Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Saratoga Cocktail

Saratoga Cocktail

(Sorry for the slightly blurry photo. I thought I had gotten a good one before
i drank it. Oh, well.)

Tonight, after last week's discussion about why I wasn't worried that we tried the Sidecar using brandy that wasn't a cognac, Scott came home with a bottle of Remy Martin VSOP. Of course, that meant that we needed to try a drink tonight containing cognac.

I had been looking at some other cocktails, and I found a really interesting site, 12 Bottle Bar, which basically is about the idea of having a set of basics which you can combine with mixers to create a plethora of cocktails. The fist cocktail I came across there with a significant portion of cognac was the Saratoga Cocktail, so we went with that.

1 oz cognac
1 oz rye
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe of small wine glass
Garnish with a half lemon wheel.

Check out the 12 Bottle Bar entry about this drink for a super interesting story about it's origins, ties to gambling and gangs in late 1800's New York. That makes it a perfectly appropriate steampunk drink.

The verdict: It's very similar to a Manhattan. Basically, you switch out half the whiskey for cognac and drop the cherry for lemon. My taste isn't really refined enough yet to say more about the differences without tasting them along side each other.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beet Velvet Cake

Beets & dragon carrots

On Friday, I harvested the remaining beets and carrots from last year's crop, which we ended up leaving in the ground after it froze. For the most part, there was little loss, though I don't plan to do it that way next year. This variety of carrots, with red skin, is called "Dragon".

We ended up with a number of very small beets that were really too little to do much with, and I decided to try something I had seen on Working Class Foodies: making dye for red velvet cake from beets.

Beet dyed milk

I thought that their cake didn't really look red enough to me, and I figured that was because they couldn't use much of the dye, so I decided to use the beets to dye the milk instead. I simmered my beets in milk, peeled the beets, chopped them up and let them sit overnight to continue to allow the color to soak into the milk. I then used my typical method of substitution for buttermilk -- adding a cup of milk to a tablespoon of white vinegar. In this case, the milk was beet-colored. I didn't use as many beets as they did, but I got the milk to be fairly dark, and the batter was dark pink like cherry pie filling. Not as dark as I would have liked, but dark enough that I was ok settling for it.

Beet Velvet Cake - baked

The baked layers had only a hint of pink color, but I thought that might be just be the outside, and the inner cake might be different.

Beet Velvet Cake - trimmed

When I trimmed the dome of to make the layer flat, I found that the cake was a slightly different color inside -- it was the color of brown sugar, without a hint of pink, let alone red.

I have never made a decent looking cake before, so I used this opportunity to try making my cake look professional. I used this tutorial on how to assemble a layer cake and this tutorial on how to frost a cake. She says to save the trimmings because you'll figure out something to do with them. I think I'll try something like this.

Beet Velvet Cake - crumb coated

With the crumb coat, my cake looked like a stack of pancakes, didn't it? I don't have a turntable, so I improvised one using an overturned bowl as a pivot point.

Beet Velvet Cake - frosted

Here's my final result. I didn't worry about getting it perfect, but it is still the best looking cake I have ever made. I think I did well, especially considering the fact that I don't have a bench scraper -- which seems to be the key to this tutorial -- and I only have a 4" offset spatula. I probably shouldn't have made a cream cheese frosting for my first attempt at this, and I should have at least used the maximum amount of sugar to make it stiffer, but I didn't think about it until already frosting the cake.

Beet Velvet Cake

I think I would have liked the frosting to be a bit thicker, and the cake was not red at all, but it was tasty, and you couldn't taste the beets -- but we probably got the nutrients that simmered out of them. Tasty, tasty nutrients.

In retrospect, I should not have been terribly surprised that the cake wasn't red, given what happened with my beet green quiche that started out pink. Beet color from the juice just must not stand up to baking.

Grammer: Prepositions

There is something I want to share with everyone -- an Ask the Editor video segment from Mirriam-Webster. This video addresses the grammer "rule" about ending a sentence with a preposition.

Apparently, this rule originated from the opinion of a 17th century poet who was lambasting the pervious generation for using prepositions in English in a way that would not work in Latin. The generation he criticized included Shakespeare. I'm sure you can guess whom I would rather emulate.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Sidecar


We've been hearing the name "Sidecar" for a while as a drink that is constantly listed as being popular during Prohibition, but it apparently came out of World War I, in either London or Paris, depending on whose story you believe.

Once again, we had a guest join us, but this guest is a friend who normally drinks Irish whiskey on the rocks, so no need to search for fruity drinks. We decided to try the Sidecar. However, we found that the Sidecar was surprisingly fruity. More fruity, I think, than the last one, even though it contained no fruit juice.

Shake well with cracked ice:
1 1/2 oz cognac
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz lemon juice

Strain into chilled cocktail glass that has had its outside rim rubbed with lemon juice and dipped in sugar.

You may note that we used Grand Marnier, not Cointreau, but they are basically the same -- except that Cointreau uses a sugar beet alcohol where Grand Marnier uses brandy -- and Scott prefers Grand Marnier, so that is what we have at our house. These are both technically types of triple sec, but the stuff at the liquor store labeled "triple sec" typically has a lower ABV. We also used a brandy that is not from the cognac region, so it can't be called "cognac". Similar to champagne, scotch, or bourbon, cognac must be made in a certain region, and it has other limitations regarding how it is distilled and aged. Otherwise, it is a member of the brandy family, so we didn't feel that this cocktail would suffer too much from the switch.

You may also note that the drink pictured is not in a cocktail (Martini) glass. That is because I broke all three of our cocktail glasses while chilling them. You see, I sugared the rims, then put them in the freezer to chill. In order to fit them in the freezer without disrupting the rims, I had to stand them up in the door. I thought that if I was extra careful, they would be ok. Of course, when I went to put something else in the freezer, I totally forgot about the glasses, casually opened the door, and out they tumbled. Crash! Smash! Shatter!

So, wine glassed it is. This time, I put them on their sides on the shelf to chill, and Scott sugared the rims afterward, just before serving.

The verdict: our guest thought it was surprisingly similar to a margarita. It did have an unexpected fruity tropical flair, and a margarita does have triple sec. Scott and I thought it was more of a twist on the Grand Marnier; a bit more sour. Surprisingly perhaps, since there are two parts brandy, it didn't speak up as much. Personally, I felt that I could sip on this longer than on a Grand Marnier because the sour edge and the brandy make it less cloying.


Seed Buying

In gardening news, we have received all of the seeds I ordered from Seed Savers Exchange, and with a few others from the garden center, I started them in seed trays to get ready for the upcoming spring.


It is exciting to see them poking their little heads up, but I am ready for spring to be here. Now.

I hear my friends and family in Atlanta talking about warm weather, not just crocuses blooming, but cherry blossoms. I am so jealous. My southern internal clock is telling me, "It's time for spring!" Here, there is nothing blooming outside. What I have instead is a backyard swamp.

Snowmelt Swamp

It started with the snowmelt, and then continued with sleet and rain. Ick. Today is sunny and pretty outside, but it's 31ºF, and my back yard is still half lake, which the dog likes to bring inside for me.

Thander, superman pose

At least he's cute, right? Even if he likes to contort himself as he naps on the floor. (I apologize for the poor photo quality.)

Bathroom Makeover

Cork bathmat & new shower curtain

One of the things we have done in the past couple of weeks is a little bathroom makeover. We made a new bathmat from old wine corks, and put in a new shower curtain.

Though this is a small and inexpensive change, I am really loving the difference.

Shower curtain

The previous shower curtain was so dark and opaque that it was hard to see while shaving, and the green really didn't go so well with the other colors in the room. Neither did the old red bathmat. Now, we have a pretty cork one instead!

Cork bathmat & new shower curtain

Scott has been collecting corks from every bottle of wine or mead that has been drunk in this house since 2003. This makes the cork bathmat really special, because it is a visual memory of seven years of dinner parties and days at the Renaissance Festival. Now, this reminder is a part of everyday life.

To make the new bathmat, we basically followed this tutorial. I copied the old bathmat for size, and got going with a sharp knife and a pile of corks, as she instructs. Cutting the corks by hand was slow and frustrating, so I enlisted Scott's help, and he decided to set things up on the bandsaw.

Wine cork bath mat in progress

He clamped two pieces of scrap wood on either side to form a jig or channel just wide enough for the corks to slide through.

Wine cork bath mat in progress

He used a small dowel to push the corks through and prevent them from getting snagged in the opening on the bottom of the table. This method went really quickly, and within a half hour or so we had all of the corks cut up.

Wine cork bath mat in progress

We then arranged the corks so that they were nicely distributed and neatly laid out. Some did require the occasional trim at the corkscrew hole site, but in general they packed in neatly. The last step was to hot glue the corks into their final spots. I really wish I had put down wax paper or parchment under the mat before laying the corks out, so that I wouldn't have had to shimmy paper underneath while trying to disturb as few corks as possible. Still, I am loving the final result.

Cork bathmat & new shower curtain

Back to that new shower curtain: I am really liking having a shower curtain that is not plasticized. The liner is tightly woven fabric with some polyester content, so it works well at keeping the water in, but it can be easily laundered. Plus, there is no off-gassing. The waffle weave, hotel-style outer curtain can be easily laundered as well, and it is surprisingly luxe looking for being one of the cheaper options at Target.

Shower curtain hangar detail

I am also loving the shower curtain hangars I bought. I think the metal beads help them move more smoothly along the rod, and whenever I want to wash them, they will be easy to remove.

Well, there's the current house progress!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Colony Cocktail

Colony Cocktail

This week, we picked the Colony Cocktail from's list of popular Prohibition-era cocktails. It is named after The Colony in New York, which was apparently a favorite place for the Vanderbilts and Windsors to dine.

Shake well with cracked ice:
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
2 tsp maraschino
Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

This one looks considerably more girly than the last one, and it contains more juice. A friend joined us tonight, and she was a bit more interested by something containing juice, though there isn't much in this cocktail, really.

The verdict: I can just discern the grapefruit and barely the cherry, but they marry well with the gin, so you can't define the line between them, and they enhance that "gin flavor". I can see why this would have been popular during Prohibition, because if one only had access to lower quality gin, this would have enhanced the flavor.

It's funny, but ever since we started this, we have been drinking more classic cocktails when we would normally have had something else. At a bar and restaurant last week, Scott and I had an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan, respectively. Just last night, Scott served up gin and tonics. Funny, huh?

Now, I don't want anyone thinking we're huge boozers. This is just one drink an evening, though tonight we did mix a second since I didn't get any photos the first time. Scott's not working tomorrow, though. He worked about seventy hours last week, so we think he's perfectly justified in taking our anniversary off tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

This past weekend, I went to the west side of the state for the first time. Scott's entire family spent the weekend in Grand Rapids to celebrate his mom's birthday. Now, Grand Rapids might not seem like a vacation destination, but it had more than enough going on to fill the weekend.

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

First, we joined in the Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day parade.

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

You can see from this picture as the parade was setting up that even the snow plows got in on the action - and these plows are much bigger than what we have here, since they have lake effect to contend with. They're not fooling around!

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

At the end of the parade, we hung out and listened to the band for a while.

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

Grand Rapids St. Patrick's Day Parade

After grabbing a bite to eat, we went to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where we saw the Bodies Revealed exhibit, which I believe is a slightly smaller version of Bodies, the Exhibition.

Museum in Grand Rapids - Whale Skeleton

The permanent collection has a lot of interesting stuff as well, from this whale skeleton to an interesting living history area from the late 1800s, where we saw a very cool printing press in operation, saw mill steam engines, and the ride we took on the carousel.

Museum in Grand Rapids - Steam Engine

That evening, we went to The B.O.B. for dinner, drinks and hanging out listening to the band at Bobarinos. B.O.B. stands for Big Old Building, and it's basically an old warehouse that has been reclaimed and made into a cool space full of restaurants, bars and clubs. It's an especially good idea for a place like Grand Rapids when it's cold because you don't need to go outside all evening.

Sunday, the big event was indoor putt-putt golf. This particular course was special because it was part of the Laugh Fest event going on in Grand Rapids all through March -- unfortunately, we were too late to buy tickets to see Bill Cosby. Anyway, each of the holes were designed and created by an artist, and they were all pretty cooky and fun.

Lastly, a stop on the way home at Pizza House for some stuffed deep dish pizza and Reeces milkshakes, and we called it a good weekend.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Tale of Two Hens

I do intend to make Cocktail Wednesdays a regular feature on the blog, as well as a tradition in out house. Hoever, we didn't do it this week, because we had tickets to the Red Wings game. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera, so I can't regale you with the story of the game, accompanied by shots of the Detroit River and Joe Lewis Arena.

Instead, I will let you in on a little experiment I did this weekend. I have never roasted a whole chicken before, and only assisted with turkeys. We managed to get two Cornish hens at a good price, but I was a little intimidated because I usually make meals that take about thirty minutes to cook. I save the bigger stuff for the weekends. And these little chickens just kept getting left in the freezer and I made easier things and was busy on weekends. At first, I didn't realize that the hens were big enough for two people to eat one, so I defrosted both at the same time. Uh-oh, that meant that I had to use both!

Ultimately, I decided to use two different recipes on two successive nights. The recipes I picked were fairly simple, because I didn't want to go back out to the store. Therefor, they only involved the chicken and items I typically keep in my pantry. I did, of course, have to pull a tiny bit of substitution -- lemon and lime juice in a bottle, a clove of garlic and a little onion for a shallot. It turned out well, though.

The first person I turned to for recipes was Julia Child. I decided to keep it simple anad use her Poulet Rôti (Roast Chicken) recipe. This recipe calls for the chicken to be rubbed with butter and salt, very simple.

The next thing I had to do was truss the chicken, and her method wasn't going to work, because I don't own a trussing or mattress needle. I certainly didn't know any methods myself. A little searching later, I found some videos online, and my favorite was this one:

It worked like a charm, as you can see:
trussed and ready for roasting

Once I had trussed my hen, I added chopped onion and carrot to the pan and popped it in the oven. Next, I followed her basting and turning directions, grabbing the chicken out of the oven every ten minutes or so and brushing it with a mixture of butter and oil, and occasionally adding more salt.

roasted cornish hen

As you can see, it turned out beautifully roasted. I removed it from the pan and cooked the drippings and caramelized veggies with some broth, a clove of garlic, and a little butter, making a really lovely, flavorful sauce.

Dinner with Cornish Hen

I served it with puréed roasted acorn squash and roasted potatoes, along with fresh bread. I baked the bread first, then roasted everything else along with the chicken. I also added the leftover roasted onion and carrots to the squash purée, which added a bit of depth. I wish I hadn't added a little un-roasted garlic, too, but luckily, we both like garlic.

Sunday night, I tried a recipe from another cookbook, French: Delicious Classic Cuisine Made Easy, which I have owned for many years and had success with in the past. This time, I chose the Poussins Grillés (Broiled Squab Chicken) recipe.

This one called for getting out the kitchen shears and cutting that chicken in half, removing the backbone, then smashing it each half down with a rolling pin. Next, it was a combination of butter, olive oil, garlic, thyme, cayenne, salt, pepper, lemon and lime juice that was smeared under the skin. Once the skin was basted with a blend of olive oil, lemon and lime juice and honey, they went into the broiler.

The reason I have no pictures for you is that last phrase, "went into the broiler". There is not photographic evidence of my shame. When I pulled them out after just five minutes in order to baste them again, they were blackened. They weren't supposed to be blackened. I didn't expect them to be blackened, because I had not moved the top rack in the oven close to the broiler. This is how I learned what it means that this oven has a high and low setting for the broiler, and which one I should be using when I am trying to approximate any other time I have ever broiled anything. That is to say, I should always use the "low" broiler setting.

After turning the broiler down, I returned the basted chicken to the oven and followed the rest of the recipe. In the end, the chicken was tasty and even moist. I served it with green beans I had frozen earlier in the year from the fall harvest, and rice. It made a nice meal. The chicken just looked terrible.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Crepe Sew Along 7: Finished Dress

Finished Crepe

Here it is -- the finished dress.

I hope to get Scott to help me take some "photo shoot" photos later in the week, so I can show off how well it fits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Crepe Sew Along 6: Sewing the bodice

Crepe bodice progress

I have progressed a good deal on the bodice of my Crepe dress. As you can see above, I am getting close to being done with the bodice.

First, I sewed the darts . I was hoping that the inside would be as neat and lovely as the outside, but the dart step burst that bubble for me. I had to sew some seams twice because my lines weren't totally straight, or accidentally went inside of a basting stitch or two. Sewing a proper line for the dart was actually more difficult because the darts are shaped, so I couldn't use the trick from Threads magazine's video. Plus, I sometimes forgot to adjust my stitch length at the dart point, or to adjust it back before the next dart. Still, when I pressed it all out, it looked lovely on the outside.

Next, I sewed the shoulder seams, pinked and pressed them open. Gertie recommended pinking for this seam because it has less bulk.

marking the seamline on  the sleeve facing

Next, I added the sleeve facing. Finding the stitching line along the tight curve was difficult, so I marked it out ahead of time with tailor's chalk.

sleeve stabilization

As you can see, the 5/8" seam generally went outside of the 1/2" bias silk organza strips I used for stabilization, so I will definitely make wider strips next time.

I then graded the sleeve seam allowances, clipped and notched the curves, pressed the facing under, and hand sewed the facing to the seam allowances to keep it from flipping out. I also pinked the outside edge of the facings.

Next, I sewed the side seams with the sleeve facing flipped up, so that when I flipped the facing down, all of the seams were finished. This seam was also pinked. Then the sleeve facings were flipped back down and tacked by hand to the seam allowances at the shoulder and side seam under the arms to keep them in place. Unfortunately, the facing still doesn't want to play nice at the tight curves where the sleeves transition to the body of the dress. I just read that Gertie had the same problem and she sewed them down to the underlining, which I will be doing today.

Next, I sewed tubes from the contrasting tie fabric and flipped them right side out. I then pinned them to the dress and tried it on to see how long I wanted them. I ended up not trimming them to the length in the pattern but leaving them as-is because I liked the extra length. I then basted them to the back of the bodice, giving the current state of the dress here:

Crepe bodice progress

The next step will finish the bodice, then I'll move on to the skirt. How long will it take me to finish? What are your bets?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Bee's Knees

The Bee's Knees

Scott and I decided that we want to try classic cocktails and see what they're all about, and what we like. The general idea is prohibition era cocktails, but we may try some earlier ones as well. We have been thinking of doing this for a while, but we recently decided to do this every Wednesday.

The first drink we chose, today's drink, was The Bee's Knees. We picked it for several reasons: 1) we wanted a gin-based drink because we had bought a bottle gin that we wanted to try, 2) we had all of the ingredients, 3) it was something neither of us had tried, and 4) frankly, there was a video for it on 12 Second Cocktails.

The 12 Second Bee's Knees from Lush Life on Vimeo.

We did make the runny honey featured in the video, which mixes up much more easily than regular honey. It is essentially the honey version of simple syrup.

We also used the recipe from the episode, missing the lemon zest:

2 oz of Gin
3 bar spoons of runny honey (3 bar spoons=3 tsp=1 Tbsp=1/2 oz)
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

Stir the honey into the gin, then cover with ice, shake, strain and garnish with a lemon zest.

We wanted to try the gin because it's an American brand, and we're trying to buy things more locally. It turns out that this was the same gin used in the 12 Second Cocktails spot.

The verdict was that the gin was pretty good, but as for the cocktail, you couldn't really taste the honey. The lemon was much stronger, though maybe that's because we didn't have fresh lemons and had to use the bottled stuff. Still, overall, a decent drink.

I'm thinking the recipe from would have been a better choice, maybe even adjusted to add more since the runny honey is half water. Another time, another recipe to try, I guess.

P.S. Sorry about that autoplay ad I had on the video at first. I couldn't get it to go away until I got the video from a different source. I just found out that it looks like 12 Second Cocktails has moved over from Hungry Nation TV to Tumblr, and they're hosting their videos on Vimeo, so no more ads!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Crepe Sew Along 5: Ready to Sew

Crepe sew along ready for sewing

Today, I finally got to the point when I have everything set up on Gertie's "pre-sew checklist".

I used the silk organza strip method to stabilize the neckline, then tried the silk bias strips for the arms, like Gertie. You can see the tan strips that I hand basted at these openings. Remember, the light blue is my underlining, and the dark purple is the dress fabric. I think I prefer the bias strips, but maybe they should be wider. We'll see.

Next, I redrafted all of the facings to match my alterations. Then, I fused lightweight interfacing to the neckline facings. I had to go out to the fabric store to pick up the interfacing because I thought the organza replaced the need for interfacing. Oops! Well, it was a good excuse to drop by Haberman Fabrics on the way to pick Scott up at work when his car was out of commission. It's probably a good thing that I had to get him because all the wool fabrics were 40% off. As much as I might want to, I can't go and splurge for a new dress when I haven't even finished this one.

I also cut out my sash, which is made of a lovely batik fabric from Material Girls Quilts. Unfortunately, the amount of fabric I bought was not enough to cut the sash as a single piece, so I cut strips and spliced them together at an angle. I decided not to trim the final strip to length just yet, because I tend to like long ties.

It was nice to actually get my machine out for this. I am pretty tired of hand basting, even if it does keep the fabric lined up better. Plus, I am so enamored with my new machine. It's a joy to use.

Up next: sewing.