Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I made a skirt


It is a perfectly normal skirt. There are some things I like about it. I made it very quickly, like in less than a week. That's unusual for a thing I draft a pattern for. It only took about 2/3 of a yard of scrap fabric. It's sorta stylish at the moment.

On the other hand I think it just looks a little stupid. The pleats in the front are very popular right now, and I have never thought they were a good idea. I was right, they are not. They bulge out at the wrong places when you walk. And it is far too short. That's what I get for trying to use up my stash fabrics. 2/3 of a yard is just 2/3 of a yard no matter how you cut it. What I wanted was a practical skirt that I would be able to ride my bike in. Instead I have this trendy little number I feel rather ambivalent about. I don't know if I would want to wear it to the office, and I'm not much of a miniskirt girl the rest of the time.

The most practical thing about this skirt is that I put pockets in the side seams. I think the front pleats are silly, but they do make it possible to keep stuff in the pockets. In the pictures, I'm carrying my wallet & my phone and they don't make the front of the skirt have curious square knobs over my hips.

Over all I am satisfied with it, because instead of abandoning it in disgust when I realized it was not going to turn out as I had envisioned, I finished it up anyway, on the principle that it is better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wheeeeee Vacation!

But I want to show you some things I made recently before I go kiting off.

Item: octopus shaped dress.

Items: a gaggle of tiny aliens.

First day of vacation breakfast: Fried-egg salads & baguettes for 2.

There are more pictures of these gadgets on my flickr stream.

Later today: Beer Festival!

Friday, July 13, 2012



I came home today and there was a bag left at my door in my building, which made me alarmed, because it's a locked building, and I don't know anybody who should be leaving things propped in lumpy bags at my door, but then I saw the tag.

I have received a present from the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation!! It was a present I had asked for, but I had stopped expecting it because they sent me their mailer about 2 months ago. There was a questionnaire about what I do to get around town, and the leaflet said that if I mailed back the envelope with my preferences checked off they would send me some free loot. So I asked for all the stuff I thought sounded neat. The envelope was postage paid, so why not? Then I forgot about it after a while.

But but but! They actually did send it after all, and there are lots of nifty things in the nice blue bag, including a little digital pedometer that I just dropped off the balcony. Excuse me while I go root around in the grass.

(Imagine a time lapse.)

But what else is in there? A calendar, slightly tardy. (It's for this year.) A bunch of pamphlets about all things bicycle, TriMet, & pedestrian related, 2 different Portland street maps (the one specifically for bikes is especially good but the one of NE has more detail), a book of cupons for eastside neighborhoods (lots of free coffee!), a shopping list notepad/refrigerator magnet (idiotic, but still neato), pamphlets explaining Oregon bicycle laws, helmet laws, and pedestrian laws, a flyer with a list of community gardens and pools, 
a shiny reflective pants-leg band (shiny), and a Portland bike map bandanna! Yes, an actual bandanna, that is printed with a useable map of the bike lanes in Portland. I love this dorky town.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Home made Gnocchi

3/4 cup flour
1 medium sized russet potato
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Poke a few holes in the potato, then microwave it for about 5 minutes, or until it's quite soft. While the potato is still hot, break it open and scoop the insides out. Let the  potato cool enough to handle, then press it through a wire sieve. Toss the potato crumbs with the rest of the ingredients, then gently knead everything together. You don't need to work it very much, just until the dough comes together into a reasonably smooth ball. Squeeze or roll the dough out into a rope about 1/2 inch thick and twist off little balls. Set the balls aside until you have a large pot of salted water boiling. Dump in the gnocchi and wait for the water to return to boiling. Reduce the heat to a medium simmer, then wait until the gnocchi flip themselves over and they feel slightly bouncy against a spoon, about 3-5 minutes. Drain and serve immediately with your favorite sauce, they are nowhere near as good the next day.

Some thoughts:

1. Pressing the potato through the sieve is really pretty brilliant. What happens is that the cooked potato cells get separated into uniformly small particles without the starches inside them being turned into a heavy glob of paste, which in turn allows the potato to combine very evenly with the dry ingredients. The recipe I read suggested it and I thought well, I might as well give it a shot. Good call.

2. Add more herbs and maybe a little more salt? Depends on how you like them, and what you're serving them with. You can serve them in broth, like mini matzo balls, in which case go lighter on the seasonings. If you're doing a sauce with more flavor, you might want to punch them up a bit or they will get lost.

3. Gnocchi are dumplings, so think about what texture you like your dumplings to have. Lighter, fluffier? This recipe will do it. Firmer, chewier? Leave out the baking powder and chill them slightly before cooking.

4. In any case, don't over-boil them. Gooshy is not the same thing as tender.

5. Traditionally, you're supposed to roll each gnocchi under the tines of a fork to create ridges for the sauce to stick in. Pain in the ass. By twisting off the dough bits, the twisted surfaces of each one will remain slightly shaggy, which amounts to the same thing with less fuss.

6. Don't be tempted to make them much bigger. If you make them too big, you will have to cook them until the outsides fall apart before the centers are done. The potato dough has subtle and delicious qualities, but the drawback is that it does not have as much structural integrity as an all-flour dumpling, or one with egg as a binder.

7. What's that business about 'flip themselves over' mean? Well, as they cook, starches expand and become less dense, also, steam accumulates inside the part of the dumpling that is underwater. Eventually, enough of the dough will be affected by the heat to reverse the buoyancy of the dumpling mass, and the lighter, i.e. more cooked, part of the dough will roll upwards to the surface. Neato!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spiced Cream Cakes with Strawberries


Strawberry shortcake is the most photogenic food. It's all pink and white and fluffy, and there are these berries, and these poofs of cream, and there is this crunchy sugar top. It just looks yummy. It helps that it really is every bit as good to eat as it is to look at. I love strawberry shortcake, it was the ultimate dessert when I was a kid. This recipe was not brought on by a sense of boredom with the original, I just became enamored of the smell of indian spice mixes.Technically these are not shortcakes, 'shortcake' being an abbreviation of 'shortening cake', meaning a cake made with shortening. There isn't any shortening per se in these things, the recipe calls for a great deal of heavy cream instead, but everybody knows what you mean when you say Strawberry Shortcake: a rich, lightly sweetened, somewhat dense but tender cookie/biscuit thing with gobs of strawberries with some type of cream thing, usually either iced or whipped, if not both.

Masala Spices

Mix 1/2 teaspoon each of:
black pepper

and 1/4 teaspoon each of:
star anise or anise seed

Cream Cakes

2 teaspoons masala spice mix
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl, and put about a half cup of sugar in another. Set those aside.

In a small dry saucepan, toast the spices for a minute or two at medium-low heat. They will smoke a bit, but you don't want them to do more than change color very slightly. Dump them into a large mixing bowl and shake them around to stop the cooking, or they will get burnt.

Sift all the dry ingredients together into the mixing bowl. Gently stir in the cream, then knead lightly just until the dough comes together in a ball.  Divide the dough into 12 balls. Dip the top of each ball into the butter, then the sugar. Put the balls on a cookie sheet sugar side up. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Cool the cakes, then serve with your favorite decorations.


1.The original recipe (from Rustic Fruit Desserts) said to divide the dough into 8 pieces. I think making them smaller would be better. You can always eat 2 small cakes if you want them, but it is somehow much less satisfying to eat part of a larger cake, even if that is all you want.

2. Next time, I might make these in cupcake tins, with cupcake papers and stuff. Besides looking cute, it would keep the cakes more ball shaped. This would allow me to cook the outsides a little crunchier without drying out the insides too much.

3. I might also use a coarser sugar. More texture than regular old table sugar.

4. You have to use salted butter on the outsides! Otherwise they will just be bland.

5. The measurements given for the spice mix assume that the spices are already ground when you measure them. Spices bought ground up are fine, but I like to do my own. Nutmeg in particular is much  more flavorful if it's freshly ground.

These remind me of gingerbread, but are just slightly more exotic. Garam Masala is used in meat dishes usually, but it is largely composed of things western cooking uses for sweets, with the addition of black pepper and coriander which gives gives the flavor a hotter, earthier punch. I would eat these cakes with any berries, or poached pears or apples, or grilled peaches with walnuts and mascapone, or fresh figs, or greek yogurt, or nothing at all. It's all about the crunchy top. That part is really good.