Wednesday, January 30, 2013

J. Crew Inspired Crystal Collar Herringbone Sweater DIY

I've long admired the J. Crew Crystal Collar Herringbone sweater, but only just now had some time to try making an inspiration piece.

I actually went about this making 2 pieces - the top and a corresponding necklace.  I didn't have the patience to hand-sew all of the crystals onto the collar and then worry about how it'd do in the washing machine, so took the easy way out.

I made the top using a heavy weight cream-colored knit and a silk-blend herringbone fabric.  I modified Butterick's B5520 pattern to become a tee-like top (with slimmed sleeves and chest), rather than a dress bodice.  If you are sleeves-phobic, this is a VERY good pattern because all of the seaming is straight and you don't have to fiddle with easing a sleeve into an armscye (something I am TERRIBLE at).  The peter pan collar was hand drafted.

The necklace is made from crystals woven into a collar pattern (trial & error) using Beadalon as the stringing material.

I've also been using my serger for narrow hemming some scarves, so be on the lookout for a scarf giveaway soon!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Plaid Peplum DIY Project

I started this project quite a bit ago and only just now got around to taking photos of it.  Inspired by Phiphi's tartan peplum, I made this out of a navy / hunter green plaid fabric.  I also made a removable collar to layer underneath this top and my sweaters.  I do love a good interchangeable piece :)

 How I wore it:
DIY Peplum Top
Old Navy Bow Belt, LOFT Blazer, and F21 Necklace (all old)

I got to try out Hog Island Oysters with Ping yesterday and we met Karen for a little shopping afterwards.  We, unfortunately, did not find any vintage treasures, but I did find out they are fellow green tea enthusiasts and we plan to get together again soon for some green tea tiramisu (the one from Jess's instagram) :)  It is so lovely to be able to get together with fellow bloggers!

Top: Clam Chowder
Bottom: Oyster Stew
Right: Grilled Cheese
Mmm, mmm good!

Waiting for our food (Ping on left, me on right)

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

J. Crew Factory Sale Haul + Reviews

I had been eyeing the Professor Blazer in Camel for months (darn Jean and her always chic camel blazer pairings!) and swooped in to buy it quickly during the J. Crew Factory sale (now an additional 40% off with code MOREPLEASE).  Not wanting to pay for shipping (it's like a weird shopping illness), I purchased some other items to reach the threshold for free shipping:

Factory Charley Sweater, Citrus Lime, XS, $12, (buy here)
Late to the neon party, as I am with most trends, I finally pulled the trigger on this bright (but not too bright) yellow color.  I have 2 other Charley sweaters in my closet, so I knew the XS would fit.  The material is a soft and kind of thin sweater knit.  Fits well with just a little extra torso room for lunch.
P.S. See that little leopard-spotted blur on the floor?  That would be my 1-year old :)
Verdict: Keeping - great price, pretty color, good fit

Warmspun Long Sleeve Sweater, Heather Indigo, XS, $15, (buy here)
I've been on the lookout for a plain navy and a plain camel sweater for layering purposes.  This one fit my Navy needs.  The fit is pretty slim, but not tight.  The material is kind of itchy so I would wear it with layers or bypass it if you have sensitive skin.  
Verdict: Keeping, fulfills a wishlist item for a good price

Tissue Turtleneck Tee, Navy, XS, $6, (buy here)
The material is comfortable, soft and thin - perfect to wear underneath whatever you want.  There are plenty of colors left like coral, jade, cherry, cobalt, and navy.  Like the other items, the cut is slim but not tight.  I am especially thankful that the turtleneck part isn't too tight.  I'm always tugging on snug turtlenecks because I feel like I'm being choked.
Verdict: Keeping, comfortable and good as a layering piece

Professor Blazer, Camel, 00, $48, (buy here)
This blazer is similar to the regular Schoolboy with the length, 2-button closure, multi-buttoned cuffs, and overall shape.  The fit versus the Schoolboy is inverted.  The Schoolboy in 00 was a little too snug in the sleeve and a little loose in the torso.  The Professor is loose in the sleeve and snug in the torso.  Depending on what time of day you check the site, the colors will vary.  Red seems available most times, gray some times, and camel in early morning.  The camel color verges on caramel and is a little bit darker than I expected.
Verdict: Leaning towards keeping but on the fence.  The fit and price are good, but I'm not completely in love with it.  Thoughts?

It's kind of funny that the item I wanted most is the one I feel most ambivalent about.  Are you a free shipping seeker?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

J. Crew & Ann Taylor Sale Reviews

Enticed by the sales, we headed down to check out Ann Taylor and J. Crew in Valley Fair mall.

Ann Taylor:
Ponte Boatneck Top, XS, $17.50 in stores (buy here)
Pave Stone Statement Necklace, $25, (buy here)
I am completely in love with this top!  Firstly, it's super comfortable and has that overall slim fit with some torso room (ahem, post baby belly AND room to eat) that I adore.  Secondly, the emerald color is beautiful IRL and thirdly, what a great price!  Can be worn alone or layered (my uniform as of late - layers with button downs and statement necklaces).

And the necklace (w/ the white top)?  This was a magpie purchase - the sparkles caught my eye as I was heading to the cash register.  It is awfully pretty though and $25 isn't too bad for a heavier duty piece.
Verdict: Eep, purchased 2 tops (emerald and white) plus the necklace

Colorblocked Turtleneck Sweater, XS, $25, (buy here)
This was one of those items that had great hanger appeal.  The fit was fine, but it looked much better on the hanger.  It was soft and non-itchy - always a plus with sweaters.
Verdict: No, not for me

Sailor Tee in Engineered Stripe, XXS, (buy here)
I was drawn to the stripes as always and though the fit seemed ok in the arms and shoulders, the torso was a little too loose giving the impression of a wider silhouette.
Verdict: No thank you to looking wider

Tippi Sweater, XS, (buy here)
City Mini in Dublin Tartan, 0, $35 (I think), (buy here)
I was looking for a plain Navy sweater and the Tippi fit the bill.  Soft and comfortable with a relaxed fit.  Probably good for layering.
Verdict: Will wait for sale

Such pretty colors in this skirt!  The elastic waist has quite a bit of give making this a very comfortable option.  This would have been a "yes", but the lovely Caroline just gave me something similar :)
Verdict: No, have a similar skirt in plaid

Shopping OOTD: 
Crewcuts gingham shirt, J. Crew sweatshirt, Amrita Singh necklace, Abercrombie jeans (yay they fit again from my college days - only because they were baggy then, lol), Kate Spade crossbody

Oh sales, do you love 'em or leave 'em?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Easy DIY Alteration Tutorial: Slimming Pants

A few weeks back, a reader asked if I could do a tutorial on how to slim pants.  I actually had quite a few pairs in queue for slimming, so perfect timing!  :)

EDIT: Turn your pants inside out for marking up and sewing!  Thanks Jean - I totally forgot to mention that! 

Questions?  Leave them in the comments, tweet me, or email me :)

Happy altering!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Quest for XLB (Shanghai Juicy Dumplings)

Another food post?  What can I say?  I've been doing a lot of eating and a little less of sewing (doing mostly alterations at the moment which always makes me fret that I'm going to ruin something and thus takes seemingly much longer than "from scratch") though I intend to go back soon!

Sometimes I dream of the perfect reality show, "The Next Xiao Long Bao Idol", where I am, of course, the judge / dictator (judgetator?).  I would tell my contestants to make me a bao (bun) with the 3 tenets of XLB:
  1. Thin, delicate bao skin - so thin, it's translucent and you can see the yummy broth inside.  Not so thin, that it spills said yummy broth.
  2. Tender, flavorful pork filling w/ or w/o crab
  3. A generous portion of rich, savory broth.  Must gush, not unlike a water balloon.  Broth also must have depth.  Not just water + salt + bouillon.
Drool...  Ahem, I've gotten ahead of myself.  To those unfamiliar, a Xiao Long Bao (XLB) is a Shanghai Juicy Dumpling.  Directly translated, it's a Little Basket (Dragon? They sound the same and I can no longer read.  This is what happens when I stop using what I've learned) Bun.  It's a golf ball-sized dumpling encompassing soup and meat.  When you bite into it, you literally get an explosion of flavor.  I was skeptical at first, thinking I could get the same effect by placing a dumpling on a spoon full of soup.  But I was WRONG.  It. Is. SO. GOOD. 

If you ever want to try but don't live near a restaurant with XLB, get the frozen version found in many Asian markets.  It's an ok representation enough to whet your appetite for more.  Don't overcook it though!  The meat will get tough and your bao might deflate and leak out that juicy goodness.  Then if you become a fan, I highly recommend you visit your nearest Din Tai Fung or San Francisco's Shanghai Dumpling King.

Ah DTF, this is the holy grail of XLB
There's a Ding Tai Fung in Toronto (pictured above) and then there's the international chain Din Tai Fung that started in Taiwan.  I've tried the Toronto version and the official chain version in LA.  I have to say that the Toronto one was a little bit better with a larger portion of broth.  I hear the Taiwan one is the best though and I hope to someday try it out!

If you should hold the bao by the tip, you will see the bottom sag from the weight of the soup.  The amazing thing is that despite the abundant soup and the thin skin, this skin will not break!  The consistent quality of their wrappers means that every single bao will deliver that joyous gush of broth.

In San Francisco, I've tried XLB at the Yelp-recommended eateries, Shanghai Dumpling King and Kingdom of Dumpling.  I'll start with my favorite of the 2, Shanghai Dumpling King:
Shanghai Dumpling King - Pork version
When I first saw these, I was a little worried about broth content as the wrappers looked like they had shrunken against the filling and no soup was in sight.

But I was wrong!

See this poofiness?  Indicative of an intact wrapper containing deliciousness within

The crab version had even more broth inside!

Crab version

Pan Fried Pork Buns
This was good, but the filling (only took up maybe 1/3 of the hollow space inside the bao) to bao ratio was off.  It was awfully pretty though.

Onion Pancake
Light, thin, and crispy!

Fresh Soy Milk

I used to view the wrapper portion of XLB as merely the vessel holding the tastiness within.  At Shanghai Dumpling King, even the wrapper was incredibly flavorful.  I don't know how they do it, but those guys / gals really understand flavors and EVERYTHING (wrapper, filling, broth) we had there was well-developed, complex, and YUMMY.

I usually prefer either the pork version OR the crab version at a given eatery, but both were so good here that I plan to eat 5 of each every time I visit.  Should I mention that each basket of 10 costs only $5.50 (I think the crab is only slightly more expensive)???  Heaven, I tell you.  If you live or visit the area, I highly recommend you try their XLB.  

How does it compare to DTF?  The skin is much thinner and also more delicate.  A wrong move means a popped dumpling.  I recommend using your chopsticks to carefully roll it onto a spoon.  I think I only popped 1 of the ~15 I ate this way while Mom (a little on the stubborn side) popped half of hers by picking up the tip with her chopsticks.  Ultimately, I think SDK has better flavor, but DTF has better consistency and their XLB always looks beautiful (never deflated).  You can't really go wrong with either.

And Kingdom of Dumpling:
Kingdom of Dumpling 
The XLB here are decent, but unfortunately not up to par with DTF.  See the skin in the left photo? Not thin enough to see the broth.  See the chopstick test?  Bao does not droop with the weight of the broth. The filling was tender and each bao had a good amount of soup, but I felt like both needed a little more seasoning and richness.  

BUT I will say the other items we ordered were delicious:
Beef Ho Fun
Has wok hei (the breath of a hot wok imparts a unique flavor to dishes similar to the flavor that grills add to a burger) and bursts with flavor.

Pork Dumplings
Tender, moist, and flavorful fillings with the perfect skin.  Not too thin to break apart and not too thick to seem dough-y.

Next on my list to try is Yank Sing.  Bay area foodies, do you have any additional XLB eatery recommendations?

Off topic, does anyone play the app "Ruzzle"?  It's a Boggle-esque game where you can play against anyone.  If any of you happen to be bored, look me up!  I am "sewsilly" :)

And I am getting acquainted with Instagram (yes, it only took me years to get onboard), so you can find me there @sewpetitegal

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reviews: Crossbody Bags - Kate Spade, Rebecca Minkoff, Coach, etc.

Before we had kids, I would carry oversized clunky shoulder bags, but I am now a huge fan of small-ish, lightweight crossbody bags.  It is such a relief to not have to worry about holding onto the straps or getting weighed down when one of the kids decides he / she is in need of being held.
Top: Kate Spade Grant Park Starla, Rebecca Minkoff MAC, Coach Crossbody
Middle: LV Pochette Bosphore, Prada Vela, Coach Station
Bottom: Rebecca Minkoff Mini MAC

Bag Essentials:  I move 3 items when I change bags - wallet, wristlet, and phone.
Long wallet with many card slots and a clear ID slot.  I hate bunched up dollar bills and having to dig out my ID so I was happy to find a wallet that addressed both of those issues.  Chose black as a good neutral to go with any bag color.
Wristlet to carry all of my small items and make bag transfer a simple process.  Holds gift cards / loyalty cards, makeup and hand towelettes, hair accessories, eyeglass cloth, lip balm, lip gloss, emergency concealer (for those midday pimples, grr), eye makeup remover to battle raccoon eyes, and salt for when I need to eat at my desk.
Phone - 'nuff said.

Bag proportions (I'm 5'2"):
Kate Spade Starla, RM MAC, Coach, LV Pochette Bosphore

Prada Vela, Coach Station, RM Mini MAC

Here's how the bags fare:

If you have similar needs to mine, I recommend Kate Spade and Coach.  Both brands have a good selection of leather bags, have many comfortable and lightweight styles that are small enough to keep you on the go, but big enough to carry your essentials, and the price point is pretty fair.  Both brands are usually in the $200s, but you can score better deals during sales, at outlets, or vintage (try to get these authenticated though [I use the Purse Forum authentication threads],  because there are many, many fakes out there.)  If you're a fan of LV monogram, I also recommend the Pochette Bosphore.  The coated canvas and low vachetta ratio (strap is canvas) means maintenance is practically nil.

And if you're wondering how the MAC compares with the Mini MAC:

When I looked at the measurements online, it didn't seem like the size would be very different.  In real life, the mini seems much smaller.  I love the look of it, but I really have to work to maneuver my wallet and wristlet into the bag.  I don't think I'll be keeping this one (hence the packaging is still attached).

Any favorite bags to recommend?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Eats: San Francisco Chinatown

My second food post!  I rely very heavily upon Yelp.  So what happens when you go to Chinatown and Yelp for good eats?

You see this.  A bakery with 1644 reviews boasting 4.5 stars all lauding the yummy deliciousness of egg tarts.

And then what happens?  

You go!  (Or at least I did) :)

There are only 3 people in the family who like egg tarts and we were originally going to purchase exactly 3 egg tarts. After waiting in line though (45 min today), and seeing ALL the people coming out with multiple dozens, we quickly reassessed. Once we got in the bakery, we loaded up and ordered: a dozen egg tarts, a few coconut tarts, a roll cake, a slice of chocolate roll cake, some egg custard cakes and an apple roll. And though our original plan of 3 egg tarts for $4 ($1.35 each or $16 per dozen) turned into a $40 bakery fix, all concerns were melted away once we took our first taste of an egg tart. 

I've had many an egg tart (from NY, Chicago, SF, LA, HK, etc.) and this ranks among the best. Ever. Flaky, buttery crust with golden brown, crispy edges and jiggly, sweet but not too sweet, eggy filling (the consistency of panna cotta). It is perfection. Worth the wait in line and worth the price.

The other cakes we ordered are very good - light, fluffy consistency and beautifully made, but the star of the show is definitely the egg tart.

Golden Gate Bakery Egg Tarts

Flaky crust and a generous, delicious filling
See how thin the crust is at the bottom? The tart actually sags from the weight of the filling and it is SO GOOD.

The other goodies

We then passed by a bakery with this sign:

Naturally, we bought it:
Natural Chestnut Cake
Mom is a huge chestnut fan and often reminisces of the chunky chestnut cakes she had as a little girl in Hong Kong.  She then gloomily sighs and says they don't make cakes like that anymore (most places now use a chestnut paste rather than actual chunks).  She practically giggled with glee when we got her this :)

Milk Tea Ice Cream
And hello!  We will back to try this!

Hong Kong is filled with little mom and pop eateries with good food for cheap.  SF (and NYC, not so much Chicago) Chinatowns have these too.  Today, we tried Man Kee Cafe (used to be called Broadway Cafe) where most meals are around $5 with incredibly large portions.

Hainan Chicken w/ Rice
This is my husband's favorite dish.  I myself am a lazy Asian and prefer chicken that is de-boned and de-skinned if it's not fried.

Hong Kong-style Milk Tea
Has a stronger tea flavor than regular milk tea - very yummy!

Beef with Eggs on Rice
Beef was super tender and flavorful.

Don't remember the official name of this, but Mom calls it "e-meen" so E Noodles?
The best dish of the bunch ordered by our 3-year-old son.

Needless to say, we left Chinatown holding our very full (and happy) bellies.


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