I don't sew. I've mentioned this. But I'm not sure I've adequately underscored, italicized, capitalized and punctuated the point. I try to refrain from mulitple (lines of) exclamation points, so suffice it to say: I really don't sew.
I don't sew the way some New Yorkers don't cook. I don't mean the weekend kitchen warriors or the Dean-and-DeLuca assemblers. I mean the ones who consider their fridge a double AA and Viognier storage facility. Who do not own a frying pan, or for that matter, any pan. Who maintain a complete library of take-out menus, annotated and alphabetized, and stored in their oven.
I am not feigning humble, here. I don't mean I've not yet mastered zipper insertion, or am stuck in square-block quilt territory, or that I sometimes cheat with the iron-in stuff when pants need hemming. Pants that need hemming are sent promptly packing. Shirt lost a button? Salvation Army, stat. I do windows. I don't do buttons. Because, you know, I just don't sew.
This is ridiculous.
You have no idea.
It's ridiculous because I come from serious sewing stock. My mom sews. Wait, no, my mom sews. She sews street clothes for work, jaw-dropping jackets and perfectly tailored skirts. She made my wedding dress, a silk dupioni stunner, dense with embroidery, detailed to the nines. She sews eighteenth-century ball gowns and Edwardian confections and whip-smart walking suits from 1908. Her seams alone are so spectacular, she could wear any of it inside out, and still elicit mad applause. She once accidentally won herself a two-week trip to Europe, purely on the basis of her French Handsewing skills. They didn't know the half of it. I don't know from French Handsewing.
It's ridiculous because I speak fluent sew. Naturally, given my upbringing. I know thread count. I don't use scissors without permission. I can tell at a glance my natural fibers from my artificials. I always check a couch for pins before sitting. I adore a bias cut's fetching drape and the dazzling light-catching ways of linen and believe ironing boards to be living room furniture, equals at least to TVs and sofas. Not that I apply any of this.
Then there's the (not-so-small) matter of Stash. You sewers, you know what I'm talking about. Piles, stacks, boxes of fabric. Upholstery-weight remnants to cover some pillows and five yards of a fine William Morris-esque bark cloth and a sweet pink swath of vintage wool challis, with an all-over white high-wheel bicycle print. I've got navy and cream checked silk taffeta and a half-dozen flannels for little pajamas and linens and cottons and the best of intentions.
And projects. Obviously. Why else have a Stash? I've got curtains in Zoë's room that need six more inches and three more rooms that are crying out for drapes and two chairs I adore but which sorely want slipcovers. To name just a few. And to sidestep, for a moment, complete lack of skill. And, oh yeah, overhwhelming dread.
The thing is, I sewed a bit as a kid, mini-skirts and calico bonnets for my dolls. I loved those dolls. I hated those clothes. Every piece of the process left me loopy with angst. Sewing's precise, and I don't do precise. Not surprisingly, every garment was a mess. I despised basting, I loathed pressing, I had no patience at all for turning fine seams. Don't get me started on tearing them out.
(I can't follow a recipe to save my life, either, but food's so much more forgiving this way. And whether, in the end, you eat it or toss it, all evidence has vanished by the next day. Genius.)
Still. When you move totes of cloth cross-country, the "I'll get to it soon" argument wears a little thin. When the bill of lading also lists one vintage Bernina, an antique sewing table, two pairs scary-sharp Ginghers, and a half-dozen Oliver + S patterns (generous bequests, all, of a certain sewing ace), decades-long procrastination looks, well. I love a good euphemism. Let's stick with ridiculous.
So, this past January, I finally bit the bullet. It was Fifth Birthday Eve, and a certain caped crusader was without a cape, and I had an old wrap skirt that was nearly exactly right. If only someone were to move a button. So I showered myself with caffeine and encouragement (baby steps, SLURP, better late than never, GULP), and in the space of three hours, I did just that.
Five months later, I'd recovered. In May, I mended a sheet. Hooah.
I was on such a roll, in June I made pants. Honest-to-goodness shapeless toddler pants! They were too big and way crooked and the seams were crap fell apart in the wash. (Nani Iro makes up for all manner of flaws.) This didn't stop me from making the boy a red pair. Also deeply flawed. But the tiniest bit better. Both are back in the mending pile. (I have one now. Though I do nothing about it.) They may live there forever. I really don't care.
I don't care because I've gone back for more. Not a lot more, and not frequently. It's been weeks since my last Bernina date, and I'm still mustering the courage to meet up again. I am so not in love with sewing, still.
But I might, just maybe, be tip-toeing toward like. If I set aside, for a moment, the numb perforated thumb, the iron-crooked neck, the "don't measure, cut thrice" cussing, I admit it's a thrill to see the rocking chair cushion covered. It's been bare since before the baby was born. That would be the now-five-year-old "baby". That's a looooong time to look at bare naked batting. And it hardly seemed hard, then, to whip up another, even if it took me four hours to get started. Scraps? Scraps! A comforter cover. With seams that have survived four washes, already. It really needs buttons. Baby steps, baby steps.
The process, gah, it still drives me batty. So tedious, so fraught, just impossibly fiddly. But I can't help but be drawn to the practical factor, the way this can be re-purposed into That! There's a certain satisfaction in converting 2T shirts into jolly penants to celebrate a boy's first decade. And when you realize, around eleven, you've forgotten treat bags entirely, it's dang handy to knock six out, just like that. I'm so late to this party. Better late than never.
The same could be said of this salad, right now. I feel a little bad, mentioning it, seeing as the calendar reads October and the recipe reads "local tomatoes". Sorry. But the only alternative—sitting on it until next summer—seems downright irresponsible, and possibly criminal. Over here, we're still pulling down Sun Golds by the dozen, and if you (or your dealer) are too, lucky you! You're just three ingredients away from one humdinger of a meal.
This belongs to that lovely salad-as-meal category, which I've long loved for its speed and scrumptious ease. Better, it's a rare, perfectly-edited piece, each ingredient awfully vital, John-Ringo-George-Paul-style. Arugula's pepper plays off the buttery beef, which cozies up to the creamy blue like nobody's business. Toss in a heap of those sweet, small tomatoes, and a dijon dressing spiked with worcestershire, and you've got yourself some serious happy. Possibly, enough for a seam-ripping session. If I find the strength to test this theory, I will report back. Sooner or later.
Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Blue Cheese
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
I did what I usually do when I cook, which is to say read the recipe one day and re-created it from (faulty) memory, days later. Really, I'm a little allergic to precision. I was delighted with the results, and these are what you'll find below, but I'm sure Deb's original is at least as outstanding.
I used my cast iron grill pan, one of those bumpity, ridged numbers that's impossible to clean. I rarely use it, but the results were splendid, here. If you have one, us it. If not, a cast iron skillet indoors, or outdoor grill, will deliver great results. And if you answered "no" to A, B and C, you could absolutely broil the steak, directly under the element, a few minutes on each side.
1 pound skirt steak, at room temperature, patted dry, and sliced length-wise into two long strips
olive oil, for greasing grill
1 pint (2 cups) sweet 100's, sungolds, or other local cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled Maytag or other blue cheese
6 ounces baby arugula
Pat steak dry with paper towels, then season generously on both sides with 1/2 teaspoon salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Wipe a grill pan's ridges with an oiled paper towel, then heat pan over high heat, several minutes, until nearly smoking. Place skirt steak strips on surface, and do not move for 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks, and cook on reverse side 3 minutes, or until they reach desired degree of doneness. (If using a standard cast iron pan, add 1-2 Tbs. oil to the skillet, and proceed as above.) Remove steak to a plate, and let rest, tented with foil, 15 minutes, while assembling salad and dressing.
Arrange arugula, sliced tomatoes, and crumbled blue cheese on platter. Mix up vinaigrette, combining all ingredients in a lidded jam jar, and shaking vigorously to combine. Thinly slice steak, across the grain, and arrange over arugula. Pour any juices into the dressing, give a final shake, and drizzle half over salad. Serve with extra dressing on the side.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt + several grounds fresh pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup olive oil