Monday, August 11, 2014

United Federation of Planets Custom Project

My favorite thing about buying and selling on Etsy is the collaborative mindset of the community. You can customize just about anything, and most people are very open with ideas for improvement (or expansion) on existing product listings. My husband custom-ordered my wedding ring from an Etsy seller before we even knew much about the community. I've not been selling very long, but I've gotten many requests for customization of items I've listed. Requests are usually for a different size or more color options. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of my customers, I've been able to fine-tune some of my more successful products to meet a wider range of needs and tastes.

My favorite request so far came in a few weeks ago. I was asked if I could make a hot/cold pack with the United Federation of Planets emblem on it. As a Trekkie, of course, I jumped at the chance! How could I turn down a project like this?

My inner Starfleet cadet is trembling.

I won't go into too much detail about the process. Suffice it to say I approached the stars through a good deal of trial and error. The smaller stars were fairly easy, though I had to teach myself the French Knot.

Insert needle.

Wrap thread around needle.

Re-insert needle and (here's the tricky part) pull it tight.

I didn't get the scale perfect, but considering the number of stars I stitched, I'm pleased with the outcome.

After trying to machine-appliqué the three larger stars, I was not happy with the results. They were too small to accurately follow the edge with a zig-zag stitch. So I tried to embroider them instead, to match the other stars. My under-whelming embroidery skills resulted in too much bulk, not true to the original design at all. I ended up cutting new appliqué pieces and hand-stitching them in place.

Finally satisfied, I stitched everything to the background, covered the mess on the back with a lining, and admired my own work before shipping it off to its owner.

Here is the back, with the rice insert inside.

I think I will do another for myself, only bigger and on a pillow so I can dream about space exploration.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ginger Lime Chicken Skewers with Mango Salsa

I work in a doctor's office. Anyone in the medical field can tell you that everyone loves to bring gifts (mostly food) to doctor's offices. Patients, drug reps, other offices looking for referrals, co-workers... everyone. I gained more weight than I'd like to admit in the first year I worked there. The break room always seems to be full of flower arrangements and sugary treats.

Luckily, we've been getting lots of fresh fruit instead of cookies this summer. For some reason, we get mostly tropical fruit. Last week, we had the best kiwis I've ever tasted. These were golden kiwis. I had no idea there was any kind of kiwi other than the fuzzy green ones. Apparently, there are many. These were gigantic, golden, and to die for.

One rep in particular likes to bring boxes of mangos. I love mangos, so they are always a welcome gift. They are a surprisingly versatile fruit. I like them plain, blended in smoothies, tossed in a fruit salad, as a dessert topping, or even a garnish. I recently discovered that I really like mango salsa. My husband kept asking if we could use our nearly constant supply of gift mangos for salsa sometime. It never sounded appetizing to me, but I finally agreed to try it. Turns out it's amazing. Served it with some Asian-inspired chicken skewers. Best dinner we've had in a while.

Chicken Skewers with Ginger Lime Marinade
(Print Recipe)

2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 red onion
1 bell pepper
1/2 cup ponzu sauce (or soy sauce with lime juice works)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger root
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1 large lime)
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup water
5 bamboo skewers

Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Combine ponzu, vinegar, garlic, honey, ginger, and pepper flakes in a bowl. Pour over chicken cubes and marinate at least 4 hours.

Cut bell pepper and onion into roughly 1-inch slices. Slide veggies and chicken onto skewers. Reserve the marinade.

Pour marinade in a saucepan with lime juice. Mix water and corn starch and pour into marinade. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat once the sauce thickens.

Brush skewers with the thickened marinade. Grill or bake skewers until they begin to char, turning and basting with marinade every 5 minutes.

To bake, line a cookie sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Place prepared skewers on rack. Bake at 400° F for about 30-40 minutes. For grilling, it should only take 20 minutes over medium heat.

Serve with rice and/or spinach.

Mango Salsa
(Print Recipe)

2 large mangos
1/2 red onion, diced
1-2 green pepper, diced
3 tbsp minced ginger root
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil, cilantro, or mint
3 tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1 large lime)
1/4 tsp salt

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes. Great served with chicken, fish, or pita chips.

To dice mangos, start by probing with a sharp knife to find the top of the seed. Slice along both sides of the seed to remove it. Take each half and score it with the knife, taking care not to cut the peel.

Invert the mango halves and scrape off the cubes.

This recipe is very flexible with ingredients. For example, if you don't have ginger on hand, or if you aren't a fan, it still tastes great without it. Don't have a red onion, but you have some green onions? Easy substitute. Use whatever herbs sound good to you. I have thai basil growing in my herb garden, so I like to use it whenever possible.

It tastes like sweet basil with a hint of mint. If you don't have thai basil, sweet basil works fine, as do a number of other herbs you might have more readily available to you. Cilantro and mint are great alternatives.

For the green pepper, I used an anaheim chili. However, bell pepper or jalapeños are also good, depending how much heat you want.

With the leftover salsa, I added some ponzu and tossed it with some spinach. It made a terrific salad! A perfect, light, summer dinner.