Spring is here! Spring is here! The calendar tells us we have a few more weeks, but it looks like spring at the local farmers’ market. The stalls were filled with fresh asparagus and baskets of strawberries, and I was more than a little excited to try my hand at a strawberry gastrique (my first gastrique!).

This recipe is based loosely on another one from Cooking Light. I meant to follow the recipe more closely, but when I was preparing my ingredients, it became known to me that my husband had thrown out my gorgonzola cheese… because it was “stinky.” I pointed out that this statement was like me telling him I poured all of his beer down the drain because it was “fermented.” Ay caramba.

Substitutions were in order, so I swapped out the gorgonzola for goat cheese and added some artichoke bruschetta that happened to be kicking around in the fridge. Rather than thyme, I went bold and threw in a little bit of chopped, fresh mint (I love the combination of strawberries, balsamic vinegar and mint!). For the chicken: rather than cutting slits and stuffing whole chicken breasts, I rolled the artichoke, goat cheese and mint filling in chicken tenderloins.

Before adding the filling, I flattened the crap out of the tenderloins with a wooden mallet (a recommended way to spend some time while you’re getting over the idea that someone you love just chucked out $9.37 worth of artisanal cheese). And because I was now working with rolled chicken, I decided to forgo cooking it on the stove and baked the chicken in the oven. Not exactly as Cooking Light intended, but that recipe author probably didn’t live with a gorgonzola killer, either.

The only ingredient I changed in the strawberry gastrique recipe (my first gastrique!) was a swap of white balsamic vinegar for the recommended sherry vinegar. I may have lost some sweetness there, but I’m more of a savory girl anyhow. I served some of the lovely farmers’ market spring asparagus on the side with an almond and carrot rice pilaf. By the time it was on the table, the stinky-cheese-incident had, ahem, aired and dissipated.

This winter, the mix-tape is kicking the muffin-top’s dough-y butt! In other words, my latest DIY projects have been playlists that help dull the initial searing torture of a five-mile run to a rhythmic, enjoyable pain– allowing me to un-DIY about seven pounds of muffin-top that sneakily affixed themselves to my mid-section and as$ between Thanksgiving and the new year.

The latest playlist is a favorite, so I’m sharing it here (except for a few songs for which I couldn’t find samples). If you can hang with Indian break beats adjacent to gypsy punk, latino club music and a few hip hop anthems, you might like it too.

Beware of the Boys (Mundian to Bach Ke) Moonbootica remix– Panjabi MC
Maldito Alcohol (featuring Afrojack)– Pitbull
Immigrant Punk– Gogol Bordello
Olé (Extended Remix)– John Revox
Calabria 2007 (Club Mix)– Enur
Not a Crime– Gogol Bordello
Ready or Not (Salaam’s Ready for the Show Mix)– The Fugees

They Don’t Want Music– Black Eyed Peas and James Brown

O Saya– M.I.A.

These chocolate valentines are laced with bittersweet coffee, hot chiles, and cocooned with just enough sweetness to keep you coming back for more. A dark, sustaining romance.

If the chile powder is too scary, leave it out, but I really do encourage you choose a mild variety and be seduced by its warmth. The mini-valentine cards are tied on with ribbon, and they can be made with whatever scraps and bits you have lying about– I gravitated toward the slightly dark images used in lotería. You could also skip the valentine card altogether and package them up in a pretty DIY valentine’s box.

What You Need:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/8 cup cocoa powder

1/8 cup instant coffee or instant espresso

1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder (use mild chiles, like California, New Mexico or ancho)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 ounces Mexican drinking chocolate, like Abuelita’s (slightly more than 3/4 of a tablet)

2 sticks of room temperature butter

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 lb. dark chocolate

additional chile powder for dusting (or pico de gallo– chiles mixed with salt)

plastic wrap

parchment paper

wax paper

rolling pin

cookie sheets

heart-shaped cookie cutters

card making supplies: paper, glue stick, glitter glue, lace, ribbon, hole punches, decorative scissors, and lotería cards or downloaded valentine images

What To Do:

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, coffee, chile powder, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.

2. Using a heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the Mexican drinking chocolate and keep over low heat so it stays melted.

3. Beat the butter with an electric mixer in a large bowl until it is fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla.

4. Alternate adding the chocolate and flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until combined.

5. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to a day.

6. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out one half of the chilled dough to approximately 1/4″ thickness between sheets of wax paper with a rolling pin. Cut out heart shapes with cookie cutters.

7. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and place the cookies about 1″ apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes. The cookies should still be slightly soft when baked or piercing a hole in them to thread on the valentine will shatter them. Cool the cookies thoroughly on wire racks.

8. Using a bamboo skewer or chopstick, pierce a hole in the center of each heart, about 3/4″ from the edge.

9. Using the same double-boiler technique used to melt the Mexican drinking chocolate, chop up the 1 lb. of dark chocolate and melt about 1/4 at a time in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Dip each cookie into the chocolate and lift with a fork to allow excess to drip back in the bowl. Cool on sheets of waxed paper.

10. When the chocolate is cool, but still sticky, sift a mixture of additional cocoa powder and either chile powder or pico de gallo (a mixture of chile powder with salt) through a wire mesh strainer onto each cookie. Spicy!

11. Use scraps of paper, ribbon and lotería cards if you’ve got them (or download images online) to create mini Valentines to tie onto each cookie.

This is how it hatched last Wednesday night in the yarn aisle of the craft store, with little J in tow.

Me: What do you think J? Blue or brown? Or, ooh! GREEN!

J: Black!

Helpful Elderly Lady (HEL): So many pretty things to choose from. What are you making, dear?

Me: J! Don’t unravel ALL of them! Um, I want to make a wool necklace.

HEL: ….isn’t that a scarf, dear?

Me: I guess it could be, but I don’t know how to knit! J– did you decide on the grey and brown tweedy one? Pretty!

HEL: Well, I hope it works out for you, dear.

 

What You Need:

roving or thick yarn

small plastic rings (I used 1 1/8″ Dritz rings)

fabric glue

lobster clasp

large jump ring

What To Do:

1. Tie one end of a 18″ length of roving to a lobster clasp.

2. Wrap the roving around one of the plastic rings, closely overlapping as you wrap to avoid bald spots.

3. When you have wrapped halfway around the ring (exactly opposite the lobster clasp) tie a small loop in the yarn.

4. Continue wrapping the rest of the ring. Tie off the end and secure with a dot of fabric glue.

5. To create the next link, tie a loop in one end of a 18″ length of roving. Wrap the ring, covering the loose end of the knot.

6. Halfway around the ring, thread the roving from the second ring through the yarn loop of the first ring. Then continue wrapping the second ring.

7. Tie off the end of roving when the entire ring is wrapped and secure with a dot of glue. Continue wrapping rings as in steps 5-7 to create a chain. The chain I created was 25 links long.

8. For the last link, tie on a large jump ring, wrap the plastic ring and attach to the second to last link in the necklace.

During yearly treks to Burning Man 2001-2005, faux fur was as common as glitter and rampant public nudity… yawn.

But, come 2011, this sleek faux fur vest is something I’m interested in wearing again– it’s all about the slim silhouette and earthy colors. I would layer it over a long t-shirt or sweater– and pants for goodness sake. Hold the glitter.

To make a faux fur vest of your very own, you could either trace the pieces of a vest from your closet that fits you well, or download a pdf pattern here. One note: my pattern includes sizes 2 (XS) through 10 (XL)– larger sizes can be made by enlarging each pattern piece on your scanner or at the local copy shop.

Once you have your pattern pieces cut out, here’s what to do:

1. Cut the vest pieces from both fur and polar fleece.

2. Working with the fleece first, with the right sides together, sew the back to the front pieces at the side seams and the shoulders.

3. Repeat with the fur pieces, sewing the right (furry) sides together at the side and shoulder seams.

4. Place the fur vest pieces on top of the fleece pieces, so that the right sides are facing together. Stitch the fur to the fleece along the front edge and collar.

5. Turn the vest right side out and carefully turn under the armholes 1/4 inch. Pin the fleece to the fur at the armholes so that no raw edges are showing. Stitch together.

6. Repeat for the bottom edge, turning under the edges and stitching so that no raw edges are visible.

Made you look! I cut up a couple of men’s XL t-shirts and created this wrap-top dress. The deconstructed design keeps the ready-made sleeves and bottom hem of one of the shirts, allowing you to skip a couple of steps involved in your usual dress-making project.

I’d gauge this as a project for intermediate-level sewers: the construction is simple, you just need a certain degree of comfort tailoring the fit (adding gathers, ruching the sleeves, etc.) Here is more or less how it’s done:

What You Need:

2 men’s t-shirts (L to XL work for most of us)

scissors

straight pins

sewing machine and thread

What To Do:

 

1. Cut the side and sleeve seams of the first t-shirt.

2. Cut the t-shirt approximately 2 inches lower than your natural waist. Reserve the bottom band of t-shirt for making the waist tie.

3. Re-stitch the side and sleeve seams approximately 2 inches inside the original seams (or as fit to your body).

4. Cut the bodice down the center, and create two diagonal cuts from the center point to the shoulder seams.

5. Roll under the back collar and front edges and stitch a hem.

6. Pull the front panels to opposite sides of the waist– mark or pin placement while wearing the bodice to tailor the fit. Using a long stitch-length, stay-stitch the wrapped bodice bottom edge.

7. Make the waist tie by sewing two of strips remaining from step (2) to create one long strip. With right sides together, stitch one short side and the long side. Turn right-side-out and stitch the remaining short side closed.

8. To make the skirt, cut a horizontal line across the top of the second t-shirt below the collar. Cut two gradual diagonal lines to form an A-line shape.

9. Stitch the side seams of the skirt.

10. Turn the dress bodice inside out, and slip the skirt into the bodice so that the raw waist edges are matched with right sides together. Gather the skirt as necessary and pin to fit into the bodice. Stitch.

11. You can add details to the sleeves by shirring them (stitch the top center of each sleeve with a long stitch and pull the thread to create gathers, then stitch in place with a small-stitch length).


This week’s rain and cold mornings (32 in San Diego, people!) had me digging around in the garage to locate my umbrella, and provided inspiration to dust off another piece of cloudy day paraphraenalia: the slow cooker.

I fooled around with this recipe to create something with middle eastern spices, citrus and the richness of  crunchy  almonds.  It was a bonus that I could throw in the ol’  crock pot in the morning and leave it alone until after work. Let me know what you think!

Here’s what you need:

1 T. olive oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

pinch cardamon

1/2 t. cumin

1/2 t. salt

2 T. tomato paste

3 T. frozen o.j. concentrate

grated orange peel from 1/2 an orange

1/2 c. white wine

1/2 c. water

1/2 c. chopped almonds

1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley

What to do:

1. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add cumin, cardamom and salt. Brown chicken thighs on each side, approximately 2-4 minutes.

2. Remove from heat. Transfer chicken thighs and pan drippings to slow cooker.

3. Add tomato paste, orange juice concentrate, grated orange peel, honey, white wine, water and 1/4 c. chopped almonds. Reserve the other 1/4 c. of chopped almonds.

4. Turn slow cooker on low and allow to cook 6-8 hours.

5. Serve chicken garnished with additional chopped almonds and chopped parsley. Serve on top of couscous with a side green salad with feta and halved grapes.

When I started my new job, my office had the personality of a paint chip. A gray paint chip. It is difficult to believe that the photo insert above is actually a full-color image, not grayscale. Some spiffing up was mandatory, with two goals:

1. To make the place where I spend approximately 50 hours a week a little prettier, and

2. As an environmental planner, I wanted my work-life to be as green as possible.

I hit the fabric store and bought several yards of that papery fabric used to make re-useable grocery bags. That became my new “wallpaper,” tacked up with thin, stick pins. The laptop got a new stand from our company ergonomics team, and I brought in a plant, cork coasters, small dishes to hold odds and ends, a mirror (to check for post-lunch spinach-tooth), and a lamp.

You also might recognize the faux bois bookend that I made about a year ago, holding up a pretty binder with all of the business cards I collect at meetings slipped into 3-ring business card sleeves. A co-worker gave me the Science issue all about renewable energy (what I work on everyday), and I really mean to get around to reading it.

It’s still a cube, but it’s definitely a little more “me” than the drab office I walked into two months ago. More importantly, here’s how it’s greener:

* I am often the first one in in the mornings. Before anyone else arrives, I skip turning on the lights for the entire office, and use my lamp, lit by one CFL bulb. Once someone else arrives and flips the switch, I turn out my lamp.

* The stainless steel water bottle and ceramic coffee mug are refilled multiple times every day. No plastic or paper waste.

* I have another water bottle stashed in the community fridge. That one is full of almond milk, so I don’t have to use the single serve plastic coffee creamer tubs.

* To cut down on paper and plastic waste even more, I bring my lunches and breakfasts and use hand-painted cloth napkins and real flatware that I keep stashed in the lower drawer of my bookcase.

* Each week I bring in a clean dish towel for the entire office to use in the kitchen instead of paper towels.

Eventually, I will be working from home at least three days a week, but for now, the cube is a bit cozier.

My inner Martha is feeling pretty smug today. These cookies are so damn adorable, it’s going to be hard to part with them, and I swear, they took less than an hour to throw together. (Well, baking them took longer, but you could use store-bought cookies in a pinch).

I just blasted some plain sugar cookies with black food color spray (a funky product I discovered yesterday in the cake-decorating aisle at the craft store). I made the images by creating a stencil cut from printed, downloaded spooky images. Then I slipped the cookies in CD sleeves the colors of candy corn, punched a couple of holes, tied on ribbon and some those black plastic spider and bat rings. Ta-da!

What you need:

a batch of sugar cookies about 4-5″ in diameter (homemade or store-bought)

simple, printed halloween silhouette images

black food color spray (from the Wilton or Ace of Cakes)

CD sleeves

hole punch

ribbon

plastic halloween rings

What to do:

1. Cut out the halloween images to make a stencil.

2. Dampen the paper slightly and adhere to the top of a cookie.

3. Spray with black food color spray. Peel off the stencil. The same stencil can be used several times on other cookies.

4. While the spray is drying, punch two holes at the top of each CD sleeve.

5. Slip a cookie into each sleeve. Thread ribbon through the two holes, loop on a halloween ring and tie a knot or bow.

I made a pair of old-timey bloomer pajamas from navy and white seersucker, and they were plenty cute, so I’ve made a pattern and instructions to share with anyone who would like to make their own.

For the long version, as the lovely Sierra is modeling in the top photo, simply extend the bloomer leg pattern pieces about 12-15 inches. I hope you like them, and never be shy about sending pictures!

Projects

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.