BYOP

Ooh bonus post!  Just because Halloween is so awesome!

Every year since we’ve lived in MN, we’ve hosted the BYOP: Bring Your Own Pumpkin Party. Thanks to our small entertaining space and the prevalence of pointy objects, it is by necessity an intimate gathering (the best sort!); you might even call it an exclusive event! We invite a few close friends to bring a pumpkin over, eat some tasty foods with us, drink some tasty beers, and wreak havoc on pumpkindom for the sake of art.  Or something like that. A good time is had by all (well, except maybe the pumpkins in question!).

We quite enjoy putting the festivities on, and there are always amazing pumpkins carved. My all time favorite is probably the “flash-o-lantern” (a tall pumpkin with a mischievous grin, an articulated paper at trench coat, and a strategically place gourd), but there have been way too many all-stars to count.

Here’s a glimpse at this year’s crop (the Hitchcock pumpkin was mine):

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I think the BYOP gets awesomer (hey, if “jeggings” can be a word, so can awesomer) every year; I really look forward to it.  I can’t wait for the 8th Annual BYOP next year!!

What is your favorite fall tradition?

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Porketta

I have to admit that I’m a bit…wary…of Minnesota cuisine.  I mean, a region that churns out cookbooks based entirely on Campbell’s Cream of Something Soup?  That is responsible for the existence of Spam (and proudly houses a Spam Museum, no less!)?  That puts pretzels, fruit, AND cream cheese with jello, then calls it a side dish?  Eek!  I have just cause, I tell you!  Granted there are a few exceptions, but even those generally require some minor tweaking before they’re edible…take tater tots…plain or in “hot dish”?  No thanks.  but dressed up in Parmesan cheese and truffle oil?  Now we’re getting somewhere!

So when I hear that something is a “traditional” local food, I admit, I cringe a bit inside.  Said food is immediately suspect.  Maybe I’m just a snob (quite likely) or maybe you had to grow up eating tater tot hot dish (also quite likely) to really appreciate the finer points of the Minnesota palate.  But every so often, something surprises you.  Every so often you try something new and decide, right there on the spot, that it simply MUST happen in your kitchen as soon as humanly possible, because it’s that awesome.  And every so often, that pile of awesome on your plate is a Minnesota delicacy.

We tried a new brewpub for brunch last weekend with friends.  It’s mainly a smokehouse joint, so most of the offerings were of the smoked meat variety (though, also, intriguingly, they offer smoked egg salad).  A pretty inspired menu, in retrospect, and something that not a lot of places around here are doing.  One of the items on the menu was a Porketta sandwich.  While I’ve heard of “porchetta” (the Italian de-boned, herb-stuffed roast whole pig), I’d never heard of “porketta”, and the menu described it as an Iron Range specialty (the Iron Range being the far north bits of Minnesota).  One of our friends hails from those parts, and he waxed poetic about the awesomeness that is porketta.  (If you want to read more on the background that what I have to say, check out this article from the folks at ATK, who also went in search of porketta, but didn’t have the luxury of being in the same state to start with!)

Porketta, it turns out, is an artifact of Italian immigrant cuisine.  Back when the Iron Range was a profitable place to be, lots of immigrants flocked there for work (being from a mining town out West, I know all too well what that means…culinary free-for-all as immigrants try to take beloved family recipes from “back home” and cook them using an entirely different set of ingredients)!  Turns out that “porketta” is an adaptation of “porchetta”…it’s not the whole hog (though it is generally de-boned).  It’s a highly-seasoned, butterflied pork shoulder roast that is slow cooked till it falls apart, is shredded, and then, traditionally, is served as a sandwich.

I was too skeptical to order the Porketta sandwich myself at brunch, but thankfully my hubby was not such a party-pooper, and I managed to sneak a bite or two.  It was a conglomeration of juicy porky goodness, a bit of spiky garlicky kick, and caramelly sweet fennel flavors, with just a dash of bitterness from (I think) parsley.  It was genius.  One of the best pork sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.  And it absolutely needed to happen in my kitchen this week.

Naturally, the restaurant doesn’t provide too much in the way of ingredient listings or descriptions, so I went based on what I remembered it tasting like…it’s a basic pork roast, so how hard could it possibly be?! (OK, yes, basically I winged it!).  I knew it needed LOTS of fennel and garlic flavors, tempered by a bit of bitterness and a bit of sweet.  I also knew I wanted to cook it in the crockpot (I do dearly love a dinner that essentially cooks itself).  Armed with those requirements, I picked up a 3-pound boneless boston butt roast and a couple bulbs of fennel, and set to work.

For maximum flavor-absorption, I butterflied the roast so I had more surface area to season.  Then I mixed up a seasoning goo (sort of like a rub, but, well, goo-ier).  I used olive oil, fennel seed, salt & pepper, fresh chopped parsely, and very finely minced garlic.  I spread about half of this mixture over the outside of the roast, then flipped it and spread the rest inside.  Then I chopped up half a fennel bulb (probably about a cup chopped…it was a BIG bulb!) and set that in the very center.

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I rolled the roast up around it, and plopped the whole works in an oiled 3-quart crock pot insert.

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I let it marinate overnight in the fridge, then added a couple glugs of good white wine before setting it on to cook the next morning.

I hadn’t actually planned to blog about this, but it was just too awesome not to…ooh, just look at it stewing away!!  Incidentally, your entire apartment/house/yurt/what-have-you will smell amazing as this cooks!

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I strongly recommend you make this!

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 Porketta

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 T. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 T. fennel seed
  • 1/2 c. chopped parsley (flat leaf)
  • 1/2 fresh fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • white wine or water

Optional (for gravy…but when is gravy ever really optional?!)

  • 2 T. flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c. white wine or water

Instructions

  1.  Butterfly the pork roast (slice in half lengthwise to within about 1-1/2 inches of the uncut edge).  Open the roast like a book, and slice a bit more in the center if needed so it lies flat all the way across.  Lightly score the meat in a cross-hatch pattern to maximize surface area for seasoning.
  2. Combine olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seed, and fresh parsley in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Spread half the seasoning goo on the outside of the roast, then flip and spread the remaining goo on the inside (the scored side).  Spread the chopped fresh fennel in the right half of the inside (scored) side of the roast, spreading out to within a half inch of the edges.
  3.  Fold the left side over the right (close the book!) and carefully pick up the roast and set it in an oiled 3-quart slow cooker insert.  If you like, you can tie the roast with cotton kitchen twine (I rely on the smallish slow cooker to keep the roast together, but if you want absolute certainty or are using a larger pan, by all means tie it up!).
  4.  Let the roast marinate overnight in the fridge (up to two days).  When ready to cook, splash about an inch of good white wine in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Cook for 6-7 hours on low.  (Alternately, you could roast it at 325 for probably 2 to 2-1/2 hours…I don’t have an exact time since I use the slow cooker, but since you managed to find this recipe, I’m confident you can look up a cooking time chart and figure that out, too!).
  5.  Once cooked, carefully transfer the meat to a large plate and shred.  Set aside while you make the gravy.
  6.  To make the gravy, pour the drippings out of the slow cooker insert and into a wide, shallow pan (a 10- or 12-inch skillet works marvelously for this).  Heat skillet over medium high heat till liquid is simmering.  In a small bowl, combine the flour with a few spoonfuls of the heated drippings, whisking to remove any lumps.  The mixture should resemble runny paste.  Once mixture is lump-free, whisk into the rest of the drippings and cook at a simmer, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes, till thickened.  Add wine (water works, too) to achieve the desired consistency (I add about 1/4 cup, but the amount will vary depending on how much drippings your roast gave you).  You will want to taste-test to make sure the gravy doesn’t taste “floury” (if it does, cook it a bit longer).
  7.  Serve the hot meat in open-faced sandwiches on good bread.  Serve the leftovers hot or cold on buns.

Have you ever been surprised by local cuisine?

Where we’re going, we don’t need patterns.

So I’ve finally capped off my “sewing for the neices & nephews” (which I started way back here) with a couple coordinating pinafores for the girls and a very fancy vest for the oldest boy.  The pinafores were a Favorite Things pattern I borrowed from a friend, and they were, quite possibly, the easiest things I’ve ever sewn.  It took about 3 hours from tracing (two sizes, mind you!) to cutting, to sewing, to topstitching.  Easy peasy (I looked at the instructions just once!), and they turned out so cute!

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I love that they’re reversible, too!

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I admit I was a bit stuck on what to make for the oldest nephew (he’s just turned 7 a couple months ago)…a button down shirt was tempting, but seemed like a LOT of work, but then a friend suggested a vest, and John did some leisurely googling to find a pattern, but nothing really came up proper-pattern-wise.  He did find a couple tutorials (here, and here) that were really helpful; but unfortunately, they were both for much smaller boys, so I took the general gist of them and improvised.

The last time I tried making something for the older boy, I ended up with a toddler-sized button down, so to avoid a repeat of that debacle, we snagged a t-shirt from Target in the proper size and traced the body to use as a basic pattern.

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From there, I expanded the arm holes a tiny bit to allow room for a shirt underneath, and decided where to put the V for the front.  Then (and I’m really proud of this step), I actually remembered to add seam allowances!!  I drew up some lapels and pocket pieces (yay for basic rectangles!) next.  The lapels were originally going to be two pieces like you’d see on normal men’s jacket lapels, but the geometric logistics of that defeated me, so I made them one piece and just reinforced the notch really well.  It seems to have worked pretty well, if I do say so my lazy self!

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I basically sewed it up just like the pinafores!  First, I sewed the lining and the outer bits together so each was one piece, then sewed the lining to the main fabric all around (except at the shoulders and the bottom), then sewed the inside pocket to the lining and the faux-welt pocket tabs to the front. I really like that it has a sneaky inside pocket, but also the styling of the welt pockets (thought the welts ones don’t actually have pockets attached, mostly because I’m lazy and welt pockets sound an awful lot like giant button holes, and we all know how fun button holes are…).

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Once the pockety bits were attached, I top-stitched to pockets and the lapels, then sewed the bottom mostly shut with just enough room to turn the whole works right-side out!  Once it was all right-side out, I ironed it into submission and top-stitched again around the outer edges.  I did some minor hand sewing at the shoulders to attach the front to the back, and then stuck 5 snaps on the front.  Not too shabby for a pattern-less project!

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I really enjoy the robot fabric, too! (It is blue and white, but my iphone does not do so awesome with low-light photos…)

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Now to get them all in the mail before the kiddos outgrow them!

Overseas Cables!

I’ve recently placed a sewing ban on myself.  From now till Oct. 28th, I shall not sew.  Mostly because, well, we’re hosting the 7th Annual BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin) party on the 27th and I don’t want to have to deal with the unholy mess that seems to accompany my sewing bouts.  Pattern pieces hither and yon, ironing board blocking my front door, sewing machine on the coffee table, fabric and scraps and threads everywhere…oh my!  So I put it all away this weekend and won’t be trotting it out till November.  Oh well.

To keep myself occupied in the meantime, I’ve dug out my last unfinished knitting project, the Overseas Cables sweater (well, that’s what I’m calling it, anyhow, thanks to my color scheme and my first attempt at honest-to-goodness cables!).  The pattern is the Alata sweater from Knitty and I started it last spring (I know, who on earth starts a major knitting project in the spring?!).  I wanted to use up some scrap yarn (lots of whole skeins) leftover from a baby knitting project (my first foray into fair isle left me with a LOT of leftover colored yarn, mostly all shades of blue!).

I’ve got about 8 inches knitted up (and I just re-found my cable needle, so I can continue!) and it’s going swimmingly, if I do say so myself!  I’ve decided that the stripes will be as wide as the skein of yarn lasts (they’re all approximately the same size ball, so it should be pretty even).  After the aqua I’m using right now I’ll switch to a dark navy for the waist…should be fun!  I’m really hoping to finish the sweater before next spring…but we’ll see!

Easy Does It

Let me start by saying: I have sewn myself a clown shirt.

It was unintentional, I assure you.  I set out to make an Alma blouse (one of Sewaholic’s new fall patterns, but if you’re reading a sewing blog, you probably already knew that!).  It looked sweet enough (I have a dearth of “romantic” garments in my closet, and sometimes, I really just feel like I’d like to wear something along those lines, but have nothing…so this blouse could potentially fill that gap!).  And I really liked their Crescent Skirt pattern, so I figured this wouldn’t be super difficult.  Plus (and this is really what sealed the deal), I found this really cute grey fabric with little red mushrooms all over it that seemed like it would make a very cute blouse.

I decided to actually make a proper muslin this time, since for one, I don’t really trust darts (I never seem to get them lined up properly on the first try) and for two, I’m still a bit unsure of my shirt sewing skills, and this one has a collar and facings and sleeves and a side zip oh my.  So a practice run was in order, especially since I knew I’d probably need to add a couple inches.  But in the spirit of making a useful object, I opted to use some stretch poplin in a nice bright turquoise from my stash.  (What’s that?  Using fabric I already own?!?  What what what?!)  I figured the stretch would be nice in case I accidentally made it a touch too small, it might still be salvagable.  Ha.  Not a problem in the slightest, as I’ll explain momentarily.

So I whipped out my trusty measuring tape and measured myself and decided to add a few inches to the largest size.  7 inches in the bust, actually, and 10 around the waist/hips area.  It seemed like a lot to add (considering I only added like 6 inches to the crescent skirt, and that fits pretty loosely (room for tucking in sweaters, I guess?), and these patterns are supposed to account for pear-shaped-ness really well) but I went with it anyhow.

Can anybody spot colossal mistake number one?  You, in the back!  Yes?  Indeed.  I mistook the body measurements on the size guide for finished garment measurements.  So I added waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much width to the pattern pieces.  Which is super unfortunate, because I followed these really awesome instructions from Casey’s Elegant Musings for grading up, which were way better than my usual slash-shoulder-to-hem-method (which usually makes the shoulders and underarms too big), and this post from Colette patterns for unevenly grading just the hips.  I learned so much!  And put it to use!  And was so, so wrong.  Ah, assumptions.

So I graded up the front and the back, and then remembered I also needed to enlarge the collar to fit the slightly wider neckline.  Easy peasy.  Took forever, but I had a Vampire Diaries marathon running in the background, so I didn’t really mind!

Anyhow, I sewed up the shirt following the instructions.  The only hitch was the collar + facings.  I really hate facings.  I’m not 100% sure they’re necessary, and they always seem to want to stick straight up, even if I under-stitch them.  Grrrr.  The darts (even the diamond-shaped ones!) were pretty easy (but I forgot to move the darts over after grading, so they weren’t really in the right place).  I also decided since it was just a muslin, and since the fabric has some stretch, that I would skip the zipper and just sew the side-seams shut.  I’d want some looseness anyhow for wearing so I could, you know, sit down and move and whatnot, so if I couldn’t get into it in stretch poplin without a zipper, I’d have problems when I used my real fabric.  (This was actually a great decision…you’ll see why).

So then I tried the muslin on.  It was miles too big.  A bit short, and a good fistful of extra fabric at each side-seam.  And the shoulders were a bit too wide.  I’m beginning to think I have somewhat narrow shoulders, because I had an extra inch and a half hanging over, and that’s about what I had added during my grading adventures.  But folks, the really distressing part: the collar.  I made view B with the swoopy Peter-pan-ish collar.  But instead of being a dainty little collar, it is HUGE.  Like 4 inches tall at the swoopy bits in the center front.  And on a bright turquoise shirt that’s four miles too wide, it was too much.  It was over the top.  My very helpful husband told me all I needed was a yellow flower that secretly squirted water at people.  So helpful, honey, thanks.

Oh, and the sleeves were really poofy like pretty pretty princess gown sleeves, because the sleeves are a bit gathered at the cap, but the shoulders were too long, so instead of having nicely gathered sleeves, I had comical Cinderella’s ballgown sleeves that stood up an inch or so from the shoulder seam.  And a collar that begged for a trick flower.  Sigh.

I took the side seams in by 2 inches on each side, and the shirt actually fit pretty well in the front then.  The darts were way too far to the sides, though.  I think the back darts could have been a bit deeper as it seemed to have a bunch of extra fabric in the center back, but again, the darts were way off to the sides, so maybe better dart placement would address that.

Here’s a picture of the offending shirt from the front:

And the back:

See what I mean about the collar and the shoulders?  Ack.  But the shirt is comfy.  I think I might make it with the shorter sleeves, though, as I liked it much better without the longer sleeves (plus, I’ll probably end up wearing it under a cardigan for the next several months, anyhow!)

I think I’ll need to re-do my grading though.  I thought about trying to transfer the changes to my existing graded pattern, but that just makes my head hurt.  So I will start over.  Sigh.  But this time, since I took out 8 inches overall (2 inches on each side, front and back, that makes 8 total, right?), I’ll just add maybe 2 inches to the existing pattern and see what that gets me. And of course, I’m going to do another muslin.  I’m a little scared to cut into my “good” fabric till I know I’ve gotten it right.

I also still want to have the curved collar going on, but I might just scale that down so it’s more like an inch at the widest.

Snap to it!

I’m fairly certain my sister-in-law doesn’t read my blog (Kate, if you do read my blog, watch the mail soon!), so I’ll post about this project sooner than later!

I’ve decided that I have no good reasons to be afraid of sewing shirts.  Of the button-down variety.  I mean, how much harder can they be than shirts of the not-button-down variety, really?  It’s the same basic shape.  A few more seams.  Oh, and buttonholes.  That must both line up and be evenly spaced.  Yah, what’s so scary there?

I figured I’ve been sewing for over a year now (eek!? really?!), so it was high time to tackle a button down shirt.  I was also feeling a bit like making something for my nieces & nephews and landed on the idea of making one of them a buttondown shirt!  Genius, right?  I get to practice my technique, and in miniature so that if it turns out to be horrendous, I’m only out like a yard total!  Plus, I don’t think the target demographic is quite as picky as I am, fit-wise (yet!).  I even stash-busted and pulled some very funky train fabric out of my closet for the main fabric, and some fun paper airplane fabric for the trim!  Win win!

I did a lot of research for patterns.  And by that I mean I googled “kids button down shirt pattern” and found precisely one pattern, the Sketchbook shirt, from Oliver + S.  I called my local fabric shop to see if they had it in stock and they did!  I skipped over there to nab a copy and was presented with a conundrum…you see, Oliver + S patterns come in two multi-size ranges, sizes 0 to 4 or 5, and size 5 to 12 or so.  Basically little kid, and bigger kid.  One of the unfortunate side effects of long-distance sewing is that I literally guess on what size to cut out (loosely based on age, but still no guarantee there).  And the kiddos I had in mind range in age from less than a 1 year to just turned 7.  So no matter how I sliced it, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-most here.  However, logic prevailed and I realized that kids only grow bigger, so eventually, all of them would be in the bigger size range.  So I went with that.

I started out tracing the size 10 pattern, figuring I’d just be on the safe side and send on a little big for the oldest.  Well, I traced it out and the pattern piece looked like it would almost fit my husband (a solid mens’ Medium if ever there was one).  It was HUGE!  So I retraced my steps and went with the size 8 instead (since the nephew in question just turned 7, and sizes are supposed to correlate to age, or so I’m told!).  It looked much more reasonably sized, so I cut out my fabric and got started.

Let me start by saying that the directions in this pattern were amazing.  At times, they were annoyingly detailed and I felt like screaming “OF COURSE I WILL BACK STITCH TO LOCK THE SEAM!!!”, but, well, if you were new, I bet it’d be really nice to have that reminder on every seam you are instructed to sew.  And the directions are thorough.  Some patterns which will remain nameless have very poor copy editing and miss entire steps, but not so here.  Everything was covered, which I’d expect, but, you know, that isn’t always the case!

I went with a mandarin-style collar and short sleeve, with one front pocket, too.  I planned to do the pocket, back yoke, button plackets, and collar out of my trim fabric, but I ran a bit short, so the collar ended up being out of the main fabric instead.  I started off sewing the button plackets to the front of the shirt, and that was super easy.

The pocket was next, and that was pretty simple.  The hardest bit there was getting the corners folded in at 45-degree angles to keep from having weird bits poking out at the bottom.

Sewing it to the shirt was easy, I was just extra careful not to tug it out of place as I sewed…nothing worse than an off-kilter pocket!

Then came the yoke.  That was a bit more tricky since by the time you got the yokes properly attached, you had the shoulder seams magically done, and the whole shirt poking out of the neckline like a fabric hernia.  It was stressful, very very stressful.  Mostly because I was certain I was going to accidentally sew the shirt shut half inside out.  It worked out in the end, and I really can’t imagine any other way to accomplish it, but it was no fun!

The collar was next and was actually easier than it looked (though to be honest, I did skip the hand-sewing and just pinned the bejeezus out of it and machine-sewed it into place.  Lazy? Definitely.  But it worked!

The sleeves were a bit strange and I deviated from the instructions again here…I’m used to just easing sleeves into the armhole, but these were supposed to be gathered at the top of the sleeve, then sewn down.  Which I thought would look stupid (well, I still think it would look stupid).  So I eased as much of the sleeve in as possible, then trimmed the excess and made the sleeve opening a bit narrower.  I think it should still fit just fine, and it won’t be all puffy at the top.  Won’t know for sure till it’s tried on, though.

Now, the buttonholes were slated to be next, but let’s be honest.  They still scare me.  I hung the shirt up and contemplated other closure options.  A zipper would be cold and might be pinchy, plus would throw off the overall gestalt of a button down.  Buttonholes were too anxiety-inducing.  John suggested snaps, and the light bulb went off!  A friend of mine has an industrial snap press, and if I got ahold of her right away, there was a good chance I could borrow it!

Let me just say, snaps are really easy.  I may never sew a button hole at this rate!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the shirt turned out.  Now just to send it off and see who it fits!