Quilting: Where to Start

To those of you who don’t know, I really like to sew. In the past couple of years I have gotten into quilting. I think it’s a lot like the romance novels of sewing. Some romance novels (Pride and Prejudice, for example) are fine pieces of literature. They are heart-wrenchingly complex, bursting with symbolism, poetic nuance, and characters so deeply thought out you believe them to be real people. These are the double wedding rings of romance novels. Most people love and admire them, but few even dream of attempting to make one the traditional way. Fewer are successful.

Other romance novels, the ones I tend to read (except Pride and Prejudice… That is one of the very few books I have read more than once), are usually the same plot over and over again, with the exciting climax changing from a runaway carriage ride to a fall from the sidesaddle while attempting to make a jump much too daring for any real “lady.” These are the jelly roll race quilts that people start on and like so much that they decide to stay. There’s nothing wrong with this. I’m one of those people.

Here’s the thing: I love me some Pride and Prejudice. But that doesn’t mean I want to sew curved seams, or piece one inch almost-squares of fabric together only to have to use a curved seam to attach them. I would much rather sew a straight 1/4″ seam using manageable (I can see them without a magnifying glass) pieces of fabric with minimal cutting involved.

Enter: pre-cuts. I can’t tell you enough good things about pre-cut fabric. It all started a few years ago when fabric companies began selling 2 1/2″ x WOF (Width Of Fabric) strips to quilters. The nice thing about these “Jelly Rolls” (that’s what they’re called) is they go together perfectly. The fabrics are all from the same collection, which means there is literally zero thought involved in picking out fabric.

So. Simple.

Enter: little black rain cloud (five bucks if you get the reference… Except you, Mom. If you DON’T get the reference I will be floored). Pre-cuts are EXPENSIVE. Total bummer. Just when I get all excited, Kaia, you’re going to hit me with sticker shock. POW!

Well, hold on to your horses, dear readers (Mom, Elise, and Nikki)! I have a solution to this, too. And no, it’s not like the chapter in my raw food diet book on how to be raw on a budget that basically spent half a page (that was the entire chapter) guilt tripping me. Isn’t that thirteen dollar jar of raw almond butter worth your health? You’ll recoup the cost later when you don’t have cancer or need a lap band…I’d rather spend the $10 leftover from Peter Pan peanut butter on fabric or something else fun. In other words, I promise I’m going to give you real suggestions.

Enter: Jenny Doan. (I don’t know why I’m feeling like a playwright tonight…)

You WILL love this woman. I have been watching her for years. She’s a Mormon. I LOVE Mormons. I think they have one of the coolest systems of support for members, and I think they put the right amount of emphasis on family. I respect and appreciate that in today’s world of baby mama drama and foolish mistakes. Sorry, I got distracted. I didn’t know she was a Mormon until last week, or at least I didn’t read it on the website until last week. I think I always knew deep down that she was a Mormon and that is part of why I loved her so much.

Jenny Doan is also left handed. Woot.

Anyways, Jenny Doan, while not the owner (from what I can tell her son and daughter are the main partners in the shop), is the face of the Missouri Star Quilt Company. The MSQC invented the Quilters’ Daily Deal. The QDD is one of the best things to happen to quilting. It is up there with the advent of the seam ripper, rotary cutter, and pre-cut fabric. This brings me to my next point: MSQC has the largest selection of pre-cut fabric on the web. They use PCF (pre-cut fabric) for the QDD at least four times per week. Imagine, a Moda jelly roll, which usually runs for $39.50 or so, priced at $19 and change. I know. How awesome is that? SO awesome.

What else can MSQC do to help you ball on a budget? Well, they offer a TON of free tutorials on YouTube… Almost all of them feature Jenny Doan. Yessssss.

For the most part, the Missouri tutorials are pretty geared towards beginners. I made my first quilt from one of their tutorials, actually. I had been sewing for a while, I had promised my mom a quilt like a year before, Justin was still living in New Orleans and I was alone and missed him, and I saw this tutorial and literally, no joke, just happened to have a jelly roll that I had no clue how to use lying around. I had purchased it, much like the Kiwano Melon I ate last week, because I didn’t know what it was, I wanted to take it apart, and it was on sale. (yum.)

Jenny really inspired me to sew. I was up so late sewing the quilt that I slept through my alarm to pick Justin up at the airport at 5-something the next morning. Bad Kaia! He had to take a cab, poor guy! (Justin, I’m glad I was worth all the trouble in getting here. I am glad you came to visit, love you, and think you’re the very best.)

Here’s a photo of that first quilt. It now lives in the Utah condo on the couch, ready to warm chilly ski bunnies and boys at a moment’s notice. As you can see, I changed the pattern in the video… It turned out more like their Summer in the Park Tutorial… I don’t think I’ve ever made a pattern exactly. I always change something. Not even because I mean to, I just do. The border is a technique called chinese coins. I had no idea about that at the time. I called it making the quilt bigger so it would cover someone’s feet, and using up the extra fabric I had leftover. Go figure. 🙂

My First Quilt / My First Successful Sewing Project

My First Quilt / My First Successful Sewing Project

See? It's just right for couch snuggling after a long day on the slopes.

See? It’s just right for couch snuggling after a long day on the slopes.

The MSQC has inspired me many times with their giant selection and plethora of tutorials. The QDD has been fun because I have tried fabrics I never would have tried before, and I’ve really started branching out in regards to color and pattern. Thanks guys.

It would be remiss of me, however, not to mention some of the other amazing and fabulous resources out there on the web for FREE.

Kaye Wood, a woman who had her own quilting TV show for YEARS has began putting all of her shows on YouTube. She uses many of her own templates, but for the most part her stuff doesn’t require too many fancy tools or notions. She is very good at explaining things, and her quilt patterns and guests cater to all skill levels. One episode I particularly like is Rings That Bind, a modern twist on the traditional double wedding ring pattern. Ingenious. The supplies, if you’re interested, are for sale on Kaye’s site, here.

Quilt in a Day is another great resource for tools and tutorials. They have some free patterns as well. This is the easiest way I have ever seen flying geese done anywhere. MSQC demos them in one of their tutorials, here.

Looking at fabric manufacturers’ websites can get you free patterns as well. Here are some names to get you started: Moda, Benartex, Robert Kaufman, Alexander Henry, Riley Blake, RJR, Free Spirit, Windham Fabrics, Rowan, and Northcott.

Pinterest has THOUSANDS of quilting ideas, instructions for different sized-blocks, all kinds of wonderful things. You can follow me here.

There are also a lot of semi-web and non-web resources at your disposal for little or no cost. One is craigslist. I routinely see people posting fabric scraps under free stuff, and I usually find one or two listings under wanted for fabric and scraps. I once had a bunch of fabric left over from a nightmarish project that I truly never wanted to see again. Ever. I always feel bad throwing out usable fabric, though, so I stashed it behind some other scraps until I could figure something out. I found an ad that said this chick would PAY ME for the fabric. Shoot, ya’ll. I met that girl in the Sonic parking lot and bought her a limeade for taking that dratted fabric off my hands. It was a win-win. She got about two yards of brightly-colored, high-quality scraps, AND a free limeade; I never had to see that fabric again. Ever… And I bought myself a limeade, too. Craigslist is also a great place for used machines, machine feet and accessories, and other notions and tools.

The absolute best resource in the world, however, is your Local Quilt Shop (LQS). My LQS is called Tea Time Quilting. It’s a family business, run by Jana and her daughters (Jilena and Jaelyn… I sincerely hope I spelled those correctly) and husband. They are all wonderful people. It’s clean, organized, and since I have never made a quilt entirely from a pattern, I can tell you first hand they are ready and willing to help you figure yardage and pick out something just a little bit different, or really help you with whatever you ask… They are going to get their own post soon. 🙂

Quilters are generally a very friendly and helpful bunch. If you want to start quilting (or just sewing for that matter; quilts are an excellent place to start as they are useful, allow for error, help you get to know your machine, and don’t need to have any curved seams or complex pieces), start asking around. You can get pretty far with no money. I had a rotary cutter I didn’t like (it was made for righties and didn’t cut the fabric properly if I cut with my left hand) and had retired from use, and I ended up giving it away to a woman who wanted one but couldn’t come up with the cash right then.

Strike up conversations with fellow quilters in the shop. Often their experience is extremely valuable, plus you may make a few friends. Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re poor and looking for second-hand stuff. Some people have baskets of old but still perfectly good stuff that they have replaced with a more advanced tool or a different color or whatever, sitting in a closet because they didn’t want to wastefully toss it but didn’t have a use for it either. You may be the answer to their problem, too. (See Above.)

One last thing: don’t be afraid to experiment. Quilting is fun, and necessity is the mother of creativity. Use what you have creatively to make your own tools and find your own solutions.

The Dress Up Trunk (Warning: Lots of parenthetic descriptors)

The dress up trunk started as a labor of love by my Mom for Elise and I. She spent hours scouring remnant bins at SewFro and Hancock’s. She spent even more hours sewing elastic sequin belts and little skirts and dresses and pirate costumes. She donated some old, strange jewelry to the cause (think peach pit necklace she was given at a Mardi Gras parade). She poured a lot of love into that box… And the whole time she was doing it, all my Dad could think was, “Poor Kelley… They are NEVER going to play with that thing…”

Boy, was he wrong.

As you can see, Elise is having a marvelous time in her metallic top, tutu, pirate skirt, curling ribbon tiara, and genuine Ruby Slippers. (The general rule with the DUT is the more the merrier: the more articles of clothing you can adorn yourself with at a single time, the happier you will be. Good job, Elise!)

The Dress Up Trunk

Elise and I wore it until it was threadbare, and gave it to friends, who also loved it to shreds and then gave it to their cousins. The oddball collection of costumes was one of the coolest things we owned. It was a creative outlet and a gateway for our imaginations. We spent hours playing boarding school (Seriously… I was always the teacher, we were usually in Eastern Europe, and Elise, the perpetual pupil, was having to run away or be hidden from something, so the game always began with a journey of epic proportions, and that journey of epic proportions, for reasons I don’t remember, almost always began in her closet), pirate ship, magical princess ball, and, every girl’s favorite, wedding day (don’t worry, Elise got to be the bride sometimes… Not nearly as often as me, of course). I can’t stress enough how much we loved that thing.

Those memories are what drove me to make a contemporary facsimile of the infamous dress up trunk as a Christmas gift for my 5 year-old (for all intents and purposes) step daughter Caroline and her two younger half-sisters.

So I began. I scoured the remnants bin at Joann’s, came up with little (it’s the 20-tweens, a lamé drought!), and scoured for coupons instead. If you are not yet in the know, you can get any item in the store at any given time for at least 40% off. Seriously. They always have sales running and coupons available, either in the store, in mailers, or online. I got great deals on all kinds of fun fabrics. They have a whole aisle, which I have fondly dubbed “The Quinceñera Depot,” where one can find about ten different styles of fancy, wedding-inspired apparel fabric in about 20 different colors. I had a field day. I didn’t even know that they made aqua lace, much less that I could get a yard of it for less than $5. I also found some light pink knit jersey with navy stripes and skulls. They even make jungle green spandex that has little scale-looking things on it, just like a mermaid’s tail! It’s really pretty amazing, the amount of unique (tacky) things available out there.

I had a windfall during my second trip ever to Hobby Lobby. Trim was on sale! I got several yards of fringe and sequined elastic. I even located some hot pink fringe with sequins in the actual fringe. Woohoo!

Then, I sewed. I sewed and sewed and sewed. I kept sewing some more. I got the world’s coolest serger for my birthday, thanks Mom and Dad, and kept humming right along (though I did so with a new sense of professionalism; all my seams now looked lovely and store-bought). I sewed close to 40 items for that thing. I’m sure Justin, despite hearing Dad’s reassurances that we played with ours until we grew out of all the costumes, wondered if I was crazy at times, staying up until late at night fooling with a tulle skirt that simply wouldn’t come out the way I wanted.

I made a gold pleather skirt (yes, gold pleather exists), several pairs of harem pants (don’t worry, we called them Jasmine pants in front of the munchkin… The last thing I want is her asking me to explain a harem), a head scarf with jingly coins, an indigo satin cape with black glitter stars and moons, a wizard’s cloak with purple sleeves, a black-and-white polka dot skirt, a purple metallic evening gown, an asymmetrical disco-ball dress, a pair of electric yellow and electric blue cheetah print shorts (it’s in the material pic at the top… I wish I had gotten more yardage for myself. I felt that way about several of the fabrics. So did Nikki.)… and a wedding veil and skirt to top them all.

This is, of course, not mentioning the notorious flower girl-turned-princess dress that you can still see traces of in my kitchen sink. This creation started when Justin, Caroline, and I were all in Justin’s best friend Jacob’s wedding to Cami. The wedding was beautiful and went off without a hitch. At the end of it all, though, we ended up with a large-running size six wedding dress replica, which had set me back about $80, that there was no chance in Christendom Caroline would wear again.

(My bridesmaid dress, on the other hand, is a flattering deep purple and will be recycled into an organization in Houston that gives out prom dresses for free to girls who don’t have the money to buy their own dress but still want to go to their prom. They literally just have to call and say they are showing up, and they get a free dress, make-up, and accessories! There are several organizations like this throughout Houston and the entire US. Conduct a search for one in your area if you too have dresses from sorority formals or friends’ weddings collecting dust in your spare bedroom closet. Some organizations also need cocktail-type dresses and give them out for girls to wear to graduation and other senior events, so if that’s all you got bring ’em on!)

Back to the FG dress… What was I to do?

I got the bright idea to dye the 100% polyester creation. It was a disaster. The first time (HA) I dyed it, it came out splotchy. It was no surprise, since apparently polyester is the most difficult thing to dye by far. After round two, this time with a lot more dye and some vinegar to set it, I achieved a reasonable shade of aqua (see Aquamarine, under the blue-green shades). It was still splotchy, but not nearly as noticeable as the first trial. (I’ll make another, separate post with a photographic account of the princess dress, for those of you interested in laughing at my folly.)

I bejeweled it to moderate success, and then I sewed a feather boa around the top of the bodice and sewed on a few dozen beads. Caroline LOVED it.

At the end of her stay, I told her she could keep two outfits here and could take the rest home. Luckily, the princess dress is staying. 🙂 She was torn about leaving her wedding veil. Conclusion: I told her I would make her another one for here. I went back to Joann’s today to buy some more white lace for a veil. I also bought some awesome fabric to make a new wedding skirt, as well as some bright-white brocade for a wedding tunic to go under aforementioned wedding skirt. I hope she will be pleased. I also have some leftover tulle for another skirt for her. I also never actually used the aqua lace and figured it would make lovely sleeves for something, or perhaps a princess something-or-other since it matches that dress quite nicely.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’m done with the dress up trunk. Though I am not quite willing to admit it yet, I’ll probably make another dress up trunk’s worth of tacky clothes to stay here at Casa Kaia and Justin.

Which, really, is fine. I absolutely love that girl. I think she is smart and talented and beautiful and amazing and helpful and, well, just a wonderful person. It brings me pure joy to see her face light up when she accomplishes something or her mile-wide smile when she runs to me yelling “My Kaia!” and wiggles into my arms for a hug. I can’t think of anyone or anything better to spend my time and energy on, and that’s the truth.

Watching her open the trunk up was certainly the highlight of my Christmas (the three of us opened gifts as a family on Tuesday, complete with a treasure hunt to find her new bike), and I hope she and her sisters enjoy it. Below are a few pictures of Wedding – Evening Gown Caroline, Rudolph – Gypsy Caroline, and Pirate – Model Caroline. There is also a picture of the munchkin, Justin, and her new bike. Did I mention she’s athletic, too? 🙂

Chicken Contest

A few weeks ago Justin and I were talking about where we were going to eat for dinner, and no one wanted to choose. This is a common occurrence with us. The common solution, which Justin suggested then, was rock-paper-scissors. Whoever lost had to decide where we were going AND pay. I “lost.” I chose Popeye’s. I won.

That night, the chicken contest was born. We decided to try all the fried chicken we could find and decide what was best. Before you read on, I should warn you: this contest, if you can even call it that, is completely arbitrary and has no rules. The reliability and validity of our findings are poor, and our methods are questionable. If you decide to go by something we say, you do so at your own peril. 🙂

Since that Saturday, we have been eating fried chicken for lunch or dinner every Saturday. Popeye’s was first, and it was delectable.The biscuits were buttery, the red beans and rice were spicy, and the chicken was juicy, crispy, and good good good! The people who work at the Popeye’s on Shepherd at W 11th are incredibly nice. The whole shebang constitutes a pleasant dining experience. I was truly delighted with my choice and purchase. I won like Charlie Sheen.

I think one of the reasons I like Popeye’s is that it’s the chicken I grew up on. When we were growing up, Elise knew two kinds of chicken: chicken on the grill (which is exactly what it sounds like) and chicken on the bone (FRIED chicken!). That’s still one of my favorite Elise-isms. She has so many good ones. When we ate chicken on the bone we either ate it at home, when Dad made it, or at Popeye’s. Dad does make some tasty fried chicken, for the record. I can eat a LOT of it. Yum. Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m saying nothing more than, “You have not made fried chicken in a long time, and you know we all really like it when you do.” He also makes the world’s best potato pancakes. There’s a good story about those, but I am starting on a tangent.

Back to the chicken contest.

The next week we went to KFC, and it was gross. I mean it. Disgusting. The chicken was soggy! Literally. Soggy. Ew. The gravy (which I had to try, because Cartman on Southpark is sooo obsessed with it) was nasty. The quality of service was poor. I mean, Justin asked for a breast and a thigh (hehehe, I know I’m like an 11 year old but that’s still funny to me!), and they couldn’t even do that! The girl was downright rude! Everything was just gross. I don’t ever think I will go back.

I wanted to write a letter to Southpark telling the producers that Cartman has no logical reason to be obsessed with such a terrible place. I mean, remember the episode where the guys get mad at Cartman because he eats all the skin off the bucket of chicken, and he says, “I don’t get what ya’ll are mad at I left you the good part,” after they come back from helping Stan’s mom bring in groceries? Directly after that he leaves. Well, that’s pretty bad. Hilarious yes, but awful. Now imagine that the chicken skin was soggy. THE HORROR!

I wanted to write another letter to Popeye’s, offering my services to their marketing team. If they don’t want to hire me, that’s fine, but they need to hire someone. I mean, how is KFC beating them?! How is it that Popeye’s is that much better, and people still eat at KFC?! Marketing! Everyone knows KFC: the face, the jingle, but of the four people I polled, all of whom are serious Popeye’s fans, no one could sing, “Love that chicken from POPEYE’S!” No one! It’s kind of sad, really. If someone at Popeye’s reads this, I would be happy to work for ya’ll and help turn this thing around.

KFC doesn’t deserve a letter.

Last week was by far the most interesting in the contest yet: Justin likes Church’s the most now. That’s right. Church’s beat out Popeye’s in a national spicy recipe taste test, and Justin agrees with the majority! I liked the chicken. It was about the same as Popeye’s for me. I also liked that they had okra. I love okra. What I was unimpressed with (which Justin liked) were the red beans. I thought they were lacking. Justin really liked them, though, and they weren’t bad, but they weren’t my favorite.

The biscuits at Church’s, however, were really good. They put honey on them as part of the baking process. I am a huge fan. They were some of the yummiest biscuits I’ve ever had. They also looked like homemade biscuits: nice and ugly. Nothing like some good homestyle cooking. I wonder if I can figure out how to duplicate that…

What with both the chicken and biscuits being delectable, I’d say I am also a Church’s fan. I guess the best way to put it is this: if I wanted chicken, I wouldn’t pass up a Church’s to get to a Popeye’s. I would pass up KFC to get to anything else.

On a side note, I had surgery last week, and I was still sort of on pain killers when we ate Church’s, so my opinion is most likely a little skewed. That’s also why I didn’t write on the blog at all. Sorry about that, but everything I wrote was complete nonsense. Think Alice In Wonderland. I actually decided to work on a story, and wrote a good 2500 words on it, but the next day re-read it and had to delete delete delete. I had, in my delerium, decided to add magic to the plot. Nikki got a real kick out of that when I told her. Narrator foul. 🙂

Tomorrow should be good. Justin and I are going to try Hartz Chicken Buffet. Rod and Zsazsa said they have eaten there several times and that it’s pretty good. We’ll see about that! Popeye’s still reigns supreme for me.

Gabby’s BBQ, My Franken-Mug, and Miss Caroline :-)

1. I was supposed to defrost some steaks (cut from one of the beef tenders we got on sale at Rice E.) and fry them up for dinner. Instead, the steaks, green beans, and as-yet-undetermined starch will be waiting for us tomorrow night… Justin took me to the Drive Thru at Gabby’s BBQ. (I am such a cheap date!) I got a meal in a peel. Yum. I highly recommend one. Get extra sauce. You’ll be happy you did.

2. I am a huge fan of good, clean fun. It’s underrated. My new fave spot for GCF is The Mad Potter, a paint your own pottery chain here in H-town. I went there last week with Hannah, my cousin, and painted a Franken-mug. Hannah painted a mustache mug… A ginger mustache mug. I’ll let you in on a little secret: The Mad Potter has excellent people watching on Friday nights. We had so much fun! I can’t wait to pick our pieces up.

If you want to go and try it out, I’d like to send you in with one piece of advice: Don’t get frustrated. I am artistic. I actually almost majored in ceramics. I love making things. And painting the stupid pasta bowl I started out with nearly gave me an apoplexy from frustration. Hannah, an extremely talented painter and drawer, had the same problem. I sympathized with her over our mugs, telling her that the pasta bowl I painted looked like something an 11-year-old had made. Basically we determined that it’s not the same thing. It won’t look perfect, like their little examples they have everywhere. It’s NOT easy. So. When you go in, expect to leave with something it looks like your kid painted, and you’ll be much happier than if you go in feeling like Rembrandt. 

3. Caroline is Justin’s 5-year-old daughter. I adore her. She is a fabulous human being. She calls mermaids “Mee-murs,” and her favorite chips are Doritos. I love her. Today I got to video chat with her. Thanks to modern technology, it took us five minutes to talk Justin’s mom through Google chat’s video app setup, and we actually got to see the little rascal. What a cutie pie! She was wearing one of the shirts I had gotten her for school. I got her a bunch of Gap, Children’s Collection, and Hanna Andersson… Mom and I had to pry ourselves out of the Hanna Andersson catalog today. We love their clothes. They are this thick, indestructible cotton. They are bright. They are awesome. AND… They have a store in the Galleria.

Caroline is going to be a ballerina for Halloween. I am going to get her a ballerina bow from Bubbly Bows. These bows are on another level, people. They are little alligator clips with works of grosgrain art on them. They also had a witch’s hat and a panda bear. Caroline showed us her drawing of the Liberty Bell, complete with large black crack. She said school was going really well. 🙂 She also showed us the book she is reading. Something about the Berstein Bears and “Spooky.”

I can’t wait for her to come and visit again. I am really hoping we get to take her to the Renaissance Festival with us. I think she would love it. Elise and I always did, and every kid I have ever seen there looks to be having a marvelous time. Once we get our plans finalized with that, I’m going to try to make her a costume! That way she can get her face painted, and have the Twisted Sisters braid her hair, and get sprinkled in fairy dust, and eat a turkey leg in high style. I’ll have to consult The Master (Mom) on her costume. I had my birthday party at RenFest one year, and she made all my friends these really pretty purple dresses… Mom also made all of my friends poodle skirts for my sock hop birthday party when I turned 5. Then the Elvis impersonator made me cry (at least I think that’s what happened… it was a long time ago) and we ate cake and everyone went home. What an awesome party! I wonder if she would throw a party like that for me this year…

My Mom pretty much always has the best ideas EVER. When Caroline visited her house in Florida this summer, Mom had all these awesome projects for her to do. They made a tshirt with crayons and sand paper, Mom showed her what seashells to look for, we all went on the beach at night with a flashlight and looked for crabs… Caroline had a stupendous time. Mom knows what’s up. That’s why, tonight when we were talking to Caroline and I told her, “Kelley says hello, and she misses you. She told me that today,” (which she had, while we looked through the Hanna A. catalog) Caro replied, “I miss her too. She is nice and always does fun things. I love her.

I love her too. All moms are awesome, but my Mom is the best. 🙂 She will know exactly what costume to make for the most adorable, pretty, and smart little girl I know for her first foray into the magic that is the Renaissance Festival. Then, when I mess up while making said costume, she will know exactly how to fix whatever it is I did. I’m so lucky to have her on speed dial. I love you, Mom!!!

What’s for dinner? : The answer in 11 EASY steps!

Last night it was American food. Good old-fashioned Gulf Coast grub. We had baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, and greens.

It was EASY. You know those people who talk about burning water? Here is a weeknight dinner even they can cook! Here it is in easy steps…

(Don’t be scuured. Most of the longer steps are filled with parenthetical notes. I promise they’re easy.)

1. Defrost the chicken. If your chicken is not frozen, skip ahead to 2.

2. Marinate the chicken in Allegro’s Hot and Spicy Marinade. This stuff is the bomb. It works great with everything. Venison is a particular fave of Justin and mine. Most stores carry it or its less spicy cousin. The spicy one is not that spicy though. Let it soak this up for 15 or 20 minutes. (You can do this for up to 4 hours. If you want to do it all day I would recommend diluting the marinade 1:1 with water, or else it can get a little salty.) While it’s soaking, preheat the oven to 350°F.

3. Use two paper plates. Crack an egg on one and scramble it around. Pour about a handful of breadcrumbs per piece of chicken on the other, and season them up. I like lemon pepper, plain pepper, cayenne, oregano… Basically this is your chance to go to town with any herbs or spices you like. Garlic powder, anyone?

4. Now, there is a proper way to do this and the way I do this, which requires substantially less time, resources, and dirtying of dishes (or paper plates). If you feel like being fancy (or culinarily correct), this is where you would dump some flour out onto a third paper plate and dredge the chicken in that first. I don’t think it matters enough to bother so I just go straight into the egg and straight into the crumbs. (Note: Make sure you mix the spices in. I had a lot of cayenne sitting right on top once and surprised a guest because all the spice ended up on their piece. Oops.) Then put the chicken smooth side up on a sprayed pan. Lather. Rinse. Repeat as needed. Pop it in the oven.

5. Put water in the mac pan and get the bowl with the milk, “cheese,” and butter ready. (I feel bad for all ya’ll who thought this would be fancy macaroni and cheese. This is the blue box kind. At Foodarama, the off brand is on sale every third week for 35¢ per box. There is a little less in there, but seeing as it’s a side dish, that doesn’t matter so much. I’m all for generic.) Open the can of greens (yes, the can… preferably a big can at that. You don’t want to run out of greens. Substitute green beans, peas, or whatever vegetable blows your skirt up. If you’re worried about sodium, rinse the canned veggies in a colander or use frozen ones. Frozen cut okra goes especially well in a pan with a can of diced tomatoes or RoTel. More on that some other time.) and toss it in a pan. Don’t turn that on. Walk away.

6. Go relax for ten minutes. 😉

7. Check the chicken. Turn it around in the oven if you need to. (I need to. My oven is vintage. It’s got little triangles on it, and the 1960’s equivalent of a popcorn button.) Turn on the mac water. Go relax for another 5.

8. Put the mac in the water and turn the greens on medium low heat. (Medium high if you’re using my favorite frozen okra!) Set the table, complete with trivets. * Check the noodles. If they’re done continue. If not, go give boo a kiss (you can give him more kisses, but don’t get too involved because you might be in danger of forgetting the noodles on the stove.) and repeat from * until you can move on. Boo will like this step, especially if you’re quick with setting the table.

9. Drain the noodles. Mix them with the sauce stuff. On the table it goes. Put the greens on a trivet on the table. Get the chicken out (total cooking time should have been around thirty minutes; cut in and make sure the pink is gone) and put it on the other trivet.

10. Ring the dinner bell. Stand at the stairs and yell. Do whatever it is you do, girl, cause I know you do it well.

11. Bon Appetit. Other things you can put on the table are hot sauce and ranch dressing for the greens and chicken. If that’s really not enough food for your family make a salad. Cut up a head of lettuce and throw in some cherry tomatoes… add some grated carrots if you’re feeling really fancy. See? Easy pesy.

Ta-da! Dinner in about thirty-two minutes, if you don’t count marinating time. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed my dinner tutorial. Let me know! I can start doing them once a week or something. Dinner in eleven steps or less type thing.

Missoni for Target Recap, GF Goodness, and Cautionary Tales from Bulk Foods

1. I went to Target yesterday for Missoni. There was so little Missoni I felt like weeping. They done been cleaned OUT. Mom said people at the Target on Main had been taking things out of each other’s carts. Party foul, Target shoppers. Apparently one lady even got all in Mom’s business, asking, “Are you talking to someone at the San Felipe store?!?!?” Mom was talking to Aunt Stacie in Atlanta. Wow. Just… Wow. A woman at my cheap Target on 290 insisted to me that she knows the Chronicle’s fashion editor, and that she said Target would be re-stocking through October. My take? Target only buys the Missoni name for a certain number of items for a certain amount of time. If the website is sold out, then I doubt there will be more Missoni on Target shelves in Houston, Texas. I know, Doomsday. Sorry, loves. eBay has a fabulous selection, though.

2. I love Rice Epicurean Markets. First of all, they have amazing specials on meat every weekend. Beef tenderloins are ridiculously cheap. The guys at the butcher counter will even cut the one you want into roasts and steaks and freezer pack it all for you. Second, it can get crowded, but not in the way Central Market or the gigantic Kroger near my house can. You can pretty much always be in and out of there in less than thirty minutes, even if you’re getting a fair amount of stuff. Thirdly, and most importantly, Rice carries a ton of Gluten-Free options. This is important because Nikki and Hannah (my BFF and Fave Lil’ Cuz-lette, respectively) are both celiac. I have found all kinds of gluten-free temptations on their aisles. GF chocolate chip pancakes, anyone? Yes, please! They are frozen and delicious and perfect for school mornings. Also frozen are GF lemon streusel muffins, blueberry waffles, chocolate-coated donuts, and cinnamon raisin bread. They have tons of different flours, flavored crackers and pretzels, and they even have GF breadcrumbs! It’s so nice to be able to cut that step out of cooking. Trustworthy GF shortcuts are not always easy to find. I got Hannah a bunch of gluten-free booty (arg!) the other day before our girls’ night out, and when I was leaving the parking lot I actually called Rice’s corporate headquarters to thank them for making Hannah and Nicole a priority. How nerdy am I?? While Fiesta is still my usual destination (they also have a lot of GF items in stock), Rice is by far the best place to go for celiac snacks.

3. I made Gluten-Free French Bread for Nikki on our Friend-iversary. It was very tasty, and  it was admittedly difficult for Justin and I to stop quality-controlling her gift. The recipe is posted in PDF on the Recipes page, and linked to the original website here. Thank you, Sonja Stewart, for coming up with this excellent recipe! I will definitely be making it again.

4. A note about the bulk food department: BEWARE. The bulk food section is chock full of cross-contamination. I know, I sound like Alton Brown. It’s the truth, though! There is no way to keep people from using the wrong scoops in bins, spilling items between bins, or (yuck) sticking their grubby hands into bins. I just spoke to an associate in bulk at Central Market on the phone, and he said, “It’s frustrating to watch people just reach on in for almonds with their hands in front of everyone on a Saturday.” NARSTY!!! Apparently their time is more valuable than others’ health. CM, Whole Foods, and Fiesta all had similar stellar sterilization methods for cleaning bins between uses, but unfortunately no one can control that human factor. Fiesta and Whole Foods mentioned routinely cleaning the bulk area, washing the scoops regularly, vacuuming and wiping down the bins throughout the day, and tossing merchandise known to be contaminated with potential allergens. WF goes so far as to set up it’s organic goods above its conventional ones, and non-allergen products above allergens to prevent cross-contamination as much as possible. Good work, Whole Foods! ¡Buen trabajo, Fiesta! (Note: I’m not saying Kroger and CM don’t, but I did inquire about the general regimen and neither of their employees mentioned these things.) So. If you’re cooking for someone with an allergy, say a Nikki, and you want to get some soy powder, it’s probably not the best to buy it from CM bulk where it sits between a wheat product and a milk product, and there is indeterminate white stuff everywhere. I asked the lady to please get me some from the back. Just something to keep in mind. 🙂

Halloween Rap!

Here is my family in our sweet JibJab Halloween Rap. 🙂 I think SoCo is my favorite. Or Rico. Or Justin as a ten foot avocado. Hope you enjoy it enough to MWAHAHAHAHA out loud.

Halloween Rap

I really like JibJab. I think it is one of the best subscriptions I have, up there with the Economist and XM.

Once Jessica finally emails me a photo of herself, I will post the Frankenstein in a Minute. It is HILARIOUS.