Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Finished Book

I did it! I finally finished The House of Spirits, a book I've been reading since, oh, October. Pathetic. The weird thing about the book is that it was really good, but it just took me forever to read it! But I loved it! I think the main delay was the whole new full-time job and moving thing. So there was a good two months in there that I wasn't even trying.
Anyway, I'm finally done, and I loved it. I haven't read much of Isabel Allende, except for Zorro. And this one was completely different than Zorro. This book was more of a family epic, starting with the great-grandparents and moving through the years. It reminded me strongly of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and not just because they're both Latin American writers). Both were huge, sprawling family epics spanning decades of time. But even more strongly, both of them really emphasized the circuity of life--how in some weird way a child is destined to make the same mistakes as his great-grandfather. It's not something I usually subscribe to, but it makes a really interesting story, and it does make sense in a lot of ways. In Marquez's novel, it's a fatalistic approach that you can't escape it, but Allende takes that view and switches it around to say that people can better themselves despite destiny.
In The House of Spirits Allende does an amazing job of foreshadowing--I've never read a book with so much of it!  She'll tell you then end of someone's story as she's introducing them, in a way you barely even realize, and it only hits you later how momentous that revelation is. For example, when Amanda tells her brother she'd die for him, Allende writes, "she did not know then that one day she would have to." It creates this amazing circle where you're always being reminded that it's a bigger story than the small section you're reading now. And every foreshadowed event actually happens--no hint is left at the end, and you see this huge story come together.
The book almost blew my mind because of the detailed and bloody story of a political coup. She never mentions the country in the book, but a quick internet search (I admit: Wikipedia) pointed me to Chile in the 1970s. I had no idea of the tumultuous, bloody politics the country went through (probably because the CIA had a small role in that, and they don't really want to spread that around).
And lastly, I love the characters of Clara, Blanca, and Alba (mother, daughter, and grand-daughter), who are shown from a woman's point of view, and therefore strong and real.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New Blouse, in Rose

I finally sewed something else! I've been plagued by a couple of projects that didn't work out, so this is quite an exciting success for me.

This is based off a Burda Style pattern, and again, I felt like their instructions are just so hard to follow and very confusing. It even seemed like they left out a couple steps completely. I think I'm just more of a beginner than those patterns are geared for, so I need things spelled out pretty clearly. But, an incomplete pattern forces a bit more creativity and improvisation, so maybe it's good for me?
Anyway, the blouse turned out pretty well. The neck is bigger than I expected, and the whole shirt was a lot shorter than I thought. If I had known, it would have been a simple fix to make it longer. Guess I should have measured myself.
But, it all holds together, and with a high-waisted skirt it actually looks quite fantastic, so no complaints. I just can't wear it with my low-rise jeans!

Another note: I love, love, love this fabric. It's a pretty rosy silk-chiffon (maybe a little see-through), and lucky for me I bought extra! So now I have enough to contemplate other projects. I won't say yet, just in case it doesn't work, but it could be pretty amazing.

Now that this is accomplished, I feel sufficiently ready to tackle my Collette Patterns. Pull out the big guns!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Day Off

It was a busy week. Last week my sister was in town for way too short of a visit, then my friend Kerry came into town and we did many busy and fun things. I'll update on that later, but for now, it's a day off for me. And that's nice. I'm sitting in a lovely little bakery/cafe, Jesse's studying, I'm drinking chai tea, it's raining just a little, and I'm wearing my favorite gray jeans to match the cloudy day.

It's nice to have a day off. I didn't sleep in much, but that was okay because I didn't have to get up. I didn't even have to take a shower. Days off are exercises in "What do I want? What will make me happy?" I forget to do that too often during the busy week.

This makes me happy:

This is shortbread on a brioche bun. Okay, I haven't tried it, but just looking at it makes me happy, so imagine me eating it! This is one of the many yummies here at Lovejoy Bakers. I'm a little bit addicted to just coming in and staring at their menu, which always changes, and includes things like fresh baked bread, homemade soup, and juicy sandwiches that make my tummy rumble.
It's a perfect make-me-happy place, and since that's what days off are for, you can find me here a lot. With a book, a chai tea, and Jesse. Now, to find one of those brioches...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Homemade Cheese, of the Goat Variety

Yup, you guessed it--we made goat cheese! Our dear friends The Beedles gave us a DIY kit for Christmas, straight from the local shops of Portland:

As you can see, our kit was for Chevre, or goat cheese, and as you can't see, it came with cheesecloth, a cheese thermometer, and the citric acid needed to curdle milk. Then we had everything else!

The hardest part was finding the goats milk, because it's not hanging out everywhere. What's more, you're not supposed to use Ultra-Pasteurized milk because that kills all of the good bacteria. And plain old pasteurized goats milk is hard to find. But we finally scored some at Trader Joe's, and brought it home dreaming of creamy goodness.

First, we carefully brought the milk to an almost-boil, then added in the citric acid, which curdled it and turned it a weird yellowish green color. But this was a good thing. We kept it at a good simmer until it really got a-curdling, and separated into curds and whey. At this point, I thought, "Little Miss Muffet must have been crazy to eat this stuff." It looked pretty gross.

Then we poured it all into a little baggie made of the cheesecloth and let all the whey drain out, leaving just the beautiful tasty curds: chevre! We mixed dill into part of it, because I have a love affair with dill. Then we let it cool.

And then we ate it! It was delicious! And we had made it all on our own!
Okay. it doesn't look like much, but it's pretty tasty!

So, just to recap, that's sour cream, butter, buttermilk, and chevre we've made in our very own kitchen. I just need to buy a goat, and we'll have a never-ending supply! I suggested it to Jesse, but he didn't go for that. Bummer. Maybe someday. We can have a family of goats, for Suki to make friends with. Our chevre kit makes 10 batches, so we have a ways to go still!

We're on a roll with the dairy items-next up, yogurt?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Slow Reading

I'm still reading The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende. I started it in October, about the same time I started this job, and so far I'm about 1/4 of the way through it. Pathetic! I just seem to keep so busy nowadays. I heard a quote once about how you always do the things you want to do. So, whatever you keep busy with during the day--that's what you really want to do. People say they wish they had more time for other things, but when it comes down to it, every day you have a certain amount of time, and if something is that important to you, you make time for it.
So when people say "I wish I had more time to read," I never really believe them. They have the time--they just choose to use it on other things. That's what I've been doing lately: moving, getting settled in a new job, cooking, watching tv, playing Wii games... I have free time, but I don't use it to read! That's why I'm still barely into a book I started two months ago.

It's a good book, by the way. It reminds me really strongly of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, which I loved. Now that I'm reading it a bit more often I'm more into the story: I feel more connected with it. It's kind of a long family epic which changes main characters as the family morphs and time goes on, which is sometimes really interesting, and sometimes hard to follow. But, so far, the author has done a good job of keeping me interested!
Next on my reading list? Who knows. Jesse's taking a class of Northern mythology, and is reading Icelandic myths right now, so that might be on my radar!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pajamas, as promised

I promised Jesse I would make him pajama pants. This was way back in June, when I had a lot of free time.
So we went to the fabric store, picked out fabric, and I started making them.

I cut the fabric wrong. (Sewing 101: Measure before you cut. Duh.) So I didn't finish them. It was incredibly sad. Then we did the whole wedding thing, we did a new job thing, we did the moving thing, we did the "I don't have money for more fabric right now" thing, and he did the "remember how you promised those a long time ago?" thing.

So we went back to the store, picked out more fabric, and I started making them.

This time I measured. (I'm really learning.)

(Suki helped)

I think they might turn out better. Keeping promises is a good thing. I've learned.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Science of Butter

For Hannukah/Christmas/New Years, I got Jesse a cheesemaking book. (Really, it was for me). I've heard that making soft cheeses is really easy, and I've been so excited to try it out. We tried to make sour cream for our latkes awhile ago, and it was a bit of a runny mess. By now, though, it's solidified a little, and actually tastes like sour cream! Better than sour cream! It's amazing!

With that tasty success, it was time for another try, so I attempted butter. The recipe was really easy--take cream, shake until the butterfat separates, wash it, and add salt. While I could have used the food processor, I chose to shake it in a glass jar for 20 minutes, because I figured by the time I made the butter, I will have worked off enough calories to eat it. So I shook and shook. I got a little worried when I opened the jar and just saw whipped cream, but as I kept shaking the fat in the milk began to clump together into a big blob, leaving buttermilk behind. (So really, I made butter AND buttermilk. Two in one!)

You know those experiments in science class where cool things happen with regular ingredients? Like a baking soda and vinegar volcano? It was kind of like that. I was just shaking along, and the next time I peered into the jar there was a blob of butter there! I felt like I needed Bill Nye the Science Guy to explain what I just did. Or the president to give me a medal. Either way.

So, I washed and rinsed the butter a few times, mixed and mashed the salt into it, and then put it in the fridge! And this morning, Jesse and I enjoyed fresh butter on our bagels. And it tasted good.

Happy New Years!

a little ridiculous, old-school, and oh so stylish