Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lunch Bag

This is what I spent most of yesterday making. I bought a Japanese craft book while I was in Japan, and I've been intending to make a couple of the bags in it (this one is a lunch bag, or a "bento bag") for a while.

Now that I'm settled in, I felt a hankering to take my sewing machine out. On Friday, after work, I passed by the Jo-ann's and went in to see if I could find a fabric to make into a shower curtain. I think I found what I wanted; it's a semi-transparent, linen-look fabric with see-through, coloured areas that form leaves and flowers on a cream background. I didn't have the shower stall measurements with me, though, so I didn't buy it. (You can't return fabric once it's been cut off the bolt!)

But, of course, I couldn't just leave without browsing the other fabrics!! I knew I wanted to make this style of bag, with the cute, handkerchief-style tied top. Then I found this pretty butterfly fabric.

The instructions were in Japanese, of course. The diagrams were fairly detailed, but with only the bare bones for instruction. I'm positive that some details were missing (for example, diagrams for cutting fabrics included a lining fabric, but the materials list didn't), and it isn't perfect, but it's functional!

I'm sure it will look better with an actual lunch inside to fill it out, instead of just my wallet and a notebook.

I'm going to sew another bag this weekend, hopefully. Andrea's birthday is coming up, and I know her handbag is falling apart at the seams. I just have to figure out how to attach the lining so that the seams are all enclosed (unfortunately, not the case with this bag), and how to attach the zip. It's been years and years (at least 6, by my count) since I've put in a zipper, and I've only ever put in 3!

Her birthday is July 3rd, and I'll be away on a roadtrip until the 4th, so I'll post pictures of the finished product after that.

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Sewing at 6/25/2006 11:46:00 AM

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Snoopy Shrank!

Did you ever buy ice-cream from one of those ice-cream trucks as a kid? There used to be one parked outside my grade school every afternoon after classes. You could get some pretty good stuff for 50-cents then: fake cigarettes that would blow out "smoke" (powdered sugar or something similar), push-pops, bubblegum tape, Nerds, ice-cream cones and bars........ You can't get any of that for 50-cents anymore.

Did you ever get one of those Snoopy ice-cream bars? I seem to remember them being a pretty good size (huge, to a seven-year-old), and Snoopy had a bubblegum nose. Had. Today, the company I'm working for had an ice-cream truck park outside and hand out stuff for free. It had been so long - it was a trip down memory lane - but I asked for Snoopy. Well, he was much smaller than I recalled him being. He came in the same-sized packaging as any regular ice-cream bar. And no longer did he have the pink, Rudolph-esque, bubblegum nose. Even though it was free, I still feel cheated. Is nothing sacred?!

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/21/2006 09:15:00 PM

Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day Dinner

I took greenwithenvy's advice and decided not to buy my dad a present for father's day. Instead I cooked him and my mother dinner. Admittedly, I've never done this before. My mom seems to think I'm barely capable of feeding myself. When I was younger I was barely allowed in the kitchen during weekdays lest I drop a crumb. Okay, so once I set the toaster oven on fire and exploded an egg in the microwave. So? So I chose an idiot-proof menu.

Salad, Hong Kong Style. I had to leave the country to find out that salad should consist of more than iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. I mean holy crap, people put blocks-o-tofu in salad? You mean sweet corn isn't meant to be in there at all? People eat broccoli raw?! But fancy salad vegetables cost an eyeball in Hong Kong, and my parents like their Hong Kong style salad, so that's what I did.

Broiled spicy chicken legs. I marinated the chicken in the ketchup-Filipino chili sauce-soy sauce combo I invented. Can't go wrong with that! Plus it was something new to my parents, different from the usual soy sauce chicken. Unfortunately, I'm not used to their oven and I didn't expect it to take an hour too cook. My grill at home threatens to reduce everything to a crisp within 15 minutes. Oops. At least chicken legs are pretty idiot proof. You can't overdo them. But the only way I've made edible, non-rubbery chicken breast was by pure dumb luck.

Pasta with raw tomatoes and fried mushrooms. I kind of made the recipe up last week based on stuff I've seen on TV. Olive oil, basil, lots of garlic, salt, fry mushrooms in it, toss with pasta and chunks of raw tomato. I forgot the cooking wine. More salt. Dash of Maggi sauce (that's Boyfriend's trick). Sugar to counteract the sour. Yet more salt. More sugar. And finally it tasted right. It was another new thing for my parents. My dad's forever moaning about finding cream sauce in his pasta. He's a health nut who never fails to extol the benefits of olive oil. So I made him pasta the Healthy Way, for once. (Don't tell him how much salt and sugar I put in it. He also never fails to propound the evils of them both.)

All in all, a successful meal. Nothing tasted bad, I didn't blow anything up, I didn't break anything, and nobody got food poisoning. I think. Yay.

Posted by Kea to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/19/2006 09:42:00 PM

Life Is Miraculous

It was sunny, then rainy, by turns this past Saturday. I got up early in the morning because the weather forecast had been for blazing heat, and I wanted to work in the garden before it became swelteringly hot. I managed to break up and loosen the soil in my plot, and prune the rose bushes, before the rain really started coming down.

Then I retreated into the house to plant the seeds I'd planned to start indoors. These included four kinds of basil, parsley, dill, oregano, sage, chives, cilantro, and marigold and heartsease for fun.

I went to a local garden centre and bought some Jiffy peat pellets just for that purpose. This being my first major seed-starting enterprise (I did plant a couple of things in Japan), I decided to make things a little easier on myself.

The Jiffy pellets are easy. They come dried in little discs, and you soak them in water until they've expanded, complete with a little dimple on top where you plant the seeds. I put two or three seeds (depending on the size of the seed; oregano seeds are so small they're almost dust, whereas coriander seeds are a relatively big) into eat dimple. Then you cover the seeds (if the packet says to cover them; some seeds need light to germinate) with a tiny bit of potting soil or seedling mix.

I planted 3 sweet basils, 3 Italian parsleys, 2 garden sages, 2 chives, 2 Sweet Dani Lemon basils, 2 Spicy Globe basils, 2 Siam Queen basils, and one each of fernleaf dill, oregano, cilantro, marigold and heartsease. As you can tell, I love basil! But the two flowers (marigold and heartsease) are edible, too.

The basil seeds were pretty amazing! They started out small and black, with a hard, shiny coating. After I dropped them into the damp peat pellets, they started reacting within minutes!! They developed an almost fuzzy, translucent, white coating that you can see in the picture.

After planting indoors, the rain had stopped and so I went outdoors and direct-seeded some chamomile, calendula, borage and nasturtiums. That was Saturday, and I had all my seeds planted for the moment. Yeah, it's kind of late to start seeds, but I ordered mine online, and they didn't arrive until after the housewarming.

Then this morning, before work, I went to see if any of my seeds had germinated. Once they do, you need to give them good light. I wasn't really expecting to see anything, but lo and behold! A germinating winner!
The marigold, which had had such pretty - but insubstantial-looking - seeds, had sent up a shoot! I think that's pretty amazing.

And today, after work, I noticed one of my Sweet basils, and a Siam Queen, had germinated, too!

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Gardening at 6/19/2006 09:24:00 PM

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bread Pudding

We had so many bread crusts left from the housewarming party that I decided to make bread pudding from it.

I'd never made, or even eaten, bread pudding before, but Andrea called her mother to ask for the recipe (she had it once as a child), and it was really simple. Throw a bunch of stuff, including eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins and the bread, into a pan and bake/steam. It turned out pretty well, and Andrea certainly enjoyed it. Despite being lactose intolerant, she popped her Lactaid pills and ate 3/4 of the pan!

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/18/2006 10:45:00 AM

Saturday, June 17, 2006

My Rocker

I've always wanted a rocking chair, and I didn't have any of my own chairs in the apartment. Unfortunately, Andrea's futon couch and papasan chair are too big for me, and don't provide me with any back support; not good when I'm trying to knit.

So I've been checking the local Craigslist postings constantly, on the lookout for a nice armchair or rocking chair. I drove out to Waterford, NY, on Wednesday (about 20 minutes away, or it should have been!), proceeded to get thoroughly lost, but bought this gliding rocker set (the ottomon rocks, too!) from the owner - on the spot - for $25. Yay!!!!!


I promised an in-depth discussion about my crumpet-making experiences when I wrote about the housewarming, so here it is.

First of all, let me say that, even though they look like pancakes and look like they'd be simple, crumpets are actually not, at all! You have to let the batter rise twice; once after you add yeast, the second time with the addition of baking soda. And there's a technique to cooking them, too.

I had to substitute active dry yeast for instant yeast, since that's all I had. After the second rising, the batter is supposed to be dotted with air-bubbles. I only had a couple, but I decided to forge ahead as it was getting late. I followed the recipe in The Bread Bible exactly. As the recipes there are usually very exact, and produce good results (that's where I got my scone recipe), I thought I'd be okay.

But I ran into problems and, never having eaten or made crumpets before, I had to think on my feet. The batter was really thick, and didn't want to spread out into the crumpet ring once I'd poured it onto the griddle. And there weren't any holes forming on top. The little holes, from air bubbles, are essential. Without them, they looked more like English muffins (but Andrea, who'd had crumpets before, said they definitely tasted like crumpets)!

Well, I figured the reason the bubbles weren't forming was tied into the reason why the batter wasn't spreading. It was just too thick. With more water, and a thinner batter, the bubbles didn't have to work as hard to expand through the batter. So I kept adding water until I was happy with the consistency. I ended up with a pancake batter-like consistency in the end, liquid enough to spread when poured, but still thick enough not to run out from the edges of the crumpet ring.

Watching my crumpets cook, I learned some other things. Heat is key. You have to cook crumpets really slowly. The recipe says to cook them for 10 minutes on one side, and I thought it must be a mistake, but it's not. You have to have the heat set low enough that you can cook the crumpet through to the top side from the bottom, without burning the bottom.

Why cook through to the top, you ask? The slow cooking, and the heat, brings the air bubbles to the top surface, producing the characteristic holes in the top of the crumpet. You have to cook until the batter at the top is pretty much set so that, when you flip the crumpet over to lightly brown the other side, you won't end up "erasing" the holes. So, low heat, cook through to the top, and flip over. Thank God for non-stick! At least I didn't have to worry about heavily buttering the griddle or the rings; they slipped right out! The double griddle was definitely a good investmnet!

You can keep the crumpets overnight in a paper bag (which I did for the housewarming) and toast them to heat them back up before serving. Then you can serve with butter, honey, jams, or preserves, or all of the above.

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/17/2006 09:24:00 AM

Monday, June 12, 2006

Makeshift plant pots

One of Boyfriend's friends brought me a couple of little plants at our housewarming party. The pots they came in looked way too small, though, so I transferred them into these plant pots I made out of jumbo distilled water bottles.

It was amazingly hard to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. I tried hammering it with a nail, to no avail. I actually had to get my electric drill out. The plastic is really thick there! Add a few strings and a hook, and they hang from my kitchen window bars. I think they're kind of cute in a DIY sort of way. (Right now they're above the sink, dripping. Plus the backlighting at the window makes it difficult to photograph them there.)

I've got leaves turning yellow already. I can never tell if it means I'm watering too little, or watering too much...

Weather's been miserable lately. It's been raining for 2 weeks straight. Blech. My parents are probably real peeved because it means they can't play tennis (they're both obsessive about it.) Hmm.. Which reminds me. Father's day is coming up. What to do, what to do? Ma's easy. Just get flowers. Never know what to get for Dad, since anything he wants he'll just go and buy himself.


"Baking" with Kea

AAfter seeing all those amazing and wonderful pictures of food Lana baked for her party, I'd like to show you what passes for baking at my house.

1. Ingredients.
- Oatmeal
- 1 egg white
- hot water
- quarter teaspoon cooking oil
- Chinese cabbage leaf
2. Here's the cabbage chopped up really really small. Normally I use a chunk of steamed sweet potato, or some grated carrot, or some mashed banana, (or any combination of the above), but I
didn't have any today.
3. Mix everything up in a bowl. Look at that slop! Mmm.... Slop.
4. Nuke in microwave on high for about 3-4 minutes. I don't actually have an oven here. Pry out of bowl. Let cool. You get this sort of bread-textured pancake thing here.

Are you thoroughly grossed out yet? Really, really, grossed out? Having trouble holding your lunch down grossed out?
5. My satisfied customers.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Housewarming - A Success Story

I know, I know. What an arrogant post title! But really, I think I deserve it. And I was so relieved when everything went fairly smoothly.

So, what goes into planning and hosting a housewarming teaparty for ten people? Well, as you know, I started pondering and trying to set the menu about 2 weeks beforehand. I agonized over whether or not I had enough teacups - even mismatched ones - when it seemed as though it was going to be a party for sixteen.

Then, the weekend and Monday and Tuesday before, I tested out some recipes. I tried a honey castella cake recipe taken from a Japanese book but, due to lack of an accurate scale (all Japanese recipes list ingredients mainly in grams) and electric mixer, it didn't turn out well. I also tried out the scone recipe from The Bread Bible, sans currants, which I did end up using.

I had work every day, of course, but here's what I did from Wednesday evening to Saturday, when the actual housewarming was.

Wednesday: Stop by Walmart to pick up last of household items. Plan out quantities of ingredients, baking, cooking and cleaning schedule. Erin lends us her electric mixer, thank God!!!

Thursday: Drop by the supermarket to pick up stuff for baking. Bake pumpkin bread. Kitchen cleanup. Cook and eat dinner. Make lunch for next day. Kitchen cleanup. Bake lavender cookies. Vacuum the apartment. Tidy up my room and living room. Kitchen cleanup. See a pattern here?

Lavender cookies and Tarragon Chicken Salad sandwiches.

Friday: Pick up hardware for Andrea to hang pictures. Drop by the supermarket to pick up salad ingredients. Bake madeleines. Kitchen cleanup. Help Andrea decide where to hang her pictures, and hang them. Make and eat dinner. Cook lunch for next day. Kitchen cleanup. Make batter for crumpets and allow to rise twice. Meanwhile, start making tarragon chicken salad. Clean and tidy pantry, closet and laundry room. Do laundry and bedding. Cook crumpets - crumpets are more difficult than they look. (Another post devoted to that in coming days, so stay tuned to learn all I learnt about crumpets!) Finish making tarragon chicken salad. Kitchen cleanup. Scrub down bathroom, except for floors.

From left to right: blueberry preserves, apple butter, pear preserves. Madeleines.

Saturday: Last-minute tidying up. Take out garbage. Andrea vacuums kitchen. Clean all windows. Vacuum and mop living room, dining room, my bathroom and laundry room. Prune and water plants. Bake scones. Scrub and clean kitchen counters and cooking range. Mop living room again because landlady stopped by with baby, who threw up. Andrea mops kitchen, cuts crusts off sandwich bread. Slice cucumbers really thinly. Last minute tidy ups.

Forty-minutes until guests arrive: Put food out onto plates. Set table. Andrea puts sandwiches together. Preheat oven to toast crumpets. Run down to garden to cut some roses for the table.

Flaky scones. I forgot to take pictures of the finished crumpets, but there they are on the left.

Guests arrive: I've always heard that it's considered polite to arrive slightly late, never early, to your host/hostess' place, because they probably have last-minute preparations to make, and you don't want to catch them when they're still running around like headless chickens. Our guests arrived ten, twenty, thirty, and eighty minutes late. A nightmare. In fact, pretty rude considering one of them was watching the World Cup, and another was at a dog show. If I was going to arrive eighty minutes late to a small gathering where everyone would be waiting for me before food or water could pass their lips, I would have made my excuses and not have come. But that's just me.

Apart from that, and the fact that the water couldn't boil quickly enough to suit me, everything went pretty well once everyone had arrived. Conversation and tea flowed more or less non-stop. People mingled and met, and the air was heady with the perfume of butter and roses. People mingled and met, and there was more than enough to eat (something I worried abuot when I thought we were having fifteen or sixteen people coming). In fact, as one guest put it, we were eating for two hours! People even took food home in doggie bags and asked for recipes, which I will take as a compliment.

It was crazy, it was hectic. But it was a job well done. I got to try lots of new recipes, and miraculously they all turned out well; even the crumpets, which - at around 11:30 p.m. on Friday night - I had considered not serving. It's served the purpose of forcing Andrea and me to finish the last of our unpacking, and we're now officially settled in. Yes, I can heave a great sigh of relief and satisfaction, and sleep most of the day away on Sunday, which I did.

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/11/2006 03:06:00 PM

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mysterious Workings of Gauge

I had some yarn left over from knitting Blue Skies, so I decided last night to look through my knitting patterns and magazines to see if the Dale of Norway Stork yarn could be used for any other projects I've been wanting to knit.
There's this Victoria Tank by Veronik Avery in the Summer '04 issue of IK. The yarn called for in the pattern has a recommended gauge of 26 stitches to 4-inches, and the Stork yarn's is 32 stitches to 4-inches - completely different.

But the actual pattern gauge is 29 stitches to 4-inches in the lace vine pattern you see in the picture. Anyway, I figured it was worth trying out and, what do you know, the gauge is pretty darn close after blocking! It might require some minor tweaking of lengths and stuff, but nothing too major. I think I'll knit it in white, just like in the picture, because I don't have any nice, white tank tops. Or navy blue with white trim might be nice, too.

I'll probably order the yarn online from here. It can be intimidating at first, and troublesome, but I usually end up substituting and using a different yarn from what's used in a pattern. Sometimes it an issue of cost, sometimes it's because I don't like the colours available. Sometimes it's difficult getting your hands on the recommended yarn! I've still to go hunting out yarn shops in the area, but I've already done my computer research and made a list. That will be for after the housewarming.

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Girls with Purls at 6/04/2006 05:17:00 PM

Crumpet Rings; Where Art Thou?

It's not easy, finding crumpet rings. I thought I'd be able to go the cheap option by cutting out the top and bottom of some tuna fish-sized tins (as suggested in The Bread Bible), but have you taken a look - a real look - at tins these days?

When I was little, the tops and bottoms of canned food tins were the same, with the raised ring on the outside and a flat, smooth circular area in the middle. Of course, they didn't stack very securely; pulling one off the shelves was likely to have the whole display coming down.

Well, I'm happy and sad to report that packaging designers finally did something about that. Food tins now have a rounded, convex bottom that fits neatly into the space of another tin's top, allowing them to stack more securely. However, can openers can't deal with the bottom of the tin. I couldn't cut off the bottoms of several slightly different "models" that I bought.

So, back to the problem of finding something to use as crumpet rings. I've been around to the Walmart, K-Mart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens N' Things, as well as several supermarkets in the area. Nobody's selling plain, round cookie cutter rings anymore!! What's with that?

I was beginning to despair, until I saw this double griddle set at Bed Bath and Beyond, for $20 with a $10 rebate, complete with four whatever-you-want-to-call-them rings. I've hummed and I've hawed; I don't really need/deserve a griddle. Andrea has a small, circular, cast-iron griddle and I was only looking to buy four little crumpet rings! Then there's the whole health issue with non-stick surfaces these days. But (looking on Ebay), buying a set of crumpet rings would cost more than ten dollars anyway. And I could use this to make pancakes and french toast and stuff. We don't have any non-stick pans in the apartment.........

So, what do you think? Should I forget serving crumpets for my housewarming tea party and return the double griddle? Or should I keep it? I need to decide in the next two or three days. Help!

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Food at 6/04/2006 04:56:00 PM

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sweater Debut

It was so hot when I finished my Blue Skies sweater that I, very confidently, said that it was probably too warm to wear for this spring. It's practically summer, after all.

Well, we had a terrific thunderstorm yesterday evening, and some torrential rainfall. It cooled things right down, and it was rather nippy this morning. My workplace is kind of cold, too, so I got to wear my new sweater after all! Since it was just to work - and then grocery shopping afterwards - there aren't any pictures. But I'm so glad I've gotten to wear it at least once!

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Girls with Purls at 6/02/2006 09:37:00 PM

Chili sauce discovery

I've been on the lookout for a bottle of Thai Sriracha chili sauce, but I've had no luck so far. Lee Kum Kee and Amoy seem to have a duopoly hold on all sauces at the supermarkets. I got addicted to the stuff back in Boston, where it was very easily found in the Chinatown. It has more flavour (probably garlic, I dunno) than the plain old Lee Kum Kee.

But I was quite surprised and pleased to find a small Filipino grocery on my block. Lots of instant noodles and snacks to try. They didn't have Sriracha, but I decided to try a brand of chili sauce called Sambal Asli. Comes in a big glass bottle like ketchup. Trying to control the amount that ends up in your food is rather tricky. But if you don't mind accidentally blowing your head off once in a while, the stuff is great!

Makes an excellent chicken marinade. Mix an equal quantity of chili sauce and ketchup, a dash of soy sauce, and marinate your chicken in it for 15 minutes before stir-frying. I'm going to try grilling next.

On a totally unrelated topic, check out this Fashion Roadkill blog. (Find more entries on the right hand menu.) Hong Kong's streets are populated with some of the most garishly and outlandishly dressed people you've ever seen outside of Japan, and this blogger's got her camera ready to capture them all. Some of it's old hat. (I mean, have you ever seen a middle-aged lady here who wasn't colourblind?). But a few of the pictures had me guffawing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

First Feathers

I started the Peacock Feathers Shawl (from Fiddlesticks Knitting) yesterday. It isn't much to look at right now, especially when it's all curled up as it is in the photo on the left.

But I'm so excited! It's my first pattern from Fiddlesticks Knitting, although I bought another pattern of theirs at the same time; the shawl with all the sea creatures on it! If this shawl goes well, I'm going to try that one, too. They really do have beautiful shawl patterns. Too bad I can't say the same for some of their other patterns!

And, so far, it has been going well. Of course, I've barely begun, and it's been a fairly simple overall repeating pattern so far. But I'm about to start on the next stage.

The finished shape is triangular, with the side that's the hypotenuse going across your shoulders, and a point down the centre back.

Because you start by casting on three stitches, and keep increasing every row, I thought the shawl would be growing from the bottom-centre tip upwards. Instead, it starts centered at the nape and grows down and out from there, the peacock feathers spreading outwards diagonally. Pretty cool, huh?

Posted by Lana to Bumbling Bees - Girls with Purls at 6/01/2006 05:59:00 PM