Monday, August 19, 2019

Red Sundress, Almost Kitschy

This is a summer work dress: cool and breezy in 100% cotton, printed and dark enough to look decent through splashes and dirt from canning and gardening, and not restrictive at all for lifting and bending and wrangling and the full workout. I love it!

The bandanna fabric could be cutesy and kitschy; I sort of itched to pair it with rick rack or calico or even some crocheted lace.  But no: cute is not my look.  But still: I wanted just a little pizzazz somewhere.

  Look closely at the yoke in the front:  I hand-sewed running stitches in black and white perle cotton around some of the circles and squares!  Subtle and happy. 

Also, inside the dress, I made the channel for the drawstring out of striped blue cotton and finished the hem in light blue bias tape.  I really need a little fizz somewhere in my clothes, a little patchwork effect if you will.

I used this dress pattern seven years ago, the second dress I ever made for myself.  This time around, I did not widen the bodice, and I'm really pleased with the fit.  I wish I had made the red dress a touch longer.  Also, I have to say I no longer own that plaid sundress because the fabric turned out to be part polyester as plaids often can be, and I really cannot abide that wrapped-in-plastic feeling in the summer.

Genevieve took these photos of me as I ripped the unholy mess of cucumbers out of my raised beds.  That was extremely satisfying. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Summer of the Cucumbers

I have accidentally not blogged since June! Hello! How is your summer going now that it is ending? Mine was really nice and I have no reason for the lack of blogging except perhaps I was buried under a heap of cucumbers?

My family loves kosher dills/fermented cukes/sour pickles so much, and I had a hard time finding good pickling cukes, so I decided to use my raised bed space for cucumbers instead of green beans this year. I have tried cucumbers maybe once or twice before and got basically nothing: the vines wilted or the leaves got powdery or something ate everything.

Well. I planted the whole packet of Parisian Pickling Cucumbers, timing them to be ready once we got home from our big Seattle trip (there's a post!) and figuring that I'd only get a handful anyway if I was lucky.  Well no.  Turns out, this is The Summer When All the Cucumbers Grow.  All my friends who planted cucumbers are overflowing and pickling and laughing in disbelief.

As a cucumber novice, I am not very good at getting the buggers at the little pickling size I wanted. Overnight, they grew six inches into logs!  Which were bitter and seedy and tossed on the compost pile.

I made gallons and gallons of fermented cukes (method below).  I also made two batches of bread and butter pickles from the Mennonite Community Cookbook, as well as 7-Day-Sweets, a childhood favorite that involved pouring boiling water over the cukes several days in a row to make them crisp.  Why does this work?  I don't know, but it does.

I made pickle relish, fridge pickles, and salad after salad.  Because I planted so many plants close together and did not water them regularly, but regularly let some of them get too big, I had to deal with bitter cucumbers.  I tried cutting off the stem end and then rubbing it on the cut end until a bitter white foam came out.  I tried salting sliced cukes and then rinsing them.  My best success was slicing cukes and soaking them in salted ice water for about an hour, then draining and rinsing.

Last week, the cucumber plants finally showed signs of slowing down, so I yanked them out.  I still have over 1 1/2 gallons of fermented dills in the fridge, plus fridge pickles, and a crisper drawer full of cucumbers.  On my to-do list:  "decide what to do with cukes."  I guess we will eat pickles for every meal this winter?

Did you plant cucumbers this year and get a roaring crop? Or is something else bursting from your garden?

Fermented Dill Pickles

In a half gallon glass jar, combine:
1 Tbsp. fine sea salt (not iodized)
1 quart room temperature non-chlorinated water
1 Tbsp. dill seeds
1 tsp. dill weed
1-2 garlic cloves, sliced

Stir and/or set aside until salt is dissolved.

Wash and trim ends from small pickling cucumbers - I usually kept them under 4" and a thumb-size diameter. Drop them into the brine, shaking and pushing to fill up the jar but making sure they can all be submerged. May need to add a little more water and salt.   Keep the pickles submerged under brine by filling a smaller jar with water and capping it and setting it in the jar on top of the pickles.
Set jar in room temperature for 48 hours.  Should see foam and bubbling action.  Scrape off the foam before capping and storing in fridge. Keeps indefinitely in fridge. Sometimes I use a cup or so of the brine in a new jar of fermented dills. If you have fresh dill, use 2 heads or so in place of the dried stuff.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Bag Lady

Here is a vintage apron that a child-who-shall-not-be-named got silver paint and tacky substances on.  To be fair, the apron was given to this child in desperation that clothing not be ruined in experiments that parents generally despaired of, but still.  I salvaged some unstained parts, including the pocket, and made it into a produce bag for my market cart. I have a lot of pretty bias tape, and I've been using it on purpose recently I guess so I can feel free to find more at the thrift store. That's a weird little mind trap!

I did a sewing-for-massage trade with a friend (so wonderful!).  The piece she asked me to resize was from Nepal and when the scraps where tumbled on my floor, I suddenly saw a bag to make.  The solid colors are so great and strong together, and that pretty ruffle is just right.  I actually used the scraps entirely to make this bag.  Satisfying.

The last bag ushers in a new era: an e-reader.  Oh my.  I do adore books, but I could not picture fitting enough books in my luggage and carry-on to keep me happy for an upcoming trip.  Obviously an e-reader is the way to take 40 books along, most for me but a few for my husband and kids just in case.  I only bought two with a coupon that came with the e-reader.  The rest are free downloads, mostly old books whose copyright has expired and have been digitized for such a time as this. Here is the helpful article that led me to books I wanted to read.

The e-reader seems sturdy enough, but I still feel pretty protective towards any screens I have purchased (and let me tell you, it has been a new phone and a new iPad recently, too, and I am sick of it). So I made a little padded bag - sturdy upholstery fabric on the outside, batting scraps in the middle, and lined with a flannel shirt scrap from my husband - with the pocket positioned to hold the charger.  I'm very pleased with it. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Singapore Street Noodles

My husband found this recipe somewhere online and cooked it with Ben when it was Ben's turn to make supper.  Total keeper recipe!  We all love it. I've tweaked it a bit, and I've also subbed in whatever vegetables and protein I had on hand: the sauce is the important part.

I loved the street food scene in Crazy Rich Asians because I love food.  Eating Singapore Street Noodles gives me a tiny little connection to the food on screen.

To cook this recipe, do all the prep and chopping first.  Once the wok for the stir-frying part gets going, you won't have time to chop anything or untie a jump-rope or check a child's "cleaned" room or supervise screen time.  Or maybe that's just me.

Singapore Street Noodles

Cook and set aside:
16 oz. pasta or rice noodles, skinny strands preferred - toss with 1 Tbsp. sesame oil after cooking to prevent sticking

Mix and set aside:
1/2 cup oyster sauce
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. sriracha, or to taste (some of us add more at the table)

Stir fry in large skillet or wok over high heat:
2 Tbsp. oil
8 oz. chopped, raw chicken breast

Add and cook for 2 minutes:
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage
1/2 cup julienned carrots
2 tomatoes, diced

8 oz. peeled raw shrimp

Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add cooked noodles - use tongs to lift and toss and combine well for 2-3 minutes.

Turn off heat.  Add:
1/2-1 cup chopped cilantro
4-5 spring onions in 1" lengths

Notes: I don't usually use chicken.  I use more shrimp or sub tofu or mushrooms. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are super-expensive if you buy local, organic chicken; the reasonable price is a whole chicken, and I can't be bothered to skin and bone a breast for this.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Results

We got back our test results for our backyard soil, and it is contaminated with lead. This has been keeping me up at night, stirred into the dire climate/environmental situation, worried about my family's health and the future. In all the years we have gotten extra blood tests for our children, they have never had elevated lead levels.  So I'm thankful for that.  

But I'm so sad about our soil!  Now that the black walnut tree is gone, I have sun and so much growth in the mint and the berries.  I am going to do a more focused soil test, to see if the beds are all contaminated, or just the area by the house which is typical of old houses with their former lead paint. 

I still have my raised beds with their clean soil that we brought in, so I'm growing edibles there; I may need to rip out my berry bushes and mint - I'm assuming that once a plant has been grown in lead-tainted soil, it doesn't help to transplant to clean soil. 

New this year, I colonized a ledge with two big planters filled with nasturtium seeds.  Little babies are coming up! I will never get over that excitement. I had wanted to plant grapes to climb up our side porch posts, but given our lead situation, I planted a clematis instead.  Perhaps I will become a flower gardener and rely on the excellent farmer's market 2 blocks away for my local produce.  Perhaps that is my silver lining - that I can plant all the flowers, instead of prioritizing for edibles. Poppies! Peonies! A lilac bush!

We planted our little oak tree, free from a city grant program.  It's barely taller than the irises, and I'm trying to be all mature about "planting for future generations" when I just want it to hurry up and give us some sheltering shade. 

Our street tree, a zelkova, is growing tremendously.  I planted some red creeping thyme as a groundcover in the tree well, and now I'm going to add some fencing because I think the neighborhood dogs are peeing in a corner and killing my thyme. 

I feel better for having written this all down.  This helps me have some perspective and cling to the good parts of this story and my life, instead of focusing on the bad and chewing on it to feed despair.  Today is a beautiful, breezy spring day, and I'm going to go out and sow some cilantro seeds in my  raised beds.  Onward!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Little Vintage Feedsack for a Little Nightie

This vintage feedsack scrap came in the box from Laura - all the sky-blue and coral polka dots, pretty roses, and yet not at all dainty or saccharine. I paired it with this pale blue striped cotton because I do really like light colors in sleep clothes, especially summer ones. 

I was thrilled to find the perfect coral bias tape in my stash, so I used it inside and outside the bodice. The buttons are Beatrix Potter. (side note: I have always adored the name "Jemima Puddleduck" and thought she must have a delightful story, but recently found the book in our Little Free Library and was in for a nasty surprise as the fox gets after her. I'm going to put it out of my mind and think instead on her lovely name.) 

Unfortunately, the age of the feedsack scrap means that it's not holding its seams very well.  I may be patching it up a few times, but it's worth it for Phoebe's pleasure in the nightie and my pleasure in the colors together. She's such a dear.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Lemon Rhubarb Marmalade

I am trying the third time with a rhubarb plant in my back yard.  This year, there is no black walnut tree to poison things, so we shall see. 

In the meantime, I buy rhubarb at market.  And I overbought lemons for Ben's birthday party.  So this recipe from Food in Jars' Preserving by the Pint jumped at me - I've been looking at my preserving with fresh eyes since I read Marisa's new book, The Food in Jars Kitchen.  I've got a rather crowded schedule these days with three freelance projects right on top of each other, but this recipe is done in in flexible stages, so I thought I could pull it off.

I didn't take the time to slice the lemon peel really fine, but fortunately, it cooked down soft and I like it.

The color of this marmalade is so pretty, and I can attest that it is delicious. It pleases me that there's no pectin involved other than what's in the lemon seeds (tied up in cheesecloth when the jam boils) and pith - and the viscous nature of cooked rhubarb.

A lovely slice of toast on a chilly spring day with a cup of hot chocolate and a fascinating book to edit.


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