Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quick-and-Easy Patternless Skirt Tutorial

So. It is rather evident that I have been very bad about updating my blog in the past year. I guess I had a very busy spring in 2013 and got out of the habit, and since then it has been hard to jump back on the bandwagon. Of course there have been changes: I'm back in America, making it easier to get in touch with family and friends, and I'm usually quite busy at school.

However, in this brief lull between opera performances

Photo credit: the amazingly talented Kimberly Feltkamp
I bring you...



We had a day off on Thursday, so I finally got around to making something out of this beautiful piece of Martha Negley fabric I bought last year in Toronto. (And look at this new design! I want to make a dress out of this new print!) I didn't measure the fabric before I started working, but I think it was about a meter. If you wanted to make a skirt with a coordinating waistband (and approximately these measurements), perhaps you could buy 1.25 yards?

Of course I didn't take pictures as I was going, but I've tried to supplement images of the finished product with a few drawings. Unfortunately I'm bad at drawing... 

It was a little bit too small for a dress, although it probably could have become a shift with a side slit (perhaps an idea for this other piece of fabric, which looks a little like a Wayne Thiebaud painting?), so I settled on a skirt. 

I cut the rectangle of fabric in half horizontally to make two pieces (each now about twenty-two inches high and 44 inches wide). I then joined the two pieces together with a seam along the side to make one long piece of fabric.

At this point I started pleating and pinning in 3/4 inch pleats. (This worked out to make a waistband large enough to sit on my hips, but the pleats could be sized to accommodate anyone.) I sewed over the pleats to hold them in place with a seam 1/4 inch from the edge of the fabric. 

Next I took a waistband from another skirt which I had repurposed for scraps. It would be easy, however, to make your own: it's just one large strip of fabric, folded in half, with the edges folded over for seams. I took this waistband and attached it to my skirt.

Luckily this old skirt also had an acetate lining, which I carefully removed. This I sewed to the seam holding the pleats and the waistband together. I used a small zigzag stitch because I was worried about the integrity of the acetate, which has a tendency to fray.

Then, I folded the waistband in half twice, to make four layers of fabric (I didn't have any interfacing). I pinned and sewed this, making a 1/8 inch seam along the bottom of the waistband. Next, I sewed up the seam on the other side of the skirt fabric, leaving room closer to the waistband for a zipper.

I was lucky to also be able to repurpose the zipper from the old skirt. With the help of the handy-dandy instruction manual for my beautiful Janome sewing machine (thanks, Mom!), I used the zipper foot to sew on the coordinating zipper. It involves pinning and sewing and being sort of confused, but I did manage to persevere.

And with that, the skirt was almost done! It looked like a skirt, and quacked like a skirt, and all it needed was a hem on the bottom!

For that, I first sewed on a strip of Flexi-Lace Hem Tape (leftover from another sewing project--see below). Then I realized I didn't feel like hand-sewing the entire hem for my skirt, so I decided to brave yet ANOTHER foot on my sewing machine... the INVISIBLE HEM FOOT! And after quite a bit more experimenting than the zipper needed, I managed to figure out how to coordinate all the various pieces of fabric and get a really beautiful, and truly "invisible" hem.

Here you can see the hem tape and acetate lining

And here you can "see" the "invisible" hem!

And then it just needed a little hand-sewing and snipping to clean up the zipper, attach a hook and eye, and cut off loose threads.


Now excuse me while I go back to rubbing spirit gum (the glue that holds wigs to your head) from off of my temples...

But before I do, here is a dress I made last semester out of some fabric Comrade M gave me (from the thrift store in Toronto!):

Look at those button holes! And those buttons!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gluten-free Pizza Crust! And hello!

Hello from Davis!

The promised gluten-free pizza crust recipe! Since it has been over a year since I last posted on this blog, and since I have little time before 2013 morphs to 2014 and I lose the chance to write anything in this calendar year, and since so many people expressed interest in the recipe, and since I might want to be able to find it myself later (since I'm leaving the originals with my mom), I thought I'd actually just type it up here.

In other news: still alive, moved back to America, living in New York state, still singing, glad 2013 is almost over (weird year; many sicknesses and deaths despite many other joys).

The recipe is from Gourmet magazine's November 2005 issue. I have been going through all my old magazines, culling interesting recipes and recycling the rest, in order to free up some space around the house, so that's how I found it.

The recipe begins with a rice flour mix that is used for a few of the recipes in this little bundle.

Brown Rice Flour Mix
Makes 3 cups

2 c    brown rice flour
2/3 c potato starch
1/3 c tapioca flour

Mix up, store what you don't need. When I was making this last night, I thought it seemed silly and wasteful to mix up a lot of something and the potentially never use it again, or not for a long time, but the pizza dough recipe is small enough that you might actually want to double it, particularly if you're baking for a crowd. And it's good! So you will make it again.

Pizza Crust
Makes one smallish pizza crust (served three adults last night)
Start to finish: 1.5 hr

1 c                   brown rice flour mix (see above)
1/2 c                millet flour (may be a little hard to find, but Bob's Red Mill makes it)
1 tsp                xanthan gum
1/2 tsp             salt
2 tsp                sugar (don't omit! I think the yeast needs it, and it doesn't affect the flavor much)
2 1/4 tsp          dry active yeast (or one packet)
3/4 c + 1 tbsp warm water
1 tsp               olive oil
                       olive oil for brushing and preparing pan; cornmeal for sprinkling

Oil and sprinkle cornmeal over your pizza pan (or cookie sheet).
Mix dry ingredients (flour mix, millet flour, xanthan gum, salt, sugar, and yeast) in a bowl until combined. Add the warm water and olive oil and mix until combined. The recipe recommends using an electric mixer; I found that a wooden spoon did the trick without any trouble. I also found that my dough was not as sticky as they predicted. It came together into a nice ball, though of course the texture was different that glutinous bread. I oiled my hands and then pressed the dough outwards into the desired shape, and to a thickness of about 1/8 in.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place the rack on the lowest level.
Allow the dough to rise for 40 minutes (until doubled).
Pre-bake the crust for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and decorate as you choose!  I used tomato sauce, zucchini slices, onion, spinach, and garlic, along with mozzarella, romano, and pepper jack cheeses.
And bake until everything is heated through.

Yum!  It turned out to be an excellent crust. I think it's on par with "regular" crust! The one drawback, perhaps, is that it is not particularly filling. If you're making it for a crowd, I'd recommend doubling the recipe.

This packet of recipes also includes recipes for chocolate chip cookies and a lemon layer cake.
Here's the recipe for the cookie:
And here's for the cake:

I haven't tried these ones, but I bet they'll be good!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Some thoughts

Back in August I was visiting Ryan for a few days at Tanglewood in between summer festivals and got a call from a violinist I knew from Yale.  She was looking for someone to perform two pieces as a soloist with an ensemble she leads in some concerts in Connecticut in December.  I was so honored and excited to be asked to work with some of the most talented musicians I know, people who did their graduate work at Yale and Juilliard while I was doing my undergrad.  I only hoped that nothing would get in the way of the performances and that it wasn't all a dream!  

There were some difficulties in arranging the logistical details: both concerts were offered free of charge to the public and only the second was part of a regular concert series that was offering the ensemble--a relatively large one, with 13 total players--a modest fee.  Katie, the ensemble's leader, explained that she and the other musicians largely did this as a labor of love and that there likely wasn't enough money going around to pay for my travel expenses.  After both of us fruitlessly searched for applicable travel grants, I wrote to the dean of my school to see if he had any other suggestions.  Thanks to the incredibly supportive administration, I wound up applying for and receiving a grant from the Student Opportunity Fund, which paid for my flight and other transportation costs and made the trip possible.  

Katie and I decided to program Handel's beautiful motet Silete Venti alongside a piece the ensemble was premiering, a setting of 10 African-American spirituals from an 1896 publication the composer arranged for string orchestra and harpsichord.  I had performed the Handel before, on my recital in the spring, and I have been in love with the piece since my early years of college so I was very excited about having the opportunity to sing it again.  I was admittedly a little nervous about performing spirituals, though, as it's a genre with which I'm relatively unfamiliar and I was consequently concerned that I wouldn't be able to do them justice.  It does seem strange and sad to feel more culturally connected to, say, operas written in Italy 400 years ago than more recent songs from my own country, but I suppose my trepidation comes from being the recipient of so much privilege and worrying that people who do identify with this music will find me somehow disingenuous in my performance of it.  I was somewhat comforted by the composer's own musical predilections ("standard" english pronunciation, classical technique) and also by his treatment of the songs, which were both harmonically interesting and also incorporated rhythms and extended technique in the ensemble to approximate traditional African music.  I also do firmly believe that all of us--no matter our race, ethnic background, class, age, income level, you name it--feel pain and suffering, joy and elation.  It is impossible to discount someone else's life experience as somehow lacking because A) you have no idea what goes on inside their head and B) we are all capable of empathy, and if we weren't, art (in all its myriad forms) wouldn't exist.  So, as I prepared for these concerts in Connecticut I tried to do some research about the various songs and did my best to stay true to their original intention but also anchor them in my own experience.  

I traveled down to New York after a whirlwind of graduate school recordings and applications, classes, and the last New Music Ensemble performance of Unsuk Chin's Akrostichon-Wortspiel and had a great first day of rehearsals with the composer and ensemble.  It was such an unbelievable joy to work with this immensely talented and responsive group of musicians.  There's nothing quite like finding other people who also deeply care about the music you're performing and who are so professional, respectful, and focused--but also creative and curious and open to new ideas.  I really can't articulate well enough what an honor it was to be able to work with such fantastic players.  But really, none of this was a surprise: I knew that it would be like this four months ago when Katie asked me about participating in these performances.

On Friday morning I was able to attend a dress rehearsal of the new production of The Barber of Seville at the Met (opera) thanks to a generous friend from Yale.  Afterward I met up with my dad (also in town for a conference and the performances) to rest a little before rehearsal in the evening, and that's when I heard about the shooting in Newtown.  In a pattern repeating all too often these days, the news unfolded first in a nebulous haze and then, as the weekend progressed, more and more sickening clarity.  Though I wasn't performing in Newton, Connecticut is small enough that everyone was reeling from the shooting.  The Saturday concert in Hamden began with a moment of silence for the victims.  As I sat backstage, listening to the first piece on the program (Corelli's Christmas Concerto), I couldn't help but wonder what I had done to deserve to be surrounded by such unadulterated beauty.  Sometimes going into music seems like the most overwhelmingly selfish choice I could make: I depend on the generosity of other people to support my quixotic pursuit when the money that makes all of this possible could be going to so many other worthy causes, and when even I could be doing something so much more tangibly productive with my mind and body.  Then come these moments of clarity, when I realize that perhaps I truly am able to make some sort of difference, that perhaps I am blessed with music because eventually words and medical care and legislation and whatever social safeguards we employ to prevent such tragedies are not enough.  We need art because it allows us empathy, to express and to absorb what words alone are insufficient to convey.

In the light of these events, singing the spirituals--music transcending years and years of institutionalized violence, music created to help a people rise above dehumanizing slavery with hope--was very fitting.  Attending the first concert was also a group of homeless men staying at the church hosting the event, many of whom were African-American.  As I began to sing, I realized that perhaps what they, and what all of us, needed to hear was not someone who came from their own experience, but someone who wanted to honor it.  I will never know what it is like to suffer racism, to come from a background which is not my own, and I pray that I will never know the pain of losing a child, a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, to senseless violence.  What I do know is that I am capable of fighting prejudice, ignorance, and evil with--as hokey as it may sound--the truth, beauty, and love with which I hope to imbue all music I sing.  I remain humbled by the opportunity to try to help begin the healing process, to try to reach out to strangers and to brighten their lives or to bring them some small amount of peace and solace and, above all, belief in the greater good of humanity.  And I remain humbled by the power of sound, of notes written down hundreds and hundreds of years ago to remain not only relevant but necessary in our lives today.

I wish you all a joyful holiday season.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving bread

Happy Thanksgiving!  And look at that!  It's almost one month after my last post!  How time does fly...

Really, it's been crazy, crazy busy.  This past weekend Ryan and I performed in the school's fall opera production, which means the previous week was filled with daily rehearsals.  We had one day "off" on Sunday to recover and prepare for coming week.  Monday was a busy day of classes (and a happy meeting with a friend from college, in town to look at schools).  Tuesday was class and the New Music Ensemble concert at the Canadian Opera Company, also filmed for a TV broadcast, which thankfully went very well!  Yesterday was a meeting with the man coming in to asses the school for the Canadian Heritage Fund, who then also observed my lesson.  And then finally I had the afternoon off!  Holy mackerel!  It feels like it has been ages since that happened (and let's not even think about the rest of the week...).  So Ryan and I made vegetarian stuffing for dinner (homemade sourdough with mushrooms, celery, leeks, chestnuts, and apples--recipe below) along with a salad with pomegranate seeds (the pomegranate was given to me by Rubana at Economy Fruit).  I also put together another batch of bread to retard in the fridge overnight and to bake today.  Per the request of one of my classmates, I measured the ingredients in volume in addition to weight so that I could make a version of the recipe for people who don't have a scale (though investing in a kitchen scale is probably a good idea if you're going to be doing a lot of bread baking because it makes measuring really easy and largely reduces the large margin of error found in volume measurements).

One loaf made last week.
So here is Susan's recipe for Norwich Sourdough from her blog Wild Yeast, adapted for volume measurements and with my little addenda.

Two big loaves, or 10 mini loaves (which is what I made today), or one loaf plus a pizza, or... you get the picture.  It's a lot.

Mixing -- 5 minutes
Autolyse -- 30 minutes
First fermentation -- 2.5 hours

If you're baking that day, then you divide/rest/shape
And then you proof -- 2.5 hours
And then you bake -- 30 minutes max

If you're not baking that day, I've been (in a probably incredibly unorthodox move) just transferring the dough directly to a container, usually a big tupperware, to retard for up to two days.  Then I form the loaves as quickly as possible before throwing them in the oven.  I've found that the sour flavor really improves after the two days in the fridge.

900 g white flour  -- or 6 cups
120 g whole wheat flour -- or 1 cup
600 g water at about 74F -- or 3 cups
360 g mature starter -- or 1 3/4 cups (which in my case is about half white and half wheat)
23 g salt -- or 2 tbsp
cornmeal for dusting

Method (for a completely handmade, no mixer 'cause I don't have one, bread):
Mix the flours, water, and starter until just combined, which usually I'm not quite strong enough to do with a big wooden spoon, so usually I just use my hands.
Let the dough rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes.
Add the salt and mix until the dough reaches a medium level of gluten development.  (Her pictures are really nice, so check them out.)  I usually wind up sort of pulling the dough between my hands until it actually stretches.  In the beginning it sort of breaks and won't stretch very well, but then as the gluten develops you can stretch it farther apart.
Transfer the dough to an oiled container (I usually just oil the bowl I mixed it in).
Ferment at room temperature (72F – 76F) for 2.5 hours, with folds (again nice instructions here, but basically you just stretch and then fold up) at approximately 50 and 100 minutes.
At this point I sort of deviate from Susan's instructions.  If I'm baking that day, I might shape one half of the bread into a ball, which I'll place on a piece of parchment paper dusted with cornmeal.  Otherwise I'll take my nicely oiled ball, find a big tupperware container, and dump the whole thing inside.  Make sure there's some room for it to expand because it will keep growing.  And then I put it in the fridge and wait a day or two.  I've found that 48 hours in the fridge results in a really nice and sour bread.

When I'm about ready to bake, I preheat the oven to 475 and put in the vessel I'm using for a cloche along with a baking tray (I don't own a bread stone, but I hear those are great).  Thanks to Susan's website, I recently started using this technique instead of trying to make steam in the whole oven.  First of all it's a lot safer.  Second of all it basically doesn't require any equipment (except the cloche).  Third of all it actually works. 

So what is this cloche thing?  Basically it's a heat-proof vessel like a big ceramic casserole or something that you can turn upside down and create a seal with a baking sheet.  You can also purchase a real one, or apparently make one out of a flower pot (instructions on her website), but really a deep ceramic baking dish seems to work perfectly.  The cloche traps the moisture that's already inside of the bread, allowing the dough to rise much more and ultimately creating a better crust.  You bake for 12 minutes or so with the cloche over the bread and then remove it for the last part of the baking.  Easy peasy.  No trays of boiling hot water or squirt guns or whatever.  No giant steam cloud threatening to cook you to death like a squishy lobster.  

So, you set the oven to 475, put in your big ceramic pot and your tray for baking the bread.  When the oven reaches the proper temperature, take a piece of parchment paper and dust it with your cornmeal.  Take your dough out of the fridge and quickly and gently shape (pat, coax) it into a size that will fit underneath your cloche.  Using a sharp knife, cut two long slashes into the dough.  It sometimes helps me to oil the knife blade a little first.  Then, I usually take the baking tray out of the oven and put it on the stove; transfer my dough to the baking tray using the parchment paper; and then take the cloche out of the oven and invert it over my piece of dough.  Then the whole thing goes back in the oven and you set the timer for 12 minutes and turn down the oven to 450.  After 12 minutes, carefully remove the cloche.  Mine's a little hard to grip, so yours might be too.  Just don't burn yourself.  And then keep baking until the bread is brown and done looking.  Depending on the size of the loaf and the temperature of the oven, this might be another 10-20 minutes.  And it's as easy as that!

And what will I be doing with my 10 mini loaves of bread?  I'm bringing them to a few of the people I'm really thankful for here in Toronto, including Rubana at Economy Fruit and my teachers and administrators at school.  It is sad not to be able to take the day to celebrate with my friends and family the way I have growing up, and I would especially like to be able to personally contribute to the storm clean up effort in New York, but I figure that I can at least do this small thing to give thanks for my innumerable blessings and the bounty that is in my life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Garret Girl's Kitchen Spooktacular: Bones, bones, bones!

Just in time for halloween, I bring you this blog post about eating bones!  So, please be forewarned if you think this is a subject that might make you upset (there are pictures).

I was under the weather for two weeks just recently, felled by this nasty bug everyone in Toronto seems to have gotten (some virus I've dubbed "the plague"). It wasn't anywhere near as terrible as influenza or mono, but it was a quite nasty cold that ended with laryngitis and left me struggling to get up the stairs. Plus, I'm not usually sick for that long!

Probably related to this, on Sunday I suddenly had a craving for roasted marrow bones. I had them for the first time back in May, I think, at Prune, a restaurant in New York City where I dined with my Aunt KS. They were served with a parsley and caper salad and a small dish of sel gris as well as little bits of toast. They were also really, really delicious.

Now, I imagine that this might be a turn-off to some of you, vegetarians and omnivores alike. Given the way we generally consume meat in America/Canada/the West, the concept of bones is a little different (though I'd think much more "familiar" than some organs).  Ryan says it makes him think I'm going to cut off his leg and eat it.  Ya never know, I guess...  Still, there are a few reasons why I think they might be an interesting foray for those of you who do eat meat.

I constantly think about, and second-guess, my own desire (and perceived need) to eat meat. It's not something I feel morally justified in doing, though I also notice myself feeling more energized and "healthier" after I eat a moderate amount of meat--particularly red meat. I also feel satiated for longer periods of time and do not crave simple carbohydrates. However, I eat meat, especially red meat, very infrequently. Aside from the obvious ethical problems with raising inhumanely and then killing sentient beings for food, cattle--particularly industrially-raised cattle--are enormously bad for the environment and contribute to the failure of antibiotics and the rise of drug-resistant bacterial strains.

So, part of what I try to do when I eat meat is to be conscious of the choices I'm making as a consumer (i.e. eating meat infrequently but trying to purchase more ethically-raised animals when I do) and to use the meat I purchase in a respectful and thoughtful manner. This is somewhat easier when it's chicken (after eating the meat I can use the bones for stock) and a little more difficult when I'm purchasing a part of an animal (such as a cow) and know I'm not prepared to deal with all of it. Perhaps this just makes me a self-deluding hypocrite, but I do hope that eating the bones is one way of trying to be a bit more "nose-to-tail" even if I'm not brave enough for stomach, feet, noses, or the other sobering items available in many shops in our neighborhood.

Another plus is that bones aren't very expensive. I guess most people give them to dogs rather than eating them, though they're also great for soup stock (both straight from the freezer and also post-roasting and marrow-eating, which is why I put my "empty" bones back in there). All in all, though, it means that you can purchase better quality bones without setting yourself back too far. I got mine from the local Italian butcher, Gasparro's Meat Market (or, as their website says, "Vince Gasparro's Qaulity Meats"). One of the sons pulled two big bones from the freezer in the back and the father cut them into small, 2-3 inch segments using his giant saw. [I meanwhile tried to surreptitiously inspect their hands for small warts (I heard in my microbiology class at Yale that butchers are usually infected with papilloma virus; you can read more about it here), all to no avail.] A big bag of them cost me ten dollars. I slung it into my bike basket and then stopped by Economy Fruit for a cornucopia of delights, all for the tune of six buckaroos.

Paulie is the "No Groceries Left Behind" inspector. 


At home, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and set a few bone segments standing upright in a pie dish. When the oven was hot, I put them inside and roasted them for about 30 minutes until the marrow was bubbling and the bones were light brown. Most of the recipes I've seen call for about 20 minutes of roasting and some recommend 350 degrees. I don't know if this is because some bones are frozen and some are not, but I have to say that my method seemed to work just fine. It seems like it might be a little messier if the bones were warmer, plus I'm storing my extra bones in the freezer and it's just easier not to have to thaw them first.


Meanwhile I cooked up some onions and mushrooms, adding a little lemon and a lot of parsley for some extra flavor. It seems that a parsley salad is a traditional pairing with marrow bones, but I thought my method was pretty tasty too. Because marrow is so rich (i.e. it is mostly fat), it helps to have something lighter and a little acidic to help cut through and lighten the flavor. I also toasted some of my homemade whole-wheat-and-spent-grain bread and sliced up some cucumber... et voilĂ !  You spread the marrow on the toast and you're set to go.  I found a knife and a spoon worked just fine for extracting the marrow, though of course you can use a marrow spoon if you're so accoutered (are you allowed to use that word with cutlery?).  And what does it taste like?  The coordinator for the pre-college program at school said it tastes like "meaty butter."  I guess that makes sense.  It's a little bit gelatinous, it's a little bit meaty.  It's not really like butter, though.  It's just different.  And tasty.

A somewhat unappetizing photo, I'm afraid--but I promise it was scrumptious!

Now, the nutritional benefits (and dangers) of marrow are somewhat disputed. What seems abundantly clear is that the bones are full of fat. Marrow was a food of choice for our scavenging paleolithic ancestors, namely because it is... full of fat! And when you're a scavenging cave person, something like marrow is a ticket to survival. However, I am not a cave person. (Sort of, anyway; I do live in a basement.) Proper nutritional analysis of marrow does seem to be lacking. I read that the fat isn't saturated, so that's a plus. Some places on the internet say that it's a wonderful source of all these things you need, like vitamin K and iron, and will solve all your problems; some places say it's a source of fat, which makes you fat. I say this:

Bone marrow is delicious.

Bone marrow makes me feel really good after I eat it: satiated but not over-full or greasy, and with lots of energy for hours. I ate the bones yesterday for a good-sized late lunch and didn't eat dinner or any dessert because I was full and energized all evening. And I didn't just sit around! I speed-walked to the post office and back, rode my bike to school (second trip of the day), had opera rehearsal in which I was running around, waltzing, and generally working up a sweat for a few hours, and then I rode my bike home and did homework.

It's surely not a good choice for every day eating, but then I don't think any kind of meat ever should be.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Giving Thanks

Sometimes it feels hard to believe that I've already been in Toronto for more than a year, yet here I am passing milestones for the second time: labour day, the first day of school, Nuit Blanche, and now Canadian Thanksgiving.  I still find that this latter event (celebrated this weekend, with the official holiday falling today) comes at an odd time in the calendar year, being used to American Thanksgiving, but after the past week it seemed like the stars had aligned to remind me to be grateful for my many blessings.

It's not that the past few days have really been horrible; in fact, many wonderful things happened to counterbalance the bad.  And even the negatives, when viewed contextually, have a bright side.  Two family members took ill, but thankfully--though the mishaps or diseases are serious--they seem like they will recover fully.  Some of the other misadventures seem perplexing, but even these frustrations have been assuaged by opportunities which may turn out to be more beneficial in the end, both in terms of career and also in terms of my personal growth, than what I had originally hoped might transpire.  Funny how our desires may indeed be less salubrious than our response when we feel they are thwarted...  Finally, it's just good to remember how blessed I am to have such friends and family and music in my life, and that even when some of these things seem to have gone awry, the reason I notice is because I am lucky to have them there in the first place.  It's hard to complain about that.

The festive dining room.
Comrade M cooked and baked an excellent Thanksgiving dinner, per usual.  The turkey was divine, the stuffing scrumptious, the kale salad refreshing, the sweet potatoes creamy, the vegetarian option ironically to-die-for, and the mashed potatoes fluffed to a T.  And the desserts... all I can say is that the pumpkin pie should become a standard.  It's amazing!  And the apple and cherry rustic tart, baked in a cast iron pan and with a ginger cookie topping, was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Boiling potatoes
Kale for the salad 
Pumpkin pie
Apple and cherry tart
With fewer people this year (i.e. just one extra) there was less to prepare and thus less for me to do--except, of course, borrow Comrade M's nice work camera and take pictures of everything!  Comrade M used some of my homemade bread for the stuffing, something I baked last weekend with spent grain from Ryan's brewing, but I hadn't even been planning to cook anything myself until I found an email from Smitten Kitchen in my inbox with a recipe for pumpkin cinnamon rolls.  Now with something like a recipe for pumpkin cinnamon rolls, you'd think there would be little to improve upon--and of course since I only made the recipe once, it's hard to tell if I improved anything.  So instead we will say that I did some characteristic fiddling and made the following adjustments:

  • Rather than using active dry yeast, I substituted my very own wild yeast sourdough starter.  (I've been growing it for the past week and this was my first experiment.)  I wound up using 1/2 cup of sourdough starter to replace the yeast called for in the recipe.  Consequently (and also due to the oven being occupied by the bird) I also allowed the buns to rise for several hours rather than the time she calls for.  I can't really tell if the sourdough starter influenced the flavor, especially due to the following point...
  • ... which is that rather than using brown sugar (since I had run out) I replaced the 1/4 c brown sugar in the dough with 1/4 c molasses.  This yields a strong molasses flavor, which I like but which perhaps overpowers the pumpkin and other flavors.  Ryan likes it, though.  I might stick to brown sugar next time to see how it compares.
  • Rather than just brushing the rolled-out dough with the butter (these are by no means healthy), I also added a layer of pumpkin puree.  Ryan and I roasted our own pumpkin (he had an extra one lying around after making a pumpkin beer a few weeks ago) and we had/have a lot left over.
  • I also added a few tablespoons of pumpkin puree to the cream cheese frosting rather than adding milk to change the consistency (and ultimately used two times the amount of cream cheese because I found it too sweet with two cups of powdered sugar).  In retrospect I would have just halved the amount of sugar since the recipe yields a ton of frosting no matter how much cream cheese you include.  I guess I'll have to freeze the leftovers for the next several time I make these cinnamon buns...
  • I also sprinkled the buns with pepitas before baking, though if/when I make these again I'd also include the seeds inside of the rolls.  I just didn't think of it until I had finished.
Rising rolls
Finished rolls with some glaze
And some without
Now it's Monday and Comrade M and I are embarking on a painting project.  First up?  The dining room, in "semolina" yellow.  It already looks beautifully bright and sunny!  I'm so excited.  

In the works...
Meanwhile, Ryan was concentrating on his latest batch of beer (this time with a holiday twist).

Monday, September 17, 2012

One man's trash

I spoke to many people when I was trying to decide which school to attend for this degree, soliciting opinions about teachers and facilities, about the merits of staying in America or moving to another country, about anything anyone had to offer.  An overwhelming majority of those spoke rapturously about Toronto: "If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there!" "Such a nice city!" "You'll love it!"

I have to confess that my opinion after one year is almost... "meh."

Toronto is nice enough, for sure.  Maybe--most likely--it's that I don't like cities.  Maybe it's that I don't live in a particularly beautiful neighborhood (sorry, neighborhood).  Maybe it's that I don't have a bus pass.  Maybe it's that the city is so spread out, the subway service is so minimal, and the traffic is so bad that getting from point A to point B seems even more daunting.  Maybe it's that the sun sets at about 4:30 PM all the overcast, grey-brown winter long, and I live in a basement.

Despite these misgivings, there are things I really do like about this city--especially now, with the long, sunlit evenings and green trees.  This neighborhood is actually kind of pretty at the moment: gardens are blooming, houses seem cleaner and less littered with trash, people sit out on their porches and watch others go by.  The weather is so nice (except when it's pouring rain) that I am happy to hop on my bike any moment and ride away.  Riding is a joy now, and I love using my legs to get around.  The longer ours of sunlight make me feel safer, too, both when riding my bike and generally being out in the city (let's ignore the man in my neighborhood who's been grabbing people at night).  I've finally had the time to explore some areas of Toronto that had been out of reach, either due to time or weather.  There's the West Toronto Railpath just a few blocks from my house.  It's sort of like a smaller, less-cool version of the High Line, but it's nice all the same. I've finally been to High Park, the large city park a little bit like a smaller, less-cool version of Central Park.  There are new places opening up in my neighborhood, coffee shops and restaurants, as it gentrifies.  And, of course, there's my favorite place of all (except for school): Economy Fruit!

But really what I wanted to write about in this post is the somewhat unique practice of giving things away that seems so integral to Toronto.  Instead of taking their unwanted belongings en masse to thrift stores, many people leave them outside their houses (especially, it seems, in my neighborhood).  I know they do this all around the world.  Montreal is known for September 1st, when many people change apartments, and the city apparently becomes one giant free bin.  I'm sure that other cities have their own traditions; even in Davis some of us would go collect things the UCD students were giving away or leaving for trash.  Still, in Toronto it seems like it's a way of life.  Sometimes it's something big (furniture) and sometimes it's a box of small things.  Sometimes it's stuff you really don't want (used mattresses) and sometimes it's exactly what you've been looking for.  Most of our place seems to be furnished with found objects.  A few days ago, the Comrades brought home a bookshelf that some people had left down the street.  It fits perfectly in the living room.  Ryan and I found a beautiful white armoire with golden handles that now serves as our pantry.  Comrade M found a big teal-blue desk/table back in June, replacing a less-satisfactory table that had been in the craft room for sewing, when she was out for a run.  She got a friend to bring it home, but we didn't have a chair to fit.  I had a rehearsal at a friend's house a few days ago and when leaving I noticed a wooden blue chair sitting on someone's front yard.  I couldn't take it with me to school but returned later in the afternoon to check if it was still there.  Sure enough it was, so I brought it home, cleaned it up, and put it in the craft room.  When I sent Comrade M to see the surprise she didn't even notice it at first because the color matches so perfectly.  The list goes on and on: cast iron pans, a weird piece of art, a microwave, a newer microwave to replace the old microwave, a toaster oven, a panini press, a nice metal basket that holds our fruit, a book I'd wanted to read, a dish to hold coins, a pink lamp, a toy piano I gave to the neighbors with young children...

Every few days, something new will show up.  If you wait long enough, it seems that the things you've wanted most will appear.  It reminds me of a story I once read, though I can't remember where.  In it, a journeying man comes to a place where the people are poor in possessions but not in spirit.  They set up nets in the stream and collect everything that comes to them, sorting and piling and holding for future use what they cannot value immediately.  Sure enough, the stream always seems to deliver what they're looking for: not just because they need it, but also because they know how to see value in what others toss aside.  It's not quite like that here, but some of the same principles apply.  Every time I pick something up, I feel grateful that someone else left it for me to find.  It makes me wonder about its story, about why it was discarded and about what replaced it.  (Usually these items are worn but not broken.)  Ultimately it makes me think about what I don't need, and what of my possessions someone else could use.

So, to those who have shared with me, thank you!  I hope to someday give you something of value.

... and I thought that you readers might be interested in checking out my new website!