Friday, March 26, 2010

Selvage Ethnography: Fashion in the Fray

One thing fashion bloggers never seem to talk about is function. There's the Teacher Costume blogs, of course, and all sorts of Rescued Clothes and Work Outfits, but what about clothes that have to look good AND put up with a lot of wear? And what do you do when the wear is just a little too much? This post is my first attempt to step in that direction--toward Pretty Clothes That Survive.

Once upon a time I was buying clothes for fieldwork in Belize. My Belize wardrobe consisted of cheap shirts and my two trusty pairs of Banana Republic bermudas (two pairs, in khaki and black, long-since dubbed my Jungle Pants) that have made it around the world and back more times than is probably fair to them. The key in finding clothes for the kind of work I was doing was to find some balance between Oh Lawd, It's So Hot I'm Melting and For the Love of God, Have Some Shame! If you're trying to convince people to let you interview their children, it's not like you can just wander around the beach in your Daisy Dukes.

My fashion inspiration in all of this was a line from Julia Alvarez's How the García Girls Lost Their Accents:

"Yolanda sees herself as they will, shabby in a black cotton skirt and jersey top, sandals on her feet, her wild black hair held back with a hair band. Like a missionary, her cousins will say, like one of those Peace Corps girls who have let themselves go so as to do dubious good in the world."

In other words, I decided to keep dressing up. While it's obviously important to be aware of the complex aesthetics (and, often, economic inequalities) of a postcolonial space, I decided that dressing too far down--something many of my American friends in Belize seemed awfully prone to--would be disrespectful to the people I'd be working with. So, in the spirit of professionalism, I was determined not to be one of these girls. Since I was seeking the help of consultants ranging from upper-level educational administration to Rastafari craftspeople, the challenge was to find clothes that were breathable, modest, and passable as businesslike without being extravagant. Ready-to-wear was surprisingly accomodating that summer, but my most prized piece was a lovely last hurrah from Isaac Mizrahi for Target (RIP), a pink 100% cotton shirtdress with sturdy pockets. Pockets, it should be noted, are DEEPLY important in all things--and a rare commodity in women's clothing.

Here's a shot of me looking rather ghostly in it:

Unfortunately, the combination of rainy season and a hand-dyed bag I bought for carrying my notebooks got the better of the dress. The strap of the bag was deep blue, and it seemed that the back of my dress would also be deep blue forever. However, I loved the dress so much that I couldn't make myself get rid of it, even two years later in a fairly unwearable state.

I found the dress again when undertaking the Great Bedroom Excavation of 2010--which, by the way, I have demurred from blogging because it's going to have to happen in stages. Lots of stages. This is what it looked like:

And here is why I stopped wearing it:

I decided that it was time to put it back into the rotation, so I went to the grocery store and picked up a package of RIT Color Remover and two packages of RIT Navy Blue powder dye. (Navy Blue just seemed the obvious choice, given the color of the stain, and I figured that the Color Remover would help the final color look more even.)

I don't usually dye things. I am clumsy enough that I tend to avoid chemicals, and Laine and I do not have a functional washing machine. But this was personal. So as not to ruin any of our good cooking pots, I heated about three quarts of water in a stainless steel tureen on the stove, then put on some gloves and poured the water into our cast-off recycling bin with the packet of Color Remover. Then I threw the dress into the bin and stirred it with a big stick for about ten minutes.

Most of the color actually faded within the first few minutes.
Chemistry is awesome!

Then the dress looked like this:

I was actually pretty in love with the desaturated peach color, but Mizrahi's penchant for bright orange things still quite literally showed through. I thought it would look pretty silly to have giant orange blobs on my thighs, so I kept going with the Navy Blue dye. After I rinsed out the dress, I basically repeated the process shown above, but this time instead of Color Remover I added both packets of dye, a cup of table salt, and about a tablespoon of Forever New.

The end result was surprisingly good:

I rinsed it out as best I could (outside, of course), then let it dry on this branch overnight. The next day, I ran it through Shaun's washing machine (thanks!) and dryer. The final color is a nice purpleish blue. To test its colorfastness and to demonstrate my commitment to Pretty Clothes That Survive I incorporated it into my Chilly Weather Rainy Day Adventure Costume:

Two miles and lots of mud later...

Dress: Isaac Mizrahi for Target, dyed with RIT
Tights: Cynthia Rowland, via Gilt
Pashmina: Gift
Blazer: Old Navy, stolen from Shaun
Socks: Old Navy, stolen from Shaun
Shoes: Dr. Martens, stolen from Shaun

Over all, I would call this project a success. Two points of advice, however:

A) Don't use two packets of dye unless you want to be rinsing your garment for a VERY long time.

B) Follow the directions and use rubber gloves. I thought I could get away with using vinyl ones, but now my hands are sort of violet-colored. At least I'm matching.

And now, a nonsensical but vaguely relevant musical interlude!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


That title sums up everything that's going on in my head right now. PHIL CHAMBLISS IS ON TEH INTERWEBZ!!! I generally try to keep my posts here connected to clothing and food, but this epic news is a necessary exception.
The first time I ever saw any of Chambliss's work was at a screening for the first DVD to accompany the Oxford American Southern film issue. Chambliss's work was included thanks to Derek Jenkins (Derek, where/are you blogging these days?), and, since then, Derek has been the only source I knew of for any of Chambliss's films. Apparently somewhat of a recluse, Chambliss lives in Camden, Arkansas (a 30 minute drive from my own hometown of El Dorado), and his films have been hard to get hold of. Now, as Derek posted on Google Reader earlier today, some of Chambliss's clips have shown up on youtube, courtesy of Chambliss himself.

Keep an eye on this. Phil Chambliss is a genius! I'm hoping to somehow get hold of The Hatchet Man.


For the first weekend of spring break, Christian and I took a last minute trip to Dallas to see my friends Philip & Shea. I miss both of them terribly since they've moved back to Dallas, and recently posted a $75 round trip Tulsa-Dallas fare. If you haven't subscribed to your nearby airports' feeds via that site, do so immediately! Our plane was delayed, and we had to go through some nasty weather getting out of Tulsa. I'm almost certain that Christian ended up with some fingertip-shaped bruises on his knee from me gripping it through all the turbulence. To be quite honest, I'm terrified of flying, which is probably why I love it so much. I'm kind of a masochist like that.

Airplane costume #1: (notice how nice the weather was before we left Fayetteville? Sneaky)
Sweater: F21
Boots: Blowfish 
Necklace: Vintage via my mom

There is little photographic evidence of the actual Dallas adventure. It consisted of amazing food, museums, and, of course, cute cats!!

Georgia, the newest addition to Philip & Shea's household:


The return trip went much more smoothly:

Recipe for a moment of perfect happiness:
1 cheap flight
1 tiny bag of peanuts (tiny food!!)
1 Cormac McCarthy novel
1 Jack & coke
0 turbulence

Blood Meridian actually reminded us that the last time we'd been to Tulsa was to see The Road over Christmas break. Now, I love (LOVE) Cormac McCarthy. I love how spare his writing is. Strangely, I love the same thing about Murakami Haruki. This similarity may, however, be an effect of not reading Murakami in Japanese. It's one of my life goals to read kanji well enough to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the way that Murakami wrote it. Not to mention 1Q84. When will they release an English translation already?! Absolute torture.
Anyway, McCarthy never overwrites, and I never thought that a film adaptation of any of his novels would be possible. The Coen brothers, however,  proved me so very wrong with No Country for Old Men. That film worked because it was, like McCarthy's writing, stark and full of silence. The film adaptation of The Road was just the opposite -  completely overwrought. Christian hadn't read the novel when we saw the film, and I wish I could remember how I'd explained my distaste at the time. Something about how McCarthy doesn't get in the way of his language or imagery. But the film adaptation tried to grab hold of , pin down, and explain events and emotions that should have been left alone to speak for themselves. And sniveling, annoying child actor was sniveling and annoying. Anyway, I'm obviously no film critic. I'm sure I'll think of a better way to say it at 3am. Back to frivolous things.

Airplane costume #2 (Sorry for the crap image quality - I left my Rebel with Dolly & only had my iPhone)

Dress: Target
Velvet blazer: Banana Republic
Shoes: Target (slip-ons are SO necessary for airport security lines)
Backpack: Nelson's Leather

Obi-style belt: LoobyLou Crafts 

Lastly, I checked a bag. This is a rare occurrence. Here is said bag (wrapped in plastic):
The surrounding circumstances will have to remain a mystery for now. I'll only say that it has something to do with fufu.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Breakin' 2: Electric Blizzardloo

So, remember how I said Chiba loves snow? Well, we woke up to a foot of it this morning, and she rejoiced:
There was so much snow, she actually had to eat her way across the yard!
She also enjoys leaping to catch snowballs in the air, wringing their necks, then eating them.

When you're from Arkansas, the first thing you learn about playing in the snow is how to be efficient. In other words, when you're building a snowman, you are trained to get EVERY BIT OF SNOW on your parents' property. (If you've only got an inch or two, you've got to make it count!) As a result, most kids have really grassy snowmen. Today, we were spoiled. We used our skills to amass a really tall pile of snow, and then were at a loss as to what to do with it. Good scholars that we are, Phillip and I decided to turn it into a giant portrait of Karl Marx:

Snow Marx has a bit of a fro, but all things considered, I think we did a pretty good job.

Here's a close up:

The detail was kind of hard to see, so we decided to do his
eyes, mouth, and hair with charcoal and ashes from the grill.

We also thought we should document our snow-sculpting outfits.

Here's Shaun:

Yes, that is a Cobra Commander coat. And a Mork shirt.
Shaun's weather gear comes straight from his box of old Halloween costumes.

Here's Phillip:
Phil went a little more traditional with a Mighty Ducks in South Central sort of look.

And here's me:

I did not purchase any part of this outfit.

Pashmina: Gift from my friend Juliet's trip to Spain
Wolf shirt: Purchased by my BFF Maya at an auto show near my mom's house
Trenchcoat: Vintage Sears, gift from my friend Audrey
Cookie-Monster-molested-me jeans: Levi's, stolen from Shaun
Cowboy boots: Found on the side of the road (really!)

Joel was too cool to bother with a snow outfit.

He watched Heavy Metal in Baghdad instead.

The neighbors made some awesome snowstuff, too:

After a series of epic frustrations (getting trapped in my driveway after the city vehicles threw snow behind Shaun's car, misaligning Shaun's car even after shoveling out our driveway, having our purchases withheld at Wal-Mart, etc.), we decided it was necessary to devour lots of baked goods.

Since I promised my friend Auntie She-She some scones almost two months ago, I decided to finally make good on that. (It doesn't hurt that scones and tea are magical on a snowy day like today.)

A few years ago, when I started experimenting with scones, I happened upon this recipe. As much as I like just messing around and letting the alchemy happen, the scones that I made using that recipe were good enough to make me do it by the book almost every time.

Still, an important caveat before we get started. Ever since a horrible experience with British Starbursts, my already minimal patience for currants has been diminishing. What's a girl to use instead? CHERRIES. I cannot adequately convey how great cherries are in scones. Scones themselves are not meant to be sweet, so choosing the right fruit is really important. Cherries are complex! They are sweet enough to make it clear that scones are part of breakfast, tea, or dessert, but they have a tart kick to them that kills me every time. If you simply must use currants, I will not judge you. But really, extenuating circumstances aside, cherries will not let you down.

Here's what all you'll need for a batch:

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c white sugar
1/8 tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c dried cherries
1/2 c milk
1/4 c sour cream
(the most magical ingredient in baking, as far as I'm concerned)

1 large egg
1 tbsp milk

Here's the dough in progress:

This stuff can be really hard to work with at first, so be sure
a) to keep the butter pretty clumpy and
b) not to overwork the dough, as tempting as it is.

The trick is to just grab as much as you can and mush it together, honestly. Once you do that, it binds like a charm.

Here's what the scones ought to look like right before they go in the oven:

And here's what they ought to look like right after you take them out:

And here's what they ought to look like right before you eat them:

Tea is really necessary with these.
Today we had Earl Grey, but Vanilla Rooibos is pretty awesome, too.
I also highly recommend slicing a scone in half and slathering it with cherry preserves.

And, because I promised more insane (weather-inappropriate) but mood-maintaining Spring Breakin' costumes, here is what I wore to make scones:

Dress: Pomare
Socks: Stolen from Shaun, who owns only argyles (seriously)

And with that, I wish you good night. Stay tuned for The Great Bedroom Excavation of 2010!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Breakin': Snowed in with Boys

Spring break is upon us! Alas, although it was 70 degrees yesterday, we now have several inches of snow, and, as the old song goes, it's showing no sign of stopping. First day of spring, my ass.

Anyway, since Laine is out of town for the weekend, I took our Hipster Puppy, Sonny Chiba Las Vegas, to hang out with my boyfriend, Shaun, at his house. This has proven to be an exciting undertaking, especially given Chiba's boundless enthusiasm with regard to snow. In this respect, she is a better Southerner than any of the rest of us.

No, really.

Also, there's Shaun's roommate, Joel. Below I have attempted to summarize Joel's personality in Blingee format:

Joel has become one of Chiba's favorite people, for obvious reasons.

There's also Phillip, who has begun mimicking Chiba's every move. The likenesses are striking!

Amidst all this excitement, we all were still able to restrain ourselves long enough to watch what may well be the greatest movie...

that can bear the banner "Sci-Fi Original."

What Ice Spiders lacked in coherence and plausibility, it more than made up for with copious bro-speak and insane costume choices. Also, it was totally appropriate for this godawful weather.

While waiting to replenish our movie stash, we decided to cook an epic, vegetarian-friendly feast. Since Laine picked some spring onions while it was warm out, I decided to use them for a gigantic stir fry and some scallion pancakes. Scallion pancakes, it should be noted, are a HUGE point of contention between me and my homeland. Short of making them for oneself, they are nearly impossible to find in Chinese restaurants below the Mason-Dixon line. If you have ever eaten a scallion pancake, then you realize that this is totally fucking insane. I mean, it's not like we don't like fried things. For those of you in similar situations, observe.

This recipe is basically how I make scallion pancakes, but I use more flour (you definitely want thick dough for these) and I usually make them a little smaller so they cook faster. And, on this occasion we blew off the store-bought green onions in favor of...


So, we started with all this stuff:

2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp yeast+1 tsp sugar in 1/2 c warm water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
a whole mess of (soaked, scrubbed, and minced) WYLD SKALLYNS

We put 1 c flour in a bowl with the yeastysugarywater and stirred it until blended. Then we put the other 1 c flour in another bowl with the salt, the vegetable oil, and another 1/2 c warm water, and mixed that up, too. (We still had to add a few pinches of flour to get the stuff to bind right.) Next, we mashed both doughs together and let the newly-formed giant gob of dough rest for about half an hour. When we came back, the dough was much nicer, so we rolled it out, spiraled it into a log, and cut said log into 1-inch slices. We mushed those slices into circles, rubbed some oil on them, and sprinkled them with more WYLD SKALLYNS than you could possibly imagine. We pinwheeled the circles up to mix the SKALLYNS in, then mashed them flat again before pan-frying them on medium-high heat. Ultimately, they looked like this:

If you eat these (and you really, really should), it is imperative that
you dunk them in vast amounts of Bragg's Liquid Aminos. It's the law!

For the stir fry, Shaun used this recipe. This time, we substituted seitan for meat, used green bell peppers instead of peas, put in WAY more garlic, and used baby shiitakes instead of regular shiitakes. Oh yeah, and WYLD SKALLYNS!

11 baby shiitake mushrooms, plumped in water
(this keeps them from absorbing too much oil)
3 tbsp peanut oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a pinch of kosher salt
1/4 c minced carrot
1/4 c WYLD SKALLYNS, minced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
pinch red chile flakes
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce (Bragg's would work here, too!)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
3 c long-grain rice
1 c cubed seitan, marinated 1 hr in Bragg's Liquid Aminos and honey

Here's the work in progress:

And ready to eat!

Spring break is great for a lot of reasons, but getting to cook leisurely is one of the best.

Particularly if you're able to use this as an excuse to threaten those around you with a rolling pin.

Another great thing is that I get to wear outfits that are just not okay for work--or, in this case, most social situations. Today, for example, I wore one of my favorite dresses. It is so garish and psychedelic that is has been known to rob people of their vision. Chiba, however, is impervious to its powers:

Dress: Dynasty, via Cheap Thrills
Belt: Stolen from Shaun
Socks: Mossimo
Shoes: Mudd

But, hey, there's a lot of scary dresses in my closet, and there's a whole week of Spring Breakin' ahead of us! Stay tuned for our next installment:

Food Fetishism: Cake vs. Pie

There was an epic debate on Google Reader this week on whether cake or pie is better. My stance is that the ideal cake defeats the ideal pie, with the caveat that pie is easier to pull off. You can order a pie just about anywhere, and it will be edible. Cake, however, is alchemy. Combine disparate elements, apply heat, and you end up with something magical that is more than the sum of its parts. With so many steps and so much science to the art of baking, it's easy to screw  up in myriad ways. You can end up with something too dry, too sweet, with too much frosting or not enough. Not to mention, cakes are so versatile - you can even make them look like other food! In fact, there will be another post later about Food That Looks Like Other Food (I'm kind of obsessed with it).

And please, could there ever be a show called Ace of Pies? No, don't even play.

Here's what really settled it for me, though:


After seeing that video yesterday, I was inspired to make a LOST mm . . . cake! for our weekly LOSTnite. I basically improvised and made a kitchen sink cake - thus Blueberry Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Sort-of-Ganachey Frosting.  It turned out very nicely - very moist and not too sweet. The  frosting was the best part. Don't judge the decorating - I didn't have any fondant on hand and had to use whipped cream. 

For the cake: 
2 c flour
1 3/4 c sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
2 sticks unsalted butter
4tbsp cocoa
1 c water
2 eggs
1/2 bag of frozen blueberries (or fresh when they're in season)
cinnamon to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the flour & sugar. Boil water, butter, & cocoa in a sauce pan, then add to dry ingredients. Add remaining ingredients (careful not to scramble your eggs in the hot cocoa!). Pour into an 8x8 pan, & bake at 375 for about half an hour. I always test to see if it's done VERY often - I'm paranoid about dry cakes!

Now for the "sort-of-ganachey" frosting. This part was really made up, and all measurements are  approximate. I used the last of my cocoa in the cake, so I grabbed a chocolate bar. I didn't have any heavy cream on hand, so I used buttermilk. The texture was a little too liquidy, so I added just a touch of confectioner's sugar. I added the mayo as an emulsifier, as per Alton Brown's suggestion. Sounds gross, but you can't taste it at all, and it's much easier than using eggs.

1 bar of Ghirardelli extra dark chocolate
Handful of Hershey's cinnamon chips
About 1/2 c buttermilk
Mayonnaise as needed
Enough confectioner's sugar to stiffen the mixture (not much!)