Monday, October 27, 2008

Ex-T-shirt Dress

Here's another one of Boyfriend's unwanted t-shirts modified into a dress. I cut the sleeves off, removed about five inches of material from either side of the body, reduced the size of the armholes, and then sewed the sleeves back on.

And yes, Parrot insisted on being in the picture.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hearst Castle Shortbread

"A" came to visit me and my DH yesterday afternoon. She has a serious sweet tooth so in honor of the occasion, I went shopping that morning and got the ingredients for this shortbread recipe from 101 cookbooks that I've been dying to try out. The little story behind the recipe is fascinating, but I won't recount it here as you can read the original account on Heidi's blog. The cute mini butterfly shapes she used were also an inspiration, so I drove out to Michaels to see what I could score as I had only large, palm-sized cookie cutters. It being two weeks before Halloween, the store was all stocked up for the holiday and I ended up with a set of mini Halloween-themed cutters for two bones.

Like all shortbread recipes, this one does not contain any liquid. The most basic shortbread recipes contain only butter, flour, and sugar, but that's very basic, not containing even any salt. A pinch of salt is desirable though as it adds depth and complexity any cookie. The Hearst Castle recipe uses salt, all purpose flour, butter, and confectioner's sugar, and - the surprise ingredient - a touch of baking powder. Many traditional recipes use rice flour to achieve that delicate crispness that the best shortbreads offer, but I had never seen a recipe calling for baking powder before. My curiosity was piqued as most of the shortbread recipes I'd tried over the years yielded heavy, greasy cookies.
Half an hour before "A" arrived, I patted the dough together and wrapped it up. By the time we came back from our stroll around the Old Town historic district, it was properly chilled and we were ready to start cutting out our cookies. I showed "A" how to pound out the cold, stiff dough evenly with a French rolling pin. She took to it like a natural, clobbering the thing into a nice, even round. I also shared a pastry school secret to using minimal flour while preventing the dough from sticking to the counter - pick up the dough with a bench scraper and move it in between every roll so that it doesn't have a chance to be rolled right into your surface. We cut out pumpkin and ghost shapes and, looking at the amorphous ghosts, "A" joked that they could double as snowmen in two months. The cookies were shoved into the freezer for half an hour and 11 minutes in the oven later, we had ourselves these lovely bite-sized treats. The cookies are barely sweet, delicate, and with that elusive tender crispiness. I think I would like it a teensy bit sweeter next time, but otherwise it's the nicest shortbread cookie I've made. I was going to decorate them with orange icing, but they taste so lovely on their own, we left them alone. "A" is on the train back up to NYC as this is being written, maybe making a dent in the little bag she took with her.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My first sweater

I've been drooling over sweater patterns for years, but it has taken me a long time to screw up the courage to actually attempt one. When I finally did, I was cautious and decided that a baby sweater would probably be a smart and manageable first project. This was especially daunting as it would be the first big project I would start without my knitting coach, Lana. Eventually (with some online help from Lana) I settled on this simple pattern that is knit in one piece from the top down. As a bonus, it also served as my intro to lacework. As with every new project, it started with the best of intentions and lots of excitement, but because of a pattern error I ended up doing and undoing the sleeve 6 times (yes....SIX). To say that was frustrating does not give the statement enough color. It also slowed me down considerably and made me very unenthused about the project for a good three months.
Last night I finally blocked it and sewed on the little red buttons. It's done! I'm glad I stuck with it, because it's quite lovely. I used a cotton/merino wool blend on a large needle so it's super soft and drapey. Hopefully the recipient and her parents think it's nice, too.
Now that I look at it, the arms look a little long, but then, what do I know about baby clothes?

NB: I was asked where the pattern came from. The good news: it was free from Knitwits Heaven. There were several errors discovered earlier and they had published corrections in blue but - the bad news - the last correction was dated September 2007. Beware, the sleeve error still exists on row 32, when you start the sleeve.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hong Kong Borscht

Once in a while I get a craving for Hong Kong borscht soup. Hong Kongers borrowed the recipe off the Russian refugees who passed through in the early 20th century, but must have ditched all the ingredients that made the locals grimace in bewilderment or disgust. There are no beets in it. Served at every diner and coffee shop in the city, the Hong Kong concoction is actually a tomato soup with cabbage and beef. It ranges from cheap-and-nasty diluted tomato paste swill to quite hearty versions which are pretty good in their own right, even if they aren't really borscht.

I decided to try making some at home. Vast quantities of it in fact, so that I could keep it in the fridge and reheat portions all week for lunch. I made it up as I went along, but I managed to produce something that tasted quite authentic. Or rather, inauthentic. (If you successfully commit culinary blasphemy, is that a good or a bad thing?)

I'm going to cut my portions in half here, since you probably don't want a whole vat of the stuff.

You need:
1 large pot

1/4 catty stewing beef (about 150 grams or 5 ounces). You can use a bit more if you want.

3 tomatoes
1/2 a small cabbage
1/2 an onion
3-4 carrots
1 large potato

1 can tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons ketchup (no kidding)
1 cup beef stock (or 1 beef stock cube, dissolved)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 cups water, depending on size of your pot

1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig marjoram (optional)

Chop the beef up into bite-sized cubes. Chop up all the vegetables.

Put everything in the pot, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for at least an hour.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and if it's too sour, sugar. Chili flakes optional.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

But not a real green dress (that's cruel)

In the song "If I had a million dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies, a young man sings about all the things he would buy his sweetheart if only he had the money, one of which was a green dress (but not a real green dress, that's cruel).

My green dress certainly didn't cost a million dollars. It was free. I made it out of one of Boyfriend's old t-shirts, which he was going to give away because it didn't fit him ("this is how fat my mom thinks I am"). If it's knee-length on me now, imagine how big it was before I trimmed a good 6-8 inches off each side. The pocket used to be a sleeve. I'm pretty happy with the results, even though the colour is admittedly less than ideal.

There's still a couple of other old Boyfriend T-shirts that I intend to convert into dresses. I'll upload more pictures when I get a chance.