Sunday, August 30, 2009

Watermelon Table Runner

Here is a very late birthday present for my mom (her birthday is in March and it's now August). The pattern for this table runner is a freebie from Better Homes and Gardens' allpeoplequilt website.

The instructions are not the best, and it's also very hard to find black, heart-shaped buttons, so I used multi-color ones. You also need to know how to cut bias strips for the white and green binding. Since I didn't know how to make my own bias strips, I turned to Google, and I thought these instructions from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture were the best.

A couple of pattern modifications and/or notes:

  • Next time I make this, I will increase the width of the green strips by 1/4 inch so some green shows in the back (totally an aesthetic thing on my part).
  • The pattern instructs you to trim down from Pattern A to Pattern B after you sew the red strips onto the batting and backing combination, but you don't have to do that if you cut your binding strips long enough. I did not trim down the pattern.
  • In my quilting experience, normally the batting and backing extend 1/4 inch beyond the "quilt top," but with this pattern, everything is even.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ginger Pork and Cucumber Pitas

Easy-to-make meals are my favorite way to cook during the week. I like to check my monthly copy of Real Simple magazine for their five easy dinner recipes. This time I tried the gingery pork and cucumber pitas from the September 2009 issue. Seth and I both liked the Chinese-Japanese flavor fusion (hoisin sauce and ginger), and the cucumbers give the dish a tiny kick (jalapenos) and just the right amount of tang (mirin, rice vinegar). For my Hawaii people and/or Japanese food friends, the "cucumber salad" is essentially tsukemono with a touch of spice.

Gingery Pork and Cucumber Pitas
Serves 4; takes about 15 minutes (if you chop quicker than I do)

1/4 C mirin (rice vinegar)
2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
2 Kirby cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground pork (ground chicken or turkey can be substituted)
1/4 C hoisin sauce
1 T grated fresh ginger
4 pitas, halved

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the cucumbers and jalaneno and let sit, tossing occasionally for at least 5 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pork, breaking up, until no longer pink 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the hoisin, ginger and 2 tablespoons water.

Fill the pita halves with the pork and "cucumber salad."

Notes: I substituted ground turkey for the ground pork. Also, I had no idea what Kirby cucumbers were, so I just used a regular garden cucumber. Since the cucumber was pretty large I ended up doubling the mirin, sugar, salt mixture. Then I had too much of the liquid, so I chopped a second cucumber into thicker pieces and let that pickle as well. This made a lot of [what I like to call] karai tsukemono; so if you do this, let the cucumbers pickle for two hours, after which you need to keep removing excess water in order to keep the tsukemono crisper. For a traditional tsukemono recipe, visit the Kumiko's Kitchen blog. Finally, if you cannot handle any kind of spice, do not use the jalapeno.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pesto and Pizza

Sometimes I wonder how I ever got a long in the kitchen without a food processor. A couple of years ago I asked for a food processor for Christmas because I wanted to try out Seth's favorite cookie recipe. My parents bought me an 11-cup Cuisinart model, and it came in a big box.

Having never used one before, it was a bit intimidating just looking at the box. I actually ended up buying a mini version from Costco and took that out for a spin before the 11-cup even came out of the wrapping. First I minced garlic, jalapenos or onions in the mini, but then I wanted to have a go at pesto. That meant I needed to try out the bigger model. Now thanks to pesto, I regularly use my 11-cup food processor; and this weekend, things got interesting.

On Friday night I made pesto using our basil from the backyard. We recently decided to have a go at growing our own basil, and since the plant is doing so well, I was able to get the two cups of leaves needed. I always use Giada de Laurentiis' recipe from Everyday Italian. The basil may have been a bit too fresh though--the pesto was a bright green this time, and when I use a basil bunch from the market, the pesto is normally a darker green and more flavorful.

Then on Sunday I tried making my own pizza dough so that we could use up some of the leftover pesto. This was the first time I have ever made pizza dough in my food processor, and pretty much my first time making pizza dough (I don't think I was ever old enough to run the dough machine when I worked at Little Caesar's in high school). This was quite the messy project between the sticky dough and all the flour, but definitely worth it. Normally I use Boboli or Trader Joe's pizza dough, but last weekend I realized that it was time to try making my own. Seth and I ate pizza at a friend's place and they used dough they had made; homemade was clearly better.

The recipe for the pizza dough comes from the American's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and it makes enough dough to make three 12-inch pizzas. I did end up making three pizzas; two used pizza sauce and one used pesto. The two with pizza sauce were topped with either pepperoni and salami or pepperoni, green pepper and heirloom tomatoes. The pesto pizza had heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese as toppings. I opted for rectangular shape pizzas (I need more practice rolling the dough out), and I used cookie sheets, not a baking stone. I do know that as long as time permits, from now on, it's homemade pizza dough for us.

Pepperoni and salami pizza

My "supreme-ish" pepperoni, green pepper and heirloom tomato pizza

Pesto, heirloom tomato and goat cheese pizza

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Love Books

For awhile now I have been trying to remember the title of the books I used to love to checkout of the Manoa Elementary School Library. Usually the thought comes in passing, and I always forget to write myself a note to do some online research. In fact, all I have ever been able to remember was that the main character's name was Betsy, and that there was an entire series about her.

Tonight, the mystery has been solved thanks to a blog post on The Twilight Lexicon. Their post, "First Book: What Got You Hooked?" is actually about a non-profit called First Book; an organization that works to provide children with books and encourage literacy.

On the homepage of the First Book website, you see the tag line, "Do you remember the magic of your first book?" This got my mental hamster running, and at first I thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House series. But I know I read the Betsy books first, so my mental hamster kept going, as my fingers got to typing.

Thank goodness for the internet! With a little bit of net-sleuthing, you can pretty much figure out the answer to any question, instantaneously. Actually, this didn't take much detective work because apparently the Betsy books have never been out of print (this is according to the product description on the Amazon page). All I had to do was type in "Betsy" on Amazon, and there it was, B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood.

Even though the title sounded right, as did the author name, I wasn't 100 percent sure that I had found my first-favorite book series; after all, it has been more than 20 years since I read those books. It was time to Google Carolyn Haywood. She was born in 1898 and in 1939 her first books featuring Betsy and Eddie were published. Amazingly, she went on to continue writing about the two characters for the next 50 years, and she even illustrated her own books until the 70s! Yes, I think I have found my first, favorite books. I may just have to read these again.

In the meantime, I wonder what books first got the rest of you hooked?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Comic-Con 2009

When someone asks “Where are you going on your vacation?” and you say “ Comic-Con,” be prepared for laughter and “geek,” or “dork,” in response. Really though, Comic-Con isn’t just about comic books and geeks anymore. In recent years it has morphed into a pop-culture phenomena, and this year, it was bigger than ever.

Between July 22 and 26, about 125,000 people invaded the San Diego Convention Center for the Con. Every single day, and every single pass sold out. In fact, if you tried to buy a four-day pass in April, you were out of luck.

Luckily, my sister and I bought our four-day passes in February. I should admit now that our main reason for going was Twilight; and before this year, neither of us had never been to Comic-Con. I should also be thankful now that this is an unpopular blog so I don’t have to worry about veteran attendee ire over the vampire-fan convergence. But, like I said, the Con is also about pop culture, and it truly isn’t for your average geek anymore. Now it includes the general population, and the teenie boppers.

Comic-Con is amazing and crazy. There are an unbelievable amount of people moving through the convention center: pushing their way through to pick-up swag, straining to see the latest toys, getting pictures of costumed attendees, etc. It also smells. There is a lot of body odor and not enough deodorant. You can easily forget that part though, because Comic-Con is multiple sensory overload.

The big name studios (Warner Bros., Fox, Disney to name a few) and major comic book players (DC, Marvel and more) have huge booths filled with displays, merchandise to consider and autograph opportunities. Besides the giant corporate areas for movies and comics, there are sections for gaming, manga, comic distributors, and merchandise opportunities galore. Then you spot a Stormtrooper; oh wait it’s Princess Leia; now it’s Naruto; what is this steampunk thing; look a battle-worn Stormtropper; I think I see Slave Leia; oooh Spiderman; another Stormtrooper…you see? Sensory overload.

Beyond the exhibit hall, requiring hours of patience, are panel sessions. Fans get sneak previews and question/answer sessions with the stars, directors and producers of their favorite sci-fi and/or superhero movies and TV shows. The great thing about the panel sessions? They don’t clear the rooms. The horrible thing about the panel sessions? They don’t clear the rooms.

If you want to see a panel that’s not until 1:45 p.m., plan to camp out in your seat, or hopefully move up if people vacate. But, if you are there for something Twilight related, especially something that includes Rob Pattinson et al, then don’t hold your breath and hope for people to leave.

The New Moon Panel
On day one of Comic-Con, my sister and I arrived at the convention center at 6:00 a.m. Thanks to a parking mistake, we saw the line for the New Moon panel. The sun was barely up, and there were already hundreds of people in line. It turned out that you could sleepover—something we thought you couldn’t do (or maybe we just hoped you couldn’t because we really didn’t want to sleep on concrete). Eventually it was apparent that people were holding places in line and instead of hundreds of people ahead of us, there were thousands. By the time Hall H opened, it was 10:30 a.m., and we were seated in the middle of this 6,500 seat hall. But, we were in.

Thanks to the Con’s practice of not clearing rooms, we saw the Disney 3D panel (A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland and Tron Legacy), another 3D showcase panel (not that great) and a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland). When Chris Weitz, Rob Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Ashley Greene walked onstage for New Moon, it made the hours of waiting and the extremely early morning totally worth it. Interestingly, the screaming was not that bad, and even more surprisingly, everyone kept to their seats. The movie clip they debuted was awesome (Jacob teaches Bella to ride her motorcycle, and she starts having her Edward hallucinations), and at the end of the panel they treated us to another clip (Bella and Alice race to Volterra in the yellow Porsche, and Bella races through the city to stop Edward…clip ends right as Edward takes a step toward the sunlight). It was cool seeing the cast, but honestly, some of them have a hard time with interviews and questions. All in all, it was a fantastic experience. And yes, I would do it again (even if while standing in line, I said never again will I do something like this for Twilight).

The Coraline Panel
The other panel on my list was Coraline. I just wanted to see Neil Gaiman. He is one of my favorite authors, and because of my Forks trip I missed a wonderful opportunity to attend one of his events in San Francisco. This panel was a lot easier to get into, and I had prime seating. For me, the only drawback was that the director, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach), has a huge following so many of the questions were directed to him. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the making of Coraline, and that night I went out and bought the DVD.

In addition to holding a panel discussion, there was an autograph opportunity for Coraline. However, it was a lottery drawing that took place right around the same time that you had to stand in line to get into the panel. Lucky me, my sister was willing to stand in line for the lottery, and even luckier, she got the ticket. The only problem was that they then put a wristband on her (one that could not be easily removed), so only she could stand in line for the autograph. It all turned out okay in the end. Even though I didn’t get a chance to meet Neil Gaiman, he was graciously willing to sign two items. I let my sister keep the autographed Coraline print (signed by Teri Hatcher, Neil Gaiman, Henry Selick and David) and my copy of Good Omens was also signed by Neil himself.

The Experience
Comic-Con is one of those things that should be experienced by everyone at least once. You just have to get over the crowds and the smell. It really seems like the studios do their best to treat fans to something special, before the viral video hits YouTube and while movies like Alice in Wonderland or New Moon are still in production. The whole thing really is enormous, and while it gets bigger every year, I have heard that the convention center is at capacity. I hope the Con figures out how to handle the Twilight craze, because there are two more movies yet to come, and it is a bit out of control. Plus, the veteran Comic-Con people are not happy with the rabid vampire fans—everywhere we went we heard varying forms of “dumb Twilight”. Regardless of your interest in the different genres of comics, Comic-Con is something you don’t want to miss. If you are in the right place at the right time you might hear people dressed in costume, from different movies, speaking in character to one another. I missed out on this, but hopefully I hear this sort of talk next year. My sister and I already bought our four-day passes for Comic-Con 2010.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adrienne's Cousin

After years of hearing about Seth's cousin Ty from PA (learned to call it "P-A" from Ty himself), I finally met him last night! Ty and his fiancee are visiting NorCal, and lucky us, he brought his guitar. Seth's mom arranged for us to come over to her place so we could all hear Ty play, and it was a lovely way to spend Friday evening.

Ty is a part of a band called Adrienne's Cousin and you can check them out online at Sample and/or buy some songs, and see pictures of the band. Ty does the lead vocals, writes songs and plays the guitar. Adrienne's Cousin has a chillaxed sort of vibe. The kind that's perfect for lawn concerts in the summer.