Friday, July 24, 2009

For my Mama

Today is my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

Have you met my mom? If so, you are well aware that neutral is not her thing. She loves color, she loves patterns, and she loves things that are vibrant.

She has a skirt that she wears a lot. It is very colorful. It has many tiers. Did I mention she wears it a lot? Well, I decided it needs a break, and the best way to make that happen is to throw something else into the rotation. Like a similar skirt. Similar but better. And so I made her one.

You're going to have to click on that photo to see it larger. That way you can see the variety of vibrant prints up close, and you can see the fancy schmancy trim better.

Oh, how I love that bird fabric! I just think it is adorable. I hope she loves it, too, because it is the main panel.

So this skirt: wow, was there a lot of cutting and measuring! And gathering! Oh, the gathering. However, it was all very easy to do. It was time consuming, but the monotony of gathering is very relaxing, and I enjoyed it. Plus, it was really fun to see the skirt come together as each new tier was added. The edges of the trim are raw and will fray up in the wash, which will be even cuter.

The only downfall of this skirt is its weight. It may not look like it, but there is a lot of fabric here. Like 4 yards of fabric. But let's be realistic here: It's Minnesota. I was happy for my wool socks last night. The weight is probably not such a downfall.

My mom opened this gift a couple of hours ago and immediately asked me to make a matching top. Not tiered, of course. Just a simple tank out of one fabric. She hasn't decided which fabric yet. Don't worry, though-I will post photos when it happens.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And a Tote

Are you sick of totes yet? Yeah, I didn't think so.

I made this for Taylor, who will turn 6 next week. I am pretty sure she doesn't read my blog so I feel safe posting it. I just have to get a couple of books to stash inside. I am thinking Junie B. Jones. I know she's kind of bratty, but the chapters are so short that early readers can go it alone if they want. And Taylor is quite the reader!

I originally bought one yard of the pink Fairy Frost fabric. I have made three totes with it and now have about a quarter of a yard left. My scrap bin is getting really big! I need to come up with some projects that use scraps only.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pain au Chocolat

My sister had a Bastille Day party on Saturday, and we were supposed to bring a French food to share. I was going to take the easy way out and bring a baguette, but then I had the great idea to make croissants. So off to the World Wide Web I went!

And I now present to you: Pain au chocolat!

These were so delicious, and so easy. I SWEAR.

You will need:

1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 jar of Nutella
Seedless raspberry preserves
powdered sugar

Unfold your thawed puff pastry and cut into thirds along the fold lines.

Roll each third out to about 16" long on a floured surface. Then cut it into thirds again. (There are 2 puff pastry sheets in each package. You will cut each sheet into thirds, for a total of 6 strips. You will cut each strip into thirds, for a grand total of 18 mini strips. I worked with one strip at a time, making three complete Pain au Chocolat at a time.)

At this point, I put my Nutella into a pastry bag, the very same bags I use for decorating cakes and cupcakes. If you don't have one of these, you can put yours into a plastic zipper bag and snip of one end.

Then I squeezed three lines of Nutella onto each mini strip. Mmmmmm...Nutella...

Next, spoon a bit of raspberry preserves onto each mini strip. I used about a teaspoon. Use more or less to suit your taste. You can even omit it all together, or use a different jam. Whatever makes you happy.

Then, gently cut 3-5 vent holes on the raspberry side. Fold the raspberry half over the chocolate half and seal the edges. You can use wet fingers to do this, or you can use egg. I just used my fingers. Make sure they are sealed well or they will explode open in the oven. They are still delicious, but not as pretty. In fact, they look sort of like hot dog buns when they explode open.

Put some baking parchment onto a baking sheet, and put the pastries on top. Leave a couple of inches between them. I have jelly roll pans (really big cookie sheets with edges) and I could only fit 7 pastries on at a time.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Once they are cool, dust them with powdered sugar. Voila! A beautiful and delicious dessert or coffee accompaniment. I think my dad called them "scrumpy." Nobody could believe I made them.

Now you go make them. They are so easy and so worth the small amount of prep work.

I have many varieties floating around in my head. Like, how about pie filling? Or apricot and white chocolate? Oh, the possibilities!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Socks: Ta-da!

I finished my second pair of socks yesterday! And it's even more exciting because I made this pair for myself. Meaning I get to enjoy them for many moons.

It's not that easy to take a photo of your own feet, but I did it anyway. I really love how this yarn makes its own stripes. I didn't know it was going to do this. I know, I know-self-striping yarn isn't a brand new phenomenon. I just didn't realize this yarn was self-striping until I got into the pattern a bit. I am very pleased.

I just added these photos to Ravelry and realized that I started them on April 20 and I finished them on July 20. Isn't that fun?

Now I understand why Smart Wool socks are so expensive: All that soft, wool yarn and all that time! Then again, it isn't the same to just buy socks and put them on. I like to believe I will love these more because I have three months of my life invested in them.

My mom was teasing me about finishing up wool socks in July. Sadly, it's about 60 degrees and rainy today, and wool socks really are a good idea.

I have a recipe to post later, when I have more time. Also, a sewing project is winding down. I have been busy inside during this cold spell!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Have Succeeded at Pie Crust

I have the most exciting news: I have cracked the code of pie crust.

Wait-you don't think this is exciting?

Let me elaborate. My Kevin, love of my life, best friend, partner in crime-he doesn't really care for baked goods. He likes chocolate chip cookies and he likes pie. That's about it. You can imagine my pain, as baking is my number one hobby, even before sewing and knitting.

Now, I can make chocolate chip cookies in my sleep. I have the recipe memorized to the point that I don't even think about it-I just grab the measuring cup and dump everything into a bowl with no thought. This bores me.

And pie? Oh, pie. Our relationship has been tumultuous. See, I have worked for years to figure out pie crust. Every time I attempt pie, I end up swearing, crying and stomping my feet. It is not pretty. And it is rarely worth it to the lovely people who have to live with me. Plus, I don't even really like pie. There, I said it. I love the idea of pie. I love making the filling. I love picking various fruits, I love the smell, and I love how a cooling pie looks on the counter. But I detest making crust.

Every time I would attempt crust, it would fall into a billion pieces when I tried to pick it up to put it in the pie plate. I know pie crust is supposed to be flaky, but really? Aren't you supposed to bake it first and enjoy the flakiness second?

Anyhow, today I cracked the code.

My mother in law picked some rhubarb for me out of her garden, and I wanted to make Kevin his beloved raspberry rhubarb pie. So I got out Bev's crust recipe and my ingredients and went to work.

The pie crust code is actually a two-part secret.

Part one: use a pastry blender to blend the flour, salt and shortening together. When it looks like crumbs, sprinkle in the ice water and continue to blend it with the pastry blender. Don't get all fancy and try to use your KitchenAide stand mixer and dough hook. Don't get all fancy and try to use your food processor with the dough blade. Just DON'T. It is not worth the emotional pain. I know it seems easier, but it is actually a recipe for disaster.

Part two: Roll it out on your ceramic stovetop. For real. My brother in law always rolls dough out on his ceramic stovetop and I have always raised an eyebrow at it. Today, I thought I should give it a try. I mean, it works well for him, so why not? Lo and behold, I rolled out the bottom crust for the raspbery rhubarb pie, folded it into quarters, picked it up, and placed it into the pie plate in one piece. With not a single problem. Ditto for the top crust. Folks, I was so excited about this that I set to work making an apple pie for Nora with the exact same results.

It was painless. It was, I dare say, enjoyable. And now my house smells amazing and my husband and my firstborn each have their most favorite treats.

Bev's Crust Recipe

3/4 cup shortening
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 tablespoons ICE WATER

Mix salt and flour in a large bowl. Add shortening and, like I said, mix with a pastry blender until crumbly.

Sprinkle on ice water. I add 4 tablespoons, mix with pastry blender, and add more, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it is the right consistency.

Divide in half. Roll half out on top of floured surface (ceramic stovetop, yeah?). Put in pie plate. Fill. Repeat with top crust. Bake as directed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scarf+Ice Cream=Climate Confusion

Did I mention that I finished my scarf on Sunday? I did! I have just been busy blocking it, so I couldn't post a photo until now.

I do not have great photography skills, so it was hard for me to capture the zigzag kind of pattern and the wavy edges. Especially because it has been raining all day, and there weren't any clear surfaces in my house except for this small piece of kitchen floor. The girls were in fort-building mode.

Hopefully, better photos of me exist somewhere. If you click to enlarge, I am pretty sure you will see strawberry splattered on my face and soup on my shirt. Nice accessorizing, right?

Really, though, I am very happy with this scarf. It is so soft and squishy, and it is about the perfect shade of green. And I do enjoy the wavy edges and the lacy holes, even though they made the actual knitting sort of a headache.

And here is why there is strawberry splattered on my face: I made delicious strawberry ice cream today! It involved the blender, freshly picked strawberries, and much dairy. Maybe some sugar, too. The girls enjoyed watching it swirl around and become ice cream.

Doesn't it look yummy? And pretty, too?

I threw the ice cream canister back into the freezer because I remembered how much I love homemade ice cream. Nora asked if we can make sherbet next, so I am on the hunt for a recipe. She wants lime. Any ideas?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Strawberry Season

It's that time of year again!

On Saturday afternoon, we took a girls-only trip to Finke's. Grandma Bev drove, and between the four of us, we picked five gallons of berries.

We brought home three gallons, and I hulled and froze half of them for future use. Don't they look luscious?

I used a few to make a dessert for Sunday dinner. The crust is made out of crushed pretzels, sugar and butter. Mmmmmmm....

Tonight, I made a very small batch of strawberry jam while Kevin took the girls down to the lake to throw rocks in. I did a cooked jam and ended up with four half-pints. This was my first attempt at canning by myself, and I am happy to say that all four of my jars sealed! Which is extra exciting, since I don't even have a canner. I had to use a big stock pot.

I have the ice cream canister in the freezer and we are going to make strawberry ice cream in the morning. And that will be pretty much it for our berries. Because we just ate about a billion fresh, too.

I can't wait to go back and pick some more!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Shimmer Scarf

Well, it's summer, so I can usually be found in Mom and Dad's gazebo, either reading or knitting, while the kids swim. I just finished reading this. It was entertaining, in a sitcom kind of way. I enjoy those characters, but the storyline? Eh. But you know what? It's summer. It's a good time for sitcom reading.

And besides, I am back to knitting already. I am about halfway through the Summer Shimmer Scarf, which I am making for Finny and Donk's Craft: Along.

I started this at Knit Night on Monday and I have to say-it was a rough beginning. Now, I am not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that I was busy talking and eating while knitting, or with the presence of Heidi and her newborn son Wil, who is too cute not to stare at, but I had to rip this thing out THREE TIMES before I could get it right. I kept losing two stitches somewhere. And by the time I figured it out each time, it was not worth trying to un-knit. I just frogged it. The third time I counted and came up with 18 stitches instead of 20, I had to close my eyes and s-l-o-w-l-y count to ten. But it is all OK now. I have had 20 stitches for a long time and am halfway done.

The yarn I chose is a bamboo and silk blend and it is so incredibly soft! Clearly this will require some blocking when I am finished. Oh, and please disregard the cigarette box. Please! I reached that point in my yarn cake where everything fell apart. My dad looked over at me and said, "How do you knit when your yarn is in a big snarl like that?"

SO...I began The Great Untangling of '09. Except that this yarn is slippery. VERY slippery. So while I was trying to wind the untangled portion into a nice ball, it kept slipping off and tangling back up. I convinced my dad that it wouldn't be such a big deal if he just took his cigarettes outta the pack so I could use it for my yarn. He's a helpful guy, and pretty reasonable, so he complied with my wishes.

If this heat keeps up, I should be done with the scarf by the end of the weekend.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Cakes

Happy Independence Day!

Last night, I dreamed that I made cupcakes and arranged them to look like the American flag. Not too hard to make that dream come true! Though I wish I had some fancy cake decors or something to spice them up a bit.

Do you have big plans for the Fourth? My sister is watching the girls while Kevin and I attend my friend's wedding. I am so very excited to see the group of girls I spent every moment with in high school. I haven't seen most of them in years. After the wedding, we're grilling with my sister and her family and then walking down to the lake to watch the fireworks.

I had just a tiny bit of batter left after making 2 dozen cupcakes, so I poured it into two silicon heart cupcake molds that were a gift from my aunt a few years ago. The teeny tiny heart platter might look familiar. I have a larger version of it, too, and they were wedding gifts.

Two happy cupcakes. They were so busy playing dress-up that they didn't even realize I was baking.

I hope you enjoy the festivities today!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Charity's Mini Messenger

My friend Charity liked my mini messenger bag so much that she wanted one for herself! We walked up to the fabric store last week and she selected her fabrics. She fell for the apple fabric and went from there!

There is a double pocket on the front, under the apple flap. You can see where it starts because the stripes aren't the same. I just couldn't line up stripes of different widths. I tried!

There's another double pocket on the back. That would be the lollipop flower fabric.

The inside. I did a MUCH better job on this inside pocket than I did on my own. In fact, the whole bag was way easier. I think the hardest part of making bags is cutting out the pieces. I am really bad at using the rotary cutter and mat. I do better when I have a pattern piece to pin to the fabric, i.e. something to cut around. Measuring and cutting is not my cup of tea!

I plan to bring this to Charity this evening. I hope she loves it!