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Friday, December 30, 2011

Talk about getting it wrong

I do not like little bugs. Flies, small beetles. Anything that can get in my ears when I am sleeping. But I do love beautiful insect like this.

It is beautiful, isn't it. A true work of art.

So I get this email from my sister Suzanne yesterday asking me if I have a cutting board. She was given one for Christmas and thought I might like the one she has.

Now, because my brain is always in the sewing mode, I think she is talking about the cutting board that I have on my cutting table. I write back that I currently have one, but save the one she has because I go through them often. And because I don't have much room here, I suggest we could keep it at Linda's.

Then she tells me, after three or four emails, that it is a kitchen board...........

I felt so stupid.

I immediately write back. I would love to have it as I don't have a cutting board here. We haven't found my board in storage and I am using this piece of wold that comes from a craft store that you would normally decoupage.

Poor Suzanne must think I am getting really senile.


I was just watching the news and at the end, they did the usual end of the year showing of photographs of people who passed during the year. I saw Andy Rooney's picture and I was confused. I knew that he stopped broadcasting on "60 Minutes", because he felt it was time to retire. That was in October. It was my sister's birthday on the 2nd. I remember that night because I said to myself that "Now there is someone I am going to miss!" But I heard nothing of him since.

I was watching this realing of people on television and at first I thought they were showing some of the great names in film and TV. There were some faces that I was sure were still alive. Then as the images were going past, slowly it was coming to me that these people are no longer with us. So I looked up Andy.

There it was. He died November 4th. He entertained me until he passed. I just sat here and cried..... I am still crying.

He said things so many people wanted to say and couldn't. And when he was admonished for his opinions, he apologized in ways you could barely understand the apology, but they were accepted. It is one of the great things I adored about him. And I loved his face. I often thought how I would love to cook for him and his wife. I could see him loading his fork full of food and woofing it down, appreciating every bite. I would love to have heard the sound of his voice at the dinner table.

Whenever I have a hero, I always want to cook for that person. I just love feeding people. He has written books. I guess now I will have to get the books and keep his words with me that way. The snickers and laughter.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Didn't happen

To my dear baby sister Linda :

You gave me three cookies for Christmas from Van Otis Chocolate. For those who are not familiar with Van Otis, they have been making chocolates locally for generations. If you want to make my mother happy, give her a box of Van Otis, then take her picture. She looks best with melted chocolate at the corners of her mouth. All of us do. It means we have just indulged in nirvana.

These three cookies are made from the original Oreo cookie dipped in Van Otis chocolate and simply wrapped in thin tin foil. Nothing grandiose about it. Understated. Deadly. Now I have not eaten chocolate in, well, since the 23rd, I had a piece of Suzanne's chocolate poof. It was wonderful. I have decided to remove chocolate from my plate. I gave two of these cookies away at our family's Christmas gathering. One to George, and one to PJ. I think I mentioned him. My nephew whom I haven't seen in many years. So I came home with only one. And it has been sitting, occasionally noticed on my beautiful country table in the middle of the kitchen. I just now ate it. I had to cut it into tiny pieces as my teeth do not allow me to bite into hard things. So I was quite delicate about the affair.

So now what am I supposed to do? My whole body is screaming ADDICTION!!!! I guess I have to be - god I hate this word - grateful. Grateful that I only had one in the house rather than a whole box. I am rolling my eyes and I imagine you, the reader are snickering right now.

So what didn't happen?

I didn't get my driver's license. We could not go in the morning. George forgot that he had a contractor coming over to check on the heating system in his house. Make sure everything is working properly before the bad weather hits. OK. No problem. We arrived at the DMV, the Department of Motor Vehicles at 1:15. I thought there would be plenty of time. Lots of people there, big line. I realize I needed to fill out a form and was able to get that while waiting in line. Finally, at the counter, I find out I needed another form of ID like a proof of residency. I had two ID's, my picture ID from Oregon and my birth certificate. Not enough. Need a bill or something with my current address on it. Se we headed home for this. I just took the book I keep all the bills to be paid in. We went back, stood in line, came to the counter. Great, she said. No, I believe she said, perfect. Then... the bomb drops.

"You are Pauline Messier? And Lareau? You are married? Do you have your marriage certificate?" No. That's in Oregon. We need your marriage certificate.

So we went to City Hall to get a duplicate and decided to go back tomorrow morning at 8:00 when they open. It was too late by that time. They close at 4:00 and there were so many people waiting that our chances of going through the testing process was very slim. My anxiety which was already sky high just got out of control. George is wonderful. He is so calm with such a great sense of humor that he just stabilized me. OK. Tomorrow. It's OK.

More study time. I will forget it all by tomorrow morning.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I'm sailing!!! I'm Sailing!!!

Remember the movie with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus called "What About Bob?" when near the end they strapped Bill to the mast and took him out onto the water and he yelled out "I"m sailing!! I'm sailing!!"

Well, George took me out driving this morning. I have not driven in over six years. I have been putting it off for awhile. Fear. What if I fail? I gave up my license when I was going through the "great depression" in Oregon. Public transportation was abundant in Portland. Driving was dangerous in my condition.

I spent hours reading and trying to remember the details of the driver's manual yesterday. I was able to get the manual online. Thank you Denise. It is very very wordy. And at one point I called George to ask him why I had to know all this stuff about tractor trailers and motorcycles. He said I had to just skip over those parts because they didn't apply to me. I should have asked him earlier. Anyway, the manual is over 100 pages. I don't know. How can I retain all those details.

So he came this morning and we went out driving. We began in the parking lot of St. Augustin's school in Goffstown. Then we went down all these country roads so I could get used to peripheral
vision, speed limits, awareness. Then we went to Hannaford's to practice head in parking. Then we went to busier streets, to Staples to get printer ink. More practice in parking. He was in complete control to the point that, even when I was out of the car, he got just a tad testy on when it was good to walk from the car to the store!! I actually understood. I was so focused on driving I was not paying attention to the fact that the man in the car next to us had pulled out of his space despite the fact that he was about to run me over. George said, when you are learning to drive, you notice these things. But once you are experienced you don't want to turn into an "a______" like him.

Then it was time to come home and practice parallel parking. It took two tries but I understood the "seeing". I was always good at parallel parking.

At one point, driving this beautiful road through New Boston I exclaimed "I'm sailing!!"..

George laughed. He has every confidence in me. Now somehow between now and the test which we hope will be tomorrow morning, I have to believe in that confidence.

Tonight, when all the things I want to do today are done, I will re-read the manual. I have to get up at 8:00 in the morning. Anxiety. Relax. Breathe. Anxiety.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


My Christmas cake. I think it weighed about five pounds. I found a recipe very close to my traditional chocolate cake recipe that I have been using for my family and friends' cakes for decades. My personal cook book is in storage in Oregon. And as many hundreds of times as I have made that cake, I could not for the life of me remember the recipe. I just don't remember things. I have to write everything down. For a cake this big, I increased the recipe by a half.

I am also dealing with an oven that runs 75 degrees hot. But... if you set it at 275 to get 350, it heats to 275. But if you set it then at 350, it heats to over 400 degrees. So I practiced on a package of brownies which I then gave to neighbors. Then I spent hours working the temperature knob to get the oven as close to 350 degrees as possible. Also I had to take into consideration the fact that I was dealing with large cake pans and extra batter. So, needless to say, getting this cake to work was really up to kharmic energy.

But look. I got a fantastic cake. I then made a double batch of frosting and voila. Christmas cake.

I got all my gifts into a bag. I made sure my camera was in my pocketbook. In another bag I put a bunch of magazines and a sweater I fixed for Linda. And these I had to handle while also bringing down the stairs the cake. All I could think of was dropping the cake. When George called that he was on his way to pick me up I told him I would need help when i got out the door because I would be balancing the cake. When we got to Linda's house, I realized I forgot my pocketbook. At first I thought, oh well. Then I quickly realized that it had my camera in it. Merde!!


That is all that I got for pictures for Christmas. I didn't get any pictures of the ornaments I made because I made them, wrapped them and sent them out or packaged them for the family. I made pin cushions for my sisters Suzanne and Linda and did I get pictures? I spent 99% of my life creating all of these garments and all of these beautiful things and never took pictures. I have been trying to break that habit for the past three years or more and I just have to be better. My sister Denis is constantly on me for not taking pictures and I am a constant disappointment.

I did take pictures of this apron I designed. My niece Melanie asked for an apron for Christmas. Of course, the task was given to me and I was happy about that. Aprons are pretty popular but it is very very rare that I see one that I like. There are some wonderful pieces out there, but they are more ornate than practical. I wanted something practical. And Melanie is not a foo foo person herself. I was sure she was not looking for something with frills and cutesy fabrics. She, I was sure, was looking for something heavy, washable, and a fabric that stains could easily be removed from.

I went to this store nearby called Fabric Fix where you could buy fabrics inexpensively. I found two folds of decorator weight toile. One red based and one green based. Perfect. I made hers out of the red. I created the pattern myself. It is an ample fit. It covers the entire bodice not just the center of the breast. The neck strap is adjustable using 1" D-rings. It wraps around completely to the back and the straps come round to the front to tie. I made a 1/2" bias binding to completely cover the raw edges using 2 & 1/4 " bias strips. I made enough to make the straps as well. This way, it is completely finished instead of having rolled edges. It has more substance.

When you put it on, you are surrounded with it. It is long enough to go down to just below the knees. Melanie was thrilled as she claims to be a sloppy cook in the kitchen. It is totally washable and I told her that if she gets any stains, just give the stain a spray of Simple Green and throw in the wash. After it is dried, you don't even have to iron. The weight of the fabric will hold its own.

The perfect apron! She tried it on and loved it. Yes!! So who wants one?

I did not get pictures of the wonderful spread of food my sister Linda put together. All these hor d'heurves, a cheese fondu, a full table of wonderful things. Suzanne made a buche using whipped cream and chocolate wafers that was absolutely wonderful. I didn't eat my own cake. I ate hers. The tree, under which were a hundred gifts. Suzanne was there with her husband John, Melanie and her son Hyrum, Mom, Linda, and George and I and a surprise guest, PJ, my brother Phil's son. I haven't seen him since he was just a boy and now he is in college, 28 years old, deep voice and all grown up. A great personality and a joy to be with. My first Christmas with NH family in eight years. Everyone was happy and healthy and it was a nice warm evening. We celebrated on the 23rd this year as Linda had to work on Christmas day. Linda's a nurse and has a schedule.

No matter. What is important is being with them. My favorite time of year.

I didn't get to make my Christmas cards this year, so I will be creating New Year's cards this week. A looking forward card, a wishing well for the new year. That will be great. I never buy. I always make. It makes every occasion more personal.

I am worried though. I sent my sister Denise her gift on Monday and the post office said it would be there by Thursday. It is now Saturday and it still has not arrived. I am uncomfortable.

Baklava for Christmas

For several years, George has been making Baklava for Christmas. When we were together he used to make Christmas cookies. Hundreds and hundreds of them. All different kinds. He would put them on Christmas plates, wrap them and deliver them to everyone. Everyone!!! Now he makes Baklava. This year, he asked me if I could help him. I was thrilled as I had never made this Armenian delight. I had, almost four decades ago, worked with phyllo dough making other Armenian dishes. But never baklava. So I did not hesitate when asked.

I have seen in recent years knock-offs of this treat, skimping on layers and reducing caloric content. I have always maintained a loathing for those. Do it right. Just eat less. Maintain tradition. For god's sake. When I asked George about his recipe I was thrilled to see that I was going to learn how to make the real thing!

We made four trays. Each tray had four layers of Fillo Dough. The bottom layer had four layers and the other three layers had three layers. Each layer was composed of four sheets of Fillo Dough. So each tray had 52 sheets of Fillo Dough.

The preparation of the nuts was two parts ground walnuts to one part ground almonds. These were ground in a tiny version of a Cuisinart.

To this we added 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground clove. I must admit that I cheated a little and added more of these spices than what he told me to put in. It just didn't seem like much.

Then we melted in the microwave a whole pound of butter for spreading on the layers of Fillo.

This is the brush I used for brushing. I think it was a three inch paint brush. It would have taken forever if I had used the standard home kitchen butter brush that is an inch wide. As George laid a sheet of dough down I brushed it. Then the next and the next.

First you start by buttering the pan. You see that we just used a cookie sheet. I had always thought that the pan was going to be a deep pan. I was able to bring from my own stash two restaurant half baking pans which are a bit bigger that home-grade pans. So we got a bit more out of those pans when it came time to cut.

George would lay the sheets and I would butter. Sometimes, the Fillo was easy to work with and sometimes not. It really had nothing to do with quality. The company that made what we were working with has been making this Fillo for over a hundred years and you will find it in the freezer departed as "Athens Fillo Dough". It is just that fragile. Working 4 trays meant that we handled over 200 sheets and there were bound to be some damaged ones. So don't be too frustrated if you find them. Remember that you have a whole pound of butter to work with. Melt two sticks at a time. Do the first two layers. Then melt the last two stick for the top two layers. It is easier to work if the butter is warm.

So then we spread the nuts on as evenly as possible, but not too much. It doesn't take much for the three layers. You just want a nice thin even layer.

The hardest sheet of dough to butter is the first layers over the nuts. Just be generous with the butter and patient with your hand.

Before putting the tray in the oven, score the top layer of dough. My thoughtful sister Suzanne gave me this perfect knife sharpener for my birthday which I brought to George's kitchen when I saw the knife he was working with. It must have been a hundred years old and never sharpened. The sharpener is a Whustoff and does a really good job. After he sharpened his knife, cutting went really well.

So you put the tray in a 350 degree oven for about 1/2 hour until it is a nice light brown. If the pan is well buttered including and carefully done, the edges, then there will be no drying out. It is important not to dry out the edges.

We made one tray at a time and put each in the hallway to cool. While cooling, we made a syrup of 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 2 cups water and a generous squirt of lemon juice. Cook this on the stove bringing to a boil and then simmering for a little while. You don't want to cook it down. You don't want it to get heavy. It should be a very light syrup. It must be hot when you pour it over the cold baklava. Then it takes time for the syrup to be absorbed into the pastry. You should not see any syrup around the edges of the pans. So let it sit for a day. Gooey is good.

It took us two days to make four trays. On the third day is when George began the process of cutting. I put each piece into a cupcake cup and then into tins. I think we filled nearly 25 to 30 tins.

It was exhausting but a wonderful experience. I will do it again next year. Now let's see. Who is on the list?????

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I, like so many, am waiting for winter. It is not necessarily about the snow, although the snow is so important, It is also about the ice that collects from the edges of the roof tops and watching them sweat when the sun hits them. The light cloud of breath as I run to get my mail in the late night hours. I suspect this year there will be the children across the street throwing snowballs and building weird snowmen. It has been eight years since I have seen a live snowman. And then there is the silence that comes with the snow. I will open my window to hear it. Crisp, white and quiet.

I have missed the New England winters.

It is a few days till Christmas. My ornaments are designed and pretty much finished. I only have four left to make. Today I designed a wonderful apron for my niece. I can't load it up here as it's a present yet to be given. I still have a pin cushion to design and a kimono silk scarf. What I love about these presents is that I get to do everything from scratch - no patterns. Only now, unlike in the past, I am recording my patterns. People always say, "can you make me one?" but in the past I never recorded my patterns. I am learning. I am also discovering that I love designing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Creamed Onions

I have never made creamed onions in my long history of cooking. And frankly, I don't even remember eating them. But I came across the idea on a cooking show, oh, sometime around two in the morning recently and I thought - "that might be nice!"

It is a dish our family has never had at any of our gatherings. It would be a treat, a surprise. My little sister Linda said I shouldn't make anything because I had just finished making curtains, chair pads, quilted place mats, 16 dinner napkins. She thought that that was enough. But who can go to a holiday dinner without food in hand?

So I bought three pounds of pearl onions, a huge bunch of dill, a quart of cream and off I was.

I put the onions in a large pot of boiling water for two minutes just to loosen the skins. With my knives very sharp, I began to remove the skins, cutting off the roots and trying to leave the thin tops on because they are so pretty that way. Half way through, the skins began to be difficult to remove, so I put them back in the hot water for another minute and that was enough to get the rest of the skins off. The onions are so lovely. You don't realize it until you are holding a handful of them and their translucence is so glistening.

I trimmed the thick stems from the dill and chopped it rather large. I wanted to be able to see the herb and to feel it on the tongue. There was a lot of dill. I used only half of it. I put the rest of it on a paper towel and placed that on a dish to dry out in the open. When you have fresh herbs that you can't use, chopping and drying them is really the best thing to do. I put them in small jars after they have dried at least a week. they have to be completely dry before storing. When I need them, it is almost like they were fresh from the market. I love that about fresh herbs. No waste. I put the dill to the side.

I then began the roux. I melted two tablespoons of butter and threw in three tablespoons of flour. This I cooked for a few minutes until the flour took on a bit of a nutty look. Then I began to whisk in the cream. Slowly. You have to do this slowly at first otherwise you will have a lumpy mess. Then keep adding cream until it thickens. Then add in a handful of dill. I had already turned the fire on under the empty onion pot so that it was hot but not burning. I then threw in the onions and the cream. I stirred it gently so as to not break the onions. I had to add a bit more cream. the roux keeps thickening as it cooks so you have to make adjustments. A very small amount of salt and a good twisting of pepper. I put it in the beautiful bowl and off to Linda's I was, Proud. This is going to be a winner.

When I walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks. My sister Suzanne had also made creamed onions. Oh I felt so bad. Here I was thinking it was going to be so great and it was a total disaster. Suzanne and Linda had discussed the menu and didn't tell me because they thought, because of all the work I put into the dining room, that I wouldn't bring anything. Even now, I am sitting here feeling so bad. I mean, who would have thought that two sisters would think the same thing on the same holiday!!!

Well, you have my recipe anyway, should you want to make them. Suzanne brought her onions home and we served mine. I never even got to taste hers. I still feel awful and that was four days ago!! I am going to burn in hell!!

I managed to bring home a container with maybe five onions left and some of the cream sauce. The picture you see is what I turned it into today. I took out a package of chicken sausage with sweet apples, cut them into small slices and sauteed them. In a large pot, I cooked up really quickly some fresh spinach that I roughly chopped for about one minute. I didn't want it to be too soft. I then boiled up the water and cooked some curly pasta. While that was cooking I made another roux and added some leftover cream and a bit of chicken stock and guess what? I had that leftover dill drying on the dish. I threw that into the new sauce. When the pasta was done I reserved some of the liquid, of course, then threw everything together. A week of dinners.

I used regular butter. I know. All the chefs use unsalted butter. But I don't use butter that often and unsalted butter has a short shelf life. So I use regular butter and taste before I salt. Oh and I love the fresh cracked pepper. I don't understand how a chef can spin the cracked pepper three or four times in a huge dish and think it will flavor the dish? If I am making a huge dish that fills my biggest casserole, four cranks of the pepper mill don't do it for me. Or do I have the wrong pepper mill? Do the chefs have special pepper mills that I don't know about? When I was cooking in a professional kitchen, Chef Clayton really used his mill. I could see the pepper. It was beautiful.

I love cooking. It just makes me feel whole.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flowers everywhere

This is the dress that took me I cannot begin to count the hours. I have recorded hours, but the application of flowers was actually a vision. I think anyone who wants to be a dress maker should attempt a beauty like this. When you are through, the smile on your face is deep.


When I unpacked the box and laid out the fabrics my first reaction was that this tulle was so stiff. I was sent these notes explaining the ideas for the dress. There are two layers to the skirt. Should this be an inner interfacing to the lower layer or could it be a part of both layers? Was it too stiff? Would it look like a costume or a party dress. I am always worried about the carnival-costume look.

The more I touched it, the more skeptical I was that it would work. It kept crying to me "What are they thinking?"

But as a single layer, it didn't seems so bad. So I began. All the outer layers of the dress had come already cut and the pattern pieces attached. So I laid out the skirt pieces, ironed the paper patterns, and worked on placing them onto this tulle so that it would lay properly inside each skirt. My experience has been that if it is not cut correctly, it could twist and send the garment in a different direction than it should be going.

So I cut and then stitched each piece to the lower lining or the skirt. Then sewing the three layers together was easier. The problem was, once right side out, it was necessary to stitch on the lining side close to the seam. A stay stitch. I clipped the seam of course. But the stay stitching was not coming out well. I was constantly tearing it out and re-stitching. So, I used a technique that I have used for decades on small curves. I took my pinking shears and pinked close to the seam. Of course, I should have done this in the first place, but my thinking was that it is such a gradual curve, perhaps it did not require the pinking. You have to be very careful when pinking

This is the seam trimmed.

Then it is pinked close leaving 3/16th of an inch to the seamThen you turn the skirt right side out and understitch. I am using white thread to show it up. It comes out very smooth, and there is no undoing of stitching to straighten out any folds.

This then is the outside of the skirt, very smooth, a beautiful curve.

Then the question was, do I repeat this for the upper skirt? So I worked the concept on scraps of the fabric. First putting the stiff tulle only into the lower layer, then making another with tulle in both layers. If it were possible, I would have tried this to the actual skirts, but once the seams are trimmed, change is just about impossible. The first sample with the tulle only in the lower layer felt rather lifeless. Almost the whole effect of the tulle was lost. But in the second sample, with the tulle in both layers, there was a wonderful lightness. If I were wearing this, I would be in the mood for a great wine and dancing. So, I went for the two layers. And just look at the dress. You can see it. The dress breathes.

The bra cups to the boustier were already made and in pieces. Make a decision. Frankly, when I placed the red which covered the black taffeta, the basic fabric of the dress, underneath the flower tulle, the red looked like a costume again. It did absolutely nothing for the bodice. I did talk to Julie at Fabric Depot, for whom I am making this dress, and she said to trust my instincts.
So I re-cut the bra pieces. I would have had to do this anyway to stitch in the flower tulle.

I love this insulation. It is a knit-covered foam. Where has it been all of my life! I have taken apart so many purchased bra cups and shoulder pads to build a bust in garments. This fabric, and I promise to find out what it is, just molds itself to whatever you want it to. I installed this cup liner at the very end of constructing the bodice. It needed to be cut down and hand stitched into the bra. The whole bodice was originally meant to be boned so that the boning stitching would show on the outside. But with this flowered tulle, that would not be possible. So I completely boned the lining which was made of the same taffeta as the dress itself. Before closing up the dress is when I stitched in my hand made cups. I have to find out what this fabric is so I can order some to have in my stock.

These are some of the markers I used in the next step. When it comes to marking soft tulle, not just anything works. Do you see the grey one? At the very end of marking and cutting the bodice and yoke pieces, is when I dug that one up and it worked the best. I need to get that style in all the colors. It is put out by Clover, a company from Japan that excels in notions.

Then I spent a week pulling out the stiff pages in magazines to use them for the placement of each pattern piece onto the flowered tulle, marking and cutting. A very lengthy process, But this is exactly the type of thing I love to do. Fussy cutting.

I put the flower tulle flowers to the board so that I could mark the tulle. I had to make sure that each piece was mirror cut, all the markings included. Then I used very fine scissors also from Clover, and carefully cut each piece. Then all the flowers had to be removed from the seams for stitching. The markers did have a tendency to distort the tulle while dragging it alongside the magazine pattern pieces. But I cut them anyway and fit them onto the taffeta when it came to that step.

This is a lot of flowers. I did have some left over. My first attempt was in matching the lines of the flowers. The original flowers are stitched on in rows. You can see it here. And I love matching stripes, plaids, patterns. So, that is what I did. And it was awful. I wish I had taken a picture. You would have laughed. So, again, here I am, taking - carefully - taking the pieces of the bodice apart and re-cutting the flowers so that they are random all in trying to maintain the grain of the fabric. Again, cutting off flowers to be re-positioned.

First I stitched the bodice and hand-stitched the flowers so that it looked like a field of flowers rather than a flower pot here and a flower pot there. Then the yoke was constructed and attached to the bodice. Sitting, arranging, re-arranging. It is lovely work.

The final part was attaching the skirts. They didn't really marry well. I think it was either a flaw in the pattern or there was no instruction on how to reduce the difficulty matching the yoke to the skirts. More arranging of flowers. I love that the straps are adjustable. Then the lining was all hand stitched from the top of the zipper across the skirt seam and around. So the whole dress is completely enclosed. I just love that. Most of the time, I will put in a lining if a pattern comes unlined. To me, to put in so much work and not have it lined is atrocious. It is amazing how many patterns today are unlined. This dress is worth all the time it took to make it.