Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This tute will change your life.

It's not my tute. I wish it were though. It's Susan's over at Freshly Picked, but it really will change your life.

It made my jeans stop looking like this....

...and start looking like this!

They are my favourite jeans ever, but the waist was just way too big. The pictures aren't great (have you ever tried taking pictures of your own backside? No? Give it a go some time - hours of fun) but you get the idea. And now... no more hoiking them up all day, and, even better, no more builders bum! See how the two little brass studs are closer together in the second picture? That's what we're doing here.

So, I urge you to go forth and alter. Everyone has at least one pair of almost perfect jeans somewhere. See, I told you it would change your life.

In other news, would you check out this booty (as opposed to the booty above, haha... oh, I amuse myself). My dad cleared out his wardrobe and I got these shirts. I already have plans for at least some of these, such as this and this. Now, go on, say Oooooooh...

I am, not for the first time, exceedingly grateful to have a father who never, ever, wears a boring shirt.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Carrot and nutmeg cupcakes

Sorry. I know, I know, I've been really lame lately. I have been busy though, honest. I've done loads, it's just that the sewing I've been doing has either been (a) very utilitarian and dull; (b) part of a bigger project – aka the Grand Transformation of Ruby's room – that I don't want to put up until it's done; or (c) completely buggered up and thrown away in a rage.

There are, I promise, one or two posts lined up ready to go. Lined up in my brain, you understand, not anywhere useful like on the computer.

There's an upcycled cardie that theorically is brilliant, but will probably end up being given away because with my characteristic lack of planning and forethought I made it in the same colours as my school uniform, and I can't actually bear to look at it. More of that to come. There is also the playdough recipe to end all playdough recipes, tried, refined, retried and thoroughly crash-tested by the small one.

If further excuses for skiving are still required, I should like to draw your attention to my completed and submitted self-assessment tax return for 09/10. I'm feeling a bit smug about that, not to mention crazy excited about what I'm going to spend my £1.00 rebate on.

For today though, I shall stop wittering and attempt to placate and appease you, my lovely readers, with a recipe. It is yummy, lovely and light and not too sweet, and because it contains vegetables, and because I used the low-fat cream cheese, I can kid myself that it is good for me. So, for your epicurean pleasure, I give you carrot and nutmeg muffins with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients: (makes 24 fairy cake-sized, um, cakes)

150 g soft light brown sugar
175 ml vegetable/sunflower oil
3 large eggs
4 medium carrots, grated
juice of half an orange
200g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp of good vanilla essence
1/2 tsp of nutmeg

For the frosting:

250 g low fat cream cheese
30 g butter, softened
zest of one lemon (or 1 tsp lemon oil)
250 g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Line 2 twelve-hole mini-muffin or cupcake trays with paper cases, or use silicone cupcake cases.

For the cakes:

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat sugar, eggs and oil until smooth.
Stir in grated carrot, vanilla essence and orange juice.
Sift in flour mixture, bit by bit, and mix until the dry ingredients are combined. The misture will be fairly runny.
Spoon into cake cases, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch.

For the frosting:

Beat together cream cheese, butter and lemon oil/zest until smooth and light.
Gradually beat in sifted icing sugar, until consistency and sweetness is to your taste.

Leave frosting to chill in the fridge until the cakes are completely cool, then dollop on top and finish with a little grated orange rind if you are so inclined. Try very hard not to eat the whole batch (or at least be prepared to do as I did and pretend that you only made twelve, rather than twenty-four).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome to the Factory

It seems that my house has metamorphosed into a production line. These thirty stripy little flags are all part of the Grand Transformation of Ruby's room. They were rapidly – as opposed to beautifully – sewn, but, since I am shortsighted and she won't care, I figured it doesn't matter too much.

The Grand Transformation is more significant than a string of bunting, but you don't get to see the other bits yet. Partly because it would spoil the surprise, but mostly because the small girl is asleep, and I don't think that going into her room, turning on the lights and taking a bunch of pictures would be particularly conducive to that continuing.

Incidentally, sewing diagonal seams on vertically striped fabric is curiously counter-intuitive, like steering into a skid. You really have to overrule your natural instincts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seared tuna with basil guacamole

This is vaguely inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe, but because I didn't have most of the ingredients and I did have an avocado about to be past its best, I improvised and came up with this. The basil guacamole was also a consequence of not having the right ingredients (are you sensing a trend here?), and of my having once been to a fab Tuscan-Mexican fusion restaurant near where we used to live in New York, called Matilda. This is really, really easy to make. Like, you could do it in under five minutes if you set your mind to it easy.


2 fresh tuna steaks
250g baby spinach
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
a few good handfuls of fresh basil
1 avocado
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped (optional)
juice of 1 lime
olive oil
salt and pepper

Serves 2.
Peel the avocado, and put it together with the chili (if you are using it), the lime juice and two thirds of the basil in a bowl. I was going to mash it all up but decided to whizz it in the blender instead. Up to you really.

Rub both sides of your steaks with salt, pepper and olive oil, then sear in a hot dry frying pan for one minute on each side. Bear in mind that they will continue cooking after they are off the heat, and don't overdo it – you want the tuna to be pink in the middle.

Arrange the spinach, tomatoes and the rest of the basil on plates, and drizzle with olive oil. 'Arrange' is a bit of a misleading description for what I did really. 'Throw hastily together while the tuna is cooking' would be more accurate. Top with a steak and a good dollop of guacamole. Garnish with a final sprig of basil if you are feeling aesthetically motivated. Season with salt and pepper, and devour.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sewing porn

I don't have anything particularly wonderful to show off today, but I didn't want you all to think I'd been sitting around doing nothing. Oh, no. What I have been doing is perusing these nuggets of glory, given to me by my friend's lovely mum.

These books are the real deal, like yo mama used to use. It doesn't get much better. We have 'Basic Tailoring', 'The Professional Look' and, my favourite, 'Exotic Styling'. They were (more than) a little over my head when she gave them to me last summer, but now that I am getting to grips with what they are on about – despite not feeling entirely confident about being able to do what they are telling me to do just yet – I am lapping them up like a starved kitten. Yup. They are full of magnificent pictures like these...

...but even better they are packed with illustrated instructions on pretty much any formerly mysterious element of sewing you could imagine. All of which make my placket smugness look a little silly. But, man, I'm excited about all this learning. Now, if they'd just taught stuff like this in school I might have payed attention. I hope to god I'm not breaching someone's copyright by putting pictures up, but I get the impression these babies have been out of print for a while now, so I'm hoping that makes it okay.

In other news, I am working on a summer cardie for the small girl in Rowan's Kidsilk Haze on four – count them, four – double point needles. It's a while since I knitted, but I found this pattern for a cardigan that is knit all in one piece, allowing me to avoid my least favourite part of knitting (the sewing part – oh, glorious irony) and I couldn't resist giving it a go.

And in other other news, I have been taking my wardrobe apart (literally, with scissors and a stitch ripper) and refashioning things that the old me would have chucked out, experimenting with ruffles, darts and elastic. A lot of these alterations are proving to be less than successful, but, like I said, these things would have ended up in the bin anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am also covetously eyeing a hemming foot and trying to persuade myself that it is a justifiable purchase.

All in all, there's a nauseating level of personal growth and improvement floating about. Anyone want to start a sweepstake on how long it takes before I crack beneath the pressure and go on an H&M binge?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chicken and lentil soup

One word: yum.

A few more? Easy, simple, marvelously healthy and hearty. Sorry for being so immodest, but it's good. Honest.


2 chicken breasts
2 red onions
2 cloves of garlic
tin of chopped tomatoes
tin of lentils
a pint of chicken or vegetable stock
a couple of handfuls of spinach
salt and pepper

Serves 2 adults and a little 'un.

Chop up your onions and garlic, fairly fine, and cut the chicken into thin strips, sort of as close to 'shredded' as you can get with raw chicken. Sauté the lot in some butter or olive oil until the chicken is cooked and the onions are soft. Transfer to a big saucepan and add your tomatoes, stock, and salt and pepper if you are using it. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 mins, or until it has reduced to a nice thick consistency, then drain your lentils and stir them in, along with the spinach. Let the whole lot come back to the boil, and simmer for another 3-4 minutes until the spinach is good and wilted. Serve with some irish soda bread for double-yum factor, and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jet lag: the mother of industry

I was up until nearly 5am last night. I completely buggered up the sleep management side of things by having a power nap at 6pm which lasted for, ahem, five hours, hence – abracadabra! – wide awake in the wee small hours. So, with the small one (equally strung out) sitting catatonically in front of Charlie and Lola, I did the obvious thing, sidestepped the six months' worth of luggage staring at me begging to be unpacked, and decided instead to reunite myself with my fabric stash. Two hot cross buns, four cups of tea and a lot of folding and sorting later, I was the proud mama of this little bundle of glory...

But that is not all – oh no – that is not all.

Check out this lot. I didn't know it was possible to be this frickin' excited about buttons, thread and elastic (fold over elastic, no less), but I have been seriously roughing it in haberdashery terms for quite some time now, so forgive me while I go "Ooh, ooh, oooooh!"

One more for luck? Go on, say it with me: "Ooooooooh, scissors..."
Not to mention the bias tape maker. Hell yeah. No more fiddling with hair straighteners for me.

Not satisfied with sorting alone, not anywhere near sleepy, and evidently not willing even to contemplate unpacking things – shame on you for suggesting it – I decided to revamp Ruby's manky old doll's pram. Well, what else is one supposed do at three in the morning when the melatonin that was purchased with such forethought was left safely tucked away in the bread bin on the wrong side of the Atlantic?

I forgot to take the before pictures, so this is the point where you have to imagine the old blue hood with holes and scrapes and stains, and then marvel appropriately at the spanky new deckchair-striped hood and mattress.....

..... complete with matching pillow and duvet.

And, just to top things off, I snuck onto Amazon and very self-indulgently ordered myself a rotary cutter and mat before gathering up my girlie and sleeping the sleep of the truly exhausted. Happy days.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Things to remember

The smells of coffee, smoke, fried onions and flowers. Chocolate milk and green juice. Frozen yoghurt and chocolate-covered pretzels. Blossom and dust. Bee Liquors, Alphabet Cafe, the Drop Off Service. The woman in the deli across the road who gives Ruby sweets and me credit. 9th Street Espresso and B Cup Cafe. Peanut butter cookies and iced coffee. The ongoing hunt for fresh fruit and vegetables. Third floor with groceries. Bikes chained to railings. The ministry of funny runs. Yellow cabs and traffic lights. Hey, Red. Pigeons on the fire escape. Listening to the neighbours' baby cry. Ruby's plastic storage tub bath. Where the Wild things Are, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, every day, off by heart. Margaritas and pizza slices. Subway stairs with a stroller. Snow and tears. Have a nice day. Big dogs in tiny apartments. Tiny dogs in jackets and bootees. Street-rescued sewing machines and thrift store t-shirts. Snow boots and flip flips. Umbrella carcasses under bare trees. Blue skies, grey skies, rain and wind and sun. Finding out who you are. Making somewhere your home, and then handing it back. I know where you are, I'll see you around. New York, I love you. x