Month: November 2011

The first snowfall

  G got to play in the snow for the first time today.  Last year he wasn’t really walking until after all the snow was melted, and I thought that if I was going to put him in the snow as a crawler, I might as well just white wash him and get it over with.

  The blizzard hit last night and everything was covered in shimmery white when we woke up.
  G wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  He decided it was “messy”.  I told him not to worry, Mother Nature makes “messes” sometimes, but she always cleans up after herself eventually.
  The sun is beaming down and the snow is all melting.  I’m not sure we’re going to have to wait long for her to clean up this time!

Making it just a little easier to get to the gym

  I don’t understand why it’s so hard to convince myself to go to the gym.  It’s good for me.  I feel great after I do it, and frankly, once I get started moving, I usually enjoy myself.  But especially now that it’s getting colder out, convincing myself to take off my big snuggly sweater and fluffy slippers, change into work out clothing and go hit the elliptical or, (shiver) get in a pool is just HARD.

  Having all my stuff in one place so I can just grab it and go helps.  I had mentioned here that I use my ying yang tote bag for my gym bag.  Now I’m going to show you what I keep in it.
Gym Bag Contents:
  Water bottle: If I don’t leave one in there, I always manage to forget.
   Drinking out of the tiny paper cups they have at the gym water fountain is no fun.
  Flip flops: You won’t catch me in these outside of the locker room (my feet hate them),
   but for a cheap set of footwear you can soak and then throw in a bag, you can’t beat them.
  Swim suit:  Even if I don’t get in the pool, the suit gets used in the sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.
  Waterproof bag:  Originally meant for soggy baby yuck, this makes transporting my swimsuit
   home much, much easier.
  Astringent and a small bottle of facial lotion:  My face doesn’t need the excuse of products it 
  isn’t used to or not being properly washed after a work out to break out, I’m not helping it spite 
  Small bottle of conditioner: I slather it on before I get in the pool to protect my hair or before
   getting in the sauna to deep treat it.  I refill it from my home bottle when it’s empty.
  Razor and tampon: If I can’t use embarrassment over forgetting to shave my legs before leaving
  home as an excuse to not work out, I’m more likely to actually exercise.
…now if I could only find a way to make sure G wants to put on his socks and shoes and get in the car when I’m ready to go to the gym…

Holiday Hairpin

  Christmas is coming, and with all the music in the air and the lights twinkling, I can’t help but wanting to add a little holiday glam to my wardrobe.

Yeah, okay, that’ll work.
  Want one?  Here’s what you’ll need:
Wire working tools, beads, a bobby pin, jewelry wire, needle and thread
  First you’ll want to unwind the approximate amount of wire you’ll want to work with.  I find the easiest way to know how much you’ll need is to do a soft version of the shape you want to end up with before cutting.
  To create sharp corners, use your wire tools to crimp your bends shut and then pull them slightly open with your fingers.
  Once your wire is crimped into the shape you want, wrap your “stem” around your bobby pin.  I find the way that works best for me is to create a small loop around the needle nose pliers and then slide it on to the pin before crimping it down.  It takes a little finagling to get the wire to attach securely to the bobby pin, but take the time to do it.
Make sure it’s seriously on there, we’re going to be bending it the other way at the end
  Once your shape is hooked on to the pin, thread a needle with thread similar in color to the beads you want to use.  Tie it on to your wire and start sewing on beads.  Keep in mind that odd numbered groupings are typically more visually appealing than even numbers.
  When your beads are sewn on, tie off your thread.  Now bend the shape back against the bobby pin.  When you put it in your hair you can round it some to fit to your head more closely.  (For less directional objects, like flowers, this step isn’t always necessary, but it’d look goofy to have a leaf pointed forward off of my head!)  When you’re done, your pin will look like this:
  Use an unadorned bobby pin to pin back a section of hair and then cross your newly decorated pin across it.
Now, who wants to go caroling?

Fennel Sausage Soup

  Fennel is another one of those polarizing flavors.  You love it or you hate it.  (Blue cheese, fennel, dijon?!  I really do like the contentious flavors it seems…)  If you happen to be pro-fennel, you’ll love today’s recipe.  If not…well…I promise the next recipe won’t have any fennel in it, okay?

  Here’s what we’re making:
  No link on this one, this is a recipe the Mr. came up with!
  Here’s what you need:
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp basil
dash of white pepper
1 c. beef bouillon
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp salt
1 can black beans (drained)
1/8 tsp tumeric
1/3-1/2 lb smoked sausage
water to desired consistency
  First, you want to toast your fennel seeds.  You can either do this dry, in the bottom of you pan, or with a small amount of olive oil. 
  Next, saute your sliced sausage and garlic in a small amount of oil.  You want the sausage to start browning and releasing some of its fats.  *Note: When shopping for your sausage, smoked really is the way to go for this soup.  We’ve tried it with Polish and while it’s still okay, it lacks the oomph*
  When the sausage is browned, add your spices, beans and broth.  Mix well.
  Add water to the consistency you like.  I used about 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!  
  We also like it over rice!

Tis the season…for binge shopping?

  For about a year now I’ve had a case of what I call “reverse nesting”.  “Nesting”, of course, is that primal desire to “feather” a home before a new baby comes that just about every pregnant woman seems to go through.  Soft pillows and blankets.  Pretty, shiny adornments.  Anything that makes a house more “homey” gets this glow about it that says “buy me!”  I certainly went through it.  But just before G turned one, a flip switched and I found myself with an overwhelming desire to clear it all out.

  New babies come with a lot of stuff.  Things you need.  Things you think you need but don’t.  Things you originally don’t think you need but later discover you do.  More things than you expect.
  The Mr. and I are both have many, many different hobbies, all of which seem to require piles and piles of supplies.  Until this house, we were moving homes every year or two.  I never threw away curtains or rugs or any sort of decorative accents for fear I’d have gotten rid of them, only to find the “perfect” use for them at the next place.
  Between the three of us, it was just too much.
  January rolled around and I found myself surrounded by piles of new gifts, old curtains, craft supplies and dirty dishes.  I couldn’t find my shoes because they were buried under piles of shopping bags.  I couldn’t find my phone charger because it was buried in piles of fabric.  I couldn’t find anything in the basement because we’d been using it as a dumping ground for things we didn’t want to deal with.  I frankly wanted to burn our house to the ground.
  I decided I had to change.  I wanted to stop buying into the idea that I needed the newest, greatest thing.  I wanted to stop holding on to useless things for “sentimental” reasons that weren’t sentimental at all.  I wanted to stop buying just for the sake of buying.
  It hasn’t been easy.  Corporations and marketing agencies have our numbers.  They’ve spent decades and millions of dollars studying how to make us emotionally vulnerable to the suggestion that we need their products to be complete.
  One of the things they’ve discovered is that Christmas music triggers people to buy more.
  So now we get to see how serious I am about this.
  This year I’ve cleared a huge number of clothes out of my closet.  I’ve gotten rid of uncomfortable shoes, I’ve given away purses I never carry.  Clothes that are too small or don’t fit right have been turned into baby clothing.  Systems have been implemented for keeping my paperwork in order and paperwork I really don’t need has been gotten rid of.
  It’s a very long process, because I want to make sure I’m creating systems that work.  It’s far too easy to find the newest Ikea organizational system and throw everything in it and call your life simplified.  That’s just a band-aid fix.
  I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the blog Small Notebook.  She talks about simplicity, perceptions and how her life feels fuller with less things in it.  This post in specific really spoke to me.
  I made it through “Opening Day” of the crazy shopping season more or less intact.  Yes, I shopped on Black Friday, but I didn’t do it for the deals, and I most certainly was not up at 4am waiting in a line for a door buster.  We needed groceries.  Once I was in the store, the siren call was of course there and I wound up with a few more things than I intended, but a few rolls of wrapping paper and a bag of chips aren’t too bad of a relapse.
  The Mr. and I have decided that as neither of us are particularly in need of anything more this year, we’re going to restrict our gift buying for each other to consumables and favors.  I suggested he could get me nice soaps and he asked that I tailor some shirts to fit him.  I expect I may receive some gourmet chocolate and he may receive exotic spices or aged vinegar.  Either way, it will be things we regularly use and won’t end up cluttering our basement or closets in 2 years.
  I plan to keep paring our belongings down and staying out of the stores whenever I can.  The less I walk into an environment full of mass-produced, junk-food merchandise, the less likely I am to buy it.  I want G to be able to have beautiful things.  I’d love to be able to exclusively dress him in my g.c.b. line…but because I currently have so much stuff I have to organize or trip over, I can’t sew fast enough to keep up with his growing.  I’d love to make more of my own clothing, but if I don’t have time to do it for him, I certainly don’t have time to do it for me!  I want to be a better cook and I want to be a better gardener, but all these things take time.  I want to stop spending my time on things.  On looking for things, on organizing things, on cleaning things.
  I just have to remember that the next time I walk into the store, hear “Jingle Bells” and see the “cutest new thing” on sale.
  …wish me luck guys.

How to draft a pattern from you favorite clothing

  Earlier this month I’d mentioned I wanted to do a post to teach you guys how to draft patterns for your favorite clothes.  Today is the day!

  Being built funny (super long torso, broad shoulders, no hips) I have a really hard time finding clothing that fits properly at the store, so it breaks my heart when a favorite piece that does fit has to be retired.  Luckily, one of the things I learned while getting my degree was how to recreate a piece you love.
  Here’s what you need:
The piece you’d like to recreate, pins, pencil, ruler, cork board and tracing paper.
  If this is something you think you’ll be doing often, I’d suggest you invest in some drafting curves, but for your first try, a ruler and every day rounded objects should be fine.
  Spread your piece flat on top of your tracing paper (over top of the cork board) and insert pins through your seams.  Most pieces have at least one section that is going to not be able to lay completely flat without seams being ripped out.  Don’t freak out!  Just start at one end, pin as far as you can, and once you’ve finished marking that side, pull the pins out, realign the piece and unfold the folded under portion before continuing.  I typically put a pin at each corner and one in the center of each seam before using a single pin to “trace” the seam line by jabbing it in and out.
  When you’re finished, you will have a perforated outline of your piece on your tracing paper with holes like these.  They aren’t particularly easy to see, so more is almost always better.  Don’t punch so many holes the pattern piece separates, but anything short of that is good!
  The easiest way I’ve found to outline the shape is to mark each hole with a pencil dash and then step back and look at the overall shape.  Ignore any wildly out of line holes and trace smooth curves and straight lines to create your shape.  If you’re not sure if a curve or a straight line is more appropriate, look at the original garment.
  Assuming the piece you are tracing is symmetrical in the original garment, I find it best to next fold the pattern piece in half.  Chances are it’s not going to line up perfectly.  It’s really hard to lay a garment out and have everything perfectly flat and not stretched or twisted.  Averaging the two sides yields a more accurate pattern piece.  This is the only step that tracing paper vs. opaque paper matters.  Obviously you need to be able to see both lines at once to average between them.  If you’re not worried about it, normal office paper works fine.
  I also label my pieces at this stage.  There have been an embarrassing number of times I’ve walked away from a project thinking I’d be getting back to it that afternoon…only to have five thousand things crop up. 2 months later I finally stumble back across it and I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve already done.  Come up with a name that describes the garment to you.  Label what part of the garment you’ve traced.  If you’ve already decided what seam allowance you’re going to use, write it down.
  Once your seams are averaged out, you need to add your seam allowance.  5/8″ and 3/8″ are both “normal” sizes for seam allowance.  I usually use 3/8″ because it leaves less excess fabric hanging out inside the finished garment.  Keep in mind that if you’ve folded your pattern piece in half and are planning on keeping it that way (and cutting the piece on the fold of the fabric) you do not need a seam allowance on the fold.
  Pay attention to your original.  After creating this pattern piece I took a closer look at my shirt and realized that the channel for the waistband had been formed by folding over a 5/8″ hem and stitching it to the garment.  3/8″ wasn’t going to be wide enough for the drawstring to fit through.  I taped extra tracing paper to the top of the piece, fixed it and labeled it as an exception to the 3/8″ seam allowance rule.
  Continue using this method until you’ve recreated each piece of your garment.  Notice in the picture above that my shirt has elastic gathering at the neckline (un-stretched at left).  If your garment has elastic in it as well, stretch the elastic til the piece lays flat (like on the right) to create your pattern piece.  Once you’re done, release the elastic and measure the length of the piece when it is contracted.  This will tell you how long a piece of elastic to use to gather the seam.
  When your pattern is done, I find it easiest to store the whole thing a yellow mailing envelope.
Tips and tricks:
  Make sure that the first time you recreate your garment you use a very similar fabric.  If you’re recreating denim jeans, using a slinky satin is going to give you an entirely different look.  A change in fabric can completely alter the drape and appearance of a piece and you might not be very happy with the different result!
  If your garment is made from knit fabric, you almost always have to recreate it in knit.  Woven fabrics typically don’t stretch and so you usually need some sort of fastener to help with getting into and out of the piece.  Also, be certain that if you’re working with knit, the fabric you buy has a similar amount of stretch to the original knit!
  Lastly, have fun!  It’s probably going to take you a few tries to get this just right, so don’t get too up-tight abo
ut it!  Once you’re comfortable you’ll be able to recreate pieces and even alter them to better suit your own taste.
  …and as always, if you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to help!

Pumpkin granola-feeling ambitious, oven required.

  I wasn’t sure if I should kiss my husband or kick him when he pointed this recipe out to me.  On the one hand, he knows about my weakness for all things pumpkin and knew I’d love it.  On the other hand, he knows about my weakness for all things pumpkin, and knew I wouldn’t be able to resist trying to make it.  Besides, it would be perfect for this Thanksgiving morning!

  I didn’t want to try making baked-in-the-oven granola.  I’ve been really happy with my lazy, stove top granola.  But, pumpkin is my heroin and I finally gave in.
  Here’s what you need:
HOLY lotta ingredients Batman!
  So as you’re looking at the picture of ingredients, you might notice some things missing that we normally see in granola.  Namely, a fat (butter, oil, ect) and sugar (we’ll be using maple syrup instead).  That means this is a better alternative if you’re on a diet or you just generally want to avoid fats and sugars.
  The original recipe is here.  I (of course) substituted some ingredients.  I wasn’t able to find pumpkin seeds, so I used sunflower seeds instead.  Instead of unsweetened cranberries, I used zante currants and dried cherries I already had on hand.  Other than that, I actually played along for once.  Set your oven to preheat to 325 degrees while you prep.
  First you’re going to mix your dry ingredients together.  This alone smells great and the dried fruits pick up a lot of the spices and get this wonderful dusty look.
  Next, mix together your wet ingredients.  Try not to have a heart attack when they have you dump 1/2 c. of expensive, high quality maple syrup in…it does actually make a difference.
  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir like crazy.  Once everything is nicely coated, dump it all onto your parchment covered baking pan and spread it as thinly as you can.
  As a note, I’m not entirely sure what the difference between wax paper and parchment paper is.  I suspect that it’s just that the parchment paper is safe in the oven, where with wax paper, you’d get melty wax all over.  Less delicious that way I suspect.
  Your oven should be preheated to 325 by now, so stick your pan in and set a timer for 20 minutes.  Grab the mail, do some laundry or just read a little.  When the timer goes off, stir everything around on the pan so you have different parts of the granola up in the air getting nice and toasty.  Set another 20 minutes.
  Once your granola comes out of the oven, try to restrain yourself from immediately eating it.  (The extremely painful burning from 325 degree granola should be convincing enough)  Let everything cool for about 10 minutes and then dig in!
  All in all this isn’t any more difficult than the stove top version, it just takes longer.  I don’t think I’d do this in the summer, but now that the weather has turned cold, it’s actually kind of nice to have the oven on to warm up the kitchen.
  …and of course, being pumpkin, I can’t get enough of the flavor.  I love the combination with the apples too, will have to try those in some other variations.  G seems to be a fan too.
Try it out, let me know what you think.  I apologize if I convert you from the lazy way too.

Rice in an old sock. Also known as the least glamorous craft ever.

  I’ve been sick.  As soon as the last of my guests left on Sunday morning, the worst of my cold hit.

  I’ve felt absolutely terrible for the last 3 days.  For whatever reason, the only way I seem to get sick is to have severe head/nasal congestion that makes my temples feel like they’re going to explode.  It then moves to my throat, which makes me sounds like a frog with emphysema.  Finally, (and this is where I am now) I develop asthmatic coughing from the irritation to my throat from all the drainage.  The coughing persists until I can somehow stop myself from coughing long enough for my throat to become non-irritated.

  As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time with this guy wrapped around my neck and shoulders:
  Sexy, right?  Add the big ugly sock to stringy hair, a face entirely drained of color and a cough that sounds like a cross between a war drum and the mating call of a 500 pound bullfrog.  Clearly Rihanna ain’t got nothin’ on me.
  I absolutely hope, for your sake, that you are not sick, and in fact, will make it through the winter in perfect health.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the way things go for most people.  If you are (or get) sick, I definitely recommend making one of these.  I’ve tried the fancier, prettier versions, and they just don’t work as well.  Because it’s knit, this one really conforms around your neck and shoulders, and the rice holds heat better than anything else I’ve tried.
  All you need to do is find a big sock (ugly isn’t required, but I suspect that the ugly may have some magical healing power), fill it with rice and then stitch or tie it shut.  I sewed mine shut on the sewing machine because it was the quickest way for me.  If you do the same, make sure you back stitch at both edges so the stitching doesn’t pull out as the rice shifts.
  To heat the whole thing up, just throw it in the microwave and nuke it.  I usually start with 5 minutes and then use 3 minutes to heat it back up after it cools down.  It’s probably wise to start lower and test it out yourself though, I’m a little notorious for liking things lava hot.  Also, please make sure you put something between you and the heated sock.  I typically wrap the collar of a sweater between me and mine.  My back is still usually lobster red when I finish.
  Make one up, try it out and feel better!  The big ugly sock o’ rice is easy to hide away under the bathroom sink when you’re not using it!

How to get a reluctant toddler in the bath

  Lately G has reached the stage where everything we’re hoping for him to do is greeted with a resounding “NO!”.  He doesn’t want the food we’ve prepared, the drink we’re giving him is clearly in the wrong drinking vessel, he isn’t sleepy and he most certainly does NOT want to take a bath.

  That’s all well and good.  It’s a normal development phase…but too long without a bath and our little boy starts to stink to high heaven.  We’ve had to get a little creative in finding ways to coax him into the water.
  Usually we can convince him to take a bath by asking him if he wants to splash Daddy…or play with bubbles.  We’ve started keeping an entire container of bubble solution in the bathroom specifically for this reason.
  The other night, none of that was working, so we did this:
  The Mr. had picked up a 50 pack of glow sticks for G to play with after finding them on sale after the 4th of July.  G loved it.  He didn’t want to get out of the bath!
  …only problem is…now I’m out of great ideas for the next time he doesn’t want to get in the bath!
How do you make bath time fun?

Polenta with a Leek and Mushroom Ragu

  We’ve really been having a lot of success lately with the vegetarian dishes!  (Can you tell?)  Here’s another fabulous one I found on Serious Eats.  …clearly I’ve gotten over being intimidated!

  This is what we’re making:
  This is actually the second time in the last month we’ve had this, so we made some modifications this time around to make the recipe even easier to prepare.  I was really excited to find a vegetarian recipe that doesn’t require pasta.  You can access the original recipe by clicking the link below the picture, and then I’ll let you in on my tricks here!
  Here’s what you need:
1 tube pre-made polenta
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 leeks (white and light green parts only) chopped thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of chili flakes
1.5 lbs mushrooms, quartered
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 ounces blue cheese
Good quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  The recipe calls for making the polenta from scratch with corn meal and water and 45 minutes of stirring.  That’s absolutely an option.  It’s what we did the first time.  But what we’re doing this time is taking a tube of “Cornmeal Mush”, smashing it into small pieces and letting it simmer with some water.  There is still some stirring of course, but doing it this way meant the whole meal, including veggie prep took about 45 minutes, instead of just the polenta.  The other option (used for the picture above, which gives less of a blue cheese flavor) is to slice the tube of polenta into disks and fry or bake it.  Both make for a delicious meal, but since the mush version is more complicated, that’s what I’ll walk you through.
  I started by putting the whole tube into the pan with about 1/2 cup of water.  The water was absorbed as I smashed and I slowly added a second 1/2 cup as I went.
  While that was going, I cut up my many, many mushrooms, leeks and garlic.
  We seemed to be out of chili flakes, so I threw in a dash of ground cayenne pepper while I saute’d the leeks and garlic in the olive oil. The substitution wasn’t noticeable in the end product, so I’m considering it successful.
  Once your polenta has smoothed out to a consistency that looks sort of like hotel-breakfast scrambled eggs, you want to add in your butter and  Parmesan cheese.  Don’t worry if there are still a few big lumps, you still have to stir in this cheese and butter and the blue cheese!
  Very similarly to the Vegetable Fettuccine I put up last week, this one has a lot of mushrooms, so you’re going to have to cook them in stages.  I found that putting them in about a third at a time and letting them cook down before adding the next third worked the best for me.
  While your mushrooms cook down, mix your blue cheese into the polenta.
  In our house, whenever a recipe calls for blue cheese, I substitute Gorgonzola.  We really, really like blue cheese, so gorgonzola’s stronger flavor is a good thing in our house.  If, for whatever reason, you don’t like, or want blue cheese in this dish, I think it would still be delicious with the blue cheese omitted and more parm stirred in instead.
  Once your mushrooms are cooked down, spoon some polenta into a bowl.  Top with a generous scoop of mushroom and leek mixture, extra blue cheese and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.*  Enjoy!
  *The original recipe mentions it, but make sure you get a good, aged balsamic.
  It should be slightly sweet!*