Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe for Succ-Essi! Mi Amore: Venetian Essi Cookies

This blog post is brought to you by the letter 'S'.....that's Essi in Italiano.

My office is having a cookie exchange tomorrow, and in addition to my standard contribution-- Pizzelles (My Italian grandmother Nelda's recipe):

...I decided to try a new recipe.  The Essi Cookie!

It was 12 years ago that my love affair began with Essi, a real tough cookie with a long history!  Girl goes to Italy. Girl lays eyes on Essi. Girl falls madly in love with Essi at first bite.  Girl brings back Essi to the US.  Girl keeps Essi in a special cookie stash.  When Girl reaches for another Essi, she sees Essi is no longer there.  Girl is heart-broken!

Since the Essi cookie is a very special cookie that is indigenous to the island of Burano (just outside of Venice), I'm betting that not too many folks are aware of its charms.  My grandmother's pizzelle cookies are always a crowd-pleaser with my officemates, but I really wanted to knock their socks off and impress them with this exotic Italian biscotti delicacy!

I researched around the interwebs looking for recipes, and remarkably found a few!  Heck!  Even Martha Stewart has one...although she labels it the very anglo-fied 'Venetian Butter Cookies'.  I did stumble upon a recipe that sounded perfect, and from a gal whose last name ended in a vowel...a good sign!  So I picked Mary Melfi's recipe for Essi cookies from Italy Revisited, and off I went!

I followed the recipe pretty much to the 'T' is it 'S' in this case?  There were a few manipulations I made in the ingredients and technique, but here's my version of the recipe:

Note, I made my 'Essi' cookies at about 2" wide by 3" high and was able to get about 36 cookies out of these ingredients below:

  • 6 egg yolks (reserve 2 egg whites for the wash)
  • 3 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter (Mary's recipe called for 1/2 cup..but I added more to make the dough a little softer)
  • Juice of one small Lemon
  • Grated Lemon Rind of Small Lemon mixed with 2 tablespoons of Sugar (Mary's recipe called for Lemon zest, I ended up grating the lemon rind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Eggwhite Wash for tops of cookies:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Mix well

Instructions and technique:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream the egg yolks & sugar with a mixer.

Slowly add the butter, flour, lemon juice, sugar lemon zest mixture, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt.  Work into a cookie dough.  When I first made this, as I said, I followed the recipe's ingredients and used 1/2 cup of melted butter.  The dough was way too stiff, so I added 1/4 cup more of melted butter and it softened the dough perfectly.

Shape the dough into 3 balls and wrap them in clear plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Start with one of the dough balls and cut it into about 9- 12 sections.  Take each section and roll it into a ball that will be about the size of a walnut or a little bigger.  Roll each of these balls out into 'snakes' at about 3-4" long.

Take your dough snakes...or as my gal Kitty Lydia G calls them 'hot dogs'....and form them into 'S' shapes.

It's ok if the dough breaks just a little.  That's just the nature of it.  I also smoosh the Essi's down, just a little bit, to flatten them- but not like a pancake.  You still want these cookies to have a puffy shape.

Place on a cookie sheet that's been buttered up.  Or if you have those fancy silicon baking mats to line it could use that, too.

Apply your Eggwhite Wash mixture with a brush to the tops of the cookies and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top.

Bake in the oven at 350 degree for about 11-12 minutes.  Once the Essi's have puffed up and their edges have turned've hit the jackpot!

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.  Repeat all the steps above with the remaining balls of dough wrapped in plastic.

And voila.....Essi Cookies!   For my first attempt, I think I definitely 'Hit it with my best shot'!  Take that, Essi!
(nom, nom, nom!)

The cookie texture will be hard and is perfect to dunk into coffee, tea, vino santo....even Limoncello!

Buona Fortuna in the Cucina, ya'll!

Brava, Brava!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yo-Yo Ma, Look What I Made! A Crafty-Fresh Take on the Fabric Yo-Yo

December in Seattle usually means dark and stormy, and I'm not just talkin' 'bout cocktails & sailing.  It's depressing.  Like a charcoal grey worsted wool soaking wet blanket has been pulled over the city.  We don't see the sun here for another 7 months.      

So when I've got a bad case of the SAD's, I seek out bright color immersion therapy.  That often means I bust out something crafty that's wild & psychedelic in crazy contrast fabrics.

Lucky for me, I work at a fabric wholesale company called Clothworks to feed my fabric addiction.  Clothworks carries a wide range of fabric designs- something to appeal to everyone.  But there's always one particular fabric collection that goes gangbusters no matter what....and that is anything by Laurel Burch!

Laurel Burch, pictured here in front of her famous painted cats.  As if that's not cool enough, she's rocking a side ponytail with a scrunchie! 
Laurel Burch.....who's that?!!  For you non-fabric-junkies, you can visit her website & read her wiki to find out more about her.  For many years Clothworks has worked closely with Laurel Burch's artwork company in transforming her gorgeous paintings into fabric designs.  Sadly, Laurel passed away from a painful bone disease five years ago.  Her essence continues to live on in her vibrantly colored paintings of animals- butterflies, jungle cats, horses, dogs, and of course....cats.  Fabric couldn't be a better way to capture this!

Recently, and with much anticipation, Clothworks just released a new Laurel Burch collection-  Fabulous Felines!  One of the perks of working at a fabric wholesaler is getting my paws on the fabric first!  Mraowwww!  I'm not a 'cat person', but Laurel's rainbow-colored stylized interpretations of them have grown on my heart.  So I bought some.

Laurel Burch Fabulous Felines, Laurel Burch Basic Triangles, and Laurel Burch Basic Circles prints in dazzling colors.
It might be dark and stormy outside, but with one look of the dazzling colors of the Laurel Burch blues just blow away and inspiration takes a hold of me!

So I pulled out the Clover Yo-Yo Makers and started making Yo-Yo's:

Yo-Yo's?!!  No, not the Duncan kind, silly!  Fabric Yo-Yos.....  Like the ones used in these vests & handbags:

Now 'Mom Jeans' may be back in style with the hipster crowd, but I draw the line at Yo-Yo Vests.  I opted to make something simple, quick, and chic with my yo-yos.

I pulled out my brightly colored trims to compliment the bright colors of the Laurel Burch fabric:

And then I went to town, sewing the trims onto my yo-yos:

And then an idea popped into my head.  I know it!  I'll make a necklace with my yo-yos!!
So I traced a shape for the necklace base:

This pattern piece which I traced is called a yoke.  See Merriam-Webster definition #4.  The yoke will go on to be cut out of felt and used as a base for which I'll stitch on my yo-yos.  I cut 2 of these:
After I finished making my yo-yo's and adding trim to them, I dug out my buttons and rhinestones to bedazzle the yo-yo's.  I even covered some buttons with some of the cat fabric.  The cat motifs used in Fabulous Felines were sized perfectly for a large button to be covered by fabric.
Here's a pic of the covered button I used.  Follow the directions on the back of the box and it works like a charm!
1 7/8" diameter oversized button-- for covering in fabric!
Once I had made my yo-yos and fabric-covered buttons, I started to position them atop one of my felt yoke pieces:
In the picture above, the cat (shown in the middle) is a fabric-covered button stitched on top of a yo-yo with orange lace trim.  For contrast in texture, I kept it no-frills with the hearts cat (as shown in the upper right corner of the picture) by simply stitching it flat onto felt, then cutting out a felt 'medallion' with scalloped edge around the cat applique.
I started stitching some of the large yo-yos on top of my single felt yoke piece.  Stitching down the larger yo-yo pieces would serve as anchors on top of the felt yoke piece.  But before I stitched the yo-yos down, I stitched my ribbon that would serve as my neck chain.  In my necklace, I used red velvet rickrack:
I continued layering my yo-yos atop the felt yoke.  Some of the smaller yo-yos used on my necklace were hand-stitched down using embroidery thread-- just a few stitches in the middle to secure.  I added rhinestones and sequins to cover up any negative space so you didn't see any of the felt yoke showing through.  Once I had stitched down everything, I took my other felt yoke piece and layered it on the back of the base felt yoke piece.  This would cover up any of the stitching and allow the necklace to lay smoothly across your chest:
I used some embroidery thread to edge stitch the necklace base yoke to the yoke back and here's what it looked like after I completed it:
And Voila!  My New Necklace!
Here's a close-up look of the yo-yos, buttons, trims, and stones:

Completed in one day on a rainy Sunday, this was a fun, organic, zen-like craft project that produced a stunning result.  The bright Laurel Burch fabric and contrasting trims cheered me up, too! also doubles as a funky hair accessory:

Although I'm not a cat lady, I do fancy this updated take on the quirky fabric yo-yo!

And speaking of quirky and yo-yo........

Until next time ya'll..... 
keep it groovy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let's Make it Funky: A Xmas Stocking for Louie and one to Boot(sy)!

Lately, my apartment has transformed into 'Lil Stephy's Sweatshop' these days just before the Christmas holiday!  My sewing machine is getting lots of mileage as I crank out project after project.  Just this past Saturday I put some homemade stockings in the post to my bff Meredith and her Dutch hubby Bart who live in Utrecht, The Netherlands.  You can read about those here on my blog! As I uploaded pictures of my stocking progress for Meredith on my facebook page, my friend Nikki from back home in Cincinnati took notice.  She loved what I was doing and asked if I could make a stocking for her son, Louie.  The only criteria I needed to follow for Louie's stocking was to make sure his name was on the stocking (Nikki's husband's request) and to make it funky.

Make it funky, huh.....well....I didn't have to think much more on this one.  As I recall back a few years ago, Nikki had posted a pic of her posing next to the funkmaster, Bootsy Collins, on her facebook page.  I admit, I was jealous!  She got to meet Bootsy!!

For those who need schooling on who Bootsy Collins is, he is the funkiest bass player of all time- playing in Parliament Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band back in the 1970s among other musical offshoots.  A purveyor of all star-shaped accessories- particularly guitars and sunglasses, he has mad, pimpin' style!!  Bootsy is a member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, has his own online school for teaching bass playing techniques- Funk University, and was born & raised and still lives in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio!

Inspiration for Louie's stocking was a piece of cake thanks to his Mama's brush with funky fame!  I mean, just look at those boots!!

So off I went researching, looking for some good Bootsy pics on the web to help inspire my design.  And then I came across this most excellent record cover with a stylized Bootsy coming out of a boot and said....THAT'S IT!

So off I went to the drawing board and came up with this sketch:

Instead of a bare-chested Bootsy, as illustrated above on the record cover, I subbed in a Bengal tiger emerging from a funky platform boot.  More appropriate for a baby boy who would grow up using this stocking Christmas after Christmas.  And the Bengal tiger is also connected to Cincinnati, too!  Who Dey!  Who Dey!  Who Dey think gonna beat dem Bengals!!

After I posted my sketch on facebook and got the greenlight from Nikki, I started going to town selecting fabrics from my overgrown stash.  And then I embarked on the applique process. I cut out all the fabrics, laid it out, glued the pieces down, and prepared it for sewing.

I took a trip to Pacific Fabrics in SODO to buy some more fun trims (as if there wasn't enough going on in the design).  Luckily I showed restraint and didn't buy out the whole shelf:

And then I stitched and stitched through the night and POOF!  Louie's Stocking was created!

Had it not been for my mom's comment on my facebook page when I posted my initial sketch of this design, I might not have decided to make another stocking.....just for Bootsy!

How could I not?!

Merry Christmas Nikki, Chris, and little Louie!  May you continue to have funky 'holidaze' 4 ever!!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Merry Kicksmas! These Boots Were Made for Stockings

'Tis the season!  A few weeks ago my bff, Meredith, emailed me with a project request.  She wanted me to make some stockings for her and her hubby, Bart, to decorate their apartment for Christmas.  Meredith, knowing my quirky flair and applique all-star abilities, asked that I personalize the stockings. 'Of course I'll add your initials to the stockings,' I thought as I read her email.  But here's the 'kicker'.....she wanted me to make them birth-nationality specific.

Mere, newly granted dual Dutch/ US citizenship, has been living in the Netherlands for almost 6 years. She moved from her birth state of Ohio, USA to be united with her soul mate and husband, Bart, a 'Dutchie' in the purest form.  Since Meredith had requested for me to make the stockings 'nationality-specific'...a kind of 'his & hers UN-style', if you will, I pondered over what to design for the appliques.  Then a light bulb went off in my head!

Maybe it was that beer I just opened and those cute cowboy boots I found at the thrift store a few weeks ago that fueled my international inspiration....but thank goodness I have such great references laying around the house:
In all seriousness, though, instead of decorating Bart's stocking with tulip & windmill appliques or even worse, for Meredith I had envisioned elephant & donkey appliques atop stars & stripes fabric....I was inspired by footwear!!   GENIUS!  No wonder I love shoes soooooo much!?!!  And what better representations for the USA-  a cowboy boot, and for The Netherlands- a wooden shoe.  These appliques would be hardly lost in translation on a Christmas stocking!

So off to the drawing board I went.....
Mere's USA Cowgirl Boot Sketch
Bart's Dutch Wooden Clog sketch
Lucky me, I work for a fabric wholesaler- Clothworks- and like a kid in a candy store, I went crazy 'shopping' in our warehouse.  I found some fabulous tonal basics and holiday-inspired fabrics perfect to use in my applique designs!  I even added some fun trims- rickrack- and felt letters, for more personal flair!
Oh, and I forgot to mention!  I found the perfect lining fabric for my stockings-- Sweatshirt Fleece!  It works out well, as it gives just enough stiffness to maintain the shape of a stocking causing it not to droop or sag.  Before I appliqued my designs to the background fabric- I serged the edges of the background fabric with the fleece inner lining.  Then I stitched my appliques on to the front background fabric.  After that, I stitched both sides of the stockings together!

And after that, I added some contrast binding to finish the top of the stockings.  Sewed on a loop to hang the stockings.....and Presto!!!  Ameri-Dutch Christmas Stockings for Meredith and Bart!

Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!
that's....Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Dutch
(thank goodness for google translate!!)

And off you go in a package and across The Pond!
Are you ready, boots?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NOLA: First Bite!

Sometimes you just gotta take a vacation to hit the reset button on life.  What better place to live it up, eat well, and soak up the sun, sights and sounds....but the Big Easy aka Crescent City aka the Northernmost Caribbean City aka Nawlins aka NOLA aka New Orleans, Louisiana.

NOLA was a place I'd always wanted to visit.  I'm from the Midwest and spent time in the South- but I never did make it down to Nawlins.  And now that I make my home in Seattle, WA, I decided to book that trip to NOLA when my special friend Jimmy moved there for school this past August.  I booked my trip for 5 days in NOLA and in that time I was just able to sink my teeth into the crusty tip of an overpacked, steaming hot PoBoy!  There's so much more I still need to bite off!

Let me take you on my journey, my first trip to NOLA.  From the Emerald City to OZ.......

NOLA- Regal and Brimming with History:
Clockwise from the top left- Jackson Square, Andrew Jackson statue, below is the Crescent City Water Meter cover, St. Louis Cathedral, Audubon Place on St. Charles Ave, The St. Charles Streetcar, Statue in honor of the New Immigrant, Joan of Arc Statue, Steamboat Natchez sign

Not only did I want to see my friend Jimmy, but I planned my first trip to NOLA during Halloween!  It's my favorite holiday-  I've been making costumes and dressing up for it as long as I can remember.  This year, since I was going to The Birthplace of Jazz, I decided to be a flapper girl!  I made my costume inspired by NOLA, the art deco '20s, and the flappers:

Me in my Flapper Garb!

Nawlins was a blast on Halloween.  Jimmy and I spent the night in the French Quarter- bar-hopping and people watching.  It was too much fun!  People dressed up in hilarious costumes...and the entire city was festooned with Halloween decorations!  My kind of Place!  Boo Dat!
Clockwise from the top:  Butterfly lady, Drink Bot- and yes, he had a straw poking out from his costume where you'd stick your daquiri for him to slurp, Mitt Romney (ahhhh!  the horror!)  French Quarter revelers, Mothra Babe!
Boo Dat!  NOLA loves Halloween!

All that partying in the French Quarter can whip up an appetite!  Time to get a Real Taste of the Big Easy!

Clockwise Left to Right:  Jimmy eating Red Beans 'n Rice, Me about to bite into a Muffiletta, In Nola they put fried chicken on their pasta- with Shrimp Monica Sauce, Muffiletta as big as a dinner plate, Shrimp Remoulade salad garnished with fried green tomato
Plenty of Cooks in the Kitchen to get your Gumbo Ya Ya on and Pig out with Crawfish as you dance the Walk of Flame! that Jimmy Flame on the Walk of Flame?!!
Something to humor you and your stomach?  Look no further in NOLA!
King Cakes, Pralines & Pies, Snowballs......enough to give you a Buddha Belly!
Cafe Au Lait & Beignets at Cafe Du Monde...A NOLA institution!  Lower left corner is Jimmy posing with his favorite local coffee.  

Ah, I was a glutton for I need to repent!  They don't call them the Saints for nothing....
New Orleans is a highly spiritual place.  Clockwise from Left to Right:  Thou Shalt Not Kill signs dotted the front yards thoughout NOLA, A meditative place in Audubon Park, A handmade Gods Eye nailed to a pole on Magazine Street. I love the handwritten 'Geaux Tigers' (as in LSU Tigers) sign paying homage on All Saints Day, Ol Man River, the Mississippi....there is mystic in the mud here!
Religion is grand in the Big Easy-  Just a few pics of places of worship.  Clockwise Left to Right-  St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, a Baptist church on Magazine Street,  some church in the French Quarter, Holy Name of Jesus Parish Church with palm tree and with gnarly tree next to Loyola University,  St. Louis Cathedral with cloud.
Being inside St. Louis Cathedral brought back memories of touring the various Cathedrals in Italy- particularly Venice.  So ornate and is a sight to behold!

One thing I couldn't leave without seeing in NOLA was a cemetery.  My trip took place on Halloween,  All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.  I didn't make it to a cemetery on any of those days.  With an hour to spare on my last day in NOLA, I visited Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District.  I was sad to leave NOLA and leave Jimmy.  But the tears on my cheeks were disguised by the giant raindrops ploppin' down from a big Louisiana rainstorm going on. A bittersweet ending to my NOLA trip!
Note the Grave on the left, second down from the top, Death from Yellow Fever

What's not to love about New Orleans??!!  The architecture, music, and culture add flavor to the city and pepper your heart!
Brightly colored buildings with contrast shutters and wrought-iron balconies....a symbol of the French Quarter
Buildings older than your daddy's socks....I can't believe we're still in the US!
Brightly colored Shotgun Houses, Shutters, Ornate rigeur of buildings found in NOLA
The Icing on the Cake:  More architectural and interior embellishments found around NOLA
Gorgeous buildings on St. Charles Ave and Carrollton Ave are shielded by Southern Live Oak trees
Southern Decadence:  Mansions held in place by ornately carved columns
 Music is the Heart and Soul of NOLA.  Strolling around in the French Quarter- street performers busking or a blues band in a small club off Frenchmen St.-- it's all music to your ears!  Music is so synonymous with the city- it's also paid homage to in its visual art!

 A side trip to Lafayette, LA allowed me to live out one of my dreams-- to see a live Zydeco band in Lafayette!  Jimmy and I just happened to stumble upon a free outdoor concert of Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole.  Lots of dancing and good was so much fun!!!
Maybe it's the hot tropical climate, the palm trees, the sunshine....NOLA is Bright and Bold and Bursting with all kinds of Art and Visual Eye-Candy!
At the top right are the famous 'Blue Dogs' painted by New Orleanian & self-proclaimed 'Cajun Artist' George Rodrigue,  Below that is one of the many art galleries in the French Quarter, At the bottom right- they even paint their electric meters in's a very colorful place.  Bottom left is the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts on Magazine Street.  Above that is one of many brightly colored murals you will find around NOLA.  This one is on Frenchmen St.
Nola at Night-  We happened to stumble upon an outdoor art fair setting up at dusk on Saturday evening near the French Quarter.  Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler-  love the daily events signage on the side of this club!

NOLA- full of Flair and Quirkiness!

Mardi Gras seems to linger on, even through Halloween!  NOLA is literally dripping with beads and Green-Gold-Purple Swag!

Stick a Fleur'd on it!  Portlandia has their birds....and Nola has their Fleur De Lis:

Can't find the name of the street you're on?  Look down on the sidewalk or on a building:

And how could I forget Loyola!  Jimmy is a lucky man to be attending school here!

If there's one thing I learned on my journey to New Orleans....
There's NOLA place like any other!!!
(I gotta geaux back!!)

I couldn't leave ya without a little music.  Let's hear it for Cedric Watson, ya'll!!