Sunday, June 10, 2012

We're engaged!

This morning my wonderful boyfriend Peter proposed with a paper prototype engagement ring! We're using the prototype ring to get feedback on the concept [grin], and put it through some user acceptance & social network testing prior to making the big investment in a real engagement ring. So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive!

The ring is hand made, with letterpress banding and text that reads "Temp Ring" along side an impeccably crafted paper diamond. It's perfect, and especially fitting for someone in User Experience like myself. My fiancĂ© worked with Cast Iron Design Company and their work is impecable - credit to Peter for such a charming idea.

Monday, May 28, 2012

How to throw a 1920's party - Food & Drink Menus

My favorite part of any party the doing the food & drinks! Here was my process of devising the proper menu for our Roaring 20's party.


I had a lot of fun researching in-theme menu items. It turns out at a lot of "fancy" food in the 20's involved aspics and loafs which are less than appetizing so instead I ran with the fact that Italian cuisine was new & adventuous in the 20's, and went with classy appetizers. It turns out appetizers like deviled eggs were common even back then.

Drink Menu

Perhaps our favorite part of planning the party was carefully devising a prohibition era cocktail menu. We wanted to provide a range of cocktails for people, using a range of period liquors and a range of flavor profiles.

The Bourbon Manhattan

Manahttans are fairly common cocktails these days, but it's all in how you make it & your ingredients. So I'll be very specific:

1.75 parts Bulleit Bourbon
1 Dolin Sweet Vermouth
Dash of cherry syrup from Bada Bing Cherries (undyed cocktail cherries)
Dash of angostura bitters

Stir with ice. Strain & serve with a cherry. We served it chilled in a big mason jar dispenser.

Note: Those freakishly red marashino cherries are terrible, overly sweet with little flavor or good cherry texture. We found Bada Bing Cherries from Tillen Farms at BevMo and will never go back. 

The Bee's Knees

A Gin cocktail incorporating honey and lemon juice to balance sweet & tart flavors. Very refreshing.

3 Gin, we used Beefeaters
2 Freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Honey

Shake with ice, strain & serve. We served it chilled in a big mason jar dispenser.

Blood & Sand

A totally era-appropriate cocktail, the Blood & Sand was named for the 1922 Rudolf Valentino movie Blood & Sand. An alluring mix of fruity & smokey, I adore this more obscure scotch cocktail & have my own special recipe for it.

1 Scotch
1 Orange juice (original called for blood orange juice)
.75 Brandy (The original calls for cherry heering, I also like to use Luxardo)
.75 sweet vermouth

We mixed this in a pitcher & served it chilled & added ice.

Food menu

It's OK to use prepared foods like this cake,
just make sure they're delicious
To keep folks satiated and moderately sober, I devised a heavy enough menu to help absorb the prohibition era cocktails. Here is my menu for a "heavy hor d'oeuvres" 20's party:
  • Spinach & turkey lasagna
  • Ceasar salad
  • Marinated red pepper poppers stuffed with fresh goat cheese
  • Deviled eggs*
  • Mini cheese souffles
  • Roasted pancetta wrapped asperagus*
  • Herb & roasted garlic cheve spread* with crackers
  • Mini soft-rid cheeses like camembert and brie with crackers
  • Cucumber rounds topped with hummus and roasted red pepper*
  • Florentine cookies
  • Salted caramels and assorted chocolates
  • Layered chocolate mouse cake
Only the items with * were things made by me. Balance is key when planning a party menu: hot vs cold, salty vs sweet, veggie/healthy vs fatty or meaty.

Death to the crudite platter!

I am clearly not my mother's daughter... it's standard operating procedure at every family function that there be a "veggie tray" with raw brocolli, baby carrots, etc. They even sell them now at Safeway organized into sections with that insipid ranch dip inserted into the center. I don't mind a veggie tray at easy gatherings, but I didn't want to go there for this party out of habit.

I'm now on a mission to provide tasty veggie snacks that are a departure from the crudite platter - my first attempt: Cucumber rounds topped with hummus and roasted red pepper.

These were inspired by the recipe for Cucmber Slices with Chickpea Puree and Thyme at Whole Living.

My recipe:
  1. Slice seedless or english cucumbers, lay out on a paper towel and sprinkle lightly with salt to draw out moisture, add another paper towel on top.  After 20 minutes remove paper towels, refridgerate until ready to top.
  2. Slice jarred roasted red peppers into thin strips.
  3. Top with hummus (I used Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Hummus) and a red pepper slice. If you have time to get fancy, sprinkle tiny fresh thyme leaves on top.

How to throw a 1920's party - Decorations

Our 1920's party was such a roaring success that I thought I'd capture what went into making it such a memorable event. My decoration goals were:

  • to set the scene and the mood for the party without spending a ton of money on expensive items, and 
  • to "be a good hippy" by keeping waste to a minimum with reusable and recyclable or compostable items as much as possible.

The invitations

Playing off of the notion of a speakeasy secreted away up in the mountains, Peter and I crafted invitations on Online invitations are the norm for our social circles, but I like to find really nice looking ones that stay in theme and allow for RSVP - as opposed to just sending out an email. Not only does Pingg offer nice looking invites for free, but they let the host mark people as yes/no (nice for folks who get back to you verbally).

House preparations

Photo by Josh Weaver
At some point, it occurred to me that having a themed party as a housewarming means no one sees the house the way we set it up to reflect our styles - but I prefer to think of it as the house got dressed up for the occasion! I decorated the house by trying to channel the luxury of an oppulent age gone by full of roses, pearls, candles, lace, and silver (without breaking the bank), but also keep some of the underground speakeasy feeling with our rough-hewn table and mason jars. 

Photo by Josh Weaver
The fastest ways to set the scene were with red roses, pearls, and silver. I liked the contrast of red roses in a mason jar. White paper doilies (from our local dollar store) went under everything from salted caramels to vases to pitchers of cocktails. 

I picked up the real silver platter for a song from the local Goodwill and gave it a position of prominence on the large coffee table, covered in a thick black fabric remnant. The table underneath is made from reclaimed gymnasium flooring and industrial steel legs - it's awesome, but not in theme.

Beverages were served in several types of mis-matched glassware. Goodwill was a great source for some classic cocktail glasses, appropriate for prohibition era cocktails. I added in a collection of small mason jars, and used our wine glasses as backup glasswear. Not only were these inexpensive, but they're easily dishwashable.

Sharpie water based paint markers let people label their glass. Our guests got into the theme and came up with their 1920's name like Dame Agatha and Fancy Phil.

A bulk order of mardi gras beads in pearl white were used for various costume & decorations. I hung some "pearls" on our lamp to make our modern lamp look more art deco (period architecture) and by flipping over the end table tray, by draping a white pashmina scarf over it and add some lace -transforming a modern table into something more period.

Pearls were also key to dressing up our unimpressive light fixture for the occasion. I hung a strand between each support of the chandelier, then tugged it so one half draped lower for a tiered effect. Wrap the glass dome in black toille and drape some sequin fabric strips for added drama and the light fixture was ready to party.

Behind the light fixture, you can see the temporary curtain I hung to block the view of the kitchen from the dining room. I found burgundy fabric for less than $2 a yard at the discount fabric store that had a nice sheen and was very lightweight - it was the perfect width to hang from the ceiling to the counter top. Using double-stick tape on the ceiling, we taped, pleated then taped some more to create a wavy curtain effect.

We made use of our existing coat rack, giving it additional costume gear - pearls, feather boas, and a hat. Guests enjoyed adding to their costumes as the night went on.

The Bar

No speakeasy is complete without a bar! We dressed up our regular bar, a reclaimed marine grade steel shelving unit, by giving it thick luxurious red satin skirt.
We carefully selected a collection of prohibition era cocktails to serve guests, but more about the cocktail menu later. We served fresh lemonade and limeade as non-alcoholic refreshments alongside water. By mixing drinks in advance, we skipped the "mix-your-own" mess and could use a few big bottles of high quality spirits which reduced the waste.

I fell in love with these dispensers - they are giant mason jars! To keep things neat, make it easy to dispense drinks, and give the bar elements some height we elevated the jars. I used a cookie sheet for waterproof stability atop a printer paper box (they're sturdy) then wrapped the whole thing in another black fabric remnant to cover.

The Lounge

Photo by Josh Weaver
 In Peter's room, we set up a card table with poker chips and cards courtesy of our friend Terry. Thanks Terry!
Photo by Josh Weaver
I find every large party goes better with a quieter room for more intimate conversations and targeted activities like poker, cards, or even coloring with crayons (but that'd be a different sort of party).


I employed several types of candles to set the mood at the party. I bought a box of white candle sticks on Amazon that had good reviews for long lasting, low drip performance. Placed in borrowed candle holders and candle sticks, they added to the ambiance.

I also bought a box of 50 6-hour tea lights. The tea lights went outside in large mason jars to light the walkways, and on the counter near the curtain so they wouldn't be a fire hazard. When using tea lights, the cheap ones only last about an hour - so for an all night party spend a little more to get the good ones. The 6-hour tea lights were lit around 6pm and were still burning well past midnight.

How'd I do?

As the night wore on it became clear that the attention to detail in decorations was really working and helped folks in costume feel totally in the spirit. How close did I come to meeting my goal of low waste? Well, cleaning up from the party all the trash generated fit into 1 brown paper grocery bag, mostly the paper plates, cherry stems from manhattans, and used paper doilies - and I'd call that a roaring successs.

A roaring good time at our 1920's housewarming party

Photo by Josh Weaver
It's been nearly 5 months since our move to the mountains, and we finally got enough of the place in order to throw a housewarming party! I have been captured by the idea of throwing a roaring 20's speakeasy party for some time now and Peter was all for it.

Photo by Josh Weaver
We had a house full of delightful flappers and mobsters dressed to the nines last night to celebrate our move to the mountains, and the house was done-up properly speak-easy themed (more on what that looks like in this post). Our friends are the bees knees - everyone got in the spirit and dressed up for the occasion which really added to the night.

Yesterday was spent vacuuming up feathers, running loads of glassware, and relaxing in our properly warmed home. What a wonderful weekend this has been!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The kitchen corset project

For the past 3 years I've desired to create a kitchen corset - just the thought of it fills me with glee! Finally, a garment that captures the feminine shape and restrained beauty of a corset and the retro 1950's vibe that evokes images of the quintessential baby-boomer housewife. I had to have one.

So, I set out to first learn to sew, then design and create the first kitchen corset! It really is an internet first (search for kitchen corset and see for yourself!) My good friend C and I made our kitchen corsets together, figuring it out as we went along.

A Turduckenfest victory pose

We presented our corsets to the world at our annual Turduckenfest, but that's another post.

Here's the skinny
Hand-punched eyelets let me lace up
the back nice & tight.
The corset was made using a 1880's heart-shaped full corset pattern. Each piece of corset paneling was measured, cut, and sewn to fit my measurements. Lesson learned: Stabilize your weight before making custom clothing - the corset is a little wide because I managed to lose a few pounds during those late nights sewing.

Salt pouch
How does it go on? A metal corset busk was sewn in to close the front panels while hand-punched eyelets to lace up the back. I hid the busk by installing it on the inside, and covering the center seams with white piping. The front opens, and wraps around like a jacket, once the busk is hooked up the back is tightened with lacing.

Pepper grinder holster
A kitchen corset is nothing without matching accessories. I created a  salt pouch, pepper grinder holster, and oven mitt in contrasting pink and white cherry-themed fabric that complimented the green and white polka dots and added to the fantastic 50's theme. Each accessory is mounted by small buttons along the bottom of the corset.

My inspiration
A few years back, I was inspired by a work corset designed for Nifer Fahrion by Robynne Winchester of Tulgey Wood Designs, blog post outlining her project here. Realizing how delighted I was by the contrast of femininity of corsets and the ruggedness of construction, I instantly had to have one for my favorite "workshop" - my kitchen!

Seasonally spring: Sweet Peas

 Spring is in the air, as is my excitement over spring veggies!

Peas are one of my favorite spring veggies, something my parents would never have guessed. As a kid, most peas I met were of the mushy, gray, canned variety - not the sweet, nearly crunchy orbs you can get fresh or even frozen.
Finding fresh pea pods at the farmer's market can be like striking gold - peas are best when they're fresh so grab a bunch when they're looking good locally, otherwise I stick to high quality frozen varieties.

Shelling peas is as simple as popping the pod open (it should be crunchy & snap open) then gently popping the little gems out of their jacket into a small bowl. You might wish to blanch them depending on your recipe.

As a new pea advocate, I wanted to share a few of my favorite recipes.

  • French Peas & Ham from Serious Eats
    Fresh peas are amazing in this dish. I have used Canadian bacon instead of ham, then added a dash of salt. This dish calls for a herb I'd never used, Chervil but it really makes the dish so don't skip it!
  • Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup

    This healthy soup can be made vegetarian or even vegan and still be as creamy and rich and delicious - the trick? Using a russet potato to add starch, and blending the soup thoroughly emulsifying the olive oil and whipping in some air to keep it light.
  • Fried Rice
    Make mine bacon. I know... this isn't a spring dish but it's really one of my favorite things to do with frozen peas - especially for breakfast. The sweet pop of the peas in what can be an otherwise dull or salty dish makes all the difference.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Exploring the craft of letterpress printing

Earlier this week I spent a delightful evening taking a letterpress printing class at San Francisco's Center for the Book. We learned how to set lead type, and learned to mix inks then used two different kids presses.

The craft of letterpress printing and the tactile nature of what is produced delights me. I realize letterpress printing has become a bit of a fad in recent years, but I hope it's a comeback that can save the craft of printing, the history of printing presses, and setting lead type for future generations.

As a class, we composed a wonky poem  - each of us composed our own 3-4 word line in lead type, then set the lines together on the Vandercrook Cylinder Press. We each got a chance to make a few runs on the press with varied papers of different colors, textures, and thicknesses. Later, we got to try our hand a different press, the Platen press.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Counting my chickens!

This weekend I adopted two lovely chickens and now have farm fresh eggs!
Thanks to a little help from Craigslist, and a very nice woman who raised the hens from chicks who couldn't keep them through her move - I realized my dream of raising my own chickens and enjoying fresh eggs within 2 months of moving to the hills! 

After curling up to watch a classic movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, on Netflix - we decided to name the chickens Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
 I've been reading the chicken books, but so far it doesn't seem too complicated - and it's very rewarding! The chickens make the most soothing clucking noise when I approach, and they let me pick them up to move them no scratching, no pecking. The best way to describe the way a chicken feels is fluffy with velvety feathers, and a light yet muscular frame. 

Living up in the hills, we have all sorts of wild critters, and many of them love chickens. So far, we've seen a black fox sniffing by the hen house in broad daylight so we know we'll need to create a chicken bunker long term. For now, we've reinforced their coop to prevent digging predators.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A sweet event - Chocolate Tasting Party!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day - and that means it's unofficially chocolate overdose season. Chocolate has exploded as an industry since I was a kid, when you had a choice between Hershey's kisses or Hershey's bars (I am from Pennsylvania). Happily, there's someone to help us sort through the mire of chocolate options today - my friend, Christine.

Christine has been hosting her Chocolate Tasting parties since 2007, and tracking the results here. This past weekend we gathered to indulge ourselves in 54 samples of local chocolate and compare them to the favorites from last year.

Each sample chocolate is given a bird pseudonym for the tasting 

What did we learn? 

  • Swiss chocolate is delicious, 
  • Trader Joe's brand is a good bet, and 
  • Local chocolate is can be delicious, sometimes.

The winners from this year?
  1. E. Wedel Milk Chocolate from Poland (imported)
  2. Lindt Excellence Milk (available at any grocery store)
  3. Freia Melkesjokolade, the national chocolate of Norway (imported)
  4. Trader Joe's Swiss Milk Chocolate (made in the Villars factory in Switzerland)
One we didn't taste-test that is my personal favorite, and very much like the Swiss winner is the TCHO Serious Milk "Classic" with caramel flavors.

Monday, January 30, 2012

And... I'm back!

I'm back in 2012 with all sorts of new adventures to share! This lapse in posts was a sign I've been super busy doing some really great stuff.

Just to give you an idea of what I've been up to during the period of radio silence:
  • Serving up Turduckenfest 2012 with my good friend C. A multi-course dinner serving 3 layered birds like turducken with custom stuffings and 2 dessert courses.

    Layered birds like a Turducken9 types of stuffings
  • Making my own kitchen corset! My most ambitious sewing project yet - and an internet first. A project C and I took on together, and debuted at Turduckenfest. 
    Introducing, my kitchen corset
  • Moving to the hills overlooking the bay area. That's right, I'm trading in my San Franciscan Victorian for a spacious house in the hills on 3 acres with a hot tub overlooking the city lights.
    Beautiful view from my front yard