HOUSTON Part Deux

I started out super-nervous and excited. The people are beyond nice- honestly, of the hundreds of people I talked with today, there was not one crab or grump among them. The exhibitors in the booths surrounding mine are all fantastic, and all of them have been here before and have been generous with tips and advice. The learning curve is steep, and I already have a full page of ideas scrawled down for next year.

First thing this morning, the guy in the booth directly across from mine told me not to panic if I didn’t take any orders today. He said on Saturday, most of the people just take their spin through and figure out their game plan, waiting for Sunday or Monday to do their serious buying. I’m glad he told me that- and I didn’t panic.

I got to meet Heather Bailey. She is fantastic,  and her stuff is completely drool-worthy. Nice things coming down the line for 2010. I saw Amy Butler, but did not get a chance to speak with her. The new Moda lines are vintage-tastic. Amazing.

While I do still feel like a super-small fishy in a giant pool of  insane talent, I also feel a little more confident now as well. I’m not any of those other people- but maybe what I have is cool in its own way too.

Now, I am tired and my feet are achy- I’m thinking about the hot tub, but am debating if  my transparent-white Washington legs should really make a public appearance. Tomorrow ought to be fun. I will return and report.

First Report: HOUSTON

First, thank you all for your support this last week. It’s been a doozy, and sometime down the road, I may be able to share more than just my aching heart, but now is not the time.

Hmmm. What to say about Texas so far…

Dude, when leaving a building or your car? When you do, your glasses fog up like they would in a steamy bathroom. I kid you not. When I walked out of the airport to get my rental car, my sunglasses immediately steamed over. The ONLY time that has ever happened to me before was in my own kitchen on a cold December when I opened the oven to take out some hot baked bread. Here in Houston, it’s the norm. Your car windows fog too- on the OUTSIDE.

Also, it never ever cools down. Last night, I kept waiting and waiting for it to cool off, but at almost midnight, it was still almost 90. Today it’s been pouring rain all day. And it’s still hot. You. Should. See. My. Hair.

Texas really, really likes Texas. Also, the Voldemart here is really scary- at least in East Houston, which is the only one I’ve been in. Downtown is nice. The convention center is massive, and the new ballpark downtown is cool. Er, rather, it’s retro and nice- nothing in Houston is COOL. No, everything here is meltingly hot. I don’t know how Texas women even bother with make-up or doing their hair…

I’ve been taking photos, and I’ll put them up when I get home- I don’t have an isb cord for my camera on me, and as Mo will attest, I am so-not-good at techie things. I look forward to the day I can use my wireless mouse as a tri-corder and just tell my Computer what to do, a la Picard. “Computer! Chamomile tea with honey!”

There are over 2000 other fabric artists here, and I’m TOTALLY the little fish in the big sea. Intimidating? Oh yeah. I’m trying not to think about it too much. My booth is all set up, it looks cute, and I’ve done everything in my power. Now, it’s out of my hands. Tomorrow, I’ll get up, make myself pretty (minus the hopeless hair situation), don my super cute new apron (pictures and maybe a free pattern coming), and hopefully wow the world. Or at least the small part of the world that make up the fabric lovers who’ve travelled to Houston in 2009.

Moda  (Moda! I love Moda fabric!) is one aisle over from me- and so is Amy Butler. I have a girl-crush on both of them; I feel bashful each time I look over there and see the fantastic things they are setting up… and here’s me, over here, all quiet and small…and shaking in my boots.

Math Is Not Interpretive Dance

math1222954353Our school district has been using an, um, -interesting- math curriculum for the last three years. David and I had puzzled over the work Jeffrey has brought home since kindergarten, but kind of figured the teachers must know what they were doing. Right? Rookie parent mistake. Not that the teachers didn’t know what they were doing- most of them are great, and they didn’t like the math program either. But they had to teach it.

Our math program has been “Interpretive” math. It’s been more about gleaning concepts from doing, about working with blocks and tiles and diagrams to absorb concepts. Which is a fine, nice idea- except that it’s not. Not teaching them anything that is. Math is not like art. Math is not fuzzy around the edges. Math is hard. And I mean a Hard Science, not difficult, though it may be that too.

When Jeffrey, who is generally a bright kid, struggled figuring out how add a column of numbers, alarm bells went off in Mama’s head. We’re talking basics here. His homework never contained basics- it was always things to cut out, to color, or to put into sets. David and I would sit at the table to help him, and be totally perplexed at how this was supposed to be math. A (large) group of parents began to make a lot of noise, and after some messy, loud district meetings, the Interpretive Dance Math Program was dropped.

So today I took Jeffrey to school to meet his new teacher and drop off his supplies (minus ink cartridge- don’t get me started), I was overjoyed to see the brand-spanking new textbooks on the counter. Textbooks! Not workbooks with pretty pictures and games. I picked the heavy book up and began to flip through it- and holy cow, it had actual MATH on page after page! And he will be working on a sheet of lined binder paper, from a textbook! I’m so happy I could flip. His new teacher, (and first man-teacher) was equally excited.

Who ever thought I would care about math? Me, the art major- who took business math in college to avoid any further algebra than my high-school career afforded. I can’t wait to do some long division and quiz his multiplication tables!

I’m OK, even love it, when the humanities are interpretive. But math? No way. Some things are just hard. And they need to stay that way. Funny how your priorities change when you become a mom…

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Garage Sale Finds: SCORE!

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This one just makes me giddy. That table is a solid walnut, antique, Duncan Pfyffe knock-off, with filigree edge and brass toe-caps on the tri-corn legs. The filigree is broken a little in the back- but it doesn’t bother me at all. It was marked fifty cents. Yes, that’s right. FIFTY CENTS. I asked the lady if that was right- actually, what I said was “This can’t be right, can it?” and she said sure, it was damaged. I slapped down my two quarters and ran to the car.

The wingback chair is also a thrift store find, $5.00. Yes, I ran with that one too. And its matching partner, which lives on the other side of the fireplace. I have a bolt of natural linen that I plan on making them slipcovers- and eventually I’ll get around to it. Won’t they be darling in linen slipcovers? The orange doesn’t do it for me, but hello!? FIVE bucks each? Thank you very much!

Summer

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This photo makes me very, very happy. It’s such unadulturated Joy. Seeing a boy who has had more than his share of tears and difficulty be so utterly, delightfully happy, makes this Mama’s heart sing.

Tag Sale Photo Overload

Canon PowerShot A1000 ISFirst off, meet my new camera. A lovely friend, who wishes me to leave her anonymous, had my grumpy mail-lady leave this little brown-bag wrapped package happily on my doormat. At first I was dumbstruck- who would do something so nice and so thoughtful, and well holy crap, so generous?! Then I thought for half a second and realize I knew a lot of people who are that awesome. I love my friends. The real life ones, and the ones who live in my computer. And today, especially, this particular friend. And her hubby, who she sent out to buy my camera. That’s love. Muuuoosh.

So, without further ado, here’s the updates, the skinny, the poop, the real deal…

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Both of these are tables from garage sales. One the left is the spool table from last weekend, for $5, and is now overloaded with books, next to my bed. Mama Soule’s book is underneath my loud-ticking Big Ben alarm clock. My grandma had one, and I love it. The table on the right was gotten for $10 at a sale, and is in my entry way. The lamp, pineapple down below, doily and the books all came from yard sales.

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On the left is the Singer sewing machine cover made from tiger oak that I paid $2 for. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it- my treadle machine folds down into it’s cabinet- but come on! TWO bucks! You would have bought it too! I haven’t even cleaned it up or dusted it yet- and it’s that pretty. *sigh* I love wood.

On the right, one of my linens drawers in Phoebe, the Buffet that I put pictures up of last summer. She’s a thrift-store find. All the linens are hand-embroidered and have been gotten at tag-sales, rummage sales and estate sales. Here are some close-ups:

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The goose hand towel is a favorite- I just love it. The napkins behind the goose have tiny rosebuds embroidered on each one. The picture on the right is all applique, and it’s some of hte finest I’ve ever seen. The stitches are so even and tiny it’s unbelievable, and yet it’s all handmade. I love these things. I love that someones hands lovingly decorated and cared enough to make a plain linen towel so pretty. And the feel of real linen is just beyond lovely…. *sigh*

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These are two finds I love- the sewing basket is just like one my mom has that belonged to her grandma- only hers is green, and mine is obviously yellow. You find these at antique shows, but I got this at a junk sale. I think I paid $5 for it. That’s a lot for me, but it had sentimental value, so I bit. The white stool is genuine 1940’s- and I picked it up at a sale last weekend. It was brown with dirt and grime, and the bolts were loose; see what a little elbow grease and an old toothbrush can do? It was $3.00. That’s part of the trick- you have to be willing to look at an ugly-ducking and see the swan.

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On the left is a dress I made Abby- I just LOOOOOVE the fabric. Super easy shift cut, elastic sleeve and a ruffle around the bottom. Anyone who sews could make this, really. The blouse on the right is from the estate sale I went to a few weeks back- where I scored a lot of the stuff I’ve been writing about. I bought it because it was made with such care and skill. It doesn’t fit me, but I hang it in my sewing room for inspiration.

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Bag of solid wooden spools from a week or two ago. This pincushion was in the bottom of the pop-box from the estate sale on Friday. It’s little Asian figures surrounding the silk cushion. I don’t know what to think of it, besides awesome.

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This is the silk ribbon and a few samples of the embroidery that was in the bottom of the box. I guess I need to learn how to do this now, too.

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All of the above is from the one estate sale, found in my pop-box when I got home. I’m never buying anything new again.

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On the left is the pile of handkerchiefs I got for $2, and on the right are the heat-transfer books I found, four books in all, and I’ve never seen anything like them anywhere. They are all entirely intact, and the heat works lovely. I’ve already used one.

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And just for giggles, here’s a shot of one wall in my sewing room. Oh, and yeah, my haircut. Twelve inches, gone. I love it, and it feels so light. It really is not two different lenghts, but that’s what you get at 2 in the morning taking a picture of yourself in the bathroom. Ya get what ya get.

I want you all to go out and garage sale this weekend. Check Craigslist, drive around and look for signs. See what you can find. Don’t be afraid to get out and look- and keep your eyes peeled for things that are awesome, but might not look like it at first. A toothbrush and some vinegar are a garage-saler’s best friend!

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Farm Chicks Show

6a010534adb750970b011570b1368f970b If you don’t know Teri and Serena, you should. They are The Farm Chicks, and what started out as a little antique show in a po-dunk Washington prairie town has turned into something oh-so-much bigger than they are. Vendors and look-seers come from all over the country. I saw at least a dozen out-of-state license plates in the parking lot just walking to the ticket booth.

I’ve had this show on my calender for months, and just a bit of a drive from my home got me there. Nevermind that I am plumb broke. It doesn’t matter. Most of what I get from the Farm Chicks is awesome ideas and the creative impetus to go home and make stuff.  Think a giant flea market full of some of the most creative stuff you’ve ever imagined.

Don’t get me wrong- if I had Midas’ purse, I would have shot the moon, but as it was, I was content to wander around, footloose and kid-free. A day away, all to myself? Time in the car to think and then on the way home, to think about all the good stuff I want to go make? Oh, delightful!

Bookmark their website- it’s a good one for eye-candy. I mean, who doesn’t need more pink tractors?

It’s Friday!

I’m achy and tired. My plane didn’t land until almost midnight last night, and the kids were up early. But that’s not what you want to know, is it?

I just spent the last three days, (no kids, no husband, and the ticket was a gift!) in Nauvoo. I went for a conference, and of course, managed to take in a multitude of goodness. It was amazing. And other than falling down a flight of steps (at Emma’s house!) and bruising/scraping the crap out of myself, it was a marvelous trip.

But that’s just the first of my exciting news…

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My little po0dunk design company was accepted, after a portfolio reveiw and vetting process, to be a vendor at the International Quilt Market in Houston this fall! I’ve designed a small line of 20 or so quilts for a few years. I’ve managed to market them locally and to a few stores in other states, and they have been well-received. But this show in Houston is the big-time. I’m nervous and excited and have a lot of details to work out, but it’s a great opportunity.

Now I need to go soak myself. In my stair tumbling, I managed to mangle my calf, thigh, top of my foot, elbow, forearm, and head. I am black and purple, literally, from head to foot! Think of it as an homage to Eliza and Emma… (500 points if you get that reference!)

Adventures in Julia’s Kitchen

This is a long one. Feel free to skip it and go eat an ice cream cone if your day is as lovely as mine. Once again, if Beanie hadn’t loooooved the sound my camera made while he manually shoved the lens, I would a) still have a camera, and b) this post would be awesomeness incarnate, with photos of my adventure and even my chopped off tip of thumb. Instead, it’s just words. I shall do my best to paint with them…

So a few nights ago, I was flipping channels and found a PBS channel showing old reruns of Julia Child’s Master Chefs. This is a fantastic show. I hardly ever find it anymore- it’s a double happy, because not only do you get Julia, but you get to see young (now famous) chef’s stammering and doing their clumsy best in front of the Queen.

This particular episode, I know now, was something of an urban fable. Nacy Silverton of La Brea Bakery was on, and she was preparing a Creme Fresh Brioche Tart with Caramelized Plums and a white wine zabaglione.  At the end of the unbelievably long and complicated recipe, when Julia tastes it, she stammers and tears up, and says aloud that she is going to cry, because this is the best dessert she has ever tasted. Wow. Nancy has been immortalized and cast in bronze, and this dessert is the urban legend of The Tart that made Julia Child Cry.

Of course, I had to make it.

At midnight, I was Google-ing “Nancy Silverton” “Crying Tart” and trying to figure out how to spell “Zabaglione”. All to no avail. Finally, I hit up PBS and Julia’s page, where it turns out, the recipe is only available in her book, Baking with Julia. I don’t have $39 to drop on a book- because really, I could already outfit a library with my cookbooks. But! I did notice you could watch video clips from the show. So I got a pencil and paper, hit play, and started writing. 

Yesterday, I used some of my precious garage-sale funds on ingredients, and got started.  I’ve never made brioche before, but when I worked in Palo Alto, there was a bakery that had the BEST brioche, and I’ve never been able to replicate it. (And for whatever else this recipe is, now I CAN make a screaming brioche)

So I’m working on the brioche dough, and realize with all the rise times, this bread won’t be ready until morning. So it’s a two-day recipe now. Whatever- that might work out better anyway. One of the labor-intensive things about a brioche dough is you have to add cold, mashed butter. If the butter is warm, the dough just gets oily. Keep it cold. So. I’m slicing butter into chunks so I can smash it with my bench scraper (it’s not as fancy as it sounds) and buttery-10″ crazy-sharp chefs knife slips from my hand and dances across my left thumb.

Oh, and another thing: My knives are wickedly, razor sharp. David hones them after each use, the way you’re supposed to do- and I adore having sharp knives. Almost always.

You’ve heard about the Ninjas with knives so sharp you can’t even feel them cut you? It’s true. The tip of my thumb and nail was GONE before I even knew it. It was so clean I actually got to watch it fill with blood. I know, gross out. Grabbing a towel, raising my hand and calling for David, I fought feeling faint. Not because I’m squeamish about blood- totally am not- but because dang, that was a lot of blood. And it was mine. Crap. Daaaavid!!

David comes down all sleepy (it was late, did I mention that?) Wha? Huh? Yeah, um, honey? I cut my thumb off- can you help me decide if this needs the doctor, or just bandage it and we play Taps for the tip? He got the first aid kit and a roll of duct tape. I kid you not. Men. After staunching the blood, we decided the piece wasn’t big enough to warrant sewing back on, and we could rig it ourselves with some Dermabond and bandages. No duct tape was used in the care of my wound.

But see, my brioche dough was only half done. David, I need your help.

David smashed all the rest of the butter and cleaned up the kitchen while me and my throbbing thumb went to bed. When I got up this morning, the dough was doubled in the fridge, and ready to go. Wooot!

Doing things with one thumb is hard. Just so you know. Thumbs are pretty significant.

Dividing the dough in half, I roll out enough to make the tart, and use the other half to made just a simple pan of bread. I made up the filling with creme fresh and eggs, then put it all in the oven. That part was easy. Next came the caramel sauce and zabaglione. Carmel sauce I can do. The only problem was, it called for white wine. I don’t have any.  Hit Google again, it says apple juice  with a splash of cider vinegar is a good substitute for white wine in recipes. That, I can do. Strike one.

Screeeeech. Stop right there. If you EVER find yourself making a recipe that takes TWO days to make, do not, DO. NOT. substitute ingredients. File away for future reference. That is all.

Caramel sauce is easy. Pot the sugar, keep it down the side to avoid seizing, and watch until it colors. No problem. What was a problem was that I also had no Tahitian vanilla beans. So I used extract. Strike two. Can you see where this is heading? Too bad I couldn’t.

See, the thing about a caramel is that you reduce it. A lot. So what started out as a tiny teaspoon of vinegar condensed into a syrup of apple vinegar that even a cup and a half of sugar couldn’t cover. So far invested in this by now, I cannot admit that the vinegar is overpowering and press on. I set aside my hot “wine” caramel sauce and separate four eggs for the zabaglione.

I have to temper the eggs with the hot caramel, and whip them over a bain marie for at least five minutes, to cook the eggs. Every cooking school student learns zabaglione the first year. It’s not hard, it just requires attention, and that you never, ever stop whisking. I can do all that. I whip and whip. And whip and whip. Then I whip some more. Nothing. It’s supposed to get thick! Putting it back over the bain-marie I cook it for another five minutes, and it finally begins to thicken. I must pat myself on the back for tempering them without cooking so much as one little curd of egg. It’s about the only thing I did right.

Whipping the caramel sauce into the warm zabaglione, I still refuse to admit it smells like vinegar. It’s yummy, dammit. It made Julia Child cry, and mine will too! (One way or another, right? Riiight! Har har har.)

Pulling the brioche from the oven, it’s a picture of perfection. It’s toasty and golden, puffy and glossy from the egg-wash and sugar crust. The creme fresh is set perfectly in the middle, and it looks awesome. Siiiigh. Thank you.

The next step is sauteing sliced firm stone-fruit in the “delicious” caramel sauce. Well, I didn’t have any plums or nectarines, so apples would have to work, right? Yeah, strike three. That and sauteing in my Vinegar Carmel. Strike four five and six.

Cutting into the tart, I call the kids and David to come sample this delightful slice of heaven I have created. On each plate, I put a small wedge of the brioche tart. I top it with the caramel-sauce sauteed apples, a dollop of the zabaglione, some fresh toasted almond slivers and a light dusting of powdered sugar. Just like Nancy Silverton. Just. Like.

Only not.

Jeffrey took one bite and spit it out. David took a bite and closed his eyes. Stomping my foot and near tears I stammer, “I worked two days on this, and you are going to enjoy it with me!” I took a bite. Oh. My. Hell.

Imagine overcooked dried out sweet rolls with mushy apples soaked in sugary vinegar with a poached egg on top. Oh yeah.

So…

This is why I’m not a baker. I love to cook, and think I do a pretty good job. I can replicate restaurant recipes, and make a lot of food I’m told is good. But baking? Even though you do it on the same court as cooking, it’s an entirely different animal. It’s precise. It’s exact. It requires recipes not be deviated from. Not one inch. Or ingredient. This is why I am not, and never will be, a Baker.

I bet mine would have made Julia cry, too.

Garage Sales Today

Meh. They were kind of poopy. Which makes no sense, because it’s a gorgeous day. The only good one was the Sisters Sale that the Farm Chicks blogged about this week. I got a little vintage wooden ironing board for Bean and Abby to fight over, and an old food mill made in Wisconsin that’s sure to bead the pants off icky made-in-China mills available in the stores now. Tomato sauce, here I come. Speaking of which, I guess I’ll pop some Benedryl and go do some yardwork.

Edited: I took my Benedryl, sat down to change my shoes, and promptly fell asleep, then woke an hour later to panic and confusion about what time it was and what the kids were doing… I ran downstairs and they were all happily engaged in playing The Little Mermaid on V-Smile. Tender mercy. Then I saw the rest of the house. Abby had gotten 4 (as near as I could tell) jigsaw puzzles out, Bean had torn the couch apart and made a cushion fort, and Jeffrey found a box of Cheez-Its. Abby had gotten into some bubbles and there was a clear cartoon-worthy slick on my dining room floor. *sigh*

I don’t know what the questions was, but it would appear that Benedryl is not the answer. Either I have safe children and a somewhat clean house, or I have a nice yard… Decisions decisions…

Edited Yet Again: There is now a giant pot of chai simmering on my stove, and all is again right with the world. The house is cleaned up, the boys are off playing Lego, and Abby is sitting on my desk holding paper in front of me saying “You make a paper aaaaaairplaaaaaaane for meeeeeeee?” over and over. If you haven’t tried the chai, do so immediately. It clears a host of wrongs in it’s awesome delishishness. I forgot how very good it is. </end> tooting my own horn/>