Autumn Pork Chops & Apples

Every fall, I find myself shifting away from the tomato-intensive summer garden dinners and looking for something more “fall-ish”, but that still ticks the boxes for easy, fresh, and fruity.  September in MN brings some falling leaves and color shifts, but the temperatures remain pretty warm, just to remind you that summer may not be done roasting us for the year just yet.  Which means all the lovely stews and braises and roasts of fall really must wait for October chills before I break them out.  But I want to eat fall food NOW!  So what’s a girl to do?  I word: broiler.

A funny aside.  For the first 2 years we had our stove, I truly (and somewhat irately) believed that some dumb quack had made a stove without a broiler.  There was no broil element in the oven, and, while there was a “Broil” button on the keypad, the manual stated “Not all features may be included with your model”, and then didn’t have any diagrams of where the broiler would be if it WERE included.  I ask you, what gives?!  It wasn’t until we were attending a party at a friend’s house and someone stuck a tray of hors d’oeuvres in the bottom drawer to melt the cheese that it dawned on me.  You see, I grew up with an electric stove, so that drawer was dedicated cookie sheet storage, and I’d been using it as such on my own (gas) stove.  Duh!  Turns out we had a broiler all along…sigh.

So, the broiler.  The magical cook-anything-before-you-heat-the-house drawer.  It’s my solution to wanting tasty fall foods when it’s still just a smidge too hot out to fire up the oven or slave over the stove.  One dish I’ve been making constantly (as in, multiple times per week, which if you know me, you know is totally out of character!) is broiled pork chops with apple-port sauce and sauteed sage squash bits.  It’s delicious.  It’s low maintenance (seriously, you stir the sauce a few times, cut up & saute a squash, and broil chops…what’s not to love!?

Broiled Pork Chops in Apple Port Sauce

  • 4 pork chops, at least 1-inch thick, bone-in or bone-less is fine
  • 2 large mackintosh apples
  • 1 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 cup cooking port*
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Season chops with salt and pepper.
  2. Core both apples.  Chop one apple very finely.  Slice the other into 8 equal rings.  Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet (12″ is a good size), combine remaining ingredients with diced apples.  Stir briefly, then let simmer down over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, till most liquid is gone and you have what looks like chunky apple sauce.  Season to taste.
  4. While sauce simmers, pop pork chops onto a broiler pan.  Scatter apple rings around chops and broil on high for 5 minutes.  Flip everything over and broil an additional 3 minutes, till chops are cooked through and apple rings are lightly browned. If pork chops are bone-in, remove apples and cook a couple minutes longer if needed.
  5. Plate & serve, because dinner just cooked itself while you stood around stirring!

*And by cooking port, I don’t mean grocery store “cooking wine”…Cook with something you would drink, but that doesn’t cost an arm & a leg to replace.

A great, easy side dish – before you start on the chops & sauce, peel and dice a small butternut squash (1/2″ cubes).  In a 12” skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Add squash and sprinkle with dried sage (or throw in 3-4 leaves fresh if you have it).  Toss to combine, then spread squash in a single layer.  Partially cover and cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes.  Do not stir.  Do not disturb.  The bottoms will caramelize (yum!).  About the time your chops are done, you squash will be done!  Season with salt & pepper to taste.

For the Love of Leggings

I’ve only recently jumped on the leggings bandwagon (crazy, I know, as they’ve been the hot item for quite a while now). I have tried (RTW) leggings in the past, with only limited success.  If you can call it success.  It seems like all the leggings I’ve tried either roll down from my waist and bunch up at my hips, or they end up digging into my waist and cutting me in half, with a complimentary cameltoe bonus–not exactly the comfy wunderpants I’d been promised!  Plus, finding anything but boring black in plus sizes is a bit of a challenge.  I even tried sewing my own from an activewear/running tights pattern, but the size was all over the place (fit OK in the waist, but saggy in the butt and knees and too tight through the calves–awful on my body).  So I gave up and determined that leggings were not for moi.

But then I stumbled across the Patterns for Pirates Peg Leg leggings in a facebook group.  The hook was tons of photos of people, of all shapes & sizes, wearing their newly minted leggings, and every one of them looked fabulous!  So I decided to give the pattern a shot.  And that pattern rocked my legging-less world.  They have a wide, yoga-style waistband that keeps them in place and is comfy to wear (I admit I added some height to the waistband because I prefer a higher rise, but it was only about 3/4″ overall).  The inseam hits me perfectly, and the shape fits me well all down the legs!

My first pair was in a cheap JoAnn’s 4-way stretch knit with giant roses on a black background.  I think I got it in the bargain bin for a couple bucks a yard, and had no idea what I’d make with it when I got it home–the fabric felt very un-me.  So I wouldn’t be too torn up if they turned out to be wadders.

You’ll pardon the crazy striped shirt/floral legging combo, no? I was too excited to change into a solid top!

Happily, they turned out awesome.  I love them far more than I ever though possible–who knew I’d actually enjoy wearing a massive floral print!?

My second pair was out of some “knit denim” that I got from GirlCharlee. I had completely missed the fact that it was knit when I ordered it (I know, I know, I have no excuses–it’s a knit fabric website, but whatever!).  I love that it’s indigo on one side and bright green on the other, but since it wasn’t stretch denim (of the woven variety), it didn’t work for what I originally had in mind for it.  Ever since it’s been languishing in my stash without a purpose.  Sad!

I kind of love the faint greenish glow this fabric has!

The knit denim didn’t have as much stretch as my cheapie JoAnn fabric (it claimed to be 4-way stretch, but was only 4% lycra), so I think I should have gone up a size in the leggings–these are pretty tight.  I may slit them up the outer sides and add a contrast band of green up the legs to fix the fit.  I have enough fabric leftover to make another solid pair, too.  It’s a great weight for fall leggings (a nice mid-weight knit).

In the process of discovering wearable leggings, I also fell a little bit down the rabbit hole of custom printed knit fabrics.  My main source for knits has been either my local fabric shop (which has a small, but high quality selection), or JoAnns (which has a small, low quality selection, but the price is right).  I found a few purveyors of custom knits (in the same FB group that led me to the pattern) and realized that I can actually get my hands on activewear quality fabric!  But for a price!  But 88% polyester, 12% lycra fabric!!!!  Which naturally leads to the realization that I can make my own damn yoga pants!

I picked up a couple yards of 88/12 knit from Zenith & Quasar (who had the best price, but limited to solid colors), and I also ordered a yard of Spoonflower’s new “Sport Lycra” (which has yet to arrive thanks to the usual Spoonflower processing times…but someday…).

For the yoga leggings, I knew I wanted to add a small diamond-shaped gusset to the leggings.  All my beloved Nike pants have this, and I think it’s why they’re so long-lasting (I find the rear crotch seam and the 4-way meet of all the seams are the first things to bust on cheaper knockoff pants…)  Unfortunately, Nike doesn’t make the style I like anymore (of course!), so I’m stuck flying by the seat of my pants (ha!) to come up with a replacement!

Summer House Projects 2015 — Part II – The Driveway

This is the 2nd installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first one can be found here.

Project #2 – Replace the Un-Driveable Driveway

When we bought our house, the driveway was covered in about 2.5 feet of snow–so much snow that we couldn’t even tell if the driveway approach had a curb cut–we bought and hoped for the best!  When the snow melted, we discovered we did indeed have a curb cut for the approach, but we also noticed the driveway was cracked in many places, and missing a few pieces altogether in some.

Something that’s kind of unique to Minneapolis, at least compared to any other place I’ve lived, is that nobody in the city proper actually parks in their garage except when the city declares a snow emergency.  So I’m fairly confident the previous owners rarely, if ever, actually drove on the driveway.  John, on the other hand, loooooves parking in the garage.  I suppose it’s better for the car to be protected from hail and falling limbs and roving packs of teenagers and such, but it does require a clear garage space, and I’m lazy, so it’s, erm, less of a priority for me.  However, I would still like to have the option of driving up my driveway whenever I’d like!  Unfortunately, that was a losing proposition with the driveway we had.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my un-driveable driveway, circa early 2015.  In addition to the amazing quality of being un-driveable (I’ll go into this in a moment), it was also un-shovelable, un-walkable, and un-attractive.

Before–in terrible shape!

The concrete was a thin veneer (literally, 2″ at the thickest places near the sides, but most spots were under 1″ thick).  So every time you drove over it, it cracked a bit more.  In addition, it was a super steep angle of approach (because our garage is situated right at the 8-foot minimum setback, but also had a 2 foot flat slab at the top, so we had to rise 4 feet over just 6 feet of distance…clearly this wasn’t built with modern vehicles in mind, as my little Honda Fit scraped bottom no matter what angle of approach I tried (John thinks the garage was actually built as a carriage house, so the steep angle wouldn’t have been an issue for that!).  And all winter, no matter how careful we were, every time we shoveled the snow off the driveway, we ended up shoveling chunks of concrete off, too.  Or running into holes with the shovel edge, which hurts!.  And was super demoralizing.  By the time spring rolled around, we were ready for a fix!

So it needed to be repoured.  We got several quotes, some of which were outlandish, some reasonable, but in the end, we decided to do it ourselves for the best price (and learning opportunity).  My brother volunteered to help, and my dad came out to help, too (really glad they came out, as they know how to pour concrete and I don’t!).  Our neighbors across the alley were in a similar spot, so we joined forces (and combined concrete loads) to save a few more bucks.  So we had a good crew!

All the concrete is gone–now to dig down a few inches.

When you think through the process of replacing a driveway, pouring the new one sounds like the worst part, right?  WRONG!  Digging out the old driveway was the absolute worst, most labor-intensive part of the whole process.  It took an entire day.  It was so much work!  Since we wanted to pour a once-and-for-all driveway, we decided to dig down to 5″ for the slab.  We also cut 18″ off the flat slab at the top of the approach so we could re-do the angle of approach to something much more friendly to our little Honda.  And both my dad and I are perfectionists, so we kept at it until it was the proper slope and depth. To further complicate matters, the soil under the concrete (there was no sand or proper base laid down) was very oily.  (Pretty sure 100 years of poor decisions and home oil changes saturated the dirt with oil.  Or they got bad fill before the last pour.  It was very different from the rest of the soil on our lot, which is good black dirt.)  The oil-soaked soil was sooooo heavy, and stuck to our shovels like crazy, so sometimes you lifted the same shovelful of dirt over and over until enough built up to stop and scrape off.  Ick.

But all the work paid off!  We were able to pour and finish the new driveway in about 2 hours.  And got my parents and brother out for a visit!  And my car doesn’t scrape going into the garage now!!  There are no chunks of concrete skittering off the drive, no fear of turned ankles as you walk across it, we’ll be able to shovel it this winter (perhaps even use a snowblower?!) without shooting loose concrete into the street.  And it looks SO MUCH BETTER.  And at 5 inches thick, it’s hopefully the last driveway I have to rip out and replace for a very long time!

Done and curing!!  You can see the angle change if you look at the retaining wall along the far edge!

Me Made Wardrobe Schemes – Fall & Winter Sewing

Something different that I’ve noticed lately is that I keep grabbing my me-made clothing out of the closet over my RTW stuff.  I think this is happening thanks to a couple things…First, I’ve gotten over my “fear” of working with knits.  I took an honest appraising look at what I choose to wear 99% of the the time, and it is not fit-n-flare woven dresses.  It is jeans, leggings, t-shirts, tunics, sweaters, long-sleeve knit tops, cardigans, and the occasional hoodie/jacket, also generally knit.  So my stash of patterns for non-knit stuff is largely aspirational sewing gear.  Which is perfectly fine, but if I’m sitting around bemoaning that I never LOVE the stuff I make, and all my patterns are for stuff I don’t love to wear, well…I think you can see where the disconnect is happening.

I also brushed up my knit sewing skills.  I was having trouble with getting professional-looking seams and hems, so I researched the bejeezus out of it and discovered things like wash-away hem tape, fusible but stretchy stabilizer strips, and using clear elastic to reinforce weight-bearing seams.  I also realized I need to embrace the proper care and feeding of knit fabric–not all of it has enough stretch to recover its shape if you stick it in the dryer.  Lay flat to dry really does need to happen with certain fabrics.

And the biggest one–I’ve finally found a few tried-and-true patterns that don’t require tweaking to create comfy, pretty clothes that I want to wear.  I’m on the upper end of the size range, and while I absolutely don’t mind the occasional challenge of grading up a garment to fit me, I also realized that, every so often, I really crave making things that just work out of the gate, or that require just the normal pattern tweaking (add/remove length, FBAs, etc.) and not a complete and total makeover before I can even think about making a muslin.  I admit it’s been mostly through trial and error, but I have a small collection of patterns that are either tweaked to perfection or great off the bat, and I can mash them together to make what I have in mind pretty confidently, which, it turns out, is great for my sewing mojo!

I’m also getting a little more adventurous as I gain confidence.  I recently tried out a pattern for leggings and LOVED them. Totally unexpected result!  They fit and they’re comfy and I totally understand why people try to wear them everywhere (they’re still not pants, though, at least for me…a shirt of some sort must cover the booty!).  But I loved them and immediately made another pair.  (I may have also been avoiding laundry–John chides me that making more pants does not solve that particular problem…I chuckle because he has no idea the depths of my fabric stash…mwahahahahahaha).  Anyhow.   Back on track.

So fall sewing.  I’ve long thougth that my “style” (if you will) is essentially a fall/winter wardrobe that gets pulled into the rest of the seasons for the ride.  I love cardigans and scarves and sweaters and long pants, layering tees, hats, boots, and thick wool socks.  In the fall and winter, I feel pretty stylish, as everybody else is wearing all the things I love to wear.  In the spring and summer, I drag my fall/winter clothes along, only casting things aside once they become too warm to bear.  I swap tank tops for sweaters, drop the socks and scarves, and eventually give in and wear shorts because pants are ludicrous in the swampy heat and humidity of late MN summer.  And as the weather cools heading toward fall, I start adding the fall/winter clothes back until I’m back to my comfort zone.

Between the impending fall season and my recent discovery that I really prefer me-made clothes to RTW (both wearing and procuring them!), I decided to sew myself a little wardrobe for fall and winter this year.  I know that sounds ambitious.  It is.  I ran it past John and he gave me a little side eye and suggested I come up with a detailed plan (oh I do love that man–detailed plans are the best sort!) before going off the fabric deep end (his term, not mine!).  Which, all things considered, is sound advice.  I took my usual clothing budget and transformed most of it into a fabric budget (still buying socks and undies and tights RTW), then went window shopping to see what I could come up with.  I’m pretty pleased with what I found, so without further ado, here’s the plan!

Cardigans are up first – 4 total, two open/drapey cardigans, one boyfriend-ish cardigan, and one cocoon style cardigan.

I’ll do a 3/4 sleeve in the black & white stripe and a full sleeve version in the cream & white stripe; both are mid-weight sweater knits.

Simple black ponte cocoon sweater.

A boyfriend-ish cardigan in abstract grey/ivory houndstooth sweater knit.

On the bottom, I’m mostly sticking with RTW jeans since my fleet is in good shape and fits well, but I’m also trying out some heavier denim “jeggings” since I have some suuuuuper stretchy denim knit in my stash (with a nifty green reverse side).  It wasn’t at all what I expected when I ordered it (kind of missed that it was a knit at all!) but it’ll be perfect for leggings.  I also want to try making some slim-fitting ponte pants, also with stash fabric.

Leggings will have yoga-style waist band for comfort.

The plan is to use grey for the top and bottom panels and teal at the knees, but I may chicken out and go monochrome if I have enough of one fabric).

Under my cardigans and over my leggings I have a few things planned, but most all are “tunic length” to accommodate the planned leggings.  I’ve got some short sleeved, slim, almost shift-like tops on deck, as well as some dolman sweaters with 3/4 sleeves.  Also giving pattern mashing a try as I add sleeves to swing tanks to make flowy tunics.  I have one wrap top on my list, too, and finally a few 3/4 sleeve shirts that hit at low hip for layering.

The floral is a pretty large-scale print, and the teal is a sweater knit.

The green stripe is a mid-weight sweater knit, the blue heather is a lighter weight sweater knit.

Both the grey and periwinkle are jersey knits. Imagine the line drawings with 3/4 sleeves!

Might scoop out the front neckline a little to be able to skip the zip in the center back? But overall I really like the shape on this one. Will use some stashed teal ponte.

All 4 fabrics are a lighter jersey. I’m thinking a variety of hemlines and probably 3/4 or short sleeves.

All in all, I figure about 25 hours of sewing to get it all done.  I want to tweak the dolman sleeves to be more fitted from the bicep down (they’re pretty loose in my previous makes for this pattern), but otherwise it’s all stuff I’ve made before in different permutations.  The color palate ended up being black, grey, & cream neutrals with purples, teals, greens, and a few artsy prints.  I’m pretty excited to start sewing, but of course, must wait for my fabric order to arrive for most of it.  And I have a few end-of-season outdoor house projects to finish up first, so that’s probably for the best!

Summer House Projects 2015 — Part I – The Garden

Now that summer’s coming to a close, I feel like a few posts to update what we did over the season are in order!  John and I have been referring to this summer as SoMPaH 2015 (Summer of Major Projects around the House), mostly because we had a few projects, and some were real doozies, so we figured we at least deserve a funky acronym!

Project #1 – Enlarge Garden Space

We kicked off the summer with a garden enlargement project.  (But of course!  In the 2+ years we’ve owned our house, the garden has been embiggened every single year).  We went from a 10′ x 12′ plot to one that’s 12′ x 15′. I think we ended up at a good size for all our growing space–enough that we could grow prettymuch everything we wanted to try without crowding, and I’d have had a hard time coming up with more stuff to grow if we had the room.

Make it bigger!!!!

I also conscripted John to build me a permanent fence for the garden (once and for all capping the size since he informed me he would not be building me more than one fence).  I thought it sounded like a fair deal!  We made panels, so if we need to replace anything, we can do just the section in need, and we backed them with chickenwire to keep the rabbits at bay.  Nothing short of a hired goon can keep the squirrels out, but so far our fence has proven itself fairly rabbit-proof!

Staining about to commence!

The finished fence!  There’s a latching gate that you can’t really see in the north side (long side to the right in the photo)

Done & done…well, almost.  When we paint the house, we’ll also paint the posts to match the trim.

I also ripped all the “decorative” rock out of the rock bed along the house (4′ x 12′ bed) to make way for sunflowers and squash.  Whoever thought that a rock bed was a good idea really should be kneecapped, at the very least.

Rock free! Look at all the glorious black dirt that was hiding under those rocks!!! For shame, former homeowners. For. Shame.

And here’s some of the rocks we pulled out:

About 1/3 of the rocks.

Sadly we have another rock bed all along the south side of our house that is equal parts rock and weeds, so I’ll get the joy of ripping that out someday, too.  For now it’s covered wth black plastic in the hope that the weeds will bake and die down a little!

Those were the major garden projects this year.  I did a fair amount of seed starting, too, but that wasn’t so much work as it was planning.  I have a seed starting post in the works for later this year, so stay tuned if that sounds interesting!