The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses

Book #26 in our reading streak – The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

We read this book in one sitting on a Friday afternoon after school.  I popped a big bowl of popcorn for the kids.  They munched their way through it as I read for about 40 minutes.

The story takes place in a small American town in the mid-1900’s.  Wanda, a poor little Polish girl, is made fun of by her classmates when she claims to have 100 dresses in her closet at home.  Turns out the 100 dresses are 100 original drawings by Wanda.  By the time children learn of their mistake and of her talent, it is too late for them to apologize and to set things right.  Wanda has moved away to the city.  In her father’s note to the teacher, he explains – “Now we move away to big city.  No more holler Polack.  No more ask why funny name.  Plenty of funny names in the big city.”  Depressing, huh?  But there is a kind of resolution at the end of the story.  One school girl, who feels remorse over her treatment of Wanda, actually finds a way to make peace with herself by writing a letter to Wanda and by receiving a roundabout response.

Frankly, this book made me sad.  Reminded me a bit of growing up in a little town in the 70’s.  When and where being different really stuck out.  Also brought to mind times I was pretty rotten myself… sigh…

Asked my boys to rate this book from a scale of 1 (disliked book) to 10 (loved book).  They gave it a 2.   They said it was a story where nothing actually happened… but it did give them some things to think about… I suppose if we were looking for a light hearted read to kick off that weekend, then this should not have been our choice…

Still, the story does provide food for thought.  Is it ever right to poke fun at someone?  What if you believe you have reason to tease someone?  How do you handle yourself when you are part of a group that is doing wrong?  How do you find the courage to go against mob mentality?

Since we’d already discussed similar questions in our last read aloud, this time I just let the kids enjoy their popcorn as I powered through the story.  We’ve now moved on to read aloud book #27.  It’s monstrously long (over 500 pages)…. tell you more about that one next week.

Faux Fur Muff

Faux Fur Muff

I fell hard for it.  Utterly smitten.  Fascinated.  Perhaps even a little bit obsessed…

Faux fur.

Just had to get my hands on some. 

But after a week of working with it, I think I’m over my thing for faux fur.

So what if it’s gorgeous?  Yes, it’s soft, rich and decadent to look at and touch…  But it’s also a pain in the butt to work with.  A mess to cut.  Hard to pin.  Impossible to see when sewing.  Augh.  There was much muttering and cursing under my breath these last few evenings as I hand sewed the finishing seams to two muffs, pricked myself a dozen times and wondered why had I been so wild to try it in the first place?!

My short lived faux fur craze started when I made my cozy fleece muff.  My sewing instructor, Nasya, and I decided that particular work session would be more fun if we each sewed a muff.  As I rolled out my ultra thick fleece, she unveiled her faux fur find.  Suddenly, the humble fleece lost much of its appeal to me.  What I really wanted was to play with the fancy rich looking furry stuff.

  
After finishing the fleece muff, I made a trip to New York Elegant Fabrics in search of faux fur.  I was that kid in the candy store.  Absolutely delighted by the selection.  Longingly wished for a yard of each… alas, these fabrics don’t come cheap.  Had my eye on one bolt that cost $120 per yard.  Sigh.  I turned away from it to look for the relatively more budget fabric Nasya had used.

Less expensive faux fur still doesn’t mean inexpensive.  I allowed myself to buy just one half yard of this beautiful material.

Chose a deep grey taffeta for lining.  Was so excited that I decided to make two muffs instead of one… ya never know, I figured.  I’d had inquiries about the fleece muff… maybe I should make a few extra in case someone was actually serious about buying one…

It was with these thoughts in mind that I started a second round of making muffs.

This time it didn’t go so smoothly.  The taffeta frayed the instant I cut it.  I had to pick seams apart, serge all the edges before resewing lining and pockets.  I didn’t like the way I could see the bottom seam on the muff.  Sewing an invisible zipper in by hand was just as miserable as doing it on the machine… only it took me longer so it was kind of a prolonged torture session.  The long fibers of the fur get caught on the zipper which makes my special zippered pocket addition to the muff not quite as functional.  Oh, right, and I couldn’t see what I was doing because of all that fur… so I had to sew by touch…

Well, at the end of the day, I did get my chance to work with faux fur and taffeta.  And now I’ve made two more muffs.  Both of them featuring the zippered pocket that makes these “a purse that warms your hands.” 

Not sure what to do with them now… I’m still so annoyed with the process that I’m not ready to actually use the product.  But I have to admit, these muffs really do look pretty good.  I was so fixated on what went wrong, that it took a friend to point out what looked right.  And according to her, these muffs look rich and not “faux” at all.

Even after all my complaining, I still really love the look and feel of this material.  Even a little bit of it can pack a pretty powerful visual punch.  Huh… you know… I just had a light bulb moment of how else I might like to use this fabric… so maybe I’m not quite over my faux fur infatuation after all…

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One little thing in an attempt to be greener.
I should have done it years ago.
But I was greedy to peruse all the shopping possibilities.
And, well, being a little lazy.
So I procrastinated.

But enough was enough.
Tired of tossing piles of crisp catalogs into the recycle bin.
I finally called the numbers printed across the bottom of every page.
One after the other.
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A small change. 
A start.
I wonder….
What if we all unsubscribed?
What kind of a difference could we make?

Chigae (my way)

Chigae (my way)

We had a chigae kind of weekend. 

Wondering what that means?

These last few days it’s meant:  Freezing cold and windy.  Yet another round of school holidays.  Sick kid down with fever.  Stuck at home…. might as well cook a big pot of something, eat & enjoy lounging inside… 

That something was one of our favorite Korean comfort foods – chigae.

This is the perfect soup/stew to warm up a cold winter day.  Caveat –  if you’re looking for a true traditional version of this dish, you should probably look else where.  I cobbled my dish together to suit the tastes of my family.  If you want to give it a try though, everyone I’ve ever fed it to loves it.  Savory.  Spicy.  Thick.  Meaty.  Filling.  Satisfying.

Geez, I almost want to slurp down another bowl of it just thinking about it…

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds ground pork
  • 2 packages soft tofu (drained & cubed)
  • 1/2 white onion (diced)
  • 1 zucchini, 1 carrot and any other vegetable you’re in the mood for (diced)
  • Kimchi
  • Sliced rice cakes (Duk)
  • Eggs (1 per person eating)
  • Chicken broth (1 big carton or 2 standard sized cans)
  • Korean red pepper flakes (Gochugaru)
  • Fermented soybean paste (Doenjang)

And just in case you need a visual for some of those very Korean items on that list:

Kimchi.  I shop for Korean groceries at Han Ah Reum on 32nd street between 5th and 6th avenue.  I buy the plain sliced cabbage – not the kind with the oysters.  Also, I look for the jars with lots of wet, red “juice” that means the kimchi is sufficiently fermented.

I’d use about half of this big jar above.  Sometimes I chop the kimchi.  Most of the time, I just scoop it straight into the pot.

Korean red pepper flakes.  Not to be confused with the Italian dried pepper we sprinkle over pizza.

Fermented soybean paste.  This is shelved right next to the red pepper paste (in red boxes).  Don’t buy the red box.  Buy the yellow box.

Rice cake slices.  Use only a handful of this at a time.  Prepare only what you want to eat in one meal.  It will get soggy, mushy and not nice at all if left to soak in the pot.

I store my rice cakes in the freezer.  When I start cooking my chigae, I pull a handful of them out to soak in cold water before cooking, then drain when I’m ready to use the rice cakes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of those dollop of this and handful of that kind of cooks.  So I have no precise measurements for you.  Sorry.  Just put a little less pepper in if you’re concerned about making it too spicy.

Once all the ingredients have been gathered and chopped then it’s time to throw this super easy dish together.  Here’s how I do it:

  • Heat up a little oil in a big pot.
  • Brown the ground pork.
  • Add in chopped onions and continue browning onions and meat.
  • Throw in chopped vegetables.  Keep stirring.
  • Here’s the part where it’s totally to your taste.  I dump in 2 heaping spoonfuls of the fermented bean paste.  Then about a cupped palm’s worth of the red pepper flakes.  Keep stirring.
  • Add kimchee.  “Juice” and all.  If you really love the stuff, by all means add more than the half jar that I use.
  • Let the mixture simmer a few minutes.
  • Add in chicken broth (or water if you prefer).  I love lots of broth.  So sometimes I add a little extra broth or water to the pot.
  • Add tofu.
  • Let the soup simmer another 15 minutes or so.
  • When you are almost ready to eat, then it’s time to add the egg and rice cakes.  
  • Make sure soup is simmering.  Crack in & poach one egg for each person.  Depending on your ratio of broth to ingredients, you may need to shift some of the stuff around to make room for the poaching eggs.  You may also need to gently spoon the hot broth over your eggs to make sure the top of the egg cooks too.
  • Add the rice cakes at about the same time you add the eggs.  Just let them float on top of everything else.  Remember, only a little bit.  Maybe 4-6 rice cakes per person.  I like my rice cakes very chewy, so they only need to cook a few minutes.
  • I think the eggs are perfectly done once the whites are cooked through but the yolk is only medium cooked or even slightly runny.
  • Scoop yourself a big bowl of chigae.  Make sure you include the egg and however many rice cakes you cooked.  Really yummy plain or with some steamed white rice on the side.

And on that note, think I will go eat a little more chigae.

Wonder

Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Touching. 
Beautiful. 
Courageous. 
Heartbreaking. 
Thought provoking. 
Inspiring.

I absolutely recommend this book to everyone. 

Whether or not you have a kid to share this story with.

Read this book.