Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer sewing: The 2011 edition

My sewing machine and I  have been busy lately expanding my summer wardrobe. Care to take a look at what I've been up to, dear readers?

First up: the Pendrell blouse from Sewaholic, an independent, Canadian pattern company out of Vancouver. I have to say, I really love this top. It dresses up and down so easily -- I'm equally comfortable wearing it with jeans and sandals as I am wearing it to work with with dress pants and heels. I also get a lot of compliments when I wear it, which is always a plus!

The fabric is a brushed cotton with a little bit of sheen and a little bit of stretch. I made a size 12, but ended up taking it in a few inches at the sides for a more form-fitting silhouette. The nice thing about this pattern is that it just pulls on over your head -- no pesky buttons or zippers to deal with.

I've also made a couple easy elastic-waist skirts that have become wardrobe staples this summer. The pattern is a free download from fabric designer Anna Maria Horner -- the Flirting the Issue skirt.

The purple one on the left is made out of a nice border print I saw at Fabricland that screamed to be made into a summer skirt. I've worn it to work and to a wedding shower -- it's not too dressy but still looks put together. The one on the right is made out of a cotton voile designed by Anna Maria Horner. It's a little shorter and a little funkier (yes, I said funkier). It's perfect for a night at the pub or a barbecue.

These skirts are basically two lined rectangles shaped by four narrow bands of elastic at the waist (which almost look like smocking). It's very quick and easy and I banged both of these skirts out in a few hours each. The only tricky part is feeding the elastic through the narrow channels -- it gets a bit finicky, but the end result is worth it. 

Finally, I'm working on a Peter Pan-collared blouse -- Violet from Colette patterns. This is coming together well -- I'm making it in a satiny pink with a black collar and buttons. I'll be sure to update you when I've finished the final product!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DIY cheese

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Home Dairy with Ashley English, a cookbook that's all about making your own cheese. I was very intrigued, but totally intimidated by the process. You need ingredients that sounded scary (bacteria! rennet!) and that were hard to track down.

But today I stumbled across something that could de-freakify cheese-making: a DIY cheese kit. All you have to do is add a gallon of milk and follow the instructions. It comes in a couple flavours -- mozzarella and ricotta, goat cheese, and paneer and queso blanco.

If you're as intrigued as I am, you can pick up your own cheese kit on Etsy here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Perfect summer dinner

It has suddenly become incredibly hot. Hot with a capital H-O-T. So hot that I've been working up a sweat just by sitting on the couch. (Classy, I know). So hot that the thought of turning on the stove top, the  barbecue, or -- God forbid -- the oven -- makes me want to throw a major temper tantrum.

Herein lies the wonder of the cold soup. This recipe requires zero heat to make and is cool and refreshing to consume. I made a big batch of this the other day and have been eating it basically nonstop ever since (which is actually fantastic, because it's pretty darn healthy). Add a bit of focaccia and maybe a slice of cheese or two on the side and you've got yourself a fresh, heat-free, heavenly summer dinner.

Gazpacho My Way (Adapted from "For the love of  Soup" by Janelle Mitchell)

1 can crushed tomatoes
2 ripe, fresh tomatoes
1 cucumber
3 sweet peppers (a mix of green, red, orange, yellow -- whatever you have on hand. Though I like using only 1 green pepper because the other varieties are a bit sweeter).
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 chipotle peppers, or to taste (If you don't have chipotles, add a few dashes of your favourite hot sauce).
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro to garnish

Roughly chop cucumber, peppers, onion, garlic, and chipotles.

In batches, transfer the chopped veggies into a blender or food processor, adding a bit of the canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and a splash of olive oil to each batch. Puree until smooth.

When blended, transfer each batch into a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper. If it's too thick, gradually add water until it suits you -- but keep in mind this should be a thick, hearty soup.

Chop the fresh tomatoes into smallish pieces and add to the soup. (This adds a nice chunky texture).

Mix well and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. This will keep covered in the fridge for several days.

Serve garnished with the chopped fresh cilantro and, if you like, a little vino on the side.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reflections on home

Well, dear readers - it's been awhile. (Or should I say reader...Hi Mom!)

I took a bit of a blog hiatus this spring, as you may have already guessed. It was a busy and stressful time -- in March, my fella and I moved back to our hometown into an apartment that's pretty rough around the edges in a not-so-great neighbourhood. It was a particularly tough move because we left behind a beautiful, well-cared-for apartment in a quiet Toronto neighbourhood. We chose this route because it has allowed us to save a TON of cash to buy a place of our own (which we hope to be able to do by the end of the year).

But even though our new place will benefit us in the long run, it has taken awhile for me to feel comfortable and settled. I like to have a home that provides a bit of sanctuary (which is probably one of the reasons why I put so much care and effort into making our living space as homey and beautiful as I can). Moving into a place with a crummy bathroom and zero counterspace and a thousand little flaws just gave me this icky, mopey feeling -- like I had no refuge from the big, bad world.

Now that a few months have passed, I'm starting to feel more relaxed. We've painted, cleaned, and disguised as many imperfections as we can. This will never be my dream apartment and I will be happy to move into a place of our own as soon as we can -- but at least I finally feel like we can be comfortable here over the next few months.

My fella and I just got back from our first vacation since moving into our new apartment -- a wonderful camping trip in northern Ontario. We spent four blissful days reading, hiking, swimming and sitting on the beach. It was just the escape we both needed. But on the way back, I was surprised at how much I was looking forward to being home -- even a home with a crummy bathroom and zero counter space.

I'll leave you with a few snaps of our trip. Isn't Ontario beautiful in the summer?