Monday, March 25, 2013

Felt Rose Barrette Craft

We're not a religious family, and we don't celebrate Easter.  However, we do have traditions and celebrations for every season (including a spring basket for Elinor).  Our spring baskets are similar to an Easter basket and include a few new toys, art supplies, and accessories.  Such a fun way to usher in the new season.  The pictured felt hairclips are simple to make, inexpensive, nonslip, and Elinor loves them.  Pop over to The Purl Bee for the full tutorial.

~Happy Crafting Everyone~

Sewing for Elinor

In the Winter of 2011, James and I made the mistake of listening to an episode of This American Life that detailed some of the conditions found in overseas sweatshops.  Although a portion of the account was later contested/redacted, the overall message was very depressing and largely representative of the global commerce manufacturing situation.  We made a family resolution to only purchase fair trade items (as much as possible).  Attractive children's clothing has proved especially difficult to find.  Choices range for plain, serviceable, and relatively affordable (American Apparel), to lovely and very expensive (many European brands where a single dress can set you back over $100). 

My solution has been to purchase basics at 2nd shops and American Apparel, and sew the more interesting garments myself.  One of my favorite patterns to date is Burda's #9650.  The variety of garments is well worth the price (top, dress, pants, shrug style sweater, one piece overall, and hat) and the pieces are easily adaptable to suit your tastes and little one's needs.  The advantage of the tie straps is that you can tighten them to fit a smaller child and loosen them as you require more length.  So far, I have made several variations of the dress and the top:

I found the pattern somewhat wide for Elinor's figure.  At two years old, the 18 month size is still slightly large on her.  "C" (which is the top) was made fit for her longer, thinner shape by extending the pattern length by three inches and narrowing the top with an inverted pleat in both the front and the back panel.  The style was simplified in order to keep the pattern from being obscured by eliminating the ruffles.  I also saved time by purchasing and using bias tape for the neckline casing and straps. 

The dress was made without any size alterations (because I wanted some room to grow), but I did eliminate one of the twos ruffles called for at the bottom of the dress.  I also used bias tape for the neck casing and straps rather than making them from the same fabric as the dress (as called for). 

As with the previous dress, I eliminated the second hem adjacent ruffle and used a complimentary bias tape for the neck casing and straps.  

This was the first iteration of top "C" that I made.  I used the same fabric for the straps and neck casing.  I think I prefer a  contrasting bias tape/fabric.  I also included the neckline ruffles, the smaller print was still visible with their addition. 

This was the first dress I made using the pattern.  I altered it to be slightly shorter than the pattern called for.  I also  added only one hem adjacent ruffle.

My tips for using the pattern:
  • Cut the pattern out in its larger size and carefully trace to reduce the size for younger babies.  This will allow you to reuse the pattern as they get older/larger.
  • If using patterned fabric, consider using a solid complimentary bias tape for convenience and a crisper finished look. 
  • Don't be afraid to play around.  Omit or add ruffles, pleats, bias tape details, add or subtract length/width to suit your little one's figure. 
~Happy Sewing Everyone~

Monday, February 27, 2012

Citrus Vinegar

White vinegar, natural cleaning extraordinaire

White vinegar makes an excellent base for natural cleaners.  It's applications are seemingly endless and include glass cleaning, laundry freshening, natural weed killing in sidewalk cracks, and acting as a key ingredient in homemade all purpose spray cleaner.  Unfortunately the smell of vinegar is not the most appealing (though it does disappear upon drying).  I've recently come across the simple solution of adding citrus rinds to white vinegar in order to infuse the cleaning champ with a more pleasant fresh scent.

Lemons before squeezing for lentil soup

All you need is a glass jar, some white vinegar, and some citrus rinds.  I used the leftover lemon rinds from the squeezed lemons used to make some lentil soup.  Store in a cool dry place and shake occasionally for a couple of weeks, when you're ready to use strain into a new clean jar.  Will keep indefinitely. 

Decanting the vinegar into clean glass jars for storage

Finished citrus vinegar

~Happy Monday Everyone~

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sprouted Wheat Bread

Sprouted wheat bread, olive onion (left) and plain

Bread made from sprouted wheat berries, often referred to as "Essene Bread", is dense, slightly sweet, moist, and somewhat crumbly.  It's relatively easy to make and so delicious that I hardly ever miss the white sandwich bread of which I'm so fond.  I followed the directions provided here.

Whole "Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries"
Wheat Berries after sprouting for 3 days
  • I started with 4 cups of dried Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries (available at most health food stores in the bulk section but can also be ordered online).  Covered with cold filtered water and left to sit overnight.  
  • In the morning I rinsed the berries in cold water and placed in a large glass jar to sprout.  Covering the top with cheesecloth to allow the berries to breath and shaking them from time to time helps to prevent spoilage.  
  • I emptied the jar completely and rinsed the berries in more cool water morning and night (twice daily) for a few days.  
  • When the sprouted tails were slightly longer than the berries themselves and when bitten into the berry was sweet and soft I knew it was time to make some bread.

Whole sprouted wheat berries before processing
  • I oiled the blade and bowl of my food processor lightly with olive oil to help with the stickiness of the dough and then processed the berries until sticky and relatively smooth (will be similar to hamburger).

Processed berries
  • I placed the processed berry dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turned the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  After all the berries are processed and in their oiled bowl, I divided the dough in half and used my hands to form a slightly rounded disc shaped loaf.  I placed the loaf onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
One finished loaf  + half the dough waiting for seasoning

Spiced olive loaf ingredients

Mixing the spiced dough
  • To the remaining dough I added 1/4 cup of dried onion pieces, 1/2 cup of chopped olives, and 1 tsp each of dried thyme and dried oregano.  I gently folded all ingredients into the dough until well distributed, formed into a disc shaped loaf, and sprinkled the top with caraway seeds.
Unbaked loaves
  • I baked the loaves for 2.5 hours and allowed to cool before eating.  The plain loaf was lovely toasted with butter and jam.  The olive loaf paired well with a raw sheep cheese but I imagine would be equally delicious with any desired cheese, a good mustard, thinly sliced meat of choice, or buttered.
~Happy Saturday Everyone~

Ancient Eating & Growing Healthy Children

A few weeks ago I was brushing Elinor's teeth when I noticed a small chip.  In the following days her teeth began to literally crumble.  The panic starting rising in my chest, I know what this is, I thought gloomily to myself.  Elinor had begun to suffer from the same genetic enamel hypoplasia that had plagued me as a toddler and child.  The painful hours spent as a very small girl in the dentist office came flooding back and I vowed to do whatever I could to spare Elinor that same fate.  After a trip to the dentist (useless) I dove into researching alternative preventative choices. My search turned up the work of Dr. Westin Price who famously studied different indigenous peoples with excellent dental health and no modern dental care.  Although he was quick to point out that problems with tooth decay are as old as humanity, for some reason certain pockets of civilization had wonderful success with strong, healthy teeth.  The common denominator was a diet full of fats (yes, in case you're behind the times animal fats are good for you and the link between heart disease and natural saturated fat has been debunked), and carefully prepared grains, nuts, and legumes.  

To give a very condensed explanation of the philosophy behind our recent changes, many foods (including nuts, grains, and legumes) contain anti-nutrients that inhibit the proper absorption and assimilation of the vitamins and nutrients within them.  The main culprit "phytic acid" can be neutralized by preparing food in certain ways.  Incidentally, phytic acid also erodes enamel (a big NO for our baby's already deficient teeth).  Although the preparation changes are relatively simple, they require planning ahead. Some examples include soaking dried beans overnight in slightly acidic warm water before cooking them, and sprouting whole wheat berries for bread.  At first I felt discouraged.  Already suffering from the fatigue that is common in the first year of parenting, the thought of preparing all of our food from scratch following very strict and sometimes lengthy guidelines felt like prison sentence.  The book Nourishing Traditions has been indispensable.  Filled with research, recipes, and anecdotes there's much inspiration to be found between its pages.   Happily the reality has been enlightening and empowering.  

Elinor's teeth have halted their rapid crumbling and we have high hopes that the next round of teething results in new teeth that are are healthy and strong.  I plan to post several of the new recipes and guidelines that I've been developing in the next few weeks for any of you who are interested.  

~Happy Saturday Everyone~

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting


This recipe is adapted from the Food Librarian's chocolate bundt cake recipe.  It's delicious as both bundt and cupcake but I find the cupcake easier to distribute to neighbors (which is key to maintaining my figure during the holiday season, *wink*).  The frosting is similar to marshmallow fluff but includes none of the scary additives or corn syrup found in the processed store bought variety.  Paula Deen is to thank for the best version of the recipe that I have so far discovered.


1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/4 c plus 1 T (or 5 T) cocoa

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon

1/2 c buttermilk
1 t baking soda

2 eggs
2 t vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Bring to a boil in a pot: Water, oil, butter and cocoa
  • In a large bowl, combine together with a whisk: flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon
  • Add the chocolate mixture to the flour and mix until combined.
  • Add the buttermilk and baking soda and mix. Add eggs (after beating in a small bowl) and vanilla extract to combine.
  • Fill lined cupcake pan 3/4 full in each cup (with a 12 cup muffin tin you will have leftover batter).
  • Bake until inserted tester comes clean (approximately 20 minutes).



1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Place sugar, cream of tartar or corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. 
  • Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. 
  • Place pan over boiling water, being sure that boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. (If this happens, it could cause your frosting to become grainy). Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes. 
  • Beat in vanilla.
Cool cupcakes before frosting.  My proportions yielded 18 cupcakes and enough frosting to cover the entire batch.  Use a teaspoon sized spoon to dollop each cupcake with frosting (a little swirl can be achieved by twisting the spoon as you pull away from the cupcake after depositing the frosting).
~Happy Thursday Everyone~

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stuffed Squash

Here in the Midwest it's officially fall.  The leaves are changing, the nights are crisp, and I've been baking up a storm.  To keep the ratio of sweet to savory in balance around here, I've been experimenting a bit with baked entrees.  Now in addition to the cupcakes, shortbread, cookies, tarts, and pies coming out of our kitchen we also have casseroles and stuffed squash.  The ingredients given here are more suggestion than commandment and can be amended to suit any number of tastes.  Love meat? Add some minced sausage.  Vegetarian and looking for a protein punch? Substitute quinoa for the brown rice.  Additional veggies can be chopped and added to the onion saute and don't be shy with the seasoning.

2 medium squash (butternut, acorn etc...)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 cup tomato sauce or puree
1 large onion
1 egg
olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
fresh herbs (sage, oregano, thyme, basil...whatever you've got)
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar or hard goat cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Halve each squash, scoop seeds and excess pulp, place cut side up on baking sheet and bake until fork tender (40-60 minutes)

  • In the meantime, chop and saute the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
  • When squash is tender, remove from oven and scoop flesh into a medium mixing bowl (do this carefully, preserving the skins which will be stuffed).

  • Add rice, onions, the egg (beaten), tomato sauce, paprika, cumin, and any fresh herbs and mix well.

  • Stuff squash shells with mixture and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  
  • Top with cheese and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until cheese is melted.
  • Serve garnished with fresh herbs
~Serves 4~

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lavender Shortbread

Adding lavender to baked goods may sound like an odd idea but I urge you to give it a try.  I used fresh lavender in this recipe but dried lavender (more readily available to non gardeners and city dwellers) would also work.  The key to shortbread is to chill the dough between each step.  Shortbread is very sticky and tedious to work with, chill, chill and then chill it some more, it's the only way to make the process manageable. 

2 cups finely milled flour
1 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
2 sticks of butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp of fresh lavender buds or blossoms (stems removed)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Whisk together salt and flour and set aside
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter (at room temp) until fluffy.
  • Add sugar and continue to beat until well combined.

  • Stir in lavender.

  • Gently fold in flour/salt mixture and stir (by hand) until combined (using a pastry cutter for this part may help, dough should be smooth and very sticky when finished).
  • Divide dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
  • Press dough into disks between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4" thickness.

  • Cut cookies into desired shapes, place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and chill for at least 15 minutes (to help them hold their shape when baking).

  • Bake for 8-10 minutes (turning cookie sheets once to ensure even baking) until edges are very lightly browned.

  • Chill on wire rack (or in my ill-equipped case, a cutting board) until firm and cool.
  • I drizzled ours with white icing (4 parts confectioners sugar whisked with 1 part milk) but they're delicious on their own as well.  They will keep for several days stored at room temperature in a covered container.

~Happy Sunday Everyone~