Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DIY Dog Training Pouch - Take One

Maggie and I started obedience classes last week. Very exciting. She's already such a good pup, but she gets very impulsive when other dogs are in sight. Impulsive meaning she jumps and pulls all 75 pounds of her to try to get closer. I'd like to curb this habit and keep my arm as is. Luckily, like her mama, she is treat oriented, so training should go well once I learn the techniques.

The obedience class instructor recommended buying a pouch in which to keep treats to allow the dog handler to be hands free. So instead of running out to PetCo/Smart, I pulled out my sewing machine, fabric, and thread, and got to work. I did this project flying by the seat of my pants. Overall, I'm happy with the results, and it will be functional. As is the case with most projects that are entirely improvisational, there are tweaks I would make to improve and neaten it. I'll point them out below.
My pouch inspiration, an envelope.

I started with a rectangular piece of fabric approximatey 8x16 inches (I will start with a 10 or 12x16 inch rectangle on the next version). I eye-balled where I wanted the top flap to meet the bottom part of the pouch. Measured and marked the halfway point on the top flap. Drew from the top left and right corners to this middle point to cut off excess fabric to make that triangular top part.
upside down: making guidelines for cutting on top flap

 I repeated a similar process for the bottom flap.

And then used this cut-out, which is the exterior of the pouch, to trace onto the second fabric, which was the interior of the pouch. To make hemming the sides of the two pieces together easier, I ended up reduced all sides of the interior fabric by about 1/4". (I should have reduced it by 1/2" as it turns out).

 To start the hemming process, I placed the exterior and interior on top of each other with right sides facing out. I then ironed the excess fabric along the edges of the exterior piece over the edges of the interior piece. On all of the edges but the top of the bottom flap, I folded the hem over once more and ironed to hide the raw edges.

I hemmed the top edge of the bottom flap before pinning the rest of the hems and pinning the lower half of the pouch together with rightsides facing. This way it could be flipped rightside out after sewing and the stitches were hidden. The double fold of most edges versus the single fold of the top of the bottom flap is kind of visible. I just figured that bottom flap edge would be hidden when I flipped the pouch back out. I was being kind of lazy, and wanted to avoid some of the extra bulk double folding creates.

After getting it all sewn together, I finished the last pieces. This included making a loop, made the exterior fabric reinforced with canvas, to sew onto the back of the pouch to insert webbing to make a belt. (I made two loops but ended up only having room to sew one on). I also sewed on a snap-on button and cleaned up the messy corners that showed when the the flap was snapped down.

Here's the final product. I hadn't intentionally centered the purple graphic to be centered like that... what a happy mistake! Anyway, the next version will be the same height but will be wider. This will let me place two loops on the back, which will help stabilize the pouch on the belt. This will also let me sew two separate pockets for the pouch instead of just one. I want this, so I can put boring, old dry food in one pouch, and super smelly, highly motivating treats in the other one. It's a bit floppy as it is. I will either 1) make the top flap overlap the bottom half a bit more, so when it's snapped shut, there won't be open gaps, or 2) use velcro along the whole flap instead of the snap-on button. (I may still try the velcro on this pouch).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Strawberries and Cream - Two Ways

Tomorrow is Wimbledon Sunday, and I will be getting up up bright and early (gotta love that time difference, but it could be worse like with the Australian Open) to watch tennis. Today I whole-heartedly rooted on Serena!! She is my favorite women's player, so I was glad to have someone to truly root for and even gladder to see her pull out the win in three sets. Tomorrow I'll be cheering for Federer, grudgingly, I almost never cheer for Federer. But because my absolute favorite, Nadal, bowed out of the tournament in the second round, I have no other choice. I know Andy Murray is Great Britain's favorite, but he's not mine.

The quintessential Wimbledon food to savor is Strawberries and Cream. Two days of Wimbledon Finals means two different variations of this combo... day one: Strawberries and Cream; day two: Strawberries and Cream Scones. Both recipes are quick and easy. Please enjoy!

Saturday's Strawberries and Cream
Consider doubling this if you have a full household. Here's a tip to successful whipped cream... chill your metal mixing bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes before whipping your cream and sugar together. It makes the heavy cream respond that much faster.

Strawberries, sliced/quartered/halved
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 1/2 heaping teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup pecans or other nuts, chopped (optional)

Beat cream and sugar into soft peaks. Layer strawberries, whipped cream, and nuts to your heart's desire. Easy. Decadent. Breakfast?

Sunday's Strawberries and Cream Scones
First off, thanks Smitten Kitchen. I halved all of the ingredients in the original recipe except the strawberries. Figured this was definitely a more is better item. With baked goods like breads and delicate items, if there's a measured weight, I will use that instead of the measured volume. It's easier, faster, and more accurate. This made my halving of the recipe really easy so I was able to put the 1/8 of a cup of flour in without eye-balling it using a 1/4 cup. Anyway, here's the recipe for half a batch of strawberries and cream scones.

1 1/8 cups (140 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) baking powder
1/8 cup (25 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup (5-6 large) strawberries, halved then quartered
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sift the flour into a bowl with a fairly wide bottom. Whisk in baking powder, sugar, and salt. Using the back of a fork or a pastry blender, cut in the butter. Look for a sandy appearance. The colder your butter, the better this part of the process will turn out. Gently fold in the strawberries until they all have a coating of the flour mixture. Then gently fold in the heavy cream. Resist the urge to get every last bit of flour mixed in here. It took me maybe 20 folding stirs. You just want to make sure not to over blend here. Generously flour a surface on which to dump the dough. You can pour any loose flour left in your bowl on top of the dough ball, and as you pat the dough out, it will mix right in. Your dough will be sticky, so make sure to flour your hands before starting to pat.

Work quickly here so the butter doesn't get too warm, so too much flour doesn't get mixed in, and the strawberries don't to lose too many juices. When your dough circle is 1/2-3/4 of an inch thick, it's good to go. I like to make sure the circle is kind of firmly patted out, especially at the edges, without smashing it or rolling it hard. Smashing and rolling hard are things I do to pizza dough.

Cut the dough circle into 8 even scones. If you're making a full batch, you will end up with two dough circles for a total of 16 scones. You could cut the circle into quarters, but that looked too large for me. I prefer cutting my scones this way instead of using a biscuit or cookie cutter because I avoid having to reroll the dough scraps. Place your scones on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, and put it in the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. When the bottom edges of the scones are lightly browned, they're done. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes or so before moving them to a cooling rack. This gives you plenty of time to admire these beauties.

As you probably noticed, there is not a lot of sugar in this receipe, so if you want to sweeten these crumbly soft scones up a bit, I'd suggest a dollop or two or three of whipped cream, maybe there's some leftover from the other strawberries and cream recipe. I'm just saying it might be a reasonable idea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My simple solution

I went through an english-muffin making winter a few years ago (English Muffins from Winter 2011), hoping to find the perfect recipe to produce all the nooks and crannies for butter and jam to sink into. I got close with Alton Brown's recipe (Alton Brown's English Muffins), but it was still no Thomas english muffin. So I was excited to stumple on Martha Stewart's multigrain english muffin recipe (Multigrain English Muffins from Martha) and set about making them immediately.

These were quite easy to make, but I made the mistake of not trusting my instincts. Mistake one. When the recipe called for one tablespoon of coarse salt, I was thinking that this seemed like a bit much, but I went ahead and added it anyway. Mistake two. After adding the buttermilk and yeast mixture, the dough seemed a little thick, and I thought about adding more milk, but I didn't because it was still slightly sticky to the touch. What I ended up with was a bit of a salty hockey puck of an english muffin. Anyway, I can't blame the recipe. It was my mistake to not follow my baking instincts., and I will try a rendition of it again, or actually I will marry Martha Stewart and Alton Brown through their recipes. Fingers crossed it will be a match.

I can only guess the way I was raised has something to do with it, but at any rate, I don't like to waste and have a hard time throwing away these perfectly good, hard, salty english muffins. So this morning I decided to try salvage these hockey pucks by making a simple syrup with a fresh peach. Super easy. I chopped the peach into big chunks. I added half a teaspoon of granulated sugar (yeah! that'll combat the salt!) and just covered the bottom of the pot with water. I let all this simmer and cook for five  or so minutes, buttered up my toasted english muffin, and slathered the peach mixture over the top. This peach concoction was really sweet and slightly syrupy and made that hockey puck quite tasty.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June in Yosemite

Boundary Peak, Nevada's highest point
as seen from Highway 6.
There's no excuse for me not being in Yosemite more often. It's an easy 5 hour drive from Las Vegas through Nevada's open desert and California's high sagebrush hills to Yosemite's eastside entrance of Tioga Pass and the fresh air of high alpine forests.
Marmot flattened on a rock
soaking up the sun.
I met up with my grad school friend, Sarah, who was in California for a cousin's wedding and had the brilliant idea to follow that up with a few days backpacking in Yosemite. We spent the first night in a campground tent site. Conditions in Yosemite like most of the western US are very dry this year, but we were lucky enough that fire restrictions in campgrounds wouldn't start until the next day. We had also been warned about bears, and we were very dutiful putting food and everything scenty in the bear box. Besides the mosquitos that afternoon and the mule deer walking near camp in the morning, it was a quiet time acclimating to the thinner air of 9,000 feet.

The signing getting onto the trail was a bit confuing, but all things considered, we did manage to get on the Young Lakes trail from Tuolomne Meadows fairly early. Our plan was straightforward: hike the 6.5 miles to the Lakes, set up camp, and relax. The first couple miles were flat and easy. Then we hit the uphill, which went on and on and on. I am a bit of a work-horse (or maybe even more appropriately, a tortoise) when I hike. I just go slow and steady on the uphills. I tend not to stop to catch my breath or take breaks because once I stop, that's pretty much all I want to do. My tortoise approach went well for me up until mile 5 when I stopped. The break was nice but after we started hiking again my boots seemed to shrink a few sizes, my backpack's hipbelt seemed to be made of plyboard, and my tummy was growling like a rabid dog.
Hallelujah! My backpack is off.
Young Lakes is a series of three lakes: the lower, middle, and upper. We were intent because of a recommendation from a friend to get to the middle or upper lake to set up camp, so we kept trudging upwards past the lower lake. Wow, was I happy to take my backpack off when we found our campsite at the middle lake, and even happier when the boots came off.

Our campsite tucked in the trees above the middle lake.
The middle lake at dusk.

Low-intensity backpacking is kind of my favorite way to go. I can set the tent up and just dayhike from that site without taking my 50-pound backpack. It's easier on my joints and muscles, and it lets me enjoy the scenery without being in a rush to get to the next site. That's exactly what Sarah and I did for the next couple days before hiking back out to the real world. For as close as this semi-looped trail is to busy part of the park, we saw very few other people and just enjoyed the scenery and quiet. Little specks on that big Sierra alpine landscape. I really love it. Colors and smells seem to have a heightened intensity. Skies are bluer, trees are greener, and the air is oh-so clean and fresh. No excuse. I've got to get back soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thanks, Dewey!!!

It was about 108 degrees in Las Vegas today, and my spool was much too empty before I met up with you on the Lower Colorado River last weekend. Come visit. Soooooon!!!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Yay! Kitchen Toys!

My birthday was back in March, and I swear I haven't put this new toy away since I got it.

Here's one of my favorites snacks to make with it. I use one of my other favorite kitchen gadgets, my Good Grips mandolin to slice the apples. It's so quick and easy. How did I ever live without this? Not to mention the ease of making sushi at home now. But back to the apples, which next get plunked into lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Plus I like the added flavor.

The sliced apple alices all go onto the stacked trays. And about 24 hours, usually minus a few depending on my patience, voila!!! Apple chips!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ready To Eat

Although I haven't been back for a few years, my good friend, Michelle, is returning to the States and New Orleans from a year-long teaching stint in Mexico (via Arizona, Illinois, and, I hope Las Vegas) in the next week or so, and it got me thinking about one of my all-time favorite NOLA treats. Luckily, we can make them at home (Cafe Du Monde beignet mix), which I did, and they were airy and sweet with the traditional excessive amount of powdered sugar, and the impromptu addition of strawberries. Yum.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer preparation

I've spent the glorious summer teaser weather in Chicago checking out ancient drinking vessels at the Art Institute.

Getting a new, laborious tattoo (oy, do I remember that swelling). And I totally got caught by my boss icing it, which necessitated that I show him what it was. He's an older gent, and this is a fairly conservative atmosphere so I'm not normally inclined to share, but we all managed to survive the ordeal. 
Learning to play clawhammer banjo. This was taken during lunch at work to prove to my husband I wasn't slacking on practice. 

I have a love-hate relationship with banjo. I always dread the classes, whining about it all the way. I also have SUCH anxiety about playing music and doing any creative stuff in front of people because if I was any good at it, it would be my job. I just like messing around, strumming along to Ryan Adams, NMH and Oasis on guitar. But taking a class means being out of tune and trying to read tabs IN PUBLIC. Not to mention to my utter horror the teacher has us sing along in class. The first day I just would have none of it! The hippies can do what they want, I would keep my voice to myself. That lasted a little while, anyway, before the teacher was all "Everybody now". So sing I must. But I keep it quiet as I have no misconceptions about the quality of my voice or ability to find a key. And I leave class feeling a little bit smarter. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

No sugar coating. It's a mini rant.

I would like to talk about myself. No, don't worry, I won't occupy your time right now with what I've been up to for the last 6 months or so (e.g., buying a house, moving, installing 1,000 square feet of flooring, refinishing and painting kitchen cupboards). This rant has to do with the use of the word, myself, which as just an example was used correctly in the first sentence. Unfortunately, it's misuse runs rampant these days. It's on the news. It's in e-mails. It's spoken by professional colleagues. Is it just me or has everyone forgotten there is another, shorter, and actually correct word to use more often than myself? That being me. A definition from Merriam-Webster for myself, "that identical one that is I -- used reflexively <I'm going to get myself a new suit>, for emphasis <I myself will go>, or in absolute constructions <myself a tourist, I nevertheless avoided other tourists>."

Here is an example of a common misuse I hear all the time...
          Please turn in your assignment to Kathy, Michael, and myself for review.
The subject here is an unspoken you, so using the reflexive myself is not correct, and when you stop to think about it, makes no sense. The word should be me. By eliminating the other reviewers in the sentence, it becomes evident what the correct word to use is...
          Please turn in your assignment to me for review.

To make this clearer, here is a similar example with a different reflexive pronoun...
          I will turn in my assignment to Kathy, Michael, and yourself for review.
This is incorrect. The correct word is obviously you. Enough said.

In order to keep this a mini rant, in a nutshell, myself is a reflexive pronoun, which means if the subject is not I, then there is no place in the sentence for the word myself

After that mini rant, I myself feel better. I also feel like I can't post without a picture, so here it goes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Tuesday

I'm an all purpose holiday loving fool. I take all comers, religion be damned (pun intended). So I would not let Fat Tuesday slide without a tip of the hat by way of something or other. Paczki was out because I lack coordination and I didn't grow up with it so it seems very odd. So: Mardi Gras it must be. I popped on my Annette Hanshaw station which has evolved into Dixie jazz and made a plan to visit Heaven on Seven.

This was the scene:
What I don't know is if it looks like this all the time or not. It didn't have as much revelry going on as I would have expected, but the decorations did help let me know that we made the right choice.

There was a sad rendition of gumbo. Better was the hoppin' john:
Which makes me think of one of my top 10 favorite movies ever.

And solf shell crab po boy:

It was my first time with soft shell crab of any kind, but it was nicely fried and everything tasted fresh. One dining companion opted for Louisiana crab cakes which (strangely, to us) contained cheese. Is this a thing? Because I call foul. Crabcakes are better without cheese. Especially melty cheese.

I was impressed by how diner-like Heaven on Seven is. They were beyond friendly and accommodating, especially when I messed up and made a reservation for their other location which I imagine might be a bit fancier. But for a grey and quiet Mardi Gras day in Chicago, this more than let us get our fix of gluttony before the big repent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I spent my weekend making beer...
...and being stalked by this ferocious beast:

That is pure killer instinct. Now that Lily knows that I am a pushover and our other cat is super jealous she spends all day passive aggressively lording over us all. She tends to be so quiet that when she makes any noise we immediately reward her with whatever she's looking for. That usually is a trip to the basement, even though she's ended up accidentally locked down there for a few hours more than we care to admit.

The beer should be alright. It's the first time I've ever done it, and I was happy to have the collaboration of my friend Monica. We brewed, drank some Dreadnaught, and watched Marie Antoinette.

My temperament is not well suited to the "Relax, have a homebrew" mantra espoused by Charlie Papazian and so I had an absolute freak out when the yeast started doing its job and therefore kind of bubbled over into the airlock. Brew day was fun, but this brewing thing seems to be experimental, and the moments I spent thinking we'd wasted our time and money were dark.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


My birthday adventuring has now officially spanned two weeks. Starting a week prior to my actual birthday I've had more than my fair share of Michelle-centric activities. I'm ready to focus on other stuff for a while, but it was fun while it lasted! It culminated last night with a dinner with co-workers, preceded by nice long walk with Andrew. We saw dreamy buildings from another era as well as the very random sewing machine display. I guess it pays to act
like a tourist sometime and delight in things that would be annoying and confusing if passed everyday.

This past weekend included a snowy trip to the Chicago Brauhaus complete with hackepeter and creamed herring as well as the boot. Showing an amount of restrain befitting someone my age, I kept us to one boot (restraint cancelled out by multiple rounds of schnapps).

A week before we went to our very first beer dinner at Revolution Brewing in Logan Square. I've been for food and drinks before, but never to their upstairs room. It's got a vintage feel but
relaxed enough for the low country shrimp boil, which was the theme of the dinner. I was surprised (alarmed?) at the size of the beer pairings for a Monday night. Very generous. Portions for everything were bountiful.

The best pairings were lime chess pie with a hoppy beer they brew called
Anti-Hero (who knew hops and lemon meringue-type deserts go so well?), brunswick stew with Fistmas (poorly pictured to the right) and a smoked stout with cold smoked oysters. The latter was most remarkable in that the smoke taste did not overwhelm the beer and make it taste like drinkable ham, which in my opinion some of the other smoke beers do.

I'm more than happy that the revelry has ended so I can get back to normal life. Which apparently still includes beer and may also feature some archery.