Thanks, Dal

Tonight’s menu was a spinoff on what is usually a side dish in Indian cuisine -dal. I found the recipe on Eating Well because I have been wanting to expand my horizons. I have Italian food mostly down, since I grew up with it, and making sauce is like pumping blood for me.

American foods are easy, too, for the most part. Stir fry is frozen vegetables, ginger, and soy sauce with some rice on the side.

And I wanted something that wasn’t just time-consuming, like risotto. I wanted something different and flavorful, and I’ve been on a bit of an Indian food kick lately after going to the Saffron Grill nearby.

So I found this recipe for Roast Chicken Dal on Eating Well, and it amps up the ingredients to make this a main course.

Ingredients: Roast chicken, lentils, fire roasted tomatoes, canola oil, plain yogurt, curry powder.

I roasted the chicken last night –just popped it in the over for an hour at 350. I also cooked the lentils last night. I refrigerated both, and I still had some frozen chopped onion from when I had a huge Mayan onion and only needed a handful of the stuff.

Once home from work, I asked E to cut up the chicken thighs into strips; I nuked the onions to thaw them, and I started the art! Canola oil heated, I dumped in the onions.

Mistake 1: I nuked the onions too long. I like to let them simmer in oil for a while because I think it brings out the flavor, but they were pretty much cooked by the time they hit the pan.

Once the onions were soft (which they pretty much already were, but I gave them a minute or so), added the curry powder.

Mistake 2: Not wanting to overdo the spices and wreak havoc on my digestive system, I used only a teaspoon and a half of the curry powder, instead of the two teaspoons. I should have used two because the final product was not as aromatic and full-bodied as it could have been.

With the powder well mixed with the onion and canola oil, I dumped in the rest of the ingredient, minus the yogurt (tomatoes, lentils, and chicken). I let those simmer in the tomato juices and curry oil for about 15 or 20 minutes, then took it off the burner and stirred in the yogurt.

The end result was tasty, but there was no kick.

One thing I have noticed about Indian spices is that they have what I call a “flat” spiciness to them, whereas a Mexican dish has a sharp and biting flavor. I think that “flat” effect, when done well, is also what adds the full-bodied flavor of Indian food, even when it is not spicy.

Since I opted not to use a lot of curry powder, there were only hints of that flavor, and it lacked in some of the kick I was looking for. But it was filling, and it had some great protein in it.

Next time, I will add more curry, and I think I will use a fresh onion, not thawed.

The finished product
The Dal, with the yogurt mixed in, and ready to serve


Living a Line

It's really easy with a low speed
Here was one of my first lines on a low speed setting

One of the first sewing projects in my Sew Everything Workshop book is to “sew” on paper. It is a project you can do without winding a bobbin or threading the machine, and it is meant to show you how to sew in a straight line.

This is what I learned on three sheets of paper:

  1. The paper/fabric has a tendency to pull to the left on my machine
  2. The fast the speed, the more it pulls
  3. Straight lines are easier if I put the edge of the paper/fabric against the 2/8th in mark (there is a screw in the plate that makes it easy to guide)
  4. If you can do a straight line, you can do a corner, and then a box
  5. If you cannot do a straight line, it does not make curved lines any easier

I have three pages, like I mentioned, with many straight lines, a few boxes, and a few curves. I scribbled notes on the ones that did not work out great.

I am going to give this threadless sewing another try before moving on to winding a bobbin. I am sure that I am making it scarier than it really is…

I’m Better Than I Think, And Then I Think I Could be Better

Let me tell you something about second-guessing yourself when it comes to cooking, or rather, not doing what you know you should do.

When you have a recipe in mind, and you know the basics of what you’re doing, just go with the basics and add onto it. Do not take short cuts or assume that you should, or even can, do something else.

Case in point: tortellini soup.

I know that to make a tomato broth, you need a stock of some sort and whole, peeled tomatoes. Maybe stewed tomatoes if you’re short on time. That’s all you need.

Today I was so proud of myself for having planned our dinners for the week. We went to the grocery and started purchasing what we needed for the next 7 days of meals, and somewhere between canned goods and produce, we realized that we had failed to determine a meal for dinner tonight.

No big deal! We can come up with something. E suggested soup –just a hardy tomato soup and some bread. I thought soup was a great idea, but I said, “Hey. I can make tortellini soup. The frozen pastas are on sale!”

As we were walking to check out, I mentioned that perhaps I should get some tomatoes. E said, “We already have the tomato basil soup. No rule says you cannot make your own recipe.”

True! But I had a bad feeling, and I ignored it.

Fast forward to now. I have a quasi soup on the stove. I used the pre-made soup, and I realized there wasn’t enough to include all of the vegetables and pasta –it would be much too thick.

No worries, I thought! I have chicken stock in the fridge. Not enough. That’s ok! I have some vegetable stock, too. So I add that. And then I taste it. Water. It tastes like water with some tomato spice in it. It’s disgusting. So I tried to cover it with some spices.

So now I have a water and spice and tortellini soup. Very bland. And all I wanted was to have something flavorful for dinner. This is what I get for saying no to reheating the pork and having BBQ sandwiches because I wanted something flavorful.

I also just wanted a smoothie, but that was not apparently dinner enough.

This is not a victory. This is yet another reminder that when I second-guess my gut reaction, it usually turns out wrong. I am a better cook than I think I am because I know instinctively what I need to do. But I am a horrible cook because I go against those feelings and allow others to convince me to take short cuts or ignore my instinct.

My bad. I have learned now. And E will have to eat it, too.

Sunday Meat Market

A little background here, before I start discussing my meatballs:

When I was almost 10 years old, my mom made a medical decision with her doctor to stop eating meat. It was a trial separation from animal products. She started making herself separate meals without meat, and cooking an extra meal or two for my dad and I. My dad and I are both picky eaters sometimes, and my dad was working late in the newspaper, so she was making a LOT of meals.

I felt bad. I told her to stop worrying about it and that I would eat a vegetarian diet as long as she did. We still ate fish and dairy products –we weren’t strict, classic, die-hard vegans or anything.

This went on for about 13 years. I had gone so long without eating meat that I didn’t really crave it anymore, and I was afraid that eating it would make me sick, anyway.

Fast forward to last year, 2010, and my doctor told me that I needed to try eating meat! Alright, I thought, we’ll start slow. I started with poultry, and I am happy to say that it did not make me sick in the least. I slowly worked my way up, and I had my first steak about two months ago (first one after 14 or so years).

Let me also preface this by saying that I buy free-range and humanely treated animal products. I have no illusions about what I am doing, and although sometimes I feel bad, I really have felt better since reintroducing meat into my diet.

When I was first testing different recipes that were non-vegetarian, I made a batch of turkey meatballs. They were pretty good. E was happy to have anything that came from an animal, and I was able to partake in a traditional Italian meal of sorts.

Now that I am able to eat beef, I decided to make real meatballs.

Mmm. Italian.

Without giving away my secret, this is what I threw together one night with what I had in the freezer and pantry:

1 lb of ground beef

1 lb of ground Italian sausage

Breadcrumbs (I didn’t measure. I eyeballed it)

Basil, parsley, thyme, and I think I threw in some tarragon as well

I baked them for almost an hour and served them with spaghetti and mushroom tomato sauce (mushrooms sautéed in oil and balsamic vinegar, a can of diced tomatoes, and a small can of tomato sauce).

I have never seen E so happy when eating some I put in front of him. Except maybe the apricot chicken or my almost famous risotto.

For me, it was like returning to an old friend. It brought me back to being a kid at grandma’s house and digging in to some of her amazing Italian food. It made me think of Christmases and summers when I would visit her for weeks at a time.

I give this recipe a 4 star rating with plans to revive them again for a Sunday dinner.


My first craft project was a cross stitch pattern from my “Sew Everything Workshop” book that E got me for Christmas.

The pattern is simply letters –WWMD.

The letters are supposed to stand for “What Would Martha Do?” because the author is a fan of Martha Stewart when she was a no-excuses craft-master.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Martha Stewart fan. Not just because of her tax evading and subsequent jail time. I don’t like her because I think she is the symbol for high expectations. She required perfection. She makes housewives everywhere quiver with their own insignificance, and she puts Mrs. Cleaver to shame!

Since perfect has never been a word that describes me or the things that I produce, I don’t feel that Martha is a good motivator for me. If anything, I think it would drive me away from the sewing machine, warding me off with its demanding and diminishing message.

The woman who inspires me most, no matter what the task, is my mom. So since I was the one creating the work, I decided that I would focus on my own meaning. And it was, ironically, perfect.

Not the result! Not at all. In fact, I skipped a space between to the two W’s, and I had to redo almost an entire half of a letter because I had stitched the wrong direction or hole.

It was perfect because of the whole experience.

My mom is not perfect, either. But what she lacks in perfection she makes up for in persistence. If she decides to do a project, she will keep trying until she gets it right. She isn’t afraid to make mistakes, and she learns from them. She does not immediately become discouraged and give up, which is my usual MO. She is also patient with herself when she is learning a new skill, another quality I normally lack.

And it was that thinking that got me through the first project.

I was spoiled this Christmas, being treated to a sewing machine, extra bobbins, and a gift card to Jo-Ann Fabrics for supplies. So New Year’s Day I went to the mega-craft store and stocked up. I had already been flipping through the S.E.W. book, reading about machines and the basics. And I had decided to jump ahead to the cross stitch project, since it seemed the easiest for me. I had done a cross stitch project in grade school and figured this would be a walk in the park.

Embroidery thread, Aida cloth, and other miscellaneous supplies in hand, I went home ready to conquer!

I joyfully and carefully unpackaged my new supplies, placed them in my sewing basket, and pulled out the thread and cloth to begin. I opened the book –embroidery thread: check! Aida cloth…wrong size, but it should still work: check! Embroidery needle: the woman at the store said that any sharp needle would work, so check!

Turns out that is a lie. The embroidery thread is much too thick for any of the sharps needles that were in the “miscellaneous sharps” package. The thread would not go in the needle.

I sat on my couch, needle in one hand, thread being strangled in the other. I wanted to scream or cry or both, but I simply put the needle back into the package, tossed the thread blithely into the basket, re-rolled the Aida cloth, and made myself a cocktail. I sat in brooding silence for the next hour or so, until the vodka joy swept over me.

The next morning, I was torn between wallowing in self-pity and lack of embroidery needle or taking charge and going to a local sewing supply store and purchasing a few. I let the two options tug at me for hours in the morning, and just before the Packers came on decided that the braver option was to actually go out and buy a needle. I also needed coffee. And a pastry.

I used the time walking up the hill to my advantage. I called my grandmother who was ecstatic to learn that I, of all people, was sewing my way into the temple of my own domestic goddess. I did a good deed! And I got exercise.

I had thought ahead and brought the thread with me, and upon choosing a set of embroidery needles, I asked the woman at the register if they would work. She opened the package and let me thread one –ta da! It fit! I left the thread in the needle, paid for the package, and went on towards coffee.

I was so proud of myself and finally seeing the humor in it all, so I called my mom after finding a chocolat-au-pain croissant and heading back home. We talked for an hour, and I was ready for some cross stitching by the time we ended the conversation.

My first W was great! But it also became obvious after just the one letter that the size Aida cloth I had cut out was too small. No matter! I cut another piece, longer this time, and continued on.

The final result, as I’ve already mentioned, was not perfect. The W’s are closer together than the other letters, but it’s hardly noticeable. And the size is a little unusual, so I don’t know that I have a frame it would fit in. But I finished it, and it now hangs over my sewing machine. My first needle craft project, not perfect, but perfect for me.

Project One: Complete
Here is the final outcome

Mach 1

The story behind this blog is 23 years in the making, give or take a few.

Here’s the idea: I like to cook, and I just recently got a sewing machine (yay Christmas!), so I’d better learn to like sewing. That’s not actually fair. I wanted the sewing machine.

I like to make things. I like creating, and I like sharing the things I create. Cooking is an easy and obvious choice because I am an Italian woman, and my life is defined in what I cook. It is also one of the easiest ways to share a creation with another person. And not to brag, but I’ve been told I’m a damn good cook, so there it is.

Sewing, on the other hand, I have never actually done seriously. I’ve sewn on some patches in my day, maybe did some cross stitching in grade school, but to start and end an actual project is new to me. So having a sewing machine is an exciting and scary new frontier.

Then I thought “hey! I’m not using my writing degree at all! Yeah, I did NaNoWriMo, but really, I’m not using it”.

Enter my two new hobbies. I figure I am good enough at cooking to have some positive info and new enough at sewing to incorporate some of my self-deprecating humor in a healthy and deserved way. It’ll keep me honest!

Thus, here I am. We’ll see if I keep up with this as well as I have other blogs. I think the key here is to not spread it around too much until I’ve got a few posts under my belt.

Coming soon! Pictures of food and excerpts on my trials and tribulations at my new sewing station.