April 2013 ~ Diane's Vintage Zest!

Spicy Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing

A spicy spin on my Cornbread Stuffing that EVERYONE loves!

Sweet Potato Souffle for Thanksgiving

One of my most popular recipes EVER, and just in time for Thanksgiving!

DIY Painted Photo Backdrops

Super easy backdrops for your photo, plus a few tips!

Golden Sweet Corn Bread Mini Muffins

A sweet spin on traditional cornbread!

Easy Sweet Potato Pie (without a crust!)

The easiest (and healthiest) pumpkin pie recipe ever!

Black & White Challenge - Final Projects!

The last item that I worked on prior to leaving was the peplum top that I was making for my Black & White challenge.  I have yet to totally resolve the problems involved, but I wanted to share the other group members' progress so far.

Right now, we're deciding on our next challenge topic, so I'll update you as soon as we've picked our next one!

Black and White Challenge - Final Projects on Diane's Vintage Zest!  #sewing #fashion #challenge

First of all, here is my top!  I'll work out the kinks soon...

Black and White Challenge - Final Projects on Diane's Vintage Zest!  #sewing #fashion #challenge

*Update* I redid the top so most of the kinks are worked out now!  See it here!

Sabrina from Sweet French Toast made these incredible shorts!  Click here for her pattern information and the adjustments she made, for a super cute and modern pair of shorts.  :)

Black and White Challenge - Final Projects on Diane's Vintage Zest!  #sewing #fashion #challenge

Tiffany of Tiffany's Notions and Knits has a top with a cute piping detail to share right here!

Favorite Dessert: Ricotta & Fruit Bowls

My favorite desserts of all time would have to be either a tart or cheesecake loaded with ripe, delicious fruit.  I can't imagine baking every day, so this is something that I like to imagine as a deconstructed version of those desserts!

The way that I came to this recipe was when I was moving out of my last apartment and needed to start cleaning out my pantry.  I was working my way through my dried fruit stockpile, and decided to add dried blueberries to some leftover ricotta from a lasagna recipe.


Sometimes, I swear that it almost tastes like cheesecake if I concentrate hard enough.  :)  This is going to be a lot like last week's "recipe" of yogurt and fruit cups, and just like that recipe, I eat this almost every day for a quick, light dessert!

Ricotta & Fruit Bowls
A Vintage Zest original

Saturday Synopsis!

This time next week, I'll be back home because this is my last full day abroad!  I am definitely looking forward to my own bed and catching up with my DVR.  I know, I know.  Poor me, I get to gallivant abroad in pretty castles.  :)

Saturday Synopsis!

Monday: Yogurt & fruit cup "recipe."  It can't really be called a recipe, but it's my favorite mid-morning snack at home!

Tuesday:  It's been one year to the day that I learned how to sew!  I wrote a little sewing machine & car analogy just to prove my guy wrong!  :P

Wednesday:  Travel Diaries: Bruges.  This was my guy's favorite city.  Find out why!

Thursday:  Travel Diaries: Brussels.  More chocolate, waffles, and beer.  I'm feeling very Homer Simpson right now, just throw in a couple of donuts and the transformation would be complete!

Friday: Travel Diaries: Ireland - Part 1.  Our journey down into the South of Ireland, with castles and beautiful scenery galore!

Travel Diaries: Ireland - Part 1

Last I left you, I was in the Brussels airport headed to Ireland.

This was a long trip with a lot of driving, so here's the first part!

*Update: See the whole trip here!*

Day 1 (Friday, 4/19)

  • Sights: Dunmore Caves, Killarney Castle
  • Eats: Cafe la Coco
  • Drinks: Left Bank

We arrived in Dublin and got to the rental car office.  At first, we thought that we might get a GPS, but the man at the counter actually talked us out of it, since getting lost is part of the fun.  I have good map reading skills, but I was definitely NOT prepared for the tiny Ireland roads and its lack of street signs.  :)

This was a sample of the beautiful scenery we had as we headed south!

By the way, we're obviously on the left side of the road, so I had to provide lots of reminders to "Stay left!  Stay left!"  But I was happy to be the navigator/reminder, considering that we got a stick-shift car. This is one of the large highways, which was easy to drive on, but sometimes they ran through cities like this one.

It's not really common in California to have highways turn into regular streets, so it slowed some of our driving time.  Luckily, the cities weren't too big usually, and we got right back to driving through super green fields!

Our first stop was in the Dunmore Caves.  We needed a flashlight in some areas, but it was pretty cool down there!

Travel Diaries: Brussels

More than halfway into my trip, and I was still going strong... until I started to feel a bit under the weather. Luckily, I recuperate pretty fast and I was able to get back on track. Here's our time in Brussels! :)

*Update: See the whole trip here!*

Day 1 (Tuesday, 4/16)

  • Sights: Église Saint-Boniface
  • Eats: Mano a Mano

We arrived at the train station and caught a bus to our flat. We hadn't been able to contact our host the whole day, so she was still preparing our room when we arrived. She suggested that we stop to eat at the area of shops around the corner for dinner or a drink while she finished up.

The center of the shops was the Église Saint-Boniface, which was small (for European standards) but pretty.

We ate at Mano a Mano, which was absolutely incredible! We decided to share a pizza...

...and a trio of pastas.

They were all sooo good! It was late by the time we ended, so we headed straight off to bed.

Day 2 (Wednesday, 4/17)

  • Sights: Place Royale Koningsplein, Musical Instrument Museum, Mont des Arts, Belgian Comic Strip Center, Royal Galleries, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, Sessún Boutique, Stock Exchange, Eglise Saint-Nicolas
  • Eats: Mary Chocolates, Waffle Planet, Fritland, Le Cirio
  • Drinks: A La Mort Subite, Delirium Cafe

The first thing we did every morning in Brussels was break out the bread and cheese that we bought in Noordermarkt during our time in Amsterdam.  Yum!

Travel Diaries: Bruges

*Update: See the whole trip here!*

On the way to Bruges we had a transfer in Antwerp, which had a beautiful train station. Too bad I can't capture how beautiful it was but I suppose if you want to see it, you'll have to see it for yourself!

Day 1 (Monday, 4/15)

  • Sights: Burg Square, Markt Square
  • Eats: La Belgique Gourmande, La Cure Gourmande, Cambrinus

When we arrived at Bruges, the train station was seriously packed and getting a bus into the center of town was a bit crazy. Then when we arrived, we weren't sure where to pick up the key from our host, so it took about another hour to get settled. Finally, we got a chance to see some of the town as we walked around. There were tons of beautiful canals and bridges like Amsterdam.

Even better than Amsterdam was the Burg square, with the City Hall and Basilica of the Holy Blood one side, which were really beautiful and impressive.

To get to the Markt Square, we walked down Breydelstraat and found a couple of sweet shops that were too tempting to pass up! First we stopped in La Belgique Gourmand.

1st Year Sewing Anniversary!

So, exactly one year ago today is the day that I started sewing.  I didn't know the first thing about sewing, and I definitely didn't think I would be starting a blog and have an online sewing group to boot!

Anyways, here's a conversation I had a couple months ago, which inspired the post I'm writing today.

My Guy (MG): "Hey, can you hem these pants for me?"
Me/Diane (D): "Sure, but you could probably learn how to do it yourself too, if you don't want to wait."
MG: "It would definitely be too hard for to me learn."
D: "But it's just like driving a car!"
MG: "What?  Of course it's not!"
D: "Actually, a sewing machine is just like a car."
MG: "Oh really?  Prove it."

And I did.  :)

Meet Paisley, my trusty sewing machine.  :)

Just so you know, I don't claim to be an expert on sewing machines, but I can squeeze more out of analogy than most people can!

Driving a Car / Using a Sewing Machine

First of all, sewing machine and car mechanisms have a few items in common.  Most importantly, the foot pedal!  For both, you push it down more to make it go faster, and release to slow down.  Beginners tend to go slower and are a little jumpier with accelerating speed, but pros know how to work at a fast, even pace.

You also need to make your car reverse, when getting in and out of parking spaces.  It is also very important to use your machine's reverse function at the beginning and end of your sewing work.  Definitely necessary in both!

In the middle of your journey, you mostly go straight forward with some turns or curves in the road.  Of course, beginners have problems with turns, but they get less shaky over time.  Exactly the same with sewing work.  :)

Speaking of turns, you use your hands to control the direction that you travel, with a steering wheel in a car and by manipulating your work in sewing.

Car Models / Sewing Machine Models

As for the machines themselves, most people have pretty basic machines that have the basic functions.  Others have a ton of bells and whistles.  Some cars are technologically advanced with GPS, computer-controlled radio, etc., while sewing machines also can also have screens and other digital capabilities.

Favorite Breakfast #3: Yogurt & Fruit Cups

People who know me through this blog surprised to know I'm a creature of habit when it comes to my eating habits at home.  I love exploring new restaurants and new dishes, so I rarely visit the same place or order the same thing twice.  There is nothing I like better than having something different!

However, I usually eat a few items that I love over and over again at home for breakfast and lunch.  Just like my egg & veggie medley and the egg & veggie muffins, this is a staple for my breakfasts.  Depending on how hungry I am, I'll either have this right away after my eggs or wait to have it as a mid-morning snack.

These yogurt and fruit cups are great because there are no artificial sweeteners or preservatives and I reduce the amount of waste that I create by using reusable containers.  And of course, it's portable and in individual portions, so I can just grab and go in the morning!

Yogurt Parfaits

Yogurt, plain
Sweetener of choice*
Fruit of choice*
Topping of choice*
Optional extras that you'd like to mix in (i.e. - Protein powder, Fiber powder, etc.)

*See below for what I like to use!

Saturday Synopsis!

In case you missed any of my posts these week, here's a roundup to catch you up!

Saturday Synopsis!

Monday: Egg & veggie muffins for super easy breakfasts on the go!

Tuesday:  Sewing rewind: Grandma edition!  A couple of my late grandmother's sewing projects.

Wednesday:  Travel Diaries: Amsterdam - Part 1

Thursday:  Travel Diaries: Amsterdam - Part 2

Friday: Thoughts on the Boston tragedy

Thoughts on Boston 4/15/2013

Hopefully, this is not a controversial post but here goes.

During travels, you are usually slow to get the news from back home, which is not unexpected.  After all, who wants to sit in front of a TV, newspaper, or computer looking at the news.  But every so once in a while, something shocking enough happens that you can't miss it, even overseas.


When you are traveling as an American, you notice several things.

Sometimes you hear comments about how rude, loud, stupid, or bullying we are in the world of politics.  We heard one such comment at the Boom Chicago show from a local, while the troupe (originally from America) were setting up their last song.

I have heard the joke, and even made it a couple of times, that we would get treated better if we pretended to be Canadians.  I've also heard a couple of times that Canadians hate to be mistaken for Americans when traveling.

With this in mind, you go along your travels and try not to feed into the stereotype too much.  Admittedly, I cringe when I see or hear the stereotypical "embarrassing Americans."  I'm not unpatriotic, but it's not a great feeling.


The thing that I want to shed some light on is about how much international support the U.S. really has.  Yes, there are those people who shout out how terrible we are in a crowd, but then there are a hundred other people to shush him and laugh and clap with us instead.

People generally speak English, which we take for granted, but they are happy to converse with us, even if we can only say thank you in their language.  They are truly nice to us and care about where we are from.  They tell us about the times they've been to America, or where they'd like to go if they've never been.  

Every time we went anywhere, someone was listening to the radio, or watching the TV, or having a conversation of how terrible the tragedy in Boston is.  And these were what we would call foreigners.  People who have never set foot on our soil, and do not know anyone that was directly affected.

Although we tend to not know much about matters outside of our country, which is partially due to the little international news we receive, the same cannot be said about the rest of the world.

What I'd like to say to those affected is that while you have support from your friends, families, the city around you, and the rest of the country, there is an international community out there that you may not know about, who truly care.  You are in all of our prayers.


Travel Diaries: Amsterdam - Part 2

Let's get on with the travel adventures!

*Update: See the whole trip here!*

Day 4 (Sunday, 4/14)

  • Sights: Molen van Sloten, Keukenhoff, Heineken Experience
  • Eats: de Patatzaak, Kantjil & the Tijger

On our last day in Amsterdam, we knew that we were going to see the tulips in Keukenhoff. We woke up in time for the 9 am shuttle, but ended up finding out that we needed to exchange one of our museum passes for a ticket prior to boarding. There were only tickets left in the last shuttle of the day at 1 pm, so we were lucky to even get on! In the meantime, we had about 2.5 hours to kill, and we already had a looong list of things to do before leaving at 9 am the next morning by train. Even with our long schedule we wouldn't even be able to see the Rijksmuseum. I was secretly hoping that we could see it the following morning, even for just an hour, although it would put us on a later train, which my ultra-punctual guy would dislike.

Anyways, I reshuffled our schedule and decided to go to Molen can Sloten next, the only working windmill within Amsterdam's city limits. It was such a great tour, and we were the only ones there. We highly recommend visiting here!

First, we walked through an area that showed different professions that relied on windmills with different antique tools. Then we went a guided tour with the miller (who is really in charge of making sure the water levels in sections of Amsterdam don't rise too high), who kept joking with us. He was pretty funny, so at the top of the windmill when he pointed at a shop below where there is a man who "makes the best potato in Amsterdam," we figured that he was kidding again. We were in a big hurry, but since it was literally right next door, we stopped in. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the potatoes were just fries, which I knew that I'd get in Belgium, but since we were hungry, we decided to share some fries for our breakfast while waiting for the bus. :)

We literally ran to catch the bus back into town, just in case we were late to our 12:30 pm Keukenhoff shuttle boarding time. On the way, I snapped a picture of this while catching my breath. :) Renegade knitters in Amsterdam!

At the bus stop, my guy told me that I would love the fries, having already snuck a few on the run to the bus stop. He was sooo right! They must have been doubled fried, because were nice and crispy on the outside, and almost creamy on the inside. The thickness was right in the middle, not a skinny shoestring or a thick steak fry. It was salted just a bit, which is rare for Europeans to add salt to their fries. They were so good with and without ketchup, which is pretty hard for a fry to accomplish, in my opinion. Of course, they were gone before we even got on the bus, partially because we waited so long for it to arrive.

We finally boarded the shuttle with a guy who spoke at least 5 different languages. It always amazes me how people can speak so many languages so well! On the bus, I snapped a picture of one of the fields of flowers.

Travel Diaries: Amsterdam - Part 1

I was sad to leave Paris, but super excited to catch up with my man and his sister in Amsterdam. We were all coming from different countries to meet up, me from France, my guy from the U.S., and his sister from Italy. We were all excited to see each other and visit Amsterdam for the very first time. :)

Here's the first part of that journey!

*Update: See the whole trip here!*

Day 1 (Thursday, 4/11)
  • Sights: Train station
  • Eats: Il Panorama

I had a 7:22am train to catch from Gare du Nord, but my friend had an even earlier plane! We parted ways very early in the morning. I met my aunt for just a little bit while I packed, and then we stopped to get one last pastry from Du Pain des Idees.

The rest of the day was a mess. First, I forgot my converter in the flat, which I realized only after it was too late to turn back. I hadn't factored in how long of a walk it would be to Gare du Nord and I ended up having to leave my aunt behind to run and make my train just 1 minute before it departed. I entered on a train car towards the beginning and had to haul all of my stuff through four different passenger cars. Whew!

Then, I got off at Antwerp because I heard "Antwerpen Centraal" called over the loudspeaker in Dutch, which I mistakenly heard as "Amsterdaam Centraal." No one near me on the train spoke English and there wasn't a route map anywhere to confirm. I asked a lady who had just entered the train by pointing to the station and asking "Amsterdaam Centraal?" and she nodded yes. She motioned that she was sitting in my seat for the next leg, so I promptly got my suitcase and left the train. Then, I confirmed with a girl by pointing at the platform I was standing on and asking "Amsterdaam Centraal?" again, to which I received a nodding of yes again. I was ready to head up the escalator, when I saw the sign for the station reading "Antwerpen Centraal." I started to run to the train when I realized where I was. The girl came towards me and said "Train to Amsterdaam Centraal. Not station." Well, yes I figured that out already! So I hauled my stuff back onto the train late again. I motioned to another late passenger "Amsterdaam Centraal?" and she responded "Yes, we will reach Amsterdam after a few stops." English! She told me that there would be 3 more stops before mine, so I could finally relax. Well, after I hauled my stuff back to my original seat, I relaxed. By the way, that first lady sitting in my seat was actually across the aisle from me, so her misleading answer almost stranded me in Antwerp!

When I finally got to Amsterdam, I turned around to see a beautiful train station! Definitely rivals Gare du Nord in the style category, but not size for sure. I love the wind direction indicator!

Then, part two of my nightmare.

Sewing Rewind: Grandma Edition!

Last week I promised it was my last sewing rewind and that I would focus on my future projects. I have to admit that I always planned on featuring a couple of my grandmother's old projects, some of which inspired my love of sewing.

Unfortunately, I was a terrible planner before my trip, so I only have 3 different projects to share. She made sooo many things for us before she passed, and I could only find a few items and/or photographs of items the day before I left. Oh well!

Wine Bottle Tuxedoes

This is obviously something that my mom asked my grandma to make. Back in the day, my parents used to host wine tastings, with mystery wines that the guests would have to guess. How bourgie!

Anyways, my mom wanted something to cover the bottles that would look cuter than a paper bag. I'm not sure who had the idea to make the covers into little tuxedoes, but they are definitely cute!

Favorite Breakfast #2: Egg & Veggie Muffins

Like I mentioned last week, I need my eggs and veggies to feel full in the morning. I don't always have a ton of time in the morning, so I usually make egg muffins in bulk for the my breakfasts, once every few weeks.

First of all, these aren't like bready muffins, they're more like mini quiches. However, egg muffins sound more appealing to me than mini quiches. I like that I can customize the "muffins" to whichever veggies I have in my fridge and easily change the flavoring, just like last week's eggs. I like to play around with the cheese as well! Sometimes, I top it with a nutty Parmesan, a salty Feta, tangy goat's cheese, or sharp Cheddar. At times, I've thrown in little cubes of chicken sausage, depending on my taste. Enjoy!

Favorite Breakfast #2: Egg and Veggie Muffins

Egg & Veggie Muffins
Adapted from here
Makes 18-24 muffins (depending on amount of veggies used)

Saturday Synopsis!

Saturday synopsis time again, and these were definitely different posts from the norm.  I guess that's what vacation will do to you!

Saturday Synopsis!

Monday: A favorite breakfast of eggs & veggies.  Plain and simple. :)

Tuesday:  Sewing rewind: First projects ever edition!  I've now shown you all of my past projects.  Yippee!

Wednesday:  Weekly Wrap-up: London adventures - Part 2!  I was so sad to leave, but excited to see Paris!

Thursday:  Paris sighs and delicious food - Part 1!

Friday: Paris - Part 2!  I wish I could relive these days over and over again.  So many beautiful sights and delicious dishes!

Travel Diaries: Paris - Part 2 - I ♥ Paris in the Springtime

Here is Part 2 of Paris!

Day 3 (Monday, 4/8)

  • Sights: Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Pere-Lachaise, Moulin Rouge, Les Invalides / Napoleon's Tomb, Galleries Lafayette
  • Eats: Du Pain des Idees, Pierre Hermé, L'As du Fallafel, Chez Marianne

Within walking distance of our flat was an amazing bakery that my friend found, called Du Pain des Idees.  She was super excited about it, so we finally hit it up for breakfast.

Ohmygosh, the aroma as soon as we stepped in the door was amazing!

It was a bit late in the morning, but it was still ridiculously busy with locals. They were still refilling the baskets and trays with pastries fresh from the oven.

My choice was an Escargot Aux Cassis Fraise, which also had cream cheese. This put Laduree's to shame, and it was just sooo delicious! Perfectly flaky towards the outside, and just a little custardy and soft in the center. Mmm...

My friend got a Chocolatine, basically a Pain au Chocolat, and a wonderful bread with coriander seeds.

Then, we went out for the day, just a bit later than usual. We could have rushed through the day, but I did stop to appreciate this pretty part of the Abbesses Metro station.

It's decorated with paintings of different sights in Montmartre.

Travel Diaries: Paris - Part 1 - April in Paris!

I'm not sure why my "scheduled" posts haven't been posting them automatically, so here is my post a bit late!

Day 1 (Saturday, 4/6)

  • Sights: Gare du Nord, Arc de Triomphe & Champs-Élysées at night
  • Eats: La Creperie des Champs Élysées Les Ecuries

We got to Paris in the afternoon, and turned around to see this amazing building: Gare du Nord!

I know that we have train stations in the U.S., but this puts them to shame! Then, we dragged our suitcases to our flat. The bedroom/living room/dining room was a decent size, but the shower was teeny tiny! Anyways, we settled in and found macarons right around the corner! But, it might surprise you to find out that they were from McDonald's! I wouldn't normally eat at McDonald's overseas, but this was too funny to pass up!

It was late when we decided to head out, but by then we had a semi-plan to see the sights at night. I liked the idea of a warm metro, but the bus seemed to get us there closer. We were waiting in the windy cold for our transfer near a church on the left bank, when we realized that the bus line we were waiting for was out of service until July! Ugh!

Anyways, I rerouted us and we finally reached the Arc du Triomphe about 1.5 hours later, just in time for the night lights on the Arc de Triomphe!

Little Miss is peeking out from the lamp post Beatles-style, even though she isn't in London anymore. :)

We strolled down the Champs-Élysées looking for dinner and found tons of expensive places to eat. Instead, we decided to go for a creperie (still on the high end of prices), but we knocked off two things on our list: crepes (one with mushrooms and one with crab)...

Travel Diaries: London - Part 2

There's just so much to share on my travels, that I decided to break up my weekly updates for the rest of this trip into more manageable chunks, for you to read and for me to blog about. I was suuuper frustrated last week when I had to rewrite my post for what felt like a hundred times, due to all of my pictures. Anyways, here we go with this week's post!

Last I left you, I was in London having a ball, so let's just get right to the pictures!

Day 3 in London (Wednesday, 4/3)

  • Sights:  Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock, Bath
  • Eats:  St. George's Tavern, Bistrotheque

When we arrived in London, we didn't have a single thing planned except for this day trip outside of London. It was great, because we didn't need to consult a map or guidebook that day and we knew that weren't going to get lost!

First on the tour was Windsor Castle! Here is a picture of just a portion of the spectacular outside walls. It's impossible to get a good picture of the entire outside because it is seriously enormous!

London - Part 2 on Vintage Zest

Apparently, the queen was in residence while we were touring. Exciting! It's a good thing they prohibit pictures of the inside because that would be at least another post on its own. Here's another one of the guards, who were still wearing their winter coats. Can you spot Little Miss?

Next stop was Stonehenge. It was super, super cold and windy. Even the tour guide was pretty impressed how bitterly cold it was, in his words in fact. It didn't stop me from spending my time making the slow walk around a seriously impressive ancient relic. Those tiny colored dots on the left are people, and the tinier white dots to the right in the distance are sheep scattered on the grass. I wish I could have ran up and touched the stones. Bad Diane!

Sewing Rewind: First Projects Ever!

Well, this is my last sewing rewind post, cataloging my past projects. They have definitely been getting less exciting, but now I can focus on future projects! Last week, I posted about my fails, specifically right before documenting my first projects so I could reflect on how far I've come. Yes, maybe a bit self-serving to boost my confidence, but I needed it after some of those messes of projects!

Here they are in all their grandeur. ;)

Envelope Pillowcases

The very first project in my sewing class was to sew up some pillowcases. I had joined the class one week late, so I was just learning how to use a machine while everybody else made their pillowcases.

However, I kept an eye on what they were doing, so I could get it done quicker during the next class time. I bought some sale fabric from Joann's (same as from my now internationally famous tutorial) and was an overachiever and made two! I mean, who really needs just one pillow anyways!