19 August 2012

Summer Sewing: State of the Progress Address

After a couple of summer successes, things began poorly last fall,  when I decided to take a 1-day course to make this dress:
cute, right?

This is not a complicated or difficult dress at all.  But I've been trying to find more structured outlets for garment sewing, as I've long been at the point where some instruction and guidance would be helpful, to make sure I'm doing the best and most efficient things possible when sewing.  I was really excited for a class that involved sewing a real outfit, something I would actually have chosen on my own to sew and wear.

I should have known things weren't going to go well when the class was moved from September to October, a little late for such a breezy little thing.  Unfortunately the class's instructor's fitting strategies were "cut it to be approximately ok and fiddle with it till it looks alright."  Obviously this works for her, but it's not my style at all, and not being a novice sewer, I knew before even cutting the fabric that it would likely not work.  It didn't.  I ended up with something that would need a ton of reconstruction work to save.

The rest of the winter was similarly frustrating.  I kept sewing, but with the exception of a couple of pencil skirts, nothing got finished.  Something was not quite right about everything, the kind of annoying not quite right that you know you won't forget over the course of the day and you'll be pulling and tugging at your outfit for eight and a half hours, and I still have three or four dresses I put together but never finished because they needed more tweaking.  Several weeks lost trying to successfully expand sleeves for a Colette Peony--only to realize after finally giving up on the sleeves that the bodice really didn't suit me anyway--

Why, self, why?  You know high neck + big boobs = nothing good.  Why even bother?

  --did me in, and I stopped sewing for a while and focused on skating. 

Then the summer finally arrived and with it, the realization that for four glorious months I didn't have to sew anything with long sleeves, and then a missive:  DRESSES SHALL BE MADE, AND YEA BUT SHE SHALL WEAR THEM.  I bought patterns and more fabric with a vengeance, pored over books, changed my mind on a daily basis about what would be produced this upcoming weekend.  I have no social life and I refuse to even consider my long-languishing-not-quite-finished dissertation; there was no reason not to make a dress every week, maybe a top or skirt occasionally.

Ahem.  Yes.  Well, I was perhaps a bit overly ambitious.  I failed to fathom the extent of my own laziness.  But here are a few things that have been finished.

Coastal Breese pattern from Make It Perfect

Burda Style (envelope pattern) 7253

Jamie pattern from Sis Boom
Easy Kimono Dress from PatternRunway
Two of these have made the cut and are actually in my regular wardrobe;  the pink candy-striped dress and the floral sundress.  The black satin dress was winning the award for Best New Sewing Win--until I plopped down in my chair quickly and awkwardly at work and discovered--on the first day I wore it-- that I really should only use stretch fabrics for sheath dresses.  Sigh.  Due to that malfunction, I've been afraid to even try the yellow linen dress, which is too bad as it looks fabulous on me.   

Overall my verdict is:  semiproductive.  Summer's not yet over (thank goodness) and I still have stuff on the needles, so to speak, but I have come out with a few new staples for the wardrobe and am at the moment looking positively towards the fall.  I just made a birthday order from another Vintage Kenmore group member, and I think when Phyllis's new little sister arrives there may be more--she'll supply me with stretch stitches, a semi-free arm, and a center needle position that should give me more versatility in choosing presser feet to help me. 

15 August 2012

Recently: Fresh Strawberry and Marshmallow Tarte

So as of last night, I've been added to the blogroll of the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild (of which I am now a member).  I'm not sure how many of the members actually read blogs, but I figure I should start back to providing actual content in this here space.  So first a few catchup posts.

I started this blog with a vague sense of recording domestic-y things, and most importantly, a desire to participate in the now-completed "Tuesdays with Dorie" project, a years-long bakealong that took I don't know how many home bakers across the US and the world through Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home to Yours.  When I started with TWD, I was home full-time, on a year-long research fellowship in rural Pennsylvania.  I needed something fun and fulfilling to do on a regular basis to focus on and to distract me from all the other tomfoolery going on (or not going on, as the case may be) in my life, and Tuesdays with Dorie was it for me.  The year ended, and I was fortunate to land another position, but this position is a full-time office based job, and I now live in an apartment with a small, dark kitchen, no air conditioning, and little cabinet space.  It became hard to keep up with the recipes, but I tried to bake and post whenever I could, and so limped on till the project was over.  The group began a new book when we completed Baking..., but I knew I couldn't commit to the new book, which had even more ambitious recipes than this one, so I very reluctantly decided to bow out.

So without that, I didn't really have much I wanted to share.  I share my successfully completed sewing projects on Facebook.  I haven't been baking very much and haven't done a proper decorated cake in about 2 years (though I did do up some cookies for a bake sale last fall).  I don't think my baking will increase much, at least until I get a kitchen more amenable to it, but occasionally I am commissioned to do something, and that leads me to today's project.

I was invited to a Bastille Day party last month, and decided after some thought that I wanted to bring something very French.  Enter this tart from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets cookbook--her version of a tart served at Laduree, the famous Parisian bakery and tearoom. I spent a few days slowly putting it together, but it restored my faith in my baking abilities.

First, I made a vanilla bean creme patisserie.  There is a local dairy that sells milk at outrageously low prices, and they have this product I've never seen anywhere before:   superrich (richer than whole milk!) milk.

It is the BEST for making milky things like custards, pastry creams, rice pudding, and so on.  I only wish it came in quarts--I cannot bring myself to drink it--but at $1.99 a half-gallon I suppose I cannot complain much. 

The cream was easy enough to make--standard pastry cream.  In addition to the milk, it also had a nice quantity of butter to be mixed in.  Yay calcium!

vanilla bean cream with its first addition of butter

This went in the fridge while I set about making the strawberry-orangeflower marshmallows.
I've made marshmallows once before, a few years ago.  I remember being pleasantly surprised at how easy they are--really, the mixer does all the work for you--

make sugar syrup

whip up egg whites and add sugar syrup and gelatin to make meringue

fold in flavorings--here I used strawberry puree I found in the Latino frozen foods aisle, and orange-flower water

spread out in a pan and let cool for a day.
--but thinking they were too sweet.  This time, per Dorie's instructions, I dusted them with potato starch instead of powdered sugar.  This helped.  However, they developed a weird gelatinous layer at the bottom that I had to slice off.  It was pretty humid out, so I think the weather was not in my favor, but everyone said they liked them, even when I brought the extras to work a couple days later. 

Now on to the shell.  I've used Dorie's recipe for years now, so I always go to it--it rarely fails me.  It's a delightful shortbready crust, and I use almond flour for part of the flour to give it a little extra yum.  You
basically dump everything in the food processor and blitz BRIEFLY, then pat out and freeze.  Then bake.

dough in processor

dough in buttered tin

all patted out!  I like to roll it out but it was too sticky (See:air conditioing, no) so I just went with it.)

cover with buttered foil and freeze

bake from the freezer.  Dorie says you don't need weights when you bake the crust from frozen, but I beg to differ--I've never gotten anything but headaches when I've tried it, so I always figure weighting doesn't hurt anything.

baked crust, ready to fill!  Mine shrunk a bit, but I don't care.  

 The day of the party, all I did was bake the crust and fill it.

I cut up the pretty pink marshmallow block.

I arranged the strawberries in a pan to get an idea of how to pack them in!

Fill the crust with the creme patisserie and spread over some of the berries, macerated with a bit of sugar and mashed.

Cram on halved berries and brush with redcurrant jam

Dot with marshmallows!

It was a hit at the party--so much so that I never got a chance to have any!  It also reminded me of how much I love tarts, so I made myself a lemon tart (my FAVORITE) the next week.  I'll have to see if I have pix of that...


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