Friday, March 25, 2011

Hemming Pants

I have that 'lucky' body type whereby I can either fit clothes to my waist or my height.  Ultimately I choose waist (of course) and end up hemming all my pants to make them shorter.  I remember, once, finding a pair of jeans that fit perfectly when I tried them on.  No adjustments necessary.  Alas, that's not the norm, so off to hem them I go.

I had no idea there was a tool designed to help you hem pants.  I'd always worn them to measure how much material needed to be cut and hemmed for the pants to fit right, remeasured after taking off the pants, pinned the line, drawn a line to cut on, cut the excess, then measured, pinned, invariably pinned the wrong side of my pants, pinned again, turned under the hem and pinned one last time.  Finally, the easy part: sewing.  After an hour or more my pants would be hemmed and I'd be annoyed enough that I'd avoid hemming another pair for as long as I could.

But I was looking at sewing notions a few days ago and came across this: it's called a sewing and knitting gauge and it cost $1.20.

And I just happened to have a pair of pants ready to be hemmed.  I put the pants on and pinned up the sides, so I knew where to begin, then I got out my new tool.  There's a plastic slier you put to the measurement you want, then you stick it inside the groove and make sure the fabric is the same height all around using that measurement.  It was very fast and required no pins.

I then decided where to cut for the hem, and used the measurements on the side of the tool to mark a pencil line for cutting.

After cutting, it was again easy to set the hem line, then turn down and pin the fabric.  This is the second point where pins were needed, rather than the third or fourth.

In a fraction of the time it would normally take me to hem pants, these were done!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Punta Cana - Spa and Entertainment

The Spa at the Majestic Elegance is very beautiful. You have to walk off the main resort, across a bridge of naturalistic swampland to get there. The front had a few lounge chairs and a large Buddha statue. Reception was tastefully decorated and had a metal staircase leading to the massage rooms.

As I said in my first post on Punta Cana, the overbooking of the hotel let to our being given a $100 spa credit. So I got a 55 minute aromatherapy massage. The room had 2 massage tables, sink and shower. The massage itself was amazing.

After it was done, I headed downstairs to go to the other half of the spa. Here they have a series of pools (hot, cold, jetted), a hot stone chair, steam room, sauna, aromatherapy room and nifty showers (each stall had a different shower, like a pull cord bucket and wall jets).

We attended one of the many bingo games (my husband won a bottle of rum, which we traded for a CD of local music), I did a karaoke number (Walk Like an Egyptian) and went to a few of the evening shows.

If you're in the area and have the chance, two shows were definitely worth it: The Michael Jackson show and Circus Chan-Chi. They had a few trapeze artists, a guy who balanced various things on his head, a fire juggler and more.
One day, the resort allowed some of the local artisans to set up a flea market. Let me just say that you have to bargain hard and if you're not used to it, you'll either end up paying a lot more than the items are worth or not enjoying the shopping experience. It was very different from negotiating in Thailand (and I wasn't very good at that either). Still, I got... decent prices for what I bought. Makes you appreciate set prices though.

In a bit of unplanned entertainment, a mother duck and her chicks were seen swimming in the pool and wandering the grounds.

But alas, all good things must come to an end. We caught our shuttle back to the airport, where we waited in line, watching the windows computer 'error' message on the Toronto departure screen. At least the Big Ass Fans were there to keep us cool. And I mean that quite literally. We were fortunate to witness a nice sunset from the plane and arrived back home without problems.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Punta Cana - Food

Let's talk about food. It doesn't matter how pretty the resort is, if the food's terrible it's not worth the money. People on TripAdvisor had alternating ratings with regards to the food. I heard a few people complain about it while I was there, but I actually loved the food. There was always a huge variety at the buffet, the restaurants had good food, but generally smaller portions. Ok, their sushi bar was kind of weird (pineapple sushi anyone?). On the whole though, I loved the food and loved not having to cook the food and getting the chance to try new things.

Their breakfast bar included omlet and crepe stations, cereal, fresh juices, hot chocolate (theirs is much richer tasting than ours), breads and sandwich additions. And let's not forget the pastries with chocolate to dribble over them and exotic (for us) fruits in syrup. And the not quite breakfast foods (mashed potatoes come to mind).
There were two buffet locations for lunch. The main buffet (Flavors) and See & Sea, by the beach. They had pasta stations, fresh salads, nachos, pizzas and desert spreads. One day they even had a barbecue with live music on the beach.

For dinner, the buffet was always themed, with a VERY high variety of offerings and some nifty decorations. Not sure what the 'American sauce' they put on the mahi mahi was (and chose not to try it to find out).

There were several a la carte restaurants, Italian, steakhouse, Japanese, French and seafood. Only the French and Japanese teppenyaki tables needed reservations. We tried all but the French restaurant. For people staying up late, there was even a fast food place open all night.

I ate a LOT more than I should have on this trip. And I seriously miss the buffet breakfasts.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Punta Cana - Beach and Pool

Of course you can't spend all your vacation admiring the buildings or sitting in your room - however nice they all are. So, it was off to the beach. I bought an Olympus Stylus Tough camera for this trip, which can go underwater! I had to learn a few tricks on the trip, which was unfortunate (as my photos before I learned the tricks weren't as good as the ones I took afterwards), but it was nice being able to take photos everywhere, even in the water.

As I said yesterday, the beach was made up of fine white sand. The different resorts all had roped off areas for their guests, with occasional free areas where natives offered boat rides, parasailing and other services. And the area closest to the water is free for everyone to walk, so you can wander for hours down the beach...

Our resort (and this was not true of all of them, as I learned later) had a large number of shade palapas, palm trees and lounge chairs. It also had a beach bar service and a nearby bar/lunch & snack restaurant (at night it was the seafood restaurant). The stretch was also long enough that if you didn't want to join in the activities (at one side), you could read in relative quiet elsewhere. There were also geckos that came by your chair looking for food. One day we walked down the beach for over an hour and came to an area of shops on the beach. It had much better prices (and more reasonable starting points) than the people selling on the beach and the flea market that came to our resort.
After I'd gotten a decent sunburn that first day on the beach, I decided a day at the pool would be nice. There were 3 pool bars, two dry (spaced a ways apart) and one wet bar. A separate kids pool was supposed to keep the noise down (though there was only 1 noisy kid there when we were, and he stayed by our side of the pool, unfortunately).
The pool was lagoon style, with swim up rooms along one side and several bridges to cross over/under. A fountain on one end and 'jacuzzi' (it was jetted but not heated) in the middle made it varied and fun to swim in. And it was gorgeous to look at.
It was especially beautiful at night.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Punta Cana - The Majestic Elegance

My trip to Punta Cana was in January, but I've been spending so much time reading I haven't had time to blog about it until now. The trip was fantastic. It was my first time to theCaribbean, and worth every penny.

After a lot of research, I settled on the Majestic Elegance. Not only is it a newer resort, it's got jetted tubs in all the rooms, white sand beaches and a lot of other perks. I particularly liked the lagoon style pools.

I was told that the airport was one where you leave and board the plane via the tarmac, but didn't realize all of the buildings would be open air with huge fans.

The Majestic is 2 resorts, that attach along a shopping strip which includes the kids club. Due to overbooking (which we learned later happened a lot) we spent our first night on the Colonial side. While this meant we had to change rooms the second day, it did come with 2 perks. First, that our bracelets allowed us to use the facilities on both resorts, and second, we got a $100 credit for use at the spa. :) The main lobby (shown above) was spacious and pleasant.

Down a double staircase from the lobby was a bar and the entrances to 3 of the restaurants. It also had covered walkways to the theatre and rooms on one side, and an outside bar, shopping area and other rooms on the other side.

The rooms circled manicured gardens and pools, with other gardens or the pool on the balcony sides. The rooms themselves were large, with double sinks, a shower with a regular head, wall jets and rain function, a jetted tub, balcony, separated sitting room, 4-poster bed (or 2 double beds), TV with DVD player and wall safe.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


I now understand why so many people online suggested getting separate machines for serging and coverstitching. Changing the machine from one to the other's a bit of a process. On the other hand, everything gets easier with practice, and this machine allows me to do a serged edge with chain stitching (for a very secure seam). So it's a toss up. I'll try to post either a video or photos showing all the steps involved in switching the machine over so other people with that question have 'all the facts' before they buy. People explained it was difficult, but no one said precisely what you had to do.

I finally got brave enough to try coverstitching. I'm fairly comfortable with serging, but have never coverstitched before so wasn't sure where to place the fabric (since the seam is down). Was I supposed to cover the seam or sew close to the seam and cut any excess fabric? The DVD that came with the machine didn't mention coverstitching at all, so I looked at a few online videos.

After some test strips, which helped me learn a bit about tensions, and making sure I'd threaded the machine properly, I coverstitched a new hem on a t-shirt.

And by golly it worked! Guess coverstitching isn't a scary as it seemed. What I have to work on is threading, and a better technique for finishing, so I don't have to cut the threads so close to my sewing (and then rethread the needles/looper).

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cookbook Review: Fast And Fresh Vegetarian by Marie Simmons

Pros: colour photo center spread, tips at the start of each section, 'make a meal' box on recipe pages, lots of recipes

Cons: recipes require lots of ingredients and can be time intensive, some ingredients are hard to find

To review this cookbook I tested 6 recipes. Here are the results.

First up, Quick Supper Frittata. It took longer than the stated 30 minutes to
cook, and there were several mini steps (some of which are better prepared in advance rather than when you're cooking, like the egg mixture). I used roasted red peppers rather than piquillos and a sharp cheddar instead of Pecorino Romano. But for all the effort of making this dish, it was worth it.

Second I made the Lentil and Vegetable Soup with Smoked Paprika. I'm not a fan of celery so I left that out. It did make the soup less 'full' looking, so in future I'd try to substitute something in its place, like sliced cabbage. I also couldn't find smoked paprika (I finally located it a few days after trying this recipe). I used sweet paprika instead, which has a much mild
er flavour and didn't do the soup justice. My version was bland, so I added in some roasted garlic and red pepper spice. With the smoked paprika the spiciness would be fine. Also realize that if you're adding the yogurt or sour cream (which is what I used), you won't taste much of the spices anyway because the cream will supersede everything.

Next I did two recipes for a meal. Toasted Flatbread With Goat Cheese, Sauteed Greens and Crispy Shallots for the main and Roasted Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano Crumbs as a side. While the asparagus was easy to prepare, I found the amount of parmigiano used made it on the strong side for my taste. But the asparagus themselves were perfectly baked, cooked through yet crisp. For the flatbread recipe, again there was a fair amount of preparation involved and I didn't use enough of the greens (I halved the recipe to serve 2 people and didn't realize how much the greens would wilt, so keep that in mind). Even omitting the crushed chilies, the cheese and greens were flavourful enough that it wasn't a problem that the flatbread wasn't completely covered.

The one recipe I tried that I didn't really like was the labour intensive Broccoli, Dill and Lemon Spread. I think I'd have preferred this one had the broccoli not been boiled before pureeing all the ingredients. Making this required boiling the broccoli, sauteing the garlic and using a food processor. So in addition to the prep work, there's a lot of clean-up required.

Finally, I made the Lentils With Roasted Red Peppers, Dill, Mint and Feta. I was afraid the peppers would be too 'smoky' to blend well, but the combination - especially the feta - worked well. Eaten on rice, this was a filling and delicious meal.