Fun “Bar” Suit, Part II: Skirt

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I started with the skirt, since I can’t get to work on the jacket until I  know what I’ll be wearing it over.

Like I said, I’m using this fabric, and purchased three yards of it to ensure I had plenty to work with:

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I did a little measuring and determined that I could cut three panels of the fabric (44″ wide from selvedge to selvedge) for a total skirt width of 132″–  nice and full so it’ll have plenty of volume. Before doing that I cut off a piece about 1/2 yard wide to make my waistband and pockets (pockets are great!) out of. For the record, I’m 5’6″ and this made for a nice skirt length with a 2 1/2″ hem.

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Fun “Bar” Suit, Part I: Inspiration

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So I’m going to start off by warning you that this is not really a recreation of the iconic Dior Bar Suit— it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek version that I’m throwing together for fun. It may have the general look, but the details are purely for my own amusement.

I really do love the whole “new look” that came out after WWI– it’s so fluffy and fun and suits my body type much better than the long, lean looks of the first half of the 20th century. So I figured I’d have a good time making this outfit, which I’m hoping will be recognizable to my costuming friends at the various events I’ve got going this year.

My inspiration for the outfit came from this fabric:

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It’s from Northcott’s “Happy Hour” collection (“bar” suit, get it?) and I thought it would make a great base for the black skirt. From there the whole idea came together fairly easily.

I’m going to have a full skirt made of the Happy Hour fabric, and a plain ivory jacket up top with some kind of novelty buttons down the front. I have high hopes for the hat I’m planning– straw, like the one in the 1957 photo above– and I found a vintage brooch that should be a great accessory for the theme:

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I also found a perfect purse, but I’ll save that for another post.

Let’s see how this works out!

 

 

 

Black Bean Brownies

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I admit to being skeptical about “healthy” desserts using alternative ingredients– they never taste quite right, and you end up eating more of them anyway because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the “healthy” moniker. So it took me a while before trying this brownie recipe, which uses black beans as a base and which is also gluten-free. But since I was trying to avoid flour this month (my usual diet is way too starchy) I thought this might be a tasty dessert option.

Reviews of similar recipes have been mixed– some people rave over them, others claim that the texture is off-putting and the bean flavor is too obvious. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. These brownies are nice and chocolate-y, with no hint of bean flavor, even as an aftertaste. However, the texture is definitely not that of a regular brownie– they’re not chewy at all, nor are they gooey enough to be considered fudge-y. They’re soft, but not cakey– they’re kind of like a dry soufflé, in that they melt away easily in the mouth. And they’re not dense but I wouldn’t call them light either. In short, the texture is difficult to define, but not unpleasant.

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Pineapple-Coconut Muffins

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With the recent spate of wintry weather here at home, I decided to try to warm things up by invoking tropical flavors– pineapple and coconut! Since I make a batch of muffins roughly every two weeks and it was about time to make one, I started with my standard muffin recipe and loaded it up with crushed pineapple and coconut flakes, using the pineapple juice for good measure.

The finished muffins were light and tender, with nice bursts of flavor from the pineapple and a subtle coconut background. They’re not overly sweet, which I actually liked since coconut baked goods can often be too sugary. They also go well with tea, if you want to enjoy warm-weather flavors with a cold-weather beverage.

I will note that if I weren’t making these for my kid, I might have considered adding some rum to the batter, or making a rum/brown sugar glaze. Maybe you’d like to consider it if you try these yourself!

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Review: Jane Austen Weekend at The Governor’s Mansion in Hyde Park, VT

So I waffled over posting this review of my recent Jane Austen-themed weekend at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, because while the event was disappointing overall it did have some good parts. It may just be that I’m a particularly picky customer, but in the end I decided that a thorough and accurate review couldn’t cause any undue harm, so here we go:

The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont (a small inn) hosts Jane Austen-themed weekends throughout the year. Some are themed around a particular book (like the one I attended), and one is an “in-character” weekend where guests are expected to adopt a particular character and stick to it as much as possible. When a friend and I heard about an upcoming Sense and Sensibility weekend in February, we thought it would be fun to check out.

The website promised a dessert gathering on Friday night with a talk on Regency life, breakfast on Saturday, Regency card games, a sleigh ride, afternoon tea, plus dinner and dancing on Saturday night and a Sunday breakfast to finish things off. The site also generally talked about various other activities available to guests, including horseback riding, archery, cooking lessons, fishing, and crafts. We did notice that these claims were more specifically repeated in the context of the in-character weekend, but we hoped that there would be similarly-interesting activities available indoors for our event. In retrospect this was probably where we went wrong.

We arrived Friday night with high hopes– the building was lovely inside and out, our rooms were cozy, and there was a huge collection of movies (with multiple versions of all the Jane Austen television and movie adaptations) available for viewing. We changed into Regency gowns and headed down to the library for dessert and our first activity– a talk about various aspects of Regency life.

None of the other guests chose to wear Regency garb for this one– not the three who were staying at the inn, nor the other three ladies who had apparently driven up just for the dessert and lecture. That was too bad, but not the fault of our hostess. We were somewhat disappointed by the food on offer– small squares of plain gingerbread cake with apple cider, plus a cheese plate: not a bad snack but not really enough to warrant being a featured “dessert” in my opinion– and even more disappointed by the lecture (it was definitely a lecture, not a discussion). While our hostess was clearly knowledgeable on the topics at hand she mostly read from her notes, jumping from subject to random subject and at times spending an inordinately long time on seemingly obscure issues. I think we spent a good 15 minutes hearing about the different types of carriages people used back then, and far more time than necessary reiterating how many pennies made a shilling and how many shillings a pound. To be fair, the other guests seemed to be enjoying the lecture, but even our relatively rudimentary knowledge of Regency life was enough to make us bored.

Saturday morning we had a nice breakfast (again, no one else dressed up) and were hoping to participate in some fun daytime activities. Sadly, the only two activities on offer were 1) writing with a goose-quill pen and 2) playing whist. Our hostess gave basic instructions on how to use the pens, pointed out the decks of cards and directions for whist, and left us on our own for the next several hours. The writing part was fun but could only take up so much time, and since there weren’t enough players to make up more than one whist table there wasn’t much to do after that besides take photos around the inn– nothing we couldn’t have done in any historic inn on any other weekend. The promised sleigh ride unfortunately was cancelled because it was too cold for the horses, and there was apparently nothing planned to take its place.

Our next activity was afternoon tea (more Victorian than Regency style, but that was intentional), which was more enjoyable than the dessert lecture since 1) the food was excellent, varied, and plentiful, and 2) the lecture was significantly shorter and was about the importation and use of tea, which I found more interesting than carriages. However, afterwards we were on our own again until dinner.

Dinner itself was excellent– everyone dressed up, making for a better atmosphere, and we had a spread of homemade, period-appropriate foods to enjoy. Afterwards we were joined by a group of English country dancers who did an admirable job teaching dances to our group for two hours. They were fantastic and a good time was had by all. It was really the high point of the weekend.

Sunday morning we were (again) left to our own devices for the most part– brunch was served at 10:30, we had a written quiz on Sense and Sensibility while we ate, and once we’d finished eating the weekend was basically over.

All in all, I got the feeling that the event was geared less towards Regency buffs and more towards people who might have read a few of Jane Austen’s books and decided on a whim to try a themed weekend. Even so, I thought that additional activities would’ve gone a long way towards making the weekend more immersive and interesting for everyone– as it was, we were alone for the majority of the weekend with not much to do. (I will note that use of smartphones was highly discouraged in the common areas, which I thought was unnecessary given the lack of a “period” atmosphere generally and the lack of much else to occupy our time.)

If I’d been visiting the inn for a normal weekend, planning to visit local attractions or go skiing, I would have been extremely satisfied with it– the rooms were nice*, the food was freshly homemade and mostly excellent, and the hostess was welcoming. However, as far as themed weekends go this one was severely lacking, and I can’t really recommend it to anyone looking for an immersive experience. I’ve heard that the in-character weekends are much better (which would make sense since the activities on offer are apparently more varied), but given my experience with this one I don’t see myself making the effort to try again in the future.

 

*Well, our rooms were nice. The other guests weren’t so lucky– apparently the water pipes leading to their bathroom would regularly stop working in particularly cold temperatures, so they had to use our shower and actually get a bucket of water to flush their toilet with!

 

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding

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During a recent visit to the King Arthur Flour bakery in Vermont I purchased a loaf of challah, fully intending to pull pieces off of it for the next several hours and devour most of the loaf that way. Isn’t that the best way to eat fresh bread? Sadly, I ended up getting distracted and by the time I got back to my loaf it was partly stale and didn’t lend itself well to nibbling on.

However, stale bread is still good for plenty of things– not least of which is bread pudding. Not just any bread pudding– chocolate bread pudding. DARK chocolate bread pudding, which makes it that much more decadent. I pulled this recipe from King Arthur Flour’s own website and have been eating the results for breakfast for the past week. Superb.

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 6 1/2 cups bread cubes from a 1-lb loaf of challah or brioche
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped or in chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 3 cups milk or half & half
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a lightly buttered 9×13″ pan, combine bread cubes with 1 cup of the chopped chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan, combine remaining chocolate with sugar, cocoa, and 1 1/2 cups of the milk or half and half. Cook over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

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3. Remove from heat and add remaining dairy. Then whisk in eggs, salt, and vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and let it soak in for about 30 minutes.

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5. In the meantime, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

6. When the custard has soaked in, bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Honey-Cardamom Pear Tartlets

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Recently, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring to a Lunar New Year party. More specifically, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring that was not red bean cream puffs, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making the craquelin topping and I still needed something bite-sized and tasty. I was going through my old recipes when I came across my post about honey-cornflake crunchies and it occurred to me that they might make a neat base for a different kind of dessert combining honey with some other flavor components.

I decided to flavor my filling with cardamom, since it’s often paired with honey. I’d originally planned to make a simple stabilized whipped cream filling, but concluded that it would be too light in comparison to the crunchy base and opted instead to give it a richer mouthfeel by combining two concepts– stabilized whipped cream and cooked-flour frosting. Both involve beating a thickened pudding-like mixture into the dairy– it’s just that the frosting uses butter instead of liquid cream. My experimental recipe worked beautifully, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Of course, once I’d settled on cream-filled tartlets, I felt that they needed something more, for texture, and flavor. After a false start (persimmons apparently just went out of season, boo!) I settled on pears and pistachios, both classic pairings with cardamom.

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