The Sewing Report – Not Quite in Stitches

20140830202938257I have always wanted to write about sewing mostly because it has always been one of my passions. I love looking at patterns and fabric and trying to imagine how this style would work with that print or whatever. But I’ve always faced one major obstacle – I’m actually not a very good seamstress. My topstitching is routinely crooked. Corners bulge and facings are in continual rebellion as opposed to laying flat, I don’t care how carefully I understitch and iron.

But inasmuch as my lack of skill has never stopped me from  tackling projects I probably had no business taking on, there’s no reason it should stop me from blogging about it, either. So consider this blog more of a cautionary tale – a lesson in what not to do.

Like me assuming that just because I see a picture, I can recreate the garment. In this case, I saw a jacket in a drawing from Art In Dress (1922) by P. Clement Brown. The version I saw is copyrighted, so I can’t show it here. Also, there’s a nasty racial stereotype in the picture that’s a sad reminder that it wasn’t all that long ago that such images were considered acceptable. We are making progress. Really.

The jacket is a loose, flowing one, with a contrast lining and collar. What makes it especially cool is that the contrast also forms a shawl down the front, and the pocket, also of the contrast fabric, folds back over the shawl and is attached to the front. The skirt in the drawing is shown as your basic plaid walking skirt.

Except that I really didn’t want another skirt. I have tons of them and don’t wear them that often. But I also had this gorgeous white, black and gold plaid somewhat loosely woven with nubby yarns, and a tighter woven black with gold and white horizontal stripes. And I had a lot of the plaid. So I decided to make a skirt, too, and use the mainly black piece as the main body of the jacket. Only I’d have to cut it crosswise because horizontal stripes do not make a Margaret Dumont body look good.20140831095820125

Now, keep in mind, I write a murder mystery series set in the 1920s. So I get the clothing. I just didn’t start collecting patterns and the like until I grew the aforesaid Margaret Dumont body. So the straight lines of the era aren’t just interesting to me from a historical standpoint. They look good on me. Which is why I found another skirt that I liked better than the one in the book. Again – copyrighted drawing and I don’t want to compound the sin because I didn’t buy the pattern. I just drafted one based on what I saw. The skirt has a front flap that forms an oversized pocket, and while I couldn’t see how the original design was put together, it wasn’t too hard to figure out.

Funny thing was, I decided to make a trial version of the above outfit out of some green printed corduroy that I’ve had hanging around for-freaking-ever. Plus I had yards of a lavender mystery blend with embroidered jacquard that was lightweight enough to make a lining. I mean, I’m more or less adapting a basic jacket pattern, I’d better try it out before cutting into the good stuff.

Well, it really wasn’t that hard. I made the skirt front in three pieces – the top, cut long enough to form the pocket; the bottom, which had a button tab along the center and was drafted significantly wider than the top to create the gapping side pockets; and a facing for the bottom that was as wide as the bottom, but long enough to form the pocket bag with the top piece. I gathered that piece onto the front and voila – gapping side pockets!20140831095917559

The jacket was crazy-making, but still straight forward, except for those wrap around pockets. I finally decided to hand-sew those onto the jacket. Big mistake. They tore off almost immediately. Argh. Now I have to re-sew them back on.

The finished product is in the photo below. That’s Bertha, my dressmaker’s dummy. She’s also above in the header image. And I liked the result so much, I did something else with the plaid.

The final result on Bertha

The final result on Bertha

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From The Dark Side of the Fridge – Tacos, Gringo-Style

Please do not look for any recipes here. I don’t generally use them. The point of this little blog is to share process – because you can get dinner on the table a lot faster if you don’t follow recipes. And I’m all about the fast, healthy(ish), cheap and it had better be tasty.

Man, I was exhausted when I got home last Thursday from a day of errands and chasing dollars. The Beloved Spouse wasn’t feeling much perkier, either. A lack of funding and an attempt to eat healthier ruled out dialing for dinner. And the pound of ground beef we had was frozen solid, too. So what to do?

The gringo-style of tacos dorados that my mom served me when I was a kid. Some of my Latina friends serve these with the ground beef fried in the taco shell. We always just sauteed the beef separately and just called them tacos. It actually comes together pretty quickly. The one downside is the clean up factor – it does make a mess.

I popped the frozen block of ground beef into the nuke-o-matic and used the defrost setting for the whole one-pound. I don’t like defrosting my meat all the way this way because you usually get cooked bits and that’s not tasty. But since my microwave defrosts things in stages, I let it go for the first round or so, then started pulling off thawed meat and putting it in the frying pan. I also put the remaining frozen block in the pan and got it all going over medium low heat.

I know, I know – you’re not supposed to cook meat that’s still frozen. It steams it and/or dries it out, depending on who you’re reading. Well, pshaw, pshaw. When dinner needs to get onto the table, I’m not waiting for things to thaw out slowly or in the nuker. I push the thawed bits to one side of the frying pan, center the part of the pan with the frozen meat over the flame and scrape off the browned bits, then flip the frozen piece, breaking it up where I can. And that’s what I did this time, using the times the frozen meat was cooking to chop the bejeebers out of an onion. Note to Self – do up video of how to chop an onion for this blog.

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

Once the meat was mostly thawed and partly browned, I added the onion and about a tablespoon full of ground cumin and a quarter to half teaspoon of cayenne. Second Note to Self – do up video of how to measure into your hand. Got all that stirred up and put on low heat to cook through and stay warm. The Beloved Spouse chopped up some lettuce, pulled the shredded cheese from the freezer, sliced some black olives and dished out some light sour cream. We also usually do up some tomatoes, but this time of year, there aren’t any good ones to be had. These all went into little dishes. See what I meant about the mess?

But that’s only the beginning of the mess. Now, I did use the nuker to thaw my tortillas since these are very handy to buy in bulk and keep in the freezer. Dried them off with a bit of paper towel that I later re-used to drain the oil. We have a small rack that makes draining taco shells really easy – it’s actually a rack you use in small BBQs to hold ribs. I put that on a cookie sheet, paper towels underneath, and get the small fry pan ready with a couple tablespoons of oil. Basically, you want to be able to cover the tortilla. IMG_20150108_185539080

Once the oil is hot, slide the tortilla into the oil, let it soak just a nano-second, then pull it out and flip it. Give it another nano-second or two, then fold one edge over to make a half-moon shape. Flip again, then pull the shell out of the oil and drain on paper, a lint-free towel or a rack. Depending on how many of these you’re doing (we did seven for the two of us), alert everyone that dinner is two to five minutes out and see to it that someone has set the table. Or you can before you start the tortillas. We put about a third of the meat in a bowl, reserving the rest for a taco salad at some later date (boy, will that make that dinner easier), then put spoons in all the fixings so we could stuff our tacos to our respective preferences. Dinner landed on the table in just a little under 30 minutes, and that included time to take the photos.

And then we collapsed. The mess waited.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – On Being Grateful

I’m participating in a Gratitude Circle via EveryDayGyaan.com – and actually couldn’t think of a better way to start this more personal blog that I’m doing. 

ClydeInRepose

Clyde – our remaining dog – is still kicking and making us laugh

I’ve been doing a daily spiritual journal for a couple years now – not because I’m holy, but because I’m so not – and part of that has been a quick list of things I’m grateful for.

But over the past year, I’ve noticed something odd about my little gratitude list. It’s as likely to contain the things (and, okay, people) that are driving me nuts as it is all the good stuff. I started the list to remind myself of all the good things going on in my life. So why did all this icky stuff start showing up?

I, at first, suspected it was a way of trying to re-frame the negative. A way of coping with all the aggravating things my beloved spouse was doing, with the aging dog who was no longer housebroken, the sibling who treated me like crap and the check that refused to show up when I wanted it. And to a degree, it is a way of doing that.

But it’s also about finding the blessings in those things that don’t seem much like blessings. My mother’s poor health kicked up last fall right as I was getting ready for a presentation at a conference. I’m not at all happy about my mother’s suffering, but I have to concede that it took my mind off the presentation just enough that I didn’t worry about it and I probably gave a better presentation as a result.

At the very least, reminding myself to be grateful for those of my family who are making me crazy reminds me that I do love them, even if I’m not all that wild about their behavior at the moment.

Yes, I'm grateful Dorothy Parker kitty likes hanging around on my desk and knocking stuff off.

Yes, I’m grateful Dorothy Parker kitty likes hanging around on my desk and knocking stuff off.

This has been a year of loss for me, losing the one dog, losing an identity and the blog that went with it. But the blessing has been that I’ve been more or less forced to re-direct my energies toward my first love: writing fiction. Better yet, the current climate in the publishing biz makes it not only possible, but desirable for me to take full ownership of my work, along with the responsibility to get it out there.

So, yes, I have a great deal to be thankful for, even if at first look, it doesn’t seem that way.