Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Newest Avenger...Wolverine-a!

     Since J is off training in the field for the next two weeks, I'm getting a ton of crafting accomplished, and tonight I want to share something that I'm super excited about: Monkey's Halloween costume!

     As many of you know from Facebook, my little Monkey has been putting me through the ringer on deciding which costume to wear.  She originally said she wanted to be Wolverine, to which I responded with major glee, because I knew I could pull that off and make it cute.  Plus I was more than happy to oblige when she asked that her daddy dress up as Gambit while I went trick-or-treating as Rogue.  Then she crushed my hopes of a cat suit (totally joking here) and decided she wanted to be Hulk instead.  Next it was a witch.  Then a pumpkin.  Then Captain America, and so on, and so forth until I finally told her that she had until a certain date to tell me what she wanted to be.  The date came, and she chose her original request: Wolverine.  I was happy to oblige, and went out that day to buy the supplies so she couldn't change her mind again.  So here it is:


     As you can see, this is not the traditional Wolverine.  What can I say?  I have a little girl, and I was inspired by a post I saw a while back of Batman and Robin costumes complete with tutus.  I knew that was the direction I wanted to go for Wolverine-a.  So first things first, the tutu:

     I found a really good tutorial for tutus here.

You'll need:
Tulle---5 yards was just enough for my daughter, and she's a size 4T.  I found Peacock Blue Tulle at Walmart for $1.50 a yard.
Ribbon---You'll need enough to wrap around your waist plus a little extra to tie, so your waist size plus 8"
Measuring tape
Sewing pins

Lay out your fabric on a cutting board or flat surface, it should be folded in half as it was on the bolt.  Measure 7" in from the outer edge of the tulle.  Place a pin at this measurement to mark it.  From that pinned point, measure another 7" in, and mark with another pin.  Continue to measure and mark along the entire length of fabric.  Cut the fabric into strips using the pins as a guide.  These strips will be about 7" wide.  Keep cutting until you have a nice little stack :-)

(At this point you may want to visit the original poster's website to see her step-by-step photos that go along with the following instructions; I took a few, but they're not as good.)

Next you lay out one of the tulle strips, and cinch it in the middle.

Fold the strip in half, forming a loop at the top.  Place your piece of ribbon on top of the tulle, loop side up.

Weave bottom ends of tulle through top loop, with ribbon caught in the middle.  Pull the ends of the tulle until a knot forms.

Repeat this process until you've covered your length of ribbon minus the extra for tying.

Tie a know next to the two end strips of tule to hold the strips in place. 

     Now that your tutu is complete you can move onto the shirt.  I bought Monkey a yellow shirt from Michael's in a size small.  I had to take it in a bit, but this isn't necessary if you can find a fitted tee for your child.  Here's what you'll need for the shirt:

One yellow shirt in your child's size
Yellow thread 
Sewing scissors
Blue felt with matching thread
Black felt
Black thread
Black fabric pen

First, hack off the sleeves.  I'm a bit OCD with sewing so I used my seam ripper to get it as neat as possible.  It really didn't make a difference.
No the shirt didn't turn orange;  I had to use my iPhone :-/
Hem the rough edges.  If you need to take in your shirt, I suggest doing it now before you go any further.  Next, I went ahead a drew in the abs and chest muscles on Monkey's shirt.

Then, I cut two equal-sized triangles out of the blue felt.  I "measured" these by having Monkey try on the shirt and the piece of felt across her shoulder.  I sort of eye-balled were the points should hit by referencing photos of Wolverine on Google.  It should look something like this:

"What are you looking at, bub?"
I pinned it in place while Monkey modeled for me, and then, using the blue thread, I sewed each side down.

As you can see, I neglected to hem my sleeves 'til the very end.  Don't make my mistake; it was a pain in the butt to hem them with that felt.

Now you can add the stripes that decorate Wolverine's sides.  I drew out a triangle on paper, cut it out, and "measured" with it to make sure I could fit three of them on each side.  

When I got the right sized template, I folded the felt in half, pinned the template in place, and cut out 6 separate triangles (which were actually diamonds when they came out because of the folding).  

Don't forget to fold the felt in half!
Next, I pinned the diamond-shaped felt onto the shirt so that there was a triangle-shaped stripe on both the front and the back before sewing in place using black thread.

Once you sew the black felt in place, you're all done with the top.  Now we can move on to Wolverine's mask.  Here's what you'll need:

Yellow felt
Black felt
Black thread

Again, I didn't have a template; I cut out a simple half-circle type shape in the yellow felt.  Using the images from Google again, I free handed the black portion of Wolverine's mask. until I came up with this:

Simply sew the top down with black thread.  I held the mask up to Monkey's face to gauge how far apart the eyes needed to be before cutting out the holes.  Next measure out you elastic by wrapping it halfway around your child's head to see when you need to cut it.  Sew each edge of elastic to each side of the mask, and you're all done here. 

     I snatched up the last pair of bright yellow leggings from Wal-Mart for $2.00 to go under her tutu, and that's all I have for y'all until I can figure out how to rig some claws and the boots.  Stay tuned to see what I come up with, and to see pictures of the entire outfit :-)

Update:  Here is the entire ensemble on Halloween:

"I've got your point right here, hub!"

Wolverina and Rogue
Wolverine and Gambit (aka Gumbo)
I finally caved and ordered the claws instead of making them.  You can find them here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Skillet Greek Chicken

     J left Saturday for his pre-deployment field training exercise, andI've got to say that I miss him.  Granted, the house is cleaner, and I don't have to cook as often or clean as much, but I'm realizing just how quiet it gets here, even with Monkey running around.  He has a big personality, so when he's gone it's noticeable.  At night I find myself staying way too late, watching reruns of Boy Meets World on YouTube or doing homework (or both).  During the day, though, I find I have more time to spend with Monkey.  She's growing up too quickly, and it's amazing how much her imagination has grown.  Today we were playing with play-dough, and she started telling me a story where there was a dragon guarding a princess, so the princess' pet dinosaur came to the rescue.  Once freed, the princess fought the dragon, chopping off one of his feet.  In return the dragon burned off one of her hands, and then the princess became a pirate and had a treasure chest full of necklaces.  As she was telling me the story, she  would make certain things with the play-dough like the dragon or a pirate ship or an eyepatch for the princess-turned-pirate.  It was quite entertaining.  I love how far her imagination can take her.  I hope she never loses that.

     Another thing I hope never changes about her is her willingness to try to new foods.  I started her early on by introducing her to things like sushi and unagi (eel), and thankfully that hasn't stopped.  She and I experienced couscous for the first time the other night, and Monkey polished off three helpings of the stuff.  I was pretty impressed.  So here's the recipe that won my four year old over:

Skillet Greek Chicken 
from Cooking with Paula Deen's Sept/Oct 2012 issue

2 lbs chicken thighs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 TBS olive oil
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
1 (4.8 oz) jar kalamata olives
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
10 oz couscous (I used two boxes of Near East Wild Mushrooms)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Sprinkle chicken with salt pepper.  In large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Place thighs, skin side down, in pan and cook for 8 minutes.  Remove thighs from pan, and drain oil.  Add tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, and oregano to pan, stirring to combine.  Return chicken to pan, skin side up.  Place pan in oven, and bake for 45 minutes, or until thighs are done.  Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package directions.  Sprinkle chicken with feta cheese.  Garnish with fresh oregano, if desired.  Serve over couscous.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Fall Y'all

     You know what time of year is my absolute favorite?  Fall!  I know many of you will agree with me that there's something about Fall that just makes you feel more alive.  The air gets cooler; the leaves start changing.  People start gearing up for the holidays. We Southerners come out of our summer hibernation.  We may even get a couple of days where we can open the windows and let a breeze blow through.  Yeah, this is my favorite time of the year.  Too bad it's still hotter than Hades here in Gulfport, MS and every tree I've passed is still as green as it was in July!  That is, unless it's brown from being scorched in the sun.  Oh well, in order to compensate for the lack of Fall in the weather, I'm making up for it in my cooking with these:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfaits
from the September/October 2011 issue of Cooking With Paula Deen

Here's what you'll need:
3 TBS butter
1/2 (1 lb) package gingersnap cookies, coarsely crushed *I used Murray's brand*
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup plus 2 TBS sugar, divided
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Garnish with pumpkin pie spice and/or gingersnap cookies (optional)

In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add crushed gingersnaps, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Remove from skillet immediately, and cool.  

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese at medium speed with a mixer until smooth; add pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla, beating just until combined.  In parfait glasses (or mason jars) layer crushed gingersnaps and cream cheese mixture as desired, starting with gingersnaps.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.  

In a small bowl, beat whipping cream and remaining sugar at medium-high speed with a mixer until soft peaks form.  Dollop whipped cream over parfaits.  Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice, if desired.  Serve with gingersnap cookies.

     In the spirit of Fall, I've begun working on Monkey's costume, and I'm super excited about it.  I just hope it comes out right, because I'm not following a pattern this time.  I'm nervous, but if all else fails, we'll just head over to Spirit Halloween and hope they have a Wolverine costume for a little girl.....  
I guess I can't fail.  :-/

    The imminent weather changes also mean my cooking will be getting a bit heartier.  I mean, who doesn't associate Fall and Winter with big bowls of chili or homemade stews with lots of warm bread for dipping?  Hmmm....sounds good.  And I think I've finally found the perfect bread recipe for my collection.  It's perfect for slicing to make sandwiches, or it's good to slather butter over and dunk in your favorite soup or stew.  Here it is:

Homemade Sandwich Bread

2 cups warm water
2 TBS sugar
1 TBS dry active yeast
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 TBS butter, softened

In a bowl, pour water and sugar.  Mix until dissolved; add yeast.  Mix until dissolved.  Let sit 10 minutes.  Add flour and salt.  Slice butter into smaller pieces, and add it to your bowl.  Knead ingredient for 10 minutes by hand, or 5 minutes with mixer.  It's done when it feels elastic, smooth and isn't sticking to anything.  Knead into a ball and place in a clean bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap that you've sprayed with cooking spray or rubbed with oil.  Set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.  After it's risen punch it down once or twice.  Knead again 1-2 minutes, forming a ball.  Cut ball into 2 equal pieces.  Knead once piece at a time, shaping each into an oval shape.  Place each in a lightly greased loaf dish.  Put both pans in a warm spot, uncovered, to rise for another hour.  Preheat oven to 350.  Bake for 35-40 minutes; they should be nicely golden on top.  Remove from oven, and let them cool in their pans for 5 minutes.  Next turn them out onto a cooling rack, and let them cool completely before slicing.  This prevents excess crumbling.  Store at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to 4 days.  (They won't last that long.)


Monday, September 9, 2013

It's the Little Things in Life...Like Sushi

     There's something to be said for enjoying the little things in life.  Sometimes I get so caught up in planning for the future, in trying to stay on top of things, and on attempting to not miss out on anything that I end up doing exactly that, missing out.   I've noticed that I want so badly to control everything in my life that most of the time the things in my life start to control me.  This past week I challenged myself to simply let go of the minor things.  I let the dishes pile up; I let the laundry go a bit, and I focused on loving my family and enjoying the things I like to do.  You know what happened?  I had an excellent week!  The chores I was so worried about got done without me, thanks to my husband and daughter.  I started on my first quilt.  My family went for runs together; my husband coached me on boxing as our daughter cheered me on.  Monkey and I went exploring one night, and we were chased by the "Big Bad Mouse".  He almost got me, but Monkey stopped him with her Cyclops powers.  Yesterday we pulled a date from our date jar, and followed the instructions that said, "drive until we see something new, and we can only talk about how much we love each other".  Of course, we had a great family outing, and we found a pretty campsite about an hour away.  Yesterday we topped it off with a great morning at church and homemade sushi for dinner.

     It's amazing to see how many wonderful things we miss out on because we get so "busy" with distractions.  Yes, the house needs to be cleaned, but I need to remember the dishes can be in the sink until morning.  Yes, I need to keep up with my homework, but I can take my daughter to the park and let her run around while I study.  Yes, I enjoy vegging out in front of Facebook, but when I turn off the computer and look around, there are so many more beautiful things to see.  It was a humbling week, and it was a good reminder to stop taking things for granted.  Everything God gave me is precious, and I need to cherish it more.  

     This may shock some of you, but I even took a break from cooking this week.  Okay, that's not entirely true.  I took a break from trying any new recipes, and I stuck to a few of my favorite foods that can be prepared quickly. That is, except for the sushi last night, but I made the exception for Monkey who loves it.  So that's what I want to share with y'all: my sushi rice recipe, and a few tips and tricks on how to make your own.  (I learned using this kit and this book, and I recommend both.)

Making the rice may seem tedious, but it's important to pay attention to the little detailed instructions, so your rice comes out just right.  I suggest you read through the instructions first before attempting.  But don't worry, it's not hard!  It merely requires some attention to detail.

Sushi Rice
2 cups Nishiki rice
2 cups plus 6 tsp cold water
cold water for washing rice
1/2 cup rice vinegar (I use Nakano Original)

You'll also need:
-medium-sized bowl and large strainer
-medium-sized heavy saucepan or electric rice cooker
-clean towel
-large, non-metal platter or dish for cooling rice(I use a glass, 2-quart casserole dish)

First wash your rice by soaking in a bowl of cold water.  Stir rice around in the bowl with your hands.  After the water becomes cloudy, pour the rice into the large strainer.  Once all the water has been strained out, pour the rice back into the bowl.  Add fresh cold water, and repeat the washing process.  Keep washing the rice until the water is no longer cloudy (this usually takes about 5 minutes).  Finally, leave the washed rice in the strainer and let it sit, draining for 30-60 minutes.

Next you cook the rice.  If you have a rice cooker, simply follow the directions that came with your cooker for this step.  If you don't have a rice cooker, you get to do it the fun way :-)  Place the washed rice into a heavy medium-sized pot.  Add the water.  Cover tightly with lid.  DO NOT lift the lid at any point until the rice is finished cooking, or steam will escape and it will not cook properly.  Place over medium heat until the rice steams (about 8-10 minutes).  Turn the heat to high, and cook 2 minutes.  You may notice white foam around the lid and the lid jiggling up and down.  Next, reduce heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes, until the foam stops and you hear a crackling sound.  Turn off heat, and let stand, covered, another 15 minutes.  Next, remove cover and fluff the rice using a bamboo paddle.  Then wrap the cover in a cloth towel, and return the cover to the pot.  Let stand another 15 minutes.

Now we need to season the rice.  With the rice paddle, gently spread out the hot rice in a shallow, large-bottomed, non-metallic bowl or platter-the large surface is necessary so that the rice can cool quickly and the material must not be metal because the vinegar will react with it, creating a bad taste.  As the steam is escaping, sprinkle the rice vinegar over the rice, and with quick, horizontal motions, scooping back and forth along the bottom, toss the rice with the rice vinegar.

Immediately start to fan the rice to cool it.  A piece of cardboard or a paper fan can be used.  The cooling process should last about 2 minutes.  Cover the rice loosely with a clean, wet towel and let stand for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is at room temperature.  Keep the rice covered with the damp towel if it is not to be used immediately.

 Now to make your first rolls you'll need:

Nori (toasted seaweed sheets)
Bamboo rolling mat
Gallon-sized ziploc bags (to cover your mat for quick clean-up)
A very sharp knife
Your chosen fillings/toppings, some of my favorites are:
-cream cheese
-julienned cucumbers
-tempura shrimp (found in the frozen foods)
-imitation crab meat
-Crab Salad (recipe below)
-oyster sauce (can be found in the oriental foods section)
-smoked salmon (can be found at Wal-mart)
-sashimi-grade tuna (for special occasions, I splurge and get this from the local seafood market)

Start by having your fillings/topping ready.  I like to slice up all my ingredients and lay them out while the rice is standing for the last 15 minutes.  Have a clean cutting board by your work area with your sharp knife for cutting your rolls into pieces.  Also, have either a bowl of warm water nearby, or work next to your sink and run the tap, so you can rinse the rice off your fingers (this stuff sticks like you won't believe).  It also helps to have a wet kitchen towel on hand to wipe your finger off.  Cover your bamboo mat with the ziploc to save on clean up later, it is especially helpful if you're making inside out rolls.

For regular rolls, where the seaweed is on the outside:

Take a sheet of nori, and cut it to about 3/4 it's original size.  Lay it on the bamboo mat in front of you, with one edge lined up with the mat's edge closest to you, shiny side down.  Cover nori with rice, starting with the edge closest to you, and leaving about 1/4 of it uncovered.  This should be the long side that's farthest from you.  Add you filling to the middle of the rice.  Keep in mind that you will be rolling in a minute, so don't overfill or they'll pop out the sides.  This may take some practice, but you'll soon see about how much you can fit in there.  Now, grasp the mat in both hands, thumbs underneath, and, pressing lightly on the fillings with the index finger of both hands, lift the mat so the edge of the nori closest to you meets the edge of the rice-free margin of nori at the far end.  Press straight down on the sides of the mat, not on the top of the roll.  Lift mat slightly, and finish rolling the roll, so that the rice free edge of nori adheres to the roll.  Press gently alone tops and sides to square the roll a little.  Carefully remove mat.

Carefully move the roll to your cutting board, and use your sharp knife to slice the roll into 6-8 pieces.  You may need to wipe your knife with the wet towel if too much rice sticks to it.

For inside-out rolls, where the rice is on the outside:
Cut the nori as you did before, and lay it on the mat.  This time cover the entire sheet with rice, and then flip it over, so the side with rice is facing down, and the nori is facing up.  Place your ingredients in the middle, and roll as before.

To make Crab Salad, you'll need:
Imitation crab stick
Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce

Peel the crab stick into strings, (like you would string cheese).  Place in a bowl.  Add a bit of mayo, and a squirt of hot sauce until you get it to the desired heat.

     One of the things I love about sushi is how much you can customize it.  No two rolls have to be the same.  I've tried other ingredients besides the ones listed above, such as chicken, carrots, etc. but these are the things I find work best and taste the most "authentic".  Feel free to experiment.  I hope the instructions helped.  Next time I make it, I'll come back and add pictures to help clarify.

     Oh, and one more thing before you go.  I think it's fair to warn you that by the time you're finished, your kitchen will look something like this: