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Halloween 2017

This year was our first real opportunity to get dressed up as a family for Halloween. So of course, it had to be Star Wars! Our little one is still too young for trick or treating but we had a party to go to & couldn’t resist dressing up the whole family.

I was super happy about how this costume turned out, especially since two of the three costumes took next to no time to make.

The Ewok costume was crazy easy to make. I bought this teddy bear suit & removed the bow tie. Then I roughly cut out the shape of a t-shirt out of a bit of brown fabric I had lying round (I used a t-shirt of my husband’s as a guide) & sewed it together. To fit it, I put the bub in the teddy bear hat, the neckhole in the t-shirt became the opening for his face & his arms when through the arm holes. To hold the brown fabric in place all I had to do was cut slits for the ears to pop through. This took me 15mins – I was pretty impressed. The brown drape held in place really well with just the holes around the ears.

I was really worried that the bub would be really upset about being in this costume all afternoon, but he was fine. Normally he hates having hats on his head but he didn’t try to remove this one at all! It was probably because he was too busy holding the giant fake spear my husband made for him (it was cardboard).

My costume was also pretty easy to make, in that it was all clothes from my wardrobe & I didn’t have to modify any of them! The only thing that needed to be made was the helmet. My husband made this for me out of some old Amazon boxes & spraypaint we had lying round in the garage.

The real labor of love though was the Han Solo costume my husband wore. I had actually made this for him 2 years ago for a Halloween party. I’d promised to make him whatever he wanted to wear for Halloween & he’d asked for a Han Solo costume. Within a minute of agreeing to make this costume for him, my husband had inundated my email account with links to Star Wars fan sites explaining how everything had to be made just right. As this was pre-baby & I had bucket loads of time I actually paid attention & spent more time than I care to admit researching the difference between Han’s vests & pants in the different movies (yes – my husband had specified which movie’s version he wanted). The hubby was (& still is) pretty chuffed with the outcome.

In case you were wondering about the gun belt & blaster – my husband made these himself. I helped him with the patterning so it would actually look like what he wanted & hang right, but he did all the rest.

Hope you all have a super fun Halloween!

 

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Polish Honey Cake

Without a doubt this version of a Polish Honey cake of my favorite cakes to make when the weather starts to cool off. There is something so comforting about the flavour of spiced honey. When paired with a nice cup of tea it makes for the perfect afternoon tea on the weekend.

The recipe for this cake comes from Belinda Jeffery in the Australian Delicious magazine (June 2010). You can find it online here.

I’ve made this cake countless times over the last 7 years & it is consistently good. The texture is soft & moist, the flavour rich & the kitchen is filled with the most beautiful aroma when it’s cooking. The honey is clearly the star of the show yet the cake isn’t sickly sweet. Instead it allows you to really appreciate the different notes of the honey. The flavour changes with different types of honey & I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different types. My only problem is they’re all so good I can’t pick a favourite!

Pleating Fabric

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with fabric pleating. I don’t know how many videos I’ve watched of fabric pleaters making paper molds & pleating fabric. There’s something very calming about watching someone pleat fabric. I think it’s the precision & symmetry of it that appeals to me.

After a while though, I started to think, this isn’t all that hard, surely I could do this at home.

I had a skirt that I wanted a pleated panel for. I had a look in my local fabric store for pre-pleated panels but they didn’t stock many & I didn’t really like any of the colours or fabrics. Then I had a look online. There’s a lot of fabric pleaters out there, but I just didn’t want to pay a huge amount of money for a small panel of pleats.

So I decided to give it a go myself. After all it’s just making a paper mold & baking it in an oven right?

The first time I found out about the pleating process was in this blog post from Poppykettle. This Threads article explained the basics quite well so I started with that & looking back over all the YouTube videos & articles I’d save to try to work out an actual method. This YouTube video was the most helpful for the actual bake temperatures & times. Also, I learnt a bit from someone I met at a supplier workshop (part of my day job as an engineer). By chance, his hobby was folding paper to create different types of expanding designs – he had some pretty incredibly patterns & so we ended up speaking for a while about creating different paper patterns.

The Pattern
I decided on a pattern of pleats that gradually reduce in size. So I set about making the paper mold. For the paper I used painter’s masking paper from Home Depot. It seemed to be a good weight & was the right size for what I needed to pleat, but mostly it was because we already had half a roll of it in the basement that was left over from painting our house.

I drew a series of lines with a ballpoint pen to mark out where the creases of each pleat would be. There were 3 lines for each pleat, an inward facing crease, outward facing crease & an alignment line (I used a different colour for each). The benefit of using a ballpoint pen was that it also slightly scored the paper if you pushed down on it, this made the subsequent folding portion easier.

Once that was complete, I started folding. This took the better part of an afternoon, but was a very relaxing activity.

Now technically you need two copies of the same mold for this pleating method to work, so I just cut mine in half as I didn’t need the pleated panel to be too long. Otherwise I would have had to make another identical mold.

The Fabric
The fabric I used was literally just some cheap polyester I found at JoAnns. The only criteria that I had was that I wanted the same fabric in a few different colours because I wanted different sections of the pleat to be different colours (because you know, why not make my life more complicated).

The Pleating & Baking
At this point I had to go back & start watching videos again to see how professional pleaters do the actual pleating. I tried so many different ways & I just couldn’t get the fabric to sit properly or to hold the paper molds in place properly. In the end I found this video most helpful.

I borrowed the hubby’s clamps & started by clamping the first part of the paper mold down at one end. Then I stretched it out & clamped it down on the other side

I laid the fabric over the mold. Because I had a seam where I had joined two pieces of fabric together, I had to align that with a specific point in the pleat mold. I used little bulldog clips to hold it in place (it was just what I had lying around).

Next I placed the second part of the paper mold on top & aligned the pleating points of both molds. At this point I also undid the clamps at one end & reattached them to secure both molds together, (one clamp at a time so that there was always at least 3-points of pressure on the stretched mold). Finally I removed the clamps at one end & started to re-fold the pleat board together with the fabric. As I went I used bulldog clips on either side to secure the folds temporarily.

I slid a baking tray under the molds (this was to make moving it to the oven easier) & put a heavy baking dish on top to hold the central part of the pleats in place.

I baked the pleats at 180C for 25mins.

The Results
I’m pretty happy with the results for a first try. The pleats themselves hold really nicely, however my technique clearly needs some fine tuning. Firstly, I think I need to reduce the bake time – there were a couple of areas of the fabric that developed little yellow spots during the baking that I want to avoid. Secondly I need to work on alignment – particularly of the seam, this flipped & slipped when I was putting the molds together so it doesn’t look right.

Kyivskiy Dream Torte Take 2

So last week was my husband’s birthday & so to celebrate I took another swing at this Kyivskiy Dream Torte idea of mine & tried to address some of my concerns from the first iteration.

I was pretty happy with the results, there are still a couple of tweaks I want to make but all in all I think this version will be pretty close to the final version.

I didn’t think I changed that much until I sat down & read everything & realised I changed almost every element! Let’s start with the easy one, the chocolate hazelnut cream. In the last cake I first whipped the double cream with a whisk attachment in the stand mixer & then added the Nutella. This lead to the mixture almost looking curdled. So this time I took a different approach, I used the beater attachment instead of the whisk, I started by beating the hazelnut spread until it was a little smoother & less stiff. Then I started very slowly adding heavy whipping cream to the mix. This lead to a much softer, silkier dare I say more luscious chocolate hazelnut cream. I’m really happy with this part of the cake now so I’m going to leave it as is on future attempts.

For the cherries, unfortunately I had to use bottled Morello cherries in this cake so the flavor wasn’t the same as the fresh ones, but it’s winter in Michigan so I’ll have to make do. For this part I made the syrup the same way as last time but added xantham gum at the end to thicken the syrup & turn it into more of a sauce. This was the first time I’d ever used xantham gum so it took me a couple of attempts to get this right (I will admit my first attempt turned into a mucusy mess that was in no way appetising). In the end, because of the small amounts required & because I don’t have very accurate scales, I found the easiest way to control this was to first measure out a maximum amount – for me this was 1% by weight & this represented the amount of gum that would create a real mucus texture – then I slowly added a little bit at a time from that 1% & used a blender to mix it in. This way was much more effective for me to control the texture. I think I ended up with a ratio of around 0.5% but it wasn’t easy to tell. I was much happier with the texture of the sauce this time, but I think the flavor still needs a bit of a tweak for the bottled cherries.

Finally the meringue cake… I kept the meringue recipe from the original Lemon Dream Cake recipe, but for the cake version I went for a whole new recipe. I used this recipe for a Swiss Hazelnut cake. I really liked the flavor of this cake & it had a much more comparable cook time to the meringue cake so that helped. This recipe was mostly flour with a little bit of toasted hazelnut meal. The toasting process really helped to bring out the flavour of the hazelnuts without having to add a lot of them. This meant it wasn’t as heavy or as wet as the batter from the last recipe I used. One problem though was that this recipe was a sponge & so I had to be really careful when adding the meringue on top before baking so that the meringue wouldn’t sink in the cake batter. It came out pretty well, though I did over bake it so the meringue was overdone & cracked. Next time I’m going to be more diligent with the cooking time – I think I was just paranoid about the cake being raw.

I think I’m pretty close now. We have some friends coming over for dinner tomorrow, so I’m going to try to nail the flavours & textures in tomorrows version, then I’ll just have to work on the decoration! If all goes well I should have a recipe up on the blog next week.

Friday Night Feast – February 2017

It has been over a year since I hosted a nice dinner with friends. In between pregnancy & looking after a little bub, it just hasn’t happened. As the bub gets older, he’s beginning to form a more predictable routine, particularly in the evening, which means I’ve started feeling like I can do normal adult things again, like host a dinner party. Whilst I’m still on maternity leave & have time, I decided to seize the opportunity to host a nice dinner party with a few friends.

I did make a few concessions with my meal planning for this dinner. In order for a dish to be on the menu, it had to be possible to make it ahead of time. I didn’t want to be worried about timing of things whilst trying to look after the bub if he was upset or hungry. Normally when I have a big dinner, I plan out a timetable for the day & cook to it. With a baby that’s still nursing that approach just isn’t realistic. Instead I wrote out a list of things I had to do, assigned priorities and then started knocking them off in between feedings or playing with the bub. I also started making a lot of stuff on the Thursday.

We started with some homemade breadsticks, Italian white bean dip & some Serrano Jamon a friend brought over. The recipe for the breadsticks & bean dip were from my new Delicious cookbook, At Our Table. Both were exceptionally simple to make & quite tasty. In fact the bread sticks turned out so well my husband assumed I’d bought them at the store. I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from this book.

For mains I cooked Gourmet Traveller’s Overnight Pork Shoulder. I got the pork shoulder from Farm Field Table in Ferndale. It was quite fatty (there was a good inch & a half of fat between the skin & meat, which worked really well with the long slow cook time. Basically as the fat melted it pooled in the pan & essentially became an oil bath. So after a few hours it was basically like cooking a confit. It also allowed the fennel to stay soft & silken whilst cooking. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the pork, I forgot to tie it up & so when we tried to extract it from the pan after cooking it literally fell apart (a good thing for eating, not so much for taking a photo though). Also by this point in the evening the bub had gone to bed & I had drunk a whole glass of wine, and promptly forgot to take photos of anything. Anyway, the only real alteration I made to the recipe was to crank the heat of the oven to 220C at the end to turn the skin to crackling (what’s roast pork without crackling?!). For sides we had green beans, roasted mushrooms (a selection of different types, i.e. shiitake, oyster), and a light salad.

Finally for dessert we had a collection of small treats & for once I actually tried to make an effort to make it look nice. Normally I’m the type of person who puts a meal down & says ‘Trust me – it tastes much better than it looks’, but one of the things I wanted to work on this year was presentation, so I tried. I made blood orange & almond cakes, rolled in crushed pistachios, orange confit jelly & kulfi.

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The blood orange cakes were made using Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake recipe. I just substituted blood oranges & adjusted the cooking time for bite sized cakes.

Kulfi is an Indian ice cream made by condensing milk & flavouring with spices like saffron or cardamom. I was first introduced to kulfi in Melbourne at a restaurant called Bombay by Night. It’s still the best kulfi I’ve ever had. I don’t know what made me think of it but I thought I’d try to make it myself. I used this recipe for the kulfi (recipe is at the very end of the article). I added 5 cracked cardamon pods to the milk during simmering as I love that flavour. I think my method still needs a little work. The flavour was definitely there – the nutty, sweet flavour of the milk & the hint of cardamon but the texture wasn’t quite right – there were a few too many ice crystals & it wasn’t quite as chewy as I remember. I think I should have heated the milk a little longer & allowed it to reduce more.

The orange confit jelly was a cobbled together recipe from a few different sources, here’s what I ended up with. It worked out quite nicely with a real tang to it, which contrasted nicely with the cake & kulfi.

Orange Confit Jelly

2 oranges, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
220g caster sugar (bakers sugar in the US)
Gelatin – refer to packet instructions for amount required for volume of liquid

Strain the orange & lemon juice through a sieve & heat together with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced oranges & simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat. Remove the oranges from the syrup & arrange in a tin. Measure the amount of syrup remaining & follow the packet instructions for the gelatin you’re using to combine the gelatin with the syrup. Pour the jelly syrup over the oranges & refrigerate to set. 

P.S. In case you were wondering, the bub behaved perfectly. He smiled at everyone when they arrived at about 6:30, I started his bedtime routine at 7 & I rejoined the party at 7:30. Then he slept for 10 hours! I have no idea how I got so lucky.

Just another trip to the fabric store

Do you ever do that thing where you go to fabric store with the intent of buying fabric for one very specific project, then leave the fabric store with enough fabric to …. but nothing for your project. Only to come home and find the perfect fabric for your project was in your stash all along???

This is what I do. ALL the time. It’s probably why I have way too much fabric.

On the flip side I am now seriously excited about the sewing I’ll be doing in the next couple of months. Here’s a run down of what I got.

Navy cashmere coating. This is lovely & soft, but it is a little on the thin side for a coat in Michigan so I’m looking at ways I can add some warmth. I bought a satin backed flannel for the lining, which might help a little with wind protection, and was thinking of interlining the coat with Thinsulate material as well.

Cashmere Wool Coating

This Italian wool. This wool is the opposite to the navy, it’s super thick & super warm. I want to make some kind of coat or cardigan type jacket with this, but I’m going to have to be very careful about the pattern selection. Because it’s so thick I don’t want to make a pattern with a lot of pieces or intersecting seams (I am going to struggle to get 4 layers of this wool under my sewing machine foot), plus I worry that would take away from such a lovely pattern. I will also need to get creative when it comes to picking closures & finishes for things like button holes.

Chunky Italian Wool Knit

Last of all was this woven geometric remnant. No idea what I’m going to make with it, but I fell in love with the fabric & figured I’ll use it for something! It’s only 3/4 of a yard, so I’m limited to skirts & tops I think.

Woven Geometric Fabric

Marfy 3520: Making a Muslin

This is my first time sewing a Marfy pattern* so I thought it best to make a muslin, to see how best to put it together (and of course check fit). I’m making Marfy 3520, it’s a dress pattern that I’ve long admired.

In general I was really happy with the first cut. The pattern came together like a dream – with the exception of setting in the sleeve, for some reason I found this quite tricky in this pattern. My only fitting complaint was the gaping fabric above my bust, so I made a full bust adjustment & it now feels a lot nicer.

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I’m not super happy with how the sleeves look though. Its more of a design issue that a fit issue really. I’m thinking I might shorten the sleeves to be elbow length and forego the flounce, but we’ll see.

Otherwise I think its time to cut this one out. The fabric I’m using is a checked wool suiting my Mum gave me a couple of years ago. For the accent features I’m thinking of using some thin black leather.

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*If you’re wondering how a Marfy pattern is different to a ‘regular’ sewing pattern read this.