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Friday, November 20, 2009

Stayacations are the best!

Through the wonders of mid-week holidays combining with regular days off, I lucked out with a very short work week last week. In the office Monday and Tuesday and then home until the following Monday. Awwww, so lovely. :)

This random stayacation coincided perfectly with my mom's plans to come for a visit and do our normal early Thanksgiving dinner. This started years ago when Jim and I first started dating - I would head home a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, sometimes with Jim, sometimes alone - and celebrate the holiday early with my family. Then for Thanksgiving, I'd head to his family's huge gathering in LA and then on to San Diego to hit up the sales on Black Friday with my bff, and shopping buddy extrodinaire, Blondie. Now that we're married and my mom is coming to LA for holidays (my brother lives here now, too), she prefers to only have to travel during the height of holiday traffic for Christmas and to still do our Thanksgiving celebration early. It seems to work out the best for everyone.

After last year's debacle (more reflections on that in a subsequent post), I think all of us were hoping for a smoother and more uplifting visit with my mom. I'm happy to say that the time she spent here was so much fun and the complete opposite from her time here last year.

Wednesday and Thursday we spent shopping and just hanging out. I talked her into getting some more updated sweaters to add to her wardrobe and she talked me into buying some stuff that I probably didn't need, but was fun to buy anyways. We also got matching leather tote bags from BR (mine in silver, hers in purple) that I'm sure we'll wind up sporting at the same time. ;)

We just about bought out Williams-Sonoma - I needed a roaster for the turkey and some food stuff for the dinner. The store clerks just laughed at us adding more and more stuff to our pile at the register. I think we both felt like pack mules walking back out to the car.
I also took her to Michael Levine in downtown. I needed some fabric for Christmas gifts and she was hoping to get some stuff for her good friend that makes quilts. We made a small purchase there, but then headed across the street to Michael Levine Loft. I'd never been, but really wanted to poke my head in to see what it was all about. OMG! People! That place is so fun!!! They sell all the fabric for $2/pound and will cut pieces to smaller yardages if you ask. We had the best time poking through the huge cardboard boxes, pulling out huge cuts of fabric and making a big pile of stuff to take home with us. I'm really not about sewing for folks unless it's a gift, but when your mommy pulls out fabric and informs you that you'll make her some scarves out of said fabric, well, you just smile and say yes. ;) At the end of the day, I left with a HUGE bag of stuff - 3 sweater knits, some polar fleece, gauzy prints for scarves, suiting fabric for skirts and a chocolate brown rayon modal blend. Total cost - $20!! Such a deal!
Thursday night we took her out to a fun, very LA restaurant, The Bazaar. I had recently had dinner there with some of my friends and thought it was great. I liked that while the decor was wacky and the food was different, it wasn't so out there as to be unpalatable for my mom. And Jim was all excited to go as Esquire has recently named it best new restaurant of 2009. I was pretty bummed to see they had done away with their Chef's tasting menu and replaced it with a seasonal tasting menu ... to the tune of almost double the cost. Boooo! We ordered a bunch of dishes to share though and it worked out fine. I was impressed to see my mom eat a foie gras lollipop and raw tuna and then exclaim that they were some of her favorite things of the meal. This, from the lady that proudly states that she "doesn't eat raw fish." Way to go mom!

By the time Friday rolled around I was in full Thanksgiving dinner shopping and cooking mode. Everything except for the gravy and cranberry sauce was going to be homemade, so I had a lot of work ahead of me. The menu I planned was as follows:

Brined Roast Turkey
Mashed Potatoes and Turkey Gravy
Sausage and Chesnut Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Pumpkin Pie
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes

I finished the desserts and brining the turkey on Friday. That night my brother came over to hang out and I got to relax a little with everyone. We gorged ourselves on pizza and watched Taken and The Hangover. The second movie was a repeat for all of us except my mom. Surprisingly, she thought it was hilarious. :)

Saturday started off pretty strong. As I worked my way through the prep work, I kept the kitchen clean and orderly. My mom would poke her head in ocassionally to say how smoothly everything was going and that I was doing a great job. And smooth it was... until the last hour. That whole "5 dishes needing to be finished off at the same time and I don't have a double oven" thing threw me into a bit of a tailspin. Suddenly, the kitchen looked like a bomb had exploded and I was darting back and forth like a crazy person. Because everyone knows me, they all stayed far far away during this part. Ha! Ultimately, it all turned out okay though. I think my timing has room for improvement, but overall, it worked out well.

I was all set to take a bunch of pictures of the food, but it didn't happen. The only one I got was the pie and that was before the meltdown started. But, look how pretty she was. And it tasted even better than it looked, if I do say so myself.

While the food was delicious, I think the best part was the company. Aside from my mom and brother, we also had my in-laws and my youngest brother in law and his longtime girlfriend, whom I adore. The youngins' particularly impressed us as they came over all dressed up, bearing a bouquet of flowers for me and a bottle of wine for dinner. They're like, all grown up and stuff. Sniff sniff. The conversation flowed so well as we sat there for over 2 hours enjoying dinner and then dessert. My brother impressed me with his intelligent and well-articulated explanation of electronic gadgetry to my in-laws, while they entertained us with their latest ballroom dance moves. I remember at one point just looking around and feeling so happy - being surrounded by people I love in our house, enjoying a holiday dinner I made from scratch. These are the kinds of scenes I had hoped for when we bought the house and it's really awesome to have them coming to fruition.

Sadly, my mom's visit ended far too quickly and she was back home the next morning. We really had a such a great time and I can't wait for her to come back next month for Christmas. This was a really welcomed mid-month break and I'm so happy that she got to come and enjoy it with me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Caramel Apple Crazy

Two years ago I had my first foray into making caramel apples. I had a lot of fun making them and had fully planned to repeat it last year, but things were just too hectic to squeeze it in. This year, however, I planned ahead and set a side an entire day to make these. Because I'm nuts, I thought making an even 3 dozen would be good and so they wouldn't be too plain, I opted to use this decorating recipe. Go big or go home, right?

First, the apples took a water bath to get all the wax and gunk off their surface.

Next, they took a dip in some thick and luscious caramel.

After that, it was time for a chocolate paint job.

For a little seasonal flair, a drizzle of orange-tinted white chocolate and a sprinkle of sugar ghosts.
To complete the look, a plastic baggie, orange polka dot ribbon and a tag.

The best part of the night, though, was when Jim came in to play DJ and we had a dance party in the kitchen. He even paused his dancing to serenade me.

Eventually, he wanted in on the action, too. I gave him the last apple, which we we're going to keep, to decorate. Pretty funny.

By the time it came for the sprinkling of the ghosts, he was totally channeling Emeril Lagasse. Bam!

Everyone was pretty excited to get these. I was very flattered when the big boss at my office was completely convinced that I had purchased them all. She came by my desk three separate times that day to thank me and to say how she couldn't believe that I had made them. Another co-worker said she shared it with her neice and they decided it was the best caramel apple they had ever eaten. ::blushing:: Now I just have to figure out how to up the ante for next year. :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

McCalls 5535: From hot mess to hot stuff

I'm such a sucker clothes made out of knits, especially dresses. I think they're so much more comfortable than most garments out of woven fabric and I'm much more apt to wear an item when I'm comfortable in it. So, even though knits are notorious for being tempermental, especially for new sewists, I'm still determined to learn how to sew knit fabrics and sew them well. Which leads me to this pattern - a loose fitting, empire waist dress from McCalls that is rated "easy."

I first tackled this dress about a month and a half after starting to sew. I got an inexpensive poly jersey print from Michael Levine ($3/yd) so in case it was a mess, I wasn't screwing up expensive stuff. It was my first commerical pattern that I was using and since I remembered bits and pieces of pattern language from when my mom used to sew clothing, I thought I would be okay. And really, I think this pattern is drafted well. It was my first time messing with facings and setting in a sleeve and with the help of a sewing reference book, the dress went together pretty smoothly. The problem came when it was time to put it on. It was a potato sack, no joke. :/

When selecting my size, I looked at the body measurements at the top of the pattern, sized down one size, and that left me at a 14. Pattern sizing is much like bridal sizing so the idea that I was making a 14, when I'm usually a 6 in RTW dresses really didn't faze me. However, I had no idea about finished garment measurements and how important it was to consider those when selecting size. Based on those measurements, I should have cut an 8 because of the amount of design ease for this particular dress. Compounding the potato sack issue, was the choice of sleeves. I liked the look of the peasant sleeve (view A) in the photo, but actually sewn up, I thought it was just too much, especially with such a busy print. Really folks, this dress was just awful.

The dress was obviously off to Goodwill, but instead of throwing the pattern away, I started my first garment sewing class a few days later and we immediately reviewed how to read a commercial pattern and how to select your size. Buoyed by this knowledge, I headed back to Michael Levine, picked up some more fabric and started again. This time, the dress went together that much faster and it also fit so. much. better. I decided to add the plain long sleeve (view D) instead of the peasant sleeve, but it still seemed off. I eventually chopped off six inches of length leaving them a little shorter than a 3/4 sleeve and that was much better. I also took ~1 inch off the width of the sleeve, tapering to the original seam allowance at the top, to get a closer fit.

I'm really happy with the final result. This dress will be great at the office, running errands on the weekends or going out to events depending on my shoe and accessory choices. I wore it today to Girlie's baby shower and thought it worked well. I was really comfortable, but also felt really put together.

Baby Shower Bonanza

It seems as though the vast majority of the time that I've spent sewing these past few months, it's been a lot of baby and kid stuff. I must say, it's been really fun to make cute clothes to give to my friends for their little girls - both the ones that are already here and the ones that are on their way.

This weekend was Girlie's baby shower and I knew I wanted to make a dress to add to her gift. I thought I would try this Butterick pattern as it looked simple to put together and would be cute on its own or over a long sleeve shirt during cooler temps.

I found a fun pastel polka dot print that was little girl-ish, but not your typical little baby print. I added large pink buttons on the front instead of the suggested bows or roses and I liked that the button shape echoed the pink polka dots. This dress required snaps down the back instead of a zipper. I was initially intimidated, but after I started putting them on, I realized it was very similar to adding eyelets to scrapbook pages with which I've had plenty of practice.

Look at this diaper cover. You put the elastic a bit above the hemline for legs and it leaves a little ruffle at the bottom. So cute! The construction of the diaper cover was different than the other ones I've put together, but it made adding the elastic to leg opening so much easier.

The homemade gifts were going to end at the dress, but a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a fabulous tutorial for a homemade boutique-style baby blanket made out of minky and pajama satin. The construction looked straight-forward, so I bought some retro dot minky that echoed the colors Girlie had planned to use in the nursery and got to work. I cannot tell you how much I love how this turned out! It's super soft and looks so much more professional than the time it takes to actually put it together. I, unfortunately, do not have a rotary cutting system, but if you have one, it would make this that much easier.

In fact, I liked the way this blanket turned out so much that I made another one to add to a gift for a former co-worker's baby girl that is due later this year.

The best part is that all of these gifts have been so well-received by the recipients. I love being able to make things like this for my friends and it really puts a smile on my face when they love the final products as much as I do. :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

More sewing posts soon

But, in the meantime, want to see that Oliver + S Birthday Party Dress on the little girl that it was made for? Of course you do!

Pictures courtesy of the fabulous Winnie Seieroe.

You have no idea how much I'm beaming over this!! :D
For more examples of her work, check out her photography blog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Opinions please!

I think I might have 1 or 2 (hopefully more?) sewing enthusiasts that sometimes read this blog. So, I have a question for your gals. I'm going to start my hunt for an overlock machine and maybe if Santa is feeling generous this Christmas, I might have it by the end of the year. I love my regular machine, but would really like to be able to serge off seam allowances to yield a more professional and cleaner look. So, if you have an overlock machine, which one do you have? Do you like it? Pros and cons? Would you recommend it? And for any of you that own a coverstitch machines, your thoughts about those are welcome, too. I find that I really love sewing with knits and while I think I've finally figured out how to do hems with some Solvy and my twin stretch needle, it's not the best.

Thanks in advance for all your help!