Using the safety pin movement to connect and reconnect

March 14, 2017

I want some way to show solidarity with marginalized groups, including the one to which I belong. I want some way to show love and understanding in the face of growing hatred and intolerance. And I want to use whatever creativity I have to spread positive messages, to reach out. So . . . .

And then word got out to my friends. So more pins happened . . . .

Even earrings happened . . .Together . . . not alone.

We . . . not I.

Love . . . not hate.


For Truth in Sewing!

March 14, 2017

Coming soon — learning to sew again, visible mending, and the joys of being a badass-ish seamstress warring the trends of fast fashion!


Dia De Los Muertos Costumes

October 25, 2014


“In this post, I’m going to tell you exactly how to cast yourselves as Dia de los Muertos figures, from costumes to makeup.”

Costumes started so simply. My son wanted to be a young Anakin Skywalker for Halloween at his elementary school, and I wasn’t going to spend $50.00 on a costume he would wear once. So I transformed him into Anakin by fashioning a half yard of black knit fabric into a vest and a $3.99 gold tee shirt I repurposed into a glove.  Anakin’s “braid” was just a hair clip with dark brown embroidery floss braided onto the clip. The gears and fittings on his cybernetic arm were simply drawn on with sharpie marker after I put it on my arm and drew, checking my work next to a cartoon of Anakin. He LOVED it because he could wear his own comfortable shirt, shorts, and black boots. I loved it because he loved it. And I loved that he told everyone his mom made it just for him.

But to tell the truth, my disenchantment with the costume industry had already begun. I couldn’t stand the Halloween costumes on the market for zaftig women, so each year I found myself figuring out how to fit myself (no pun intended) into the theme my guys had chosen from their Halloween costumes. I figured out how to be a pirate with a $.99 eyepatch and clothes I already owned. The next year, I bought costumes for the guys, but I made my kimono by taking a pattern from an antique kimono I had purchased at a second-hand store in my teens. (Every plus-sized woman in my audience just sighed.) Every year, I made more and more of our costumes because once the guys saw how comfortable I was, they wanted purchased costumes less and less.

Finally, my son applied to an arts-focused middle school, and we decided that auditioning for the school musicals might help him develop friendships. All the years of 4-H lessons in sewing and crocheting, and crafting, all the years of being more-Martha-than-Martha morphed into costume design. Today, on the back of my business card, along with writing tutor, is the notation that I am a freelance costume designer. I’ve outfitted middle schoolers for fairy tales (Sondheim’s Into the Woods); 50s fandom (Bye, Bye Birdie); and Romeo and Juliet (Renaissance simplicity for an all-male, middle school cast, no less). And hey, I can now say that I know how to make a true circle skirt from inexpensive felt, a Tin man hat out of an old metal funnel on top of a baseball hat covered with strips of silver lamè, as well as a Medieval wimple for a beefy 8th grader who played Juliet’s nurse while threatening to faint every time he got overheated! Whew! Who knows what this year will bring!?!

Eli gears up to play the Tin Man

Eli gears up to play the Tin Man

Along the way, my son has been a steward to Cinderella’s Prince, Harvey Johnson, Ed Sullivan, and the Tin Man.  And our family Halloween costumes have ranged from Pirates, to a Roman family, from Ghost Busters, to the characters of the wizard of Oz, and finally this year — Dia de los Muertos figures.

Cinderella loved our costumes

Cinderella loved our costumes

You might say we take Halloween very seriously in this family. Every year, we head to Walt Disney World in Florida for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Every year, we use Halloween as a second celebration of my son’s October 28th birthday. And every year, we grow increasingly disenchanted with purchased costumes. They’re hot, they’re polyester, or worse, they have plastic masks that off-gas chemical fumes. No way. In this post, I’m going to tell you exactly how to cast yourselves as Dia de los Muertos figures, from costumes to makeup.

Ready for the Halloween Party

Ready for the Halloween Party

Ready to Party

My son is ready too!

For men: black and white formal wear is the norm with touch of vibrant color, especially red.  So we used tuxedo vests, ties, and white shirts my guys already owned, and black khakis or jeans already in their closets.  My son’s bowler is a “fun” hat he found years ago at a Disney park: in it he’s played Charlie Chaplin (for his performing arts class), and Thomas Nast, the “Father of the American [editorial] Cartoon” (for his history class). This year, I folded up a scarf I already owned, tied it on, and bought a couple of feathers at M&J Trimming in New York to jazz it up. I attached a couple of glass bead skulls with huge basting stitches for good measure. The fedora my husband is wearing is an old fedora that I will soon strip of its Halloween finery and take to J.J. Hat Center for reconditioning.  But before I do, I re-worked it for this year’s Halloween.

Jacked up hats

Jacked up hats

Besides going to M&J Trimming, we hit a couple of the discount bead stores in the fashion district in NYC, and my husband spotted some inexpensive glass skull beads: we purchased three strands in blue and beige. I used them, plus a couple of $3.00 shell circle strands for his hat. Then I decided to make earrings that Deirdre and I could wear. Each of us had skulls for a different accessory — all strung on inexpensive wire I already had in my jewelry kit.

Ready for our Grand Entrance

Ready for our Grand Entrance

For women: Ok. I’ll confess. My family had been on a trip to Chiapas in central Mexico in the last year.  There, I found some of the most amazing textiles made by local Mayan women: natural materials, richly colored and unbelievably inexpensive. I bought a chawl (their adaptation of the word shawl) for myself, several belts, and a blouse for my BFF, Deirdre — our not-related-by-blood, but related-by-heartfelt-choice friend/sister/daughter. These textiles were the inspiration for our entire Halloween regalia. Knowing that the contemporary Mayan women in Chiapas wear black wool skirts and white blouses with colorful shawls or sweaters, I adapted what we already had to suit that purpose. Any light colored or richly colored peasant blouse over a black skirt will work; if you have one that is embroidered, even better. Then I added flower wreaths for our hair; the green one Deirdre wears has already had several lives in plays I’ve costumed, and now serves Deirdre with the addition of a few lavender flowers.  I purchased the burgundy wreath for me from a seller on Etsy once I realized that I could buy it for less already made than I could purchase the flowers and materials. Mama didn’t raise no fools: there are lots of boho wreath bargains out there in stores and on Etsy for this year.


 Initial drawings of makeup designs

Yes, it’s serious.  Yes, try it in advance so you work out any problems with design or equipment. I started with sketches of my ideas, then we did a practice run on everyone’s makeup.

First face


Trying on wreath after practicing makeup

Leave at least 45 minutes to an hour for each face, depending upon how proficient you are at makeup. But the basic steps don’t take that long if you have the right materials. Use pictures here as models, or surf Pinterest under “sugar skulls” or “Dia de los Muertos.” The makeup is all about the layering of color and details. These steps will help you layer in the details that you like from the examples you pull up.

Materials list:

Triangle makeup sponges — for applying clown white makeup

Makeup Q-tips — the pointed Q-tips are super helpful for defining lines that have strayed and for applying rhinestones or pearls.

Assorted makeup brushes

Small bowl of water — for soaking your triangle sponges to apply clown white makeup

Primer  — any number of makeup lines have primer. Pick one.

Clown white makeup

Setting powder

Crayon black eyeliner pencils — indispensable for drawing lines and shapes. By this I mean a soft, thick black liner pencil

Crayon white pencil. See note above.

Soft eyeliner pencils in colors like black or purple — for finer lines or larger dots

Liquid eyeliner: in black and whatever other colors you desire for dots: navy blue, green, purple. These can also be used to “sharpen” lines on leaves and flowers

Rhinestones or pearls — optional, but they add dimension

Powder eyeshadow — for eye sockets and highlighting cheekbones or any other areas of the face where you want color. I would suggest, black, navy blue and purple

A super bright blush — for outlining the cheek area (AKA the skull division from the jaw)

Black Mascara

False eyelashes — optional


Note: I kept the guys’ makeup more monochromatic, so if you’re only doing guys, you may want to focus on black and navy blue.


Makeup steps:


1. PRIMER. Don’t start without priming your face. It really helps the heavy clown white makeup go on more smoothly and easily. Get a good primer and use it first. Do not be tempted to skip this step; it makes your life a LOT easier.

2. Get out your black eyeliner, and outline the eye sockets, nose “holes” and any other areas of your face that you will make solid black.  No use covering up the areas that will be a solid dark color with white makeup. If you are doing your eyes in dark blue or purple or green, use a soft liner in that color to outline these areas.

3. Wet down your triangle sponge and squeeze out any excess water. Put a little pancake clown makeup on the sponge and begin spreading it out over your face, avoiding the outlined eye sockets and nose “holes.” Don’t worry too much about getting the “right” amount of makeup on your sponge: you’ll discover that thicker patches blend with a little effort. Use the white “crayon” liner to cover any areas close to the eye sockets or nose that are too small to cover with the triangle sponge. Blend everything well.

4. Powder your face with white setting powder.

5. Fill in the eye sockets with eyeliner and powder shadow. For example, I had purple around my eyes so I used a purple liner, then filled in most of the area with iridescent purple eyeshadow.  If desired, apply liner around the eye and false eyelashes. Apply mascara to blend false eyelashes into yours.  Deirdre is wearing eyelashes and mascara; I am not. So you can see which effect you like most.

6. Add any forehead design with liner pencils before you do nose or cheeks to avoid smudging.

7. Fill in the nose holes with black liner and/or black eyeshadow.

8. Now, add cheek color to the underside of your cheekbones to highlight the separation between skull and jaw –OR — add cheek color to the apple of your cheek if you want a softer, more feminine, less scary look. Then draw in the line between the skull and the jaw, extend it from the edges of your mouth back toward your ear, adding any twirls or embellishments.

9. Draw in “blackened mouth” or “teeth.” If you blacken your lips, be sure to use lipstick or clown white makeup first.  If you opt to draw on teeth, be sure to whiten lips first.

10. Add any chin design.

10. Go back in and add dots or pearls and rhinestones (with eyelash glue). I simply bought stones and pearls with a flat side at M&J Trimming, but bead stores will also have rhinestones with a flat side.

11. Use the liquid liner in colors to add fine lines or dots to any of the designs. Wait until they dry, then . . .

11. Use setting powder again.


Now — go enjoy Halloween, and all the compliments you’ll get on your costume!


FullSizeRender 3 FullSizeRender 2




Building great grains from the inside out

October 18, 2014

Great Grains


“The goal: find combinations that sing to each other.”

Go ahead. Try. Google “health benefits of whole grains” — in a balanced diet, I hasten to add — and you’ll turn up no fewer than ten pages of articles summarizing studies to demonstrate that replacing refined grains with whole grains has many health benefits, lowering the risks of many chronic diseases like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Whole grains can even be a factor in battling health issues like asthma and high blood pressure.

When my husband’s annual physical unexpectedly turned up higher levels of blood sugar than normal, his doctor sent us to a nutritionist. She took one look at our food journal, and told us that the one factor we needed to adjust was carbohydrate intake: fewer carbs AND better quality carbs. That meant whole grains.

True to my intention to make whole grains the rule rather than the exception, I ordered the brown rice at my local Chinese restaurant, and it tasted like – well . . . cardboard.  I disciplined myself to grab food only from the salad bar, so I tried that gorgeous quinoa salad, studded with chopped red pepper, green pepper and burgundy chunks of chopped red onion with my green salad, hurried back home and took the first bite. Much to my disappointment, the quinoa was simply blah, missing the extraordinary flavor profile promised by the colorful presentation.

So much for my first few excursions into the land of whole grains. But in the back of my mind, I carried around a recipe from a rice cooker cookbook which I had encountered years ago. Maybe it could work for whole grains too? I set out to adapt the method from that recipe, and make whole grains not only palatable, but enjoyable for everyone in my family.

The brown rice and quinoa that I tried lacked flavor because adding flavors doesn’t make great grains. Building flavor into every step of the cooking process makes truly wonderful, flavorful brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, or farro. And I promise you, it’s really not difficult.

This blog is more than a recipe

What I outline here is a method that can be used for any whole grain: bulgur, brown rice, farro, whole wheat couscous, wheat berries, and so on. So be patient if it takes a while to get to the actual recipe. I want you to how to make this method work for you the first time you try it.

The key is getting flavor into the grain while it’s cooking and then adding veg, and some combo of fat (like EVOO or butter), and acid (like vinegar or citrus juice) to make it shine. I’ll share other great grains recipes that I’ve served my kitchen as the days go by. Along the way, you’re sure to notice — if you haven’t already — that I am a fan of fuzzy logic rice cookers; I’ve had one for over 15 years in my kitchen.

Rice cookers not only do a wonderful job of making perfectly cooked grains every time, a good rice cooker also allows any cook to set up that part of the meal and then focus on other dishes, knowing that the grain will turn out beautifully. So kudos to my husband for first suggesting we get one when we were newlyweds. That first cooker is still serving us well. Same goes for the husband: his suggestions infallibly serve us well, and I have learned that the best helper a cook can have is a welcoming, receptive audience.


For cooking the grains, I almost always use chicken broth, or half chicken broth and half water. On occasions when I cook for truly vegan friends, I use water only, but double any herbs and/or veg used in the cooking process. Fair warning: don’t be tempted to try cooking whole grains in vegetable broth as most veg broths are made from very starchy vegetables. Put that much starch into a starchy grain, and guess what you get? MUSH. Stick to chicken broth and/or water.

For finishing the grains, I love to experiment by blending different vinegars or citrus notes with nuts, herbs, vegetables, and oils. The goal: find combinations that sing to each other. For example, sherry vinegar and slivered, toasted almonds are meant to be together; red wine vinegar and pine nuts call to each other, while fig-infused balsamic vinegar and pecans dance, just as more classic combinations like lemon zest and parsley – so simple, so perfect. Once you have the method down, have fun and try new combinations while you keep the cooking method.

How do you know if a combination works? One way is to look for typical pairings in a given cuisine. It doesn’t take a genius chef to note that you often see sherry vinegar in Spanish recipes that use almonds, or to note that many Italian recipes calling for red wine vinegar often have pine nuts in them, or to note that figs and pecans are often the accompaniment to a well chosen cheese plate course at a fine restaurant. Then again, you can always use your own nose and palate.  When in doubt, one drop of oil, a few drops of the vinegar on the tongue, followed by the nut in question, and you’ll be able to tell if they pair well. I use my demitasse spoons for this tasting purpose.

For color and even more healthy combinations, the list of chopped vegetables you can add to cooked whole grains is nearly endless. I prefer red, yellow or orange bell pepper, but if you like the bite of green bell pepper, go for it. I typically use cherry or grape tomatoes chopped into quarters (as they are my husband’s favorite so I always have them on hand). But plum or romas or heirlooms fresh out of the garden would work as well too. Whole grains are a great platform for garlic and for all varieties of onion. If you have kids and they refuse these very healthy, very flavorful ingredients, try roasting your garlic and using the mildest sweet onions you can find. Or soak the chopped onion in cold water. I love red onion in quinoa, but if that red onion brings tears to my eyes, I ALWAYS soak the chopped red onion in cold water for at least ten minutes to take away some of the harsh burn.

And now the prize you’ve waited for — the first great grains recipe. Get ready to write.

Get ready to write


Tricolor Quinoa


Source: Suzette Jacobs

Serves: 8 – 10 as side dish


Ingredients for cooking the quinoa:

4 baby carrots (or one large carrot cut into 2” lengths)

2 celery stalks, cut into 2” lengths

2 cups quinoa: a mix of white, red, and black (if you can’t find mixed quinoa, just buy the colors separately, and mix equal parts of each)

Enough chicken stock to cook two cups quinoa (see package directions, or use the liquid measure line for “white rice” in your rice cooker)

A generous pinch of salt

½ TBS butter

½ TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil



Rice cooker directions:

Melt the butter and oil, using the “Quick rice” setting on your rice cooker. Add the carrots and celery and pinch of salt. When heated through (a few minutes), turn off the rice cooker. Add the quinoa, and stir to coat each grain with the butter/oil mixture. Add chicken broth to the two cup fill-line for “white rice.” Set rice cooker for the “regular” cycle or set again for the “quick” cycle (either setting works for most grains except brown rice which has its own cycle), and turn it back on.

Directions for making in a lidded pot:

Melt butter and EVOO together in a pot with a lid. Add the carrots and celery and pinch of salt. When heated through (a few minutes), remove from heat. Add the quinoa, and stir to coat each grain with the butter/oil mixture. Add chicken broth/water as per the package directions, then follow the cooking directions on the package.


Ingredients for adding to the cooked quinoa:

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

A handful of cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

Half a cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Half of a red onion, chopped and then soaked in cold water to cover for 10 minutes

A handful of parsley, chopped

½ cup slivered almonds


2 – 4 TBS of sherry vinegar

1 TBS of white balsamic vinegar

Salt to taste

EVOO, only if needed to make the quinoa flavors marry and make the grains “shine”



While the rice is cooking, finely chop whatever veg suits your taste, and set them aside until needed. I usually use a combination like the above list. And I often use whatever happens to be in my refrig at the moment that needs to be used up.

When the quinoa is cooked, discard the baby carrots and celery pieces –- they’ve given up all their vegetable goodness to flavor the quinoa, they’ve got nothing left to give. Stir, and give the quinoa a taste; it will likely need more salt, but it should already taste like it’s on its way to side-dish greatness.

While the quinoa is still warm, add your chopped veg, and start adding the vinegars. Go slowly here, you can always add another TBS if it needs more “bite,” or acidity, but you can’t take it out. I usually start with 2 TBS sherry vinegar, 1 TBS of white balsamic and a little EVOO and build from there. Keep adjusting the flavors with EVOO, salt, and vinegar until it has the right hit of tang and nuttiness, but you can still taste the vegetables and enjoy their crunch. If in doubt, let the dish set for a minute or two, and then go back to taste again.

Last hints:

Another added benefit of using the rice cooker is that you can now leave your side dish for up to an hour in the cooker if need be on the “keep warm” setting. Yes, the veg will continue to steam, so the longer the dish sets, the more cooked your added vegetables will be. Bright green parsley will wilt, as will cilantro. But it’s good sometimes not to have to worry about timing a side dish perfectly. You’ve got options here: if you like crunchy veg in your quinoa and it finishes the cooking cycle before the rest of your meal is done, leave the quinoa in the cooker by itself and add the veg 10 minutes before you serve. If you don’t mind the veg steaming with the quinoa while you finish the meal, go ahead and mix everything together, leaving it all to keep warm in the rice cooker. And theres’s one last option: we often find that we like whole grains like farro and quinoa just as much at room temperature as we do when they are warm out of the rice cooker, so you can always combine everything and then take it out of the rice cooker to cool to room temp while you finish your meal. And since great grains make great leftovers, if there’s extra, remember to bring it up to room temp again before serving.

And that is how you make a grain grain dish whether you decide to keep it simple and serve the grain without the chopped veg, or you add every veg in your refrigerator.

In my next culinary post, I’ll contrast this very busy, very colorful grain with one much more simple: lemon rice. I’ve actually had guests go back for third helpings of this rice dish. And everyone needs a little help the first time they make brown rice: there’s a reason it has its own setting on the rice cooker.


PS. And yes, switching to whole grains did have the desired effect on my husband’s health!

PSS. My reward to all my patient readers who made it to the end: if you really want to take this dish to the next level, try chopping up a little slab bacon or center cut bacon (say about a cup), cooking it, and then adding it to the quinoa when you add the veggies. You won’t believe how well sherry vinegar, almonds, and bacon go together. Cuz hey!  What’s good that can’t be made better with bacon?!?