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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer Goodies

Over the last month and a half or so, I've made some yummy stuff--some repeats from before I had this blog, and one new recipe. The first two I made for a book group brunch in mid-June, and the last in two different iterations for birthday parties: strawberry in mid-June for me and my sister-in-law (our birthdays are three days apart), and raspberry at the end of June for my sister The Laundry Queen.

Strawberries in Lavender Syrup with Crème Fraîche and Lemon Sugar, from Bon Appétit, April 2005. I first came across this recipe when the magazine was new, and we were staying with Mavis's sister's in-laws in Los Angeles. I madly typed it and its companion recipes (notably Bacon-Wrapped Eggs with Polenta) into my PDA for future use at a book group brunch. I did serve them for book group in June 2005, making the strawberries the starter with small, freshly-baked scones, and serving carrot cake for dessert. This time I also served the strawberries as the starter, with fresh scones (with jam and devon cream), and for dessert we had:

Butterscotch Budino with Salted Caramel Sauce. Divine. I had this dessert at Nostrana and was transported. Imagine my delight to find the recipe online. One note--whatever you do, don't look at the version published in the LA Times, which also has the nutrition information. Really, just don't look. You don't want to know. My one quibble with the recipe was the amount of cornstarch. It seemed like a lot, and the pudding seized right up when I stirred the tempered cornstarch-egg yolk mixture into the hot saucepan. Maybe I needed to add more hot pudding to the egg yolk bowl before mixing it into the main pot, or maybe it would work with a tad less cornstarch. I'll try the first possibility before making any ingredient adjustments.

Berry Cream Cake (why type it in when someone else has gone to all the trouble?)

I got the recipe from Cook's Illustrated, but it has a lot in common with the classic Norwegian birthday cake bløtkake (check out the picture!)--maybe why I like it so much. I made it a few years ago with mixed cane berries (raspberries, marionberries and boysenberries), and I think that was my favorite of the three (7 adults polished off the whole cake with no difficulty). One note--don't stick to the weight of berries recommended in the recipe when you're making it with cane berries. I did for the raspberry version I made for my sister's birthday, and the berry : cake/cream ratio was a bit high (and the cake a bit soggy as a consequence).

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fourth of July Banner

Wow! A project that I started and finished in one day! I've been seeing these homemade banners or pennant strings all over the mommy blogger universe for the last few years. They're great because a) they're easy to make; b) they can be made from whatever materials you have on hand; and c) they are limitlessly adaptable: color, shape, finishing, etc. There are lots of etsy shops selling them, but why would you buy something that's so easy to make?

Once I got the idea that I might try to make a red-white-and-blue banner, I looked through my fabric index cards to make sure I had enough different fabrics to make it work. Then I dove into the bins and pulled out anything susceptible, ranging from small scraps to pieces of a couple of yards each.

I had decided in my web "research" that I liked the look of strings made with varying sizes of pennants. I liked the body and stiffness and reversability that came from using a double layer of fabric, but I didn't want to sew the triangle pieces together with internal seams, that would require stitching, clipping, turning and ironing to make lay flat and look nice--too fussy. I preferred the look of banners made with unfinished or simply pinked edges, the triangle pieces stitched together with a zigzag stitch. You don't get much more of a no-brainer for the top string holding everything together than prefolded bias tape, and I had a extra-large, 8-yard package of scarlet double-fold bias tape--just perfect for two four-yard banners.

Once I had all my fabrics marshaled, I got out my cutting mat and rotary cutter and started cutting. For the smaller scraps, the size and orientation of the triangles was determined by the size of the scrap, but none were smaller than about four inches in length. For the bigger lengths, I cut a nine-inch or so piece off the end of the fabric, folded it in half to make the selvages meet, then continued to fold it in that direction until it was four inches or so wide--producing a many-layered rectangle with the same height and width as the desired end-result triangle. Fold in half one more time in the same direction (making a long skinny rectangle with all the cut edges together at the top and bottom), then use a quilting ruler as a guide to cut it diagonally. This should make two little piles of paired triangles, ready to be stitched together (and two half-triangles that can be discarded or tossed back into the scrap bag).

With right sides out, zigzag stitch around the two long sides of the triangles and trim hanging threads. (If I had pinking shears, I probably would have pinked the long sides of the triangles, too.) Then stitch the short side of the triangles into the middle of the bias tape, with little to no space between the top corners of the triangles, and leaving a foot or so of bias tape at each end to use when hanging the banner.


After making two full four-yard banners, I had just a few triangles left over, and no more scarlet bias tape. I did, however, have some red grosgrain ribbon in my Christmas wrapping box. Rather than try to fold it around the tops of the triangles, I used two lengths of it and just stitched the triangles between it. I used just navy triangles to make a short minimalist banner for above my front door:

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