  This is Good Enough living!!

So, if you are struggling between mess and order, consider inviting an organized friend over to help and advise. Sometimes you just need to find a way to break through so you can help yourself.  Mental illness is real and requires professional treatment – this is not dismissing that!!  However, when you are making yourself sick by something you hate in your personal life and/or surrounding environment, sometimes fixing it (or getting a friend to help you make serious progress) can dramatically improve things!  My friend spent only a couple of hours and only helped me lay out a gallery wall (something I couldn’t even conceive of despite having seen photos and advice on Pinterest), and hanging the art was such a minor, teeny tiny, little part of the mess, but OH MY GOODNESS what a tremendous difference it made!!!  All of sudden, the house went from looking like an unfinished house to a warm home and that’s what made all the difference.

I have to share with you my AH-MAZING gallery wall!!!  (Thank you SO MUCH, dear friend!!) (In her opinion, it’s still missing a small picture, but it’s more than Good Enough for me! 😉  ).  So looking forward now to hosting holiday parties!!

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QUICHE!

It’s that time of year again… The start of my baking/cooking season, when I have to suddenly make tons of delicious food for an array of holiday parties we’re invited to.  This week, my husband asked me to make food for his whole law school class (it’s his turn to bring dinner.  Aren’t they cute?!)  I needed something that would feed everybody and travel well.  He requested my quiche lorraine (and the cranberry eggnog cake I made last year for his LSAT party) and ordered 6 of them.  I decided to switch it up a little and bring 3 different quiches (2 of each), rather than 6 the same.  So we had:

quiche lorraine with bacon and onions, and a mix of jarlsburg, butterkasse, and welsh chedder cheeses

Florentine quiches with farmer, riccotta, and feta cheese creamed with fresh basil and topped with roasted red pepper and halved kalamata olives

and Indian spiced quiches with red and russet potatoes, peas, spinach, and Beecher’s Marco Polo black and green peppercorn cheese flavored with traditional Indian spices

(REALLY sorry!!!  All my photos are missing – phone seems to have self-deleted…)

Everyone LOVED the quiches, the teacher liked it so much she took all the leftovers home, and bonus compliments, the chef student cleaned his plate and the Indian student told me I’d nailed the Indian spices and it tasted like home!  The best thing about quiche is that it is shockingly easy to make, nearly fool-proof, and since no one makes it, everyone will think you’re a cooking goddess!!!  (That’s almost as good as being a chef!)

The quiche lorraine is based on a recipe from an ancient cookbook my mother handed down to me – no idea what the cookbook is, the cover and identifying information was gone before I was born.  The Florentine quiche is based on this recipe I found at Chowhound, and the Indian spiced quiche is based on this recipe I found at Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts.  (Imagine my happiness when I decided to make an Indian spiced quiche, went looking, and found someone had already tried that exact thing!)

I always use either a store-bought graham cracker crust or a store-bought shortbread crust.  Why?  Because they are easy, travel well (come with their own lid!), disposable pie plate, and the flavor goes beautifully with both sweet and savory quiches.  Yes, I can make my own dough, but why add an hour to the operation for no reason?  These days I only make my own pie dough for real fruit pies.

I find quiches are always better made the day before and refrigerated overnight and served cold.  It gives the flavors more time to settle and blend, and the cold pie is then both filling and refreshing.

ON TO THE RECIPES:  These are the recipes with my changes incorporated.

Quiche Lorraine (makes 1 9″ pie):

1 graham cracker crust
1 1/2 cups cheese – this time I used equal amounts of butterkasse, jarlsburg, and welsh chedder
1/2 pound lean smoky or Canadian bacon – OPTIONAL -simply omit for vegetarian version
2 large onions, diced
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
dash cayenne pepper
generous dash nutmeg

Fry or bake bacon until crisp, remove from fat and put on papertowl-lined plate to drain. Dice.

Saute onion over medium-high heat until gently browned.

Preheat oven to 375.

Coarsely grate or finely slice cheeses. Layer in graham cracker crust, alternating cheese, onions, and bacon.

Beat eggs gently, add milk, cream, cayenne and nutmeg, combine, pour gently into crust over the fillings.

Bake about 35-60 min until golden brown and egg is set.

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Indian Spiced Quiche (makes 1 9″ pie):

1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
1 15oz can sweet peas
1/2 cup steamed fresh spinach (steamed until just limp and dark green)
1 small onion, chopped
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup Beecher’s Marco Polo peppercorn cheese
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-Spice powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 graham cracker crust

Fill a sauce pan with diced potatoes, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Boil until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat toast spices for 2 minutes. Stirring frequently. Add onion, cook until onions are gently browned. Toss in the cooked potatoes, peas, and wilted spinach, stir to coat with the spices.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl beat eggs, milk, and cream together. Mix in the finely sliced or coarse-grated cheese. Add the potato mixture, and stir to combine. Pour egg mixture into prepared pie plate. Bake for 35 minutes, or until eggs are set.

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Quiche Florentine (makes 1 9″ pie):

4oz whole-milk ricotta cheese
4oz Farmer’s Cheese (a crumbly white firm brick cheese)
1 cup + 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (I prefer the Bulgarian feta – skip the grocery store overpriced junk, and find your local Arab market for fresh, delicious, reasonably priced feta options)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons packed, coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half lengthwise
1 medium red bell pepper, roasted (directions below recipe)(or substitute purchased roasted red peppers – the Arab market should have some good ones)
1 graham cracker crust

Add the 3 cheeses (reserving the 1/4 cup of feta for the topping), the basil, and the thyme to the bowl of a food processer with a blade attachment and process until the mix is smooth and combined – about 1 minute. I found I had to pulse the processor and keep stopping to scrap down the sides.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the eggs until scrambled. Add the cheese mix. Mix thoroughly. Pour into the graham cracker crust. Arrange the roasted red pepper strips in a pretty design on the top, add the olives to the design, sprinkle the top with crumbled feta.

Bake until the feta on top turn golden brown and the eggs are set – about 40 minutes.

 

To roast the pepper(s):

Heat the broiler to high, and place the pepper on foil-lined shallow pan on a rack near the top of the oven.
Roast, turning occasionally, until the peppers blister and blacken on all sides – about 20 min.

Remove from oven and place in a medium heatproof bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit until cool enough to handle and skins peel off easily – about 30 min.

Remove and discard the skins, seeds, and membranes of the peppers. Slice into 1/2″ strips and set aside. You can drizzle with olive oil and dash of salt and pepper to season if desired.

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I’d love to hear from you if you try any of these recipes or have your own favorite quiche recipe to share!

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