Alternatives to Gwynnie Bee, part 2

Since I lost weight last year, I’ve been in the size 12-14 range (on the high end right now thanks to several stressful events, sigh). Since the turn of the year I’ve been threatening to stop my subscription to Gwynnie Bee (written about previously here and here) because they focus on plus sizes and their selection in sizes below 14w is less than ideal. Yet I keep on finding enough items to fill up my virtual queue. And the other day they added NYDJ jeans to their offerings – not a huge plus for me since NYDJ is always too short for me, but maybe one of the cropped pairs will work for summer.

Occasionally I do an internet search to see if anyone’s come out with a Gwynnie Bee equivalent in smaller sizes. There are a few out there, although none seems perfect for me. Le Tote is recommended by several bloggers, but only goes up to a size 10. CoutureSqd has a wider size range and is cheaper but you only get one shipment per month, as opposed to GB and Le Tote’s ‘as many as the mail will bring’ exchanges. The newest option to me is thesixohsix, which seems to focus on designer casual wear, and is a straightforward rental service – you choose the item(s) you want to borrow and they send them to you for a 10 day rental period.

The one that gets the best reviews is StitchFix, which is slightly different in that it’s not a rental service; they send you a monthly box of items to try for potential purchase. Everything is returnable if you don’t like it, but there’s a $20 styling fee each month (applicable to your purchase if you make one).
I’ve got so many clothes right now I can’t really justify a StitchFix subscription, but I am definitely considering it for the future. Anyone tried any of these services?

Food Friday: Make-aheads

Recently I picked up a Cook’s Illustrated magazine called “Make-Ahead Dinners.” They issue these compilations fairly often, repurposing recipes they’ve done in regular issues of the magazine, with different themes. This one includes 9 complete themed meals with main dishes, sides and desert. For example, one is a “Saint Patrick’s Day Pub-Style Dinner for 8″.

I tend to appreciate CI/ATK’s scientific rigor in principle but then in practice choose the simplest recipes they have, and then simplify them even more myself. In that vein, I have made two recipes so far: Overnight Broiled Kebabs, which were fine but not worth repeating, IMO, and Freezer Biscuits. The latter I’ve made but not actually eaten yet – you make up the dough, roll it out and cut out the biscuits before freezing them. The biscuits are cream biscuits and baked straight from frozen. I halved the recipe and I have great hopes for it, since CI’s buttermilk drop biscuits are my go-to biscuit. If the biscuits are good, I’ll report back.

There’s a third recipe I want to try for pureed butternut squash, a dish I like but rarely bother to make. This version uses the microwave to steam the squash and can be frozen before final serving. It seems like it would work very well when divided up in to smaller containers, which really works for my cooking needs these days.

Revisiting the Gwynnie Bee experience

Back in September I wrote about Gwynnie Bee and Twice. I have had nothing but great experiences with Twice, which is an online consignment store. I have both bought and sold there and recommend it (although I’d say beware of your wallet if you’re a thrifty shopper like me; it can get addicting.)

I wanted to revisit my experience of Gwynnie Bee, too. I’ve been a happy subscriber since last June, but I do have a couple of reservations. Just to recap, real quick, Gwynnie Bee is essentially Netflix for clothes – for a monthly subscription fee, you get a number of garments out at a time. You can keep them as long as you like and swap them out whenever you want.

One of my reservations is totally not their fault – it’s that their primary audience is plus-sized women. Although they do claim sizes 10-28, the bulk of their items is only available in sizes 14w and up. And I’m a 12 or 14 depending on brand, so a lot of their items don’t go small enough for me. The other is rather more under their control: their packing and shipping has seemed to get slower and slower. It regularly takes two business days after I’ve told them I’m returning an item for them to get the next item out of their warehouse and in the mail. This seems awfully slow to me, when the whole point of the service is that they should send out replacements right away. It doesn’t help that I’m all the way across the country from them – they’re in New Jersey and I’m in California.

I would still recommend them to any plus-sized woman who is looking for a more varied wardrobe, especially for office wear. I don’t know if I’ll keep my membership much longer, since a) I don’t have to dress for an office and b) I’m not plus-sized anymore, so clothes are easier to find in regular stores.

Wow, this blog has been a wasteland recently, huh? I have found that buying clothes that fit is so much easier now that I have lost weight, so sewing for necessity just hasn’t needed to happen. And sewing for fun/curiosity has gotten pushed down the life list thanks to some other projects that I’m involved in. The most I’ve done since Christmas has been to clean up my sewing area (a bit) and buy the newest two Knipmode magazines.

Pattern Review is sponsoring a ‘new to you’ pattern contest; from mid Feb-mid Mar, sew a pattern from a line you’ve never used before. I am tempted. I’ve made something from Knipmode and LMB, so those are out, but I could finally make my Cake Hummingbird, or one of the Deer & Doe Plantain tees (free!) that’s sweeping the sew-o-blog-o-sphere, or maybe kick it up a notch and try one of the free patterns from Marfy (sleeveless top, skirt and jacket) that Leisa @ A Challenging Sew has been running a sewalong for. That’s not even mentioning the new collection from Named, a new indie PDF outfit from Finland. Their first collection last fall only went up to size 44 and was one-sized, but now all their patterns go up to size 46 (41/34.5/44″ bust/waist/hip) and are multi-sized nested, which I find really handy since I am a size bigger on the bottom half. I really dig the Selja Knot Tee, an interesting minimalist offshoot of all the twist tees of a few years ago.

Food Friday: no cookies, and other links

Hiya all,
There hasn’t been a Food Friday post for a while mainly because I’ve not been trying new recipes. With the holidays and some minor illnesses and trying to get back onto a healthier kick, most of my meals have been pretty boring. A few months ago, I would have happily read something like this article on the science of the world’s best chocolate chip cookies @ the Food Lab with delight and tried a few of the approaches out myself. But not right now – too sweet and too time consuming!

We did get a Soda Stream for Christmas so I’ve been experimenting a little with fruit juice mixers and pondering ways to make homemade syrups for soda that don’t have all the sugar and chemicals that the store-bought versions have. Maybe I’ll have a homemade soda recipe for you soon.

Meanwhile, if you need a constant diet (ha) of food blogging, I will direct you to The Tipsy Baker, who always entertains.

Food Friday: Roasted garlic mashed potatoes for a crowd

I made a big batch of these mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and was really pleased at how they turned out. The basic recipe has been in my family for a while, but roasting fresh garlic instead of using garlic powder is my addition. Thanks to the sour cream, cream cheese and butter, this actually keeps and freezes quite well. Because of that, I tend to make a bunch at once and throw some of it straight in the freezer before baking. After all, once you start peeling potatoes, you might as well peel 10 pounds, right? (Kinda true, actually.) I would recommend this for Christmas festivities as well.

You can always split the recipe in half and start with only 5 pounds of potatoes, which results in about a 3-4 quart baking dish worth. The full 10 pounds will result in an 8×10 baking dish full plus a 2-3 quart dish. The garlic needs to be roasted a bit ahead of time so you don’t burn your fingers getting the roasted cloves out of the skin – if you think of it, do it the day ahead and just toss the whole foil package in the fridge until you need it.

Roasted garlic mashed potatoes

2 large heads garlic
10 pounds russet potatoes
1 8 oz package cream cheese*, cut into pieces
1 16 oz package sour cream*
2 sticks butter*, each cut into pieces
salt and pepper to taste (I usually end up using about a teaspoon per half-batch of each)

Preheat the oven to 250-300 F, and cut the very top off the heads of garlic. Put on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil up into a package and bake 1-2 hours until the garlic is roasted (you can smell it when it’s done). If you’re making the potatoes right away, throw the bundle in the freezer for a few minutes so you can handle it.

Wash, peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Put them in a pot with cold water and bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are starting to fall apart. Drain and then put half of the potatoes in a mixer bowl. Add half the butter, cream cheese and sour cream, mixing on low to combine. Add the one of the heads of garlic by squeezing out the cloves from the papery shell. Mix thoroughly and add seasoning. Repeat with the second half of potatoes. Put in a sprayed glass or ceramic baking dish – if you’re going to freeze them for later wrap in foil and stop here – or bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

*I usually hate those recipes that say “Don’t use the low-fat version” but it’s kinda true in this case – low-fat cream cheese and sour cream have more water and it makes the potatoes runnier. Also, you could kick the butter down to 1 stick but really, if you’re making this for a special occasion, does one stick of butter make a difference?

Food Friday: Whipped cream

Does anyone have a culinary bucket list? I don’t have one written down but I do have a mental list of things I’m glad I know how to do/cook, and a few things I wish I knew how to do. Well, I can knock one off the ‘to learn’ list: making homemade whipped cream. Of course, this is super-simple, especially if you have a mixer. I’m not sure why I’d never done it before. Habit and a love of Cool Whip, I guess.

Anyway, the spouse made pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and I was ordering some stuff from the Good Eggs folks (my new love – organic veggie and grocery delivery to your door for 4 bucks!), so I added a pint of whipping cream to my order. I did some quick searching for tips, and learned that a cool bowl helps, and cream roughly doubles in size. The ‘recipe’ I saw recommended adding a teaspoon of vanilla to each cup of cream, and planning to whisk for approximately 7 minutes on medium. I found that mine got done before that – maybe because I was using my Kitchen-Aid? About 5 minutes was just right. It was tasty stuff, although different from the whipped topping I’m used to. You definitely don’t need as much to adorn your pie, and next time I might try adding a little simple syrup for some sweetness along with the vanilla.