Monday, March 27, 2017

The Narciso Family Cookbook...Great food, hardly any bugs*

Rice Cake was perplexed when he realized I wanted to take a picture of him with a potato.

My sincerest apologies for not blogging last week. I forgot. Seriously. I just forgot. I spent that weekend over in Lakeland at the Original Sewing & Quilting Expo, which was a lot of fun. I might do it again next year, but Lakeland is awfully far away.

Yesterday, I was at a new writers conference here on the Space Coast. They had a good turnout and I hope they'll do it again. We need a conference here, I think.

I'm still struggling to write my latest fantasy novel. I think I'm paralyzed by a suffocating, panic-inducing fear of failure. I just want it to be so good! And I'm scared it won't be as good as I imagine it in my head. There's a lot of laziness involved, too, but we don't need to go there.

Today, I'm going to give you an excerpt from The Narciso Family Cookbook. And mid-week, I'm going to post some more pics I took at Viera Wetlands last weekend.

I wrote The Narciso Family Cookbook for my sons. It's got some stories for them and recipes that they grew up with. Here's a little story about potato salad and Nazis.

Potato Salad
 Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks 
Eggs, same number as potatoes, hard boiled, peeled, and quartered 
Potato salad comes with a story. A sad story. It involves Nazis. Now I know that it’s not right to put the label “Nazi” on things because it dilutes the evil that was Nazism. But what do you call it when a person wants his food pure and white? He’s a food Nazi.

When I was young and free, I ate garbage. Garbage pizza—Pizza Hut’s Thin and Crispy Super Supreme. My spaghetti sauce had ground beef in it (all my Italian food had meat in it), and green pepper and onion and mushrooms and who knows what else? I’ve forgotten now. 

And garbage potato salad. It had all kinds of stuff in it. I know it had olives in it but I can’t remember if they were black or green. I know that I added in pimientos that came in little glass jars (really cute jars) so I think the olives must have been black. (See? Diverse potato salad.) But I can’t remember how it must have tasted, those black olives with pimientos. Maybe it was green olives and I just wanted extra pimiento. And I think I put in bacon, cooked and crumbled. And the eggs were chopped up. It was loaded potato salad! 

But then I married your father and all that was in the past. My Thin and Crispy Super Supreme became doughy Little Caesar’s pepperoni. And my spaghetti sauce, my lasagna, my ziti, all lost their meat. We’ve become purists. 

Alas, my potato salad. Now the recipe is to be strictly adhered to. One egg for every potato, which is ridiculous so sometimes I cheat. Seriously. What if I use 12 potatoes? I’m supposed to put in a dozen eggs? Pffflllttttt. And the eggs have to be quartered because there’s some kind of “have to see the eggs” fetish going on. 

Anyway, as to the recipe, I tend to go for more of a mustard base than mayo and the paprika (after having been thoroughly checked for bugs) is only sprinkled on top after it’s been shoveled into the serving dish. (Okay, it’s possible that I sprinkle a bit into the mix, too. I cook by mood, รก la George Costanza’s packing ritual.) 

Refrigerate and serve nice and chilled. Heil Potato! 

*I do tend to obsess about paprika and bugs in the cookbook. But honestly, you get pantry bugs once and the rest of your life is spent a little freaked out about it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

They key to confidence...BE the idiot

This is so embarrassing.

I'm a nitwit. I freely admit it. I have done some of the most embarrassing things imaginable.

When I was in early high school, I went to the beach with my family and a friend and as I was splashing around in the surf, one of my boobs popped out of my swimsuit. And my friend pointed at me and said, "Your boob!" And then she laughed. Everybody saw my boob. Looking back on it, I now wish I hadn't covered up and stomped up the beach to where my family sat, plopped myself down and refused to budge for the rest of the day. I wish I'd flashed the other boob, too, then laughed, and had a good time. But I didn't understand yet.

One time, when I was working at Waldenbooks (I was, ahem, the manager), I was talking with my assistant manager...the store was quiet...and...I farted. Loud. I didn't know what to do. So I did nothing. My eyes glazed over and I just kept talking. Like, maybe she didn't notice. I should have laughed. Then she could have laughed and we could have had a good time. But I was too ashamed.

Once, I was on a date with this guy at a restaurant and we were drinking beer and I burped and beer spilled out of my mouth onto my shirt. I was so embarrassed I ran to the bathroom and tried to clean up and then didn't mention it, as if he hadn't seen it. As if he couldn't see the wet spot on the front of my shirt. I never went out with that guy again. How could I? Nobody else could ever be so crude, except on purpose and I certainly hadn't done it on purpose!

Another time, I was on another date and he was driving. I was sitting next to him and there was a dead something in the road. It looked like he was going to run over it, so I grabbed the steering wheel and made him swerve to...hit it! I made him run over it! And he looked at me like I was a serial killer and said, "I can't believe you did that!" I wish I'd had the nerve to explain to him that I was trying to do the opposite of what I did. But I didn't. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I didn't know that he was an idiot, too.

Sometimes when I try to talk to people, I stutter. And other times, I'm so nervous I talk really loud and really fast. This one time, I was taking this herbal drug hoping to lose some weight and one of my weight-losing acquaintances found out. She wanted to know more about it and I was so freaked out that I couldn't stop myself from raving like a lunatic. She asked me, "Will it make me antsy?" "Oh, no!" I said, jumping around and shaking. She must have thought it was an amphetamine.

I don't answer the phone and I don't like public speaking because I know that things are going to fly out of my mouth. Random things. Things that I probably shouldn't say.

For instance, I was at a writers and readers festival of sorts once and agreed to be on a "panel" of fantasy writers. I was lucky, because there was another, more popular, panel at the same time, so we had only one person, a woman, at ours. The panel was just me and this guy. And this guy mentioned a friend of his...a well-known to this particular community friend. And his books. Books that I'd read. And I proceeded to tell him and the one woman who'd come to hear us talk what I didn't like about this man's books. I could almost hear myself in my head telling me to shut up. "You're being rude," I said. "In public. You're dissing this guy's friend. A fellow author! In front of him! Stop!" But I didn't stop.

I'm an idiot. Can we just admit it?

And that is why I don't like leaving the house. It's just too stressful to navigate the world knowing that at any moment, idiocy is going to pop out.

Apparently, however, according to this brief video, the key to confidence lies in accepting that we are nitwits and realizing that we are all idiots. Every single one of us.

But this video doesn't go far enough. Don't just accept it. Because the problem doesn't lie in our lack of awareness that we aren't alone. It lies in our unwillingness to BE idiots. We might understand that idiot happens. But we would still choose not to let it happen. (Except for the comedians who really get it.)

So, embrace the idiot. Be the idiot. Rejoice in it.

I am an idiot! And if you want me to speak to you in public, expect great idiotness! Aw, come on. It'll be fun it'll be fun it'll be fun.

Seriously, though, this is an amazing revelation to me. I've always known I was an idiot. I tell myself I'm an idiot nearly every day. And people say not to do that. They say, be nice to yourself. But maybe that's the problem. I keep trying not to be what I am.

I mean it. I'm ready to embrace the idiot inside me and I think you should too. Because you are, you know.

An idiot.

(I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sewing: Knocking off my favorite t-shirt pattern...

I'm about to do a knock off. I don't really want to kill anybody...exactly. Though sometimes I feel like I could hit a few people. Better to knock off a pattern. Fewer bad consequences.

Here's the thing. I go through t-shirts pretty quickly. They wear out, they stretch out, they shrink, they get splattered with chocolate syrup. And I get tired of clothes shopping. This is the whole reason I started sewing again: I want to make clothes that I can wear.

Easier said than done, apparently.

I have yet to make a manufacturer's pattern that fit me. Even after I learned to fit the pattern, measure the pattern, and fit it again, they just don't fit. Every time, there is too much fabric under my arms and the sleeve starts way too far from my body. wth? So, I am learning to tailor clothes out of necessity. And I'm struggling to just make a simple t-shirt. How hard could it be?

I want a pattern that I love and can use again and again. I am determined to make this happen.

And so, here is another chapter in the t-shirt saga. I took an online class on how to create patterns from clothes in your closet. Maybe I didn't need that class. I already did it once and it turned out...okay. But it was my first time and I'd only just started sewing again. Still, I thought I could learn a few things. And the instructor said I should make the pattern differently than I had the first one.

The first one I made, I just laid the shirt out flat and stuck pins in it. But the instructor folded the shirt along the center front, and did the back the same way. So that's what I did. It didn't work. I'd like to blame the technique, and I do think there were flaws there. But it was also due to some finagling on my part. I thought the neckline couldn't possibly be right, and changed it--making it very wrong. And the sleeves were way too gathered.

So, my solution was to try another manufacturer's pattern. And, naturally, despite fitting it the way they said to (I even pinned the pattern together and put it on!) it still gaped under the arms. I fought and fought with that shirt until I was sick of it. (And I burned it with the iron. What I need is a class on proper use of an iron.)

So, I went back to the pinning board and tried again--my way. Here I am, pinning up my favorite tee.

When it's laid out there like that it looks ginormous, doesn't it? And shaped funny. Looks like a shirt for a Weeble.

Anyway, you want to put the shirt on cardboard. I use the back side of my big fold up cutting board. And put a piece of paper behind it. Then you spread it out as smoothly as possible, and stick pins all along the seam lines. Front. Then the back on its own piece of paper. This puts holes in the paper underneath it. I actually took a darning needle and poked the holes to make them bigger.

Then, connect the dots and cut it out.

What I do then is pick a side, left or right. Whichever side looks nicest. Because inevitably they won't be the same. I blame this on the original shirt being all stretched out and not on my pinning capabilities. Then I fold it down the middle, trying to cut the neckline right down the middle and still get the side seams to meet up. It never works out very well. I press the middle fold and then lay it flat again and, using a ruler, trace down the center line. Then I cut it, very carefully. I do all of that for the back as well.

At this point, I throw away the half that I didn't like, thus burning any bridges that might help me out of a mess later.'s my way.

If I need to, I use my French curve and hip curve to smooth out the curves and lines. I also do my best to get end points (where two lines meet) at 45 degree angles--like at the underarm and at the shoulder. I do that because I'm pretty sure an instructor in a class said to do that. But who knows?

Now, a word about evening up these lines. I put the front and back shoulder seams together and made sure they were the same length. I'm always finding that one is longer than the other and I thought it was my bad. But last night, I was reading a new book on sewing that I got at Amazon. Janet Pray, an excellent online instructor at Craftsy, says that you are supposed to ease the back to the front at the shoulder seams! Lightening struck my brain! All this time, I was supposed to be easing the back to the front. wth?

Why? Why is the back shoulder seam longer? So, I did some research and...nothing. I can't find out anything about this issue. So for now, I'm going to go ahead with my pattern as I've made it--with the shoulder seams the same length. But I'm going to contact Janet Pray and ask her about it.


Next, the sleeve. Again, in the class I took the instructor had this weird way of doing the sleeve. You draw two lines, one horizontal and one vertical, intersecting it, then line up the folded sleeve along the vertical, pin that side, then flip it...whatever. I ended up with the weirdest, funkiest shaped sleeve ever. And in the end, it had way too much ease in it, giving me a puff sleeve basically. Something that I could have easily fixed, but for some reason, forgot all my lessons on checking the ease of a sleeve. (How long do I have to sew to start remembering these things?)

Anyway, I decided to do the sleeve my own way. Like this:

I made one piece for the front and cut it out. Then turned the sleeve over and made another piece out of the back. And then I put the two pieces together at the shoulder line to make one sleeve.

And guess what? It was one wonky, funky looking sleeve. And I did not like it one bit. I have never seen a sleeve that looked like that in my life. (Except for that first time I tried to do this.) So once again, I blamed stretch. And I took out a manufacturer's sleeve pattern, looked it over, and trimmed up my sleeve pattern to look more like a sleeve.

Note the mark at the shoulder seam at the top, and the marks for the front and back of the sleeve. Very important! You don't want to put your sleeve in backwards.

Okay, so, the next step is to trace these patterns onto my pattern paper and cut them out. Then I went around and added a half inch seam allowance on most of it, with a one-inch hem allowance on the sleeve and bottoms edges.

The neckline was a problem. I'd decided to pin and draw the neckline as it was, as opposed to at the seam line because I wasn't sure what I was going to do about the neck facing. So, I figured I was going to do a half inch facing with a quarter inch seam. I hate math. I think I figured it out right.

Next was cutting out the pattern pieces and walking the sleeve.

The great thing about this pattern paper is that I can see through it. You line up your sleeve at the underarm, matching the pieces at the seamlines not the cutting lines. Then you "walk" it up toward the shoulder. And along the way, when you get to the front and back marks that you made, you add those marks on the armscye (that's sew talk for armhole) and keep walking. You're looking now to see at what point the sleeve comes to the shoulder line. It should be a bit before the shoulder mark at the top of your sleeve because the sleeve should be a bit larger than the hole.

For a knit tee, and to match the one I'm copying, there should be very little ease--about an inch. That way, there won't be a bunch of gathers along the top and it won't look like a puff sleeve. You especially don't want a puff sleeve that sits a bit off the shoulder. Blech.

Anyway, mine looks good so far. Next I need to make a pattern for the neck facing. Then I'll try to find some cheap knit fabric in my stash and make a muslin. Wish me luck.