Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Real (If Short) Vacation

You may not be able to tell, but that’s us on the beach.

[Editor’s Note: Every time I think I’m just going to write a super short post and throw up some pictures, it turns out to be… well… the opposite of short. Sorry. Remember you can always skip the words and just look at the pretty stuff.]
 
We just got back from the first non-visiting-relatives vacation we’ve been on in years. True, we were visiting a friend, but… it is so not the same. We went to Portland, Oregon, which is an excellent place to be, and is the current home of my best friend in the world ever, Lindsay. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Funky city plus lots of amazing nature and only 90 minutes from The Ocean. (Which, we decided while there, should be the goal of ALL vacations.)

Aside from the Incident* with my drivers’ license, it was an awesome trip. We had some adventures in and around the city with a plethora of gorgeous views, some of which you’ll see below, we ate really well. Possibly the best ever on a trip away from home. So let me recap for you. 

Saturday.
We arrived, famished, a little after noon. 2pm our time. Lindsay had leftover roasted root vegetables (delicious) which we ate with some black bean burgers and cheese (also tasty.)

Our plan was to celebrate her birthday as well as mine (they’re about 2 weeks apart) during our visit, so she invited a handful of friends over for a dinner party. We discussed some options and hit the farmstand and the grocery store, where we snagged some tasty local wines in addition to the other ingredients. We ended up with an appetizer of some wonderfully creamy cheese (not Brie, but something like it, sorry I forgot what), caramelized shallots, and fresh figs cooked in wine on some very crusty bread. We followed it with fennel-roasted (FRESH ALASKAN!) salmon over mixed greens. For dessert, we made this Mocha Marjolaine cake, which was fantastic. While devouring it, Lindsay and I discussed the handful of little changes we would make to the recipe to take it from a 10 to an 11+ the next time. (In case you’re thinking of giving it a try – and you should – we agreed that you should ditch the almonds and use only extra-toasty hazelnuts; make the coffee whipped cream stronger and use it between all the layers; coat the whole thing with the dark chocolate ganache; and skip the ‘light’ chocolate ganache altogether.) We also grilled some peaches and served them with vanilla ice cream. Amazing.

And then? Board games and WhiskeyTime™and even more desserts because a few more people showed up with brownies. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became way late in our time, and moderately late on Portland time, and we totally crashed into bed and slept forever.

Apparently, we took no pictures on Saturday. 

Sunday.
Until we woke up at what felt like noon but was actually 9am or so. We cooked up some eggs on toast before driving out to the coast. Once there, we had lunch at a pub/brewery, which had totally decent beer. We all ordered some kind of fish because, you know, we were on the oceanfront, so why would we eat anything else? I had some excellent crab cakes; Julia had a seared tuna wrap which was good, but would have been improved by more tuna and less wrap and a menu description that actually implied it was in a wrap (as opposed to on a bed of spinach as we imagined.)

Wave Jumpers.

Then we EXPLORED. We ran in the ocean and jumped over the waves. And maybe, just maybe, while I was trying to film one coming into shore, it might have come faster than anticipated. And I might have a video of us squealing and running away, taken on my phone-in-hand, à la Blair Witch. It is hilarious. At least to us.

We climbed up a sand dune…
Beach, with view of the sand dune we hiked up
Victory. And pretty rocks. And my finger.
…and sat on the edge of an amazing cliff…
Awesome rocks and a big cave

We ate dinner at another seafood joint near the water. Clams, Bouillabaisse, Fish & Chips, Shrimp, Clam Chowder. And then three of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to the city…

Sunset at the Ocean

Monday.
On our last full day, we decided to run amok in the city proper. We visited Powell’s bookstore, which was as huge and awesome as I remembered it. We went to a little tea shop with over a hundred varieties of tea (in bulk!) and re-stocked our supply. We wandered up and down the street around it, window shopping, trying things on that we’d never buy, trying things on with no intention of buying them and then buying them anyway…

When we tired of that, we sat on Lindsay’s front porch with glasses of wine. And then we finished the day with a bountiful, yet unbelievably reasonably priced, sushi dinner. And by reasonably priced, I mean we spent less for the four of us than we ordinarily do for the two of us in Chicago and we got more food. 

Tuesday.
We had just enough time for a quick stop at the infamous Voodoo Doughnut followed by a tour through the Columbia River gorge. Which is lovely and breathtaking and very rainforest-y.

Washington state to the left of the river; Oregon to the right
Waterfalls are pretty.

And then we went to the airport and came home to Chicago.

*The Incident: So when we got to the airport in Chicago to get on the plane to Portland, we found out the hard way (yes, that means during the TSA screening process) that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday. Which was the week before. The lady was nice enough to let us through, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But after about 24 hours in Portland, I realized I could have the same problem on the way home and they might not be so nice and ohmygod panic. Which was followed by another, smaller incident in which I was not allowed to purchase a really wonderful-sounding glass of wine because I couldn’t prove my age. So. I called Illinois, who told me they couldn’t do anything and I needed to come in person to renew it. Which, of course, I cannot do from Portland. So. I went to the airport hoping they’d be nice and let me through, and somehow, magically, they didn’t notice my license was expired and they let me through. And then Julia tried to go through but her license lists 2009 as its expiration date. But. Illinois does this stupid thing where you can renew online if you haven’t been in any accidents lately and then they mail you a sticker to put on the back which says it’s good for 4 more years. Which she’d done, and it was, so they let her through too. And then we went home. On Wednesday I renewed my expired license in about 7 minutes and hopefully that is that.

I Made Another Cake

It was TWELVE LAYERS. I’ll spare you knowledge of exactly how many pounds of butter, cups of sugar, and dozens (yes) of eggs I went through to make this sucker. (Hint: more than any other cake I can recall making, except maybe my wedding cake. Which was for many more people.)

Yellow Sponge Cake Chocolate Soufflé

Yellow Sponge Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Hazelnut Meringue.
Coffee Buttercream.
Chocolate Soufflé Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Repeat.
Shave Good Dark Chocolate on top.
Serve.

What can I say? It was my birthday. I went overboard.*

Close up.
Finished Cake

I made a whole bunch of other food too. I know you’re interested, because you love food as much as I do (don’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?) so here’s a round up of the party menu. I decided to keep it classy with fancy, bite-sized apps and none of the usual chip-and-dip business. Also, I attempted to maintain a balance of hot and cold things and to make sure my vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/kosher friends all had options. Here’s what I made, in no particular order:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates (hot) – a time-tested standby, it is hard to go wrong with these. Plus, Julia and I had them on our first date, and so they are special. Plus, you know, really freakin’ tasty.
  • Caprese Skewers (cold, vegetarian) – my play on the classic Italian salad. I put a cherry tomato, a small basil leaf, and one of those tiny (3/4″ diameter or so) mozzarella balls from the deli onto each stick, arranged them on a plate, and then drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Brie with Apricot Preserves & Almonds (hot, vegetarian) –  I make this a lot at parties because it is quick and easy but also fancy and delicious. All you do is top a wedge of brie with a few spoonfuls of preserves, warm it for about a minute in the microwave, sprinkle it with nuts, and serve with crackers. The amount of effort involved is nearly zero, and compared to the usual grabbing of chips & dip on the way to the potluck… WIN. Seriously, do this instead.
  • Chilled Cucumber & Dill Soup (cold, vegetarian, gluten-free) – This was a new recipe I tried. I tasted it while I was cooking it, and truthfully, I liked it better warm. Still, it was pretty good. I served it in 1oz shot glasses. FYI, I subbed vegetable stock for the chicken called for in the recipe to keep it as a meat-free option.
  • Red Wine Poached Figs (hot, vegan, gluten-free) – Holy crap, these were good. Unfortunately, they came out of the oven right after we decided to bust out the cake, so they were largely overlooked by the guests. Too bad for them. If you like figs, you should make these sometime. Soon, because as I mentioned, they are almost out of season.
  • Cucumber Chickpea Bruschetta (cold, vegan, gluten-free) – We made these once before, at our vegan/gluten-free dinner party, and they were as good as we remembered. Yum.
  • Shrimp Cocktail (cold) – Let’s just say we started with two pounds of shrimp and leave it at that.
  • Lemon-Parsley Gougeres – I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Glad I finally got around to it – they were heavenly little flaky pastry puffs with a zesty lemon bite. They did not last long.

Of course, there was also wine a plenty along with champagne and some non-alcoholic punch, which turned out to be so good that I ended up drinking quite a bit of it.

In summary: delicious food + wine + the most excellent people = one awesome 30th birthday!

*I spent the better part of my actual birthday on Saturday prepping for this party. There were spreadsheets involved. Because, you know, I needed a schedule and a list of prep times and to make sure I had enough vegetarian, gluten-free, & kid-friendly things as well as a balance of hot & cold; sweet & savory. And also I just like spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m a major geek. But you knew that.

For the Love of Figs

Remember way back when I was on vacation and Julia was cooking me fancy-pants dinners every night because she is awesome? Well, while she was scouting recipes, she came across one in her Spanish cookbook that sounded delicious. A dessert. Hazelnut ice cream with Honey-baked Figs.

Photo courtesy of www.healthytimesblog.com

Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with figs? No? Well, I am. Every time I go to the grocery store and they are available, I feel compelled to buy them. They are delicious. I don’t understand how I made it through 28 years of living without having tasted a fresh fig, but once I did I was a goner. If you’ve never tasted a fresh fig, please, for the love of all that is good, get yourself to a decent grocery store and buy a pint RIGHT. NOW. (Seriously, go, because they will only be in season for another 4-6 weeks, after which it will be Fig Newtons/Newmans for you until next July. So not the same.)

Anyway, this recipe called for whipping up some custard-style hazelnut ice cream and serving it along side some baked figs drizzled with a cinnamon-honey syrup. Which sounds fantastic. And also like something that takes way too much time if you’re busy (lazy). So, we’d bought the figs, and I kept promising I’d get around to it, and I didn’t, and I made something else out of the figs, and then I bought more figs because there they were, tempting me at the store again, and I finally, finally made the custard part of the ice cream, which you then have to chill before putting through the ice cream maker.

So it was chilling overnight and I was totally going to do the fig baking the next night. But. I didn’t. It was too much work (not really – it’s just that I was supposed to roast and peel and crush hazelnuts and that’s at least two more things than I had energy for this week) so I decided to cook down the figs with the aforementioned honey and cinnamon and then mix them into the ice cream and forget about the nuts all together. And I did.

And it was good. Though it’s a bit sweet and the nuts would probably have been good for balancing that out. Hmph.

(Limited quantity available, if you want to come over and try it.)

Maria’s Custom Silk Shrug & Wedding Dress Alterations

Maria's Custom Silk Wedding Shrug

Maria called us just three weeks before her wedding in need of some alterations to her dress and hoping we’d have enough time to create a little jacket to wear over it. We had just enough time to squeeze it into our schedule, so we said yes.

I swear I didn’t tell her to do jazz hands.

When we met with Maria, we hit it off with her right away. She is so friendly and has a great sense of humor. We found out that we have a lot of acquaintances in common – she works at an accounting firm with her brother, and they do taxes for many Chicago actors. Small world. Anyway, she bought a cute strapless dress at a big chain, but it seemed to have been designed for someone with really serious hips and it just wasn’t fitting her quite right in the bust. We ended up taking the hip area in about four inches and doing a couple little tucks at the bust so that it would fit her well and not fall down!

Julia draping the silk shrug

She also asked us to make her a shrug to wear over the dress. Since it was ruched, we thought we’d mirror that in the sleeves. Maria brought some polyester organza fabric which matched the dress for us to use, but as we worked on draping it, we realized it was really just not the best choice for the project.

Julia fitting the shrug on Maria

So we bought some gorgeous silk chiffon, and it was so worth it. Julia did all the draping on this, and I helped with some of the hand stitching once it was all pinned in place. I got to check out the fascinating construction on the inside of this dress (really unusual lining attachment, if you’re wondering – clearly designed to allow for as much machine stitching as possible) while taking care of the alterations. We made a custom label to replace the big box store label – very cool. Here are some pictures:

Front
Back

Maria asked for some help picking out her earrings. She brought a couple pairs, but had chosen a favorite. And guess what? I completely agreed with her choice. Don’t these earrings go perfectly?

Shoulder Detail

 

Maria and Dan are got married this Sunday – Congratulations!

Live. Work. Eat. (Or The State of our Union.)

Ok, I am sorry about that punny title. A little. There hasn’t been a real post here in almost two weeks. For shame! (Nah, not really. This kind of writing should be done when one has something to say, not just because it’s time, right?) Anyway… When last we met, my car was full of bullet holes and life was really busy. Let’s catch up.

Life:
I’m told my car is no longer filled with holes (though one bullet may be stuck in there forever) and it’s being painted and re-assembled and I should have it back next week. I’ll note that Allstate has been speedy and helpful throughout, and the auto body shop calls me every few days to give me an update on the car.

We are still really, really busy.

Julia has been stitching away on costumes for Guys and Dolls at Theatre at the Center the past few weeks since Aladdin closed. She’s about to start training to cover the wardrobe track for For the Boys up at the Marriott, after which she’ll train to cover the stage manager for Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane. So – no days off for her until sometime after our upcoming trip to Portland. (Which we are so excited about! Julia has never been. My best friend lives there, and we’ll get to see her, yay! It’s going to be something like an actual vacation, woo!)

I had a ridiculously easy work week, with an extra long Labor Day weekend (I got Friday, Monday, and Tuesday off) which was followed by two days of work and this Friday off as well. I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to rub it in. Mainly, I say that because I got to spend most of those days off practicing being self-employed.

This morning we were talking about this blog. Julia feels like it is mine, all mine, because although way back when we started it, we actually wrote posts together and I typed “we” and “us” all the time, it somehow evolved into “I” and “me” and now you all know my writing voice and not hers. Totally true. I’m absolutely guilty of that. But. This was supposed to be OUR blog, not mine. So I’m hoping – WE’RE hoping – that in the future we’ll each write about half of the posts, and maybe sometimes we’ll even write together again. But probably not, because it turns out neither one of us especially likes to do that. And she made the excellent point that when we actually have time together, she would like to actually spend it with me, not writing a blog. (Please feel free to let Julia know in the comments that you want to hear from her too! And/or to send her a new computer and some extra hours in the day so that she is well-equipped to do so.)

Crafty Broads:
Here’s what I was doing when I had all that “free time”: setting up our accounting system, updating invoice and quote templates and actually using them to write up one of each, buying
our very first advertising ever on A Practical Wedding, doing some much-needed updates to the website, and working on a
couple of our sewing projects.

About the time of the last post, we took on a client who needed
alterations to her wedding dress and a little shrug to wear over it in
time for her wedding which is TOMORROW. Which is not a lot of time to
get things sewn when we’re both already working day jobs and are knee
deep in another big sewing project. I did the alterations and Julia made a beautiful silk shrug. Our client was very happy with the results. We’ll have a post on this project later this week, with pictures and everything.

We are less than a week away from the due date for our mockup of the wedding dress, bolero, and winter coat we are making. It is going to be so pretty. We are both extremely excited about this project. Hope to have some process pictures up on here or the Crafty Broads facebook page soon.

And, saving the best for last, Food:
Oh, boy, what have we been eating? Because of the business, we have not been cooking as much as usual. We have ordered in a few times and eaten out a few times. There goes our budget. Anyway, here are a couple things we’ve made at home lately that were pretty good:

Ricotta Gnocchi with Leeks and Fava Beans – So we were at the grocery store together (a rare miracle these days), and we passed the fresh fava beans, and just had to have some because they looked so good. No plan in mind for how to use them, total impulse purchase, completely against the menu planning rules. Which is ok because we didn’t plan a menu at all that week anyway. Found this recipe and it was fantastic. It does take a bit of time, but it isn’t particularly difficult, and it is definitely worth the effort.



(from left: shaping the dough; making the marmalade; finished wrap)

White Cheddar and Bacon Piadina with Balsamic Fig and Onion Marmalade – This was the result of another impulse buy. The Figs. They looked SO GOOD. I am obsessed with figs when they are in season. Because they are awesome. We have more in our fridge right now, which are going to be drizzled with honey and served with hazelnut ice cream. Anyway – this recipe was another easy but somewhat time-consuming one. However, like the gnocchi, it was so worth it. We didn’t have brie on hand, so we substituted some white cheddar, which paired nicely. We also lacked arugula, but didn’t really miss it. This Italian flatbread sandwich was AMAZING. We could not save any for leftovers because it was too damn good.