Covered

In the last two weeks Julius has been experiencing a lot more screen time than he ever has before…  In the past we’d let him watch one movie a week, now he has a daily conference call at 10:30am with daycare, and he watches 2 movies a day in the afternoon.  (Yes you read that right, Julius has been conference calling with his daycare – it’s adorable.)  Poor Will is taking the brunt of childcare activities during this quarantine because until a couple days ago I was working crazy hours and weekends.  (Now I’m working mostly normal hours and just every other Saturday.)  I can’t complain because unlike a lot of people I am able to continue working full time from home.

One of the activities during Julius’ daycare conference call this week was “a bear hunt”.  (If you haven’t heard about this, you should put a teddy bear in your window even if you don’t have a kid.)  I was not surprised to learn that his daycare was excited to share news of the international “bear hunt” since Julius made me aware that his class had read “Going on a bear hunt” a couple weeks ago.  This morning we went on a walk in our tiny neighborhood and found 3 bears!  But Julius assured me “I not scared”.

Julius and I are also baking and cooking to beat the quarantine blues!  We have made several batches of muffins in assorted types, peanut butter coconut flour cookies (when we couldn’t find regular flour), peanut butter ice cream and gnocchi to name a few.  The peanut butter ice cream was amazing, I used the Ben & Jerry’s recipe from their book (yes I have their book) and it was to die for.  The gnocchi I used in a vegetarian-ized version of Olive Garden’s Chicken and Gnocchi soup.  It was amazing.  Overall we’re eating pretty well during this quarantine.

My little chef has been wearing the apron I made him for Christmas during our cooking forays.  So far so good – it’s covered in stains so it must be doing it’s job.  This one was really quick to make.

Toddler Apron

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 yard of woven material of your choice (I used linen)
  • template here
  1. Cut out apron using template provided – be sure to cut on fold. 
  2. Cut a 16″x2.5″ strip for the neck and two 22.5″x2.5″ strips for the ties.
  3. Fold ties in half, press.  Fold under 1/2″ all around (with the exception of one side on the length.  Press and stitch.
  4. Fold neck loop in half, press.  Fold under 1/2″ on the long edge. Press and stitch.
  5. Form a rolled hem on all sides of the apron except the top.  Press and pin.
  6. Feed the unfinished end of one raw strap underneath the rolled hem you just pinned on one side of the apron where the apron makes a point. Then fold strap so the end faces out from the apron.  Pin.  Repeat with second strap on opposite side.
  7. Stitch all around the rolled hem you created, making sure to securely attach the straps you pinned.
  8. Fold the neckline down 1/2″ and then another 1″ to form a thick rolled hem.  Pin.
  9. Insert one end of the neck strap under the rolled hem on one edge, then fold up so the strap protrudes from the top of the apron.  Pin.
  10. Repeat for the second side of the neck strap, taking care to avoid twisting the neck strap.
  11. Stitch close to all edges of the 1″ rolled hem.
  12. Decorate as desired!  (I of course decided Muffin Man was apropos!)
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It’s a-me…Paper Mario Party!

I’m going to keep this brief because in the morning of my one day off this week I started seeing halos and then my vision went into that completely fractured migraine vision.  Looking at a screen for more than 5 minutes at a time still splits my head in two, but the show must go on!  Luckily I have a guest blog post from my brother and sister in law that I’ve been meaning to show you!  It’s actually perfect for the current circumstances where everyone is looking for something to do remotely.  We had so much fun playing at Christmas, it was such a blast, but I’ve ruined too much already!  Read on!


Hi, Lady Beekeeper readers! This is a guest post by Lexi’s brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Erin. Lexi generously invited us to share one of our recent DIY projects with you.

Every year on Christmas Eve, the Collins siblings stay up late and play Mario Party–specifically, Mario Party 3 for the Nintendo 64 (this is a detail only the Collins kids themselves would appreciate). The tradition continues even after we all grew up, went off to college, found our significant others, and had kids. Unfortunately this year, we (Mark and Erin) were unable to attend the yearly festivities in Rhode Island due to the impending birth of baby Artemis. We didn’t want to miss out on this most sacred of Collins Christmas traditions and we didn’t have an online emulator that we could use to play as a group in 3 different locations, so we had to improvise. Erin researched Mario Party statistics, re-calibrated the game mechanics, and designed the board. Mark did the artwork, wrote up the rules, and provided true insider knowledge of elements crucial to the game (basically, a lot of gimmicks that make the game more about luck than skill). We both had a lot of fun creating the mini-games!

Once the game was finished, we mailed identical versions of the board and supplies to the other players—one set for each couple. Everyone was told to look out for a mysterious envelope in the mail. Unfortunately we did not take into account that Lexi, Will, and Julius were spending Christmas in Rhode Island. Poor Will had to drive all the way back to Massachusetts to collect a plain Manila envelope from their mailbox. Thanks, Will!

All in all the game was a success (at least we think so)! The mini-games were a hoot and, after the post-game stars were awarded, Bailey (as Donkey Kong) was our Mario Party Champion!

Paper Mario party board with playing pieces and assorted paraphernalia.

Game board came complete with Item Shop and Toad!

Paper Mario Party: Christmas Edition 

Step 1: The Board

A standard Mario Party game is 10 rounds. This seemed a bit ambitious for a game played over a three-way phone-call, so we cut our version down to 5 rounds. We looked at some of the standard Mario Party 3 boards and decided to use 20 spaces (10 blue, 2 red, 5 event spaces, and 1 Bowser space). Our board also included an Item Shop and a Start space, but players only pass through these spaces and cannot actually land on them. In honor of Christmas, we designed the board with frosty ice cream cones and a disgruntled, snowball-throwing yeti. We mapped out the route and tried to evenly distribute all the spaces. We also gave everyone 10 starting coins (the cost of a star) so that things would move quickly.

Since he was hand-drawing three identical game boards, Mark used two pieces of 8.5 x 11 printer paper. He also added an Item Shop with a pop-up Toad, saying his signature: “Hiiiiiiiii!”

Step 2: The Rules

To keep things fair, we typed up a set of rules and sent them to all the participants when we started the game. The rule book had explanations for how the star location moved, what happened on different event spaces, what the Bowser space entailed, what to do if a player landed on a space with another player, and how stars would be awarded at the end of the game. Most of these actions involved dice rolls to keep everything fair. The official rule book is included here with this post.

Step 3: The Mini-Games

In between each round of Mario Party, there is a short mini-game. Some mini-games are team-based, some are 1-vs-all, and some are free-for-alls. Below are the mini-games that we chose for Paper Mario Party. Most minute-to-win-it games would work. You can really pick whatever minute-to-win-it game looks fun to you or whatever game you happen to have the supplies for.

Mini-Game #1: Santa-Grams (Free-for-All)

Basically, this mini-game is a simple Christmas-themed tangram challenge. Each player is given a set of tangram shapes, then a tangram shape silhouette is revealed (ours was a Christmas tree!). The first player to replicate the shape with all their tangram pieces wins!

Materials (per person):

  • 1 set of tangram shapes. These are easy to find online, print out, and cut up.
  • 1 tangram shape silhouette. Again, there are tons of examples online. Mark selected one because he has the worst memory, so would be least likely to remember the solution!

Mini-Game #2: Snowball Fight (Teams)

In this mini-game, team members must stand fingertip to fingertip facing each other. Players have 30 seconds to catch as many ice cubes in the measuring cup as possible. The trick is that the teammate with the ice cubes is only permitted to spit them towards the cup that the second player holds. The team to get the most ice cubes in their cup in the time limit wins!

Materials (per team):

  • 1 standard 1-cup measuring cup. Really, any cup would work, but we figured this was a standardized kitchen appliance that everyone owns.
  • 1 bowl of ice. The winning team got an absurdly high final score, so we recommend putting a lot of cubes in your bowl!
  • maybe some towels?

Mini-Game #3: Bouncing Baubles (Free-for-All)

The objective of this mini-game is to keep 3 balloons in the air as long as possible using only one hand. (This was significantly more difficult than originally expected!) Players are eliminated until the last one with all three of their balloons in the air wins!

Materials (per person):

  • 3 balloons. Bonus points if they are fun colors and resemble Christmas ornaments!

Mini-Game #4: I’m Dreaming of a [Blank] Christmas (1-vs-All)

This mini-game is modeled after the party game “What is Yours Like?”. In this version, the guesser leaves the room, while the clue-givers are given 3 categories and must come up with short descriptions to accurately describe what their thing is like without being too obvious. The guesser must correctly identify the category based only on their descriptions–best 2 out of 3. Lexi was our guesser, so she left the room. In keeping with the Christmas theme, our categories were: your stocking, your Christmas tree, and your favorite day of “The 12 Days of Christmas”. The clues for “The 12 Days of Christmas” included things like: “mine is the bird in the fruit tree” (Partridge in a Pear Tree), “mine is for some reason bigger and louder than all the rest” (Five Golden Rings), “mine is foreign fowl” (Three French Hens), “mine is a gestating gaggle” (Six Geese A’Laying). Lexi was a champ and managed to discover all three categories!

Materials:

  • Nothing! Just pick out some fun categories.

Mini-Game #5: Snow Job (Teams)

In this mini-game, each team must place their pile of “snowflakes” (really, small circles of paper) on one surface and the official “snowflake landing pad” on another with a standard measure of string to mark the distance between the two. The first player picks up the snowflake and passes it to their teammate, who deposits it on the landing pad. The tricky part is that both players are only allowed to use their mouths! The team to get the most snowflakes on the snowflake landing pad in 30 seconds wins. Note: This game involved so much laughing that one team did not successfully move a single snowflake!  (edit by Lexi: that team was Will and I, I just could not handle it.)

Materials (per team):

  • 1 snowflake landing pad. For this, we used an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper that Erin decorated to say “Snowflake Landing Pad.”
  • 11 snowflakes. Erin cut out 3-inch diameter circles from printer paper with fabulous snowflake designs. Poster board was originally tested, but it proved too heavy.
  • 1 piece of string. The length isn’t super important as long as all teams have the same length. We very scientifically measured the distance from our kitchen table to the kitchen counter as the standard distance, so our string was about 10 feet.

Step 4: The Game Pieces

We made small tokens for each character out of poster board and decorated them with symbols or initials that matched our chosen characters. We kept these pretty small so that they would fit nicely on the spaces. Our game included the characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Waluigi, and Donkey Kong.

While it wasn’t quite the same as playing old-school Mario Party 3 at the Collins family home with a couple of broken controllers, Paper Mario Party was a rousing success. (Plus, everyone could play, not just 4 people at a time!)

Disclaimer: All Mario Party names, images, and references are solely the property of—please don’t sue us, Nintendo!

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Hat’s Off

Well I was feeling disheartened about the recent pandemic, and almost decided to put off blogging for a while.  Then I realized, “wait! If I am disheartened, others are too!  What better time than this to put some cheer out there into the interwebs?”  So here is your Monday cheer report.   (Sorry if there’s a lot of tongue in cheek humor this week.)

So let’s recap the last week’s events from the point of view of a germaphobe.  I was supposed to fly out today (Sunday; writing this a day early) to Austin for a work event lasting 2 weeks consisting of hundreds of travelers, during the week of SXSW.  I’ve been freaking out about this for a while.  Monday Intel cancelled all domestic flights for work, so my trip was cancelled.  I started freaking out about transmission of COVID19 in the office on Monday when they recalled a bunch of people back to our office from business in CA. Tuesday, Intel instilled a “work from home if you desire” policy.  I finally got so freaked out that on Thursday I worked it out with my managers to work from home until further notice.  Friday, Intel issued a strongly suggested work from home policy for those who are able to work from home.  I also convinced Will to work from home, since HPE had a “work from home if you talk to your manager” policy.  Now I’m just worried about Julius (affectionately known as the plague bearer) contracting it at daycare.  Today, the governor of MA issued 3 weeks of shut downs for schools and dine in restaurants and gatherings of more than 25 people.  So guess that means day care… Honestly this is all just affirming my germaphobia.  Maybe I’m not a germaphobe?!

I’ve been reading the CDC recommendations daily, so when they announced 3 weeks ago to prepare for a pandemic with canned goods I went out and bought enough soup and beans (vegetarian protein) to last us for a month.  It was far enough in advance that I got some strange looks from the cashiers.  Will returned to the grocery store today and reported back that everything I bought 3 weeks ago is still in stock, but that they were nearly out of toilet paper and meat.  The only silver lining I can envision from all this whole situation is that the pandemic may turn everyone into vegetarian hippies.

Julius has no problem eating vegetarian.  Today he glommed down his plate of crock pot chana masala we made together and asked for more!   Yesterday, Will fed Julius palak paneer while I was working from home in the other room and Julius kept exclaiming “yummy, yummy tummy!”  from the other room.  (His version of “yummy in my tummy”.)  It was adorable.

While Julius and I haven’t been baking as much, he has been helping me quite a bit in the kitchen.  I made Julius a chef’s hat and apron for Christmas to go with his kitchen playset.  He’s been wearing both in the kitchen when cooking with me.  I’ve explained to him that my “sous chef” gets to wear a fancy hat which further increases his desire to cook with me.  Today I’ll show you how to make a toddler chef’s hat in less than an hour!

Toddler Chef’s Hat

What you’ll need:

  • 1 yard of white cotton fabric
  1. Cut 22″ diameter circle of fabric and 21″x7″ strip of fabric for hatband. (.5″ seam allowance included everywhere)
  2. Pin strip of fabric end to end to form band of hat.  Stitch.
  3. Fold band in half, so unfinished seam is inside.
  4. Stitch a wide running stitch all around the outside of the circle, close to the edge.
  5. Pull up the edges to gather the circle.
  6. Pin circle to hatband, unfinished edges together.  Pull up gathers to fit.
  7. Stitch hatband to cap.  Turn right side out.  If you desire, you can add elastic to the back of the hat so it has a more snug fit.

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 2 Comments

Reincarnation

“Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds” – Buddha (paraphrased by Jack Kornfield)

Okay guys, I have another vegetarian recipe for you this week!  Just joking, don’t worry!  Instead – the next best thing – an upcycling craft!  You see, my grandma passed away last week.  Yes, this is my grandma Kohm who kept all the German food and traditions alive and who I very recently mentioned a couple weeks ago in this post.  I’m happy to say my grandma will always live on in all the traditions she passed down to us, that we all hold so dear.  This includes her love of all living things and the Earth!  My grandma was a regular green thumb (I did not inherit that from her sadly) and my grandparent’s postage stamp backyard was always a verdant jungle of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And for as long as I can remember (I’m certain much longer) my grandma always composted her kitchen scraps for that fabulous garden of hers.  I started composting because of her!  She also was an avid seamstress and upcycled all she could – a skill/desire that I’m certain was passed down to me from both my grandmas.   I hope they’d both approve of this craft.

This craft was born from the netting that I didn’t want around the Christmas tree, but was already around the tree by the time we got back from our walk to get it.  I’ve been wanting to make lightweight produce bags for a while, but I decided not to buy any new material this year (did I mention that?!)  The netting has been hanging around my basement, since, well, Christmas so I finally tried to make a produce bag out of it.  It was slightly time consuming, but it seems to hold up well and it is definitely very lightweight!  And as an added bonus I’m not accidentally killing any dolphins or porpoises or adding to trash island.

Upcycled Produce Bag

What you’ll need:

  • 2/3 yard of lightweight netting
  • 20″ of 1″ thick woven trim
  • 1 yard of kitchen twine
  1. Cut a roughly 16″x16″ square from the lightweight netting.
  2. Stitch ends of trim together.
  3. With needle and thread, hand stitch each loop of the netting to the “bad side” of the trim (where the unfinished edges face in), spacing the netting evenly over the whole trim.
  4. Trim off any unruly threads.
  5. After the hand stitching is complete, machine stitch on top of the hand stitching on a very narrow straight stitch setting.
  6. Fold the trim in half, enclosing the raw edges of the netting.
  7. Machine stitch very close to where the edges of the trim meet.   Leave a 1″ gap opened somewhere along the perimeter.
  8. Using a yarn needle, thread the kitchen twine into the 1″ gap and through the perimeter of the bag.  Knot loose ends of twine together.

 

 

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Wheatloaf

This past Thursday morning Will was packing for PAX in the man cave (aka the room where we keep all the board games).  The man cave happens to share a wall with the bedroom where Julius and I were getting ready for the day.  Will was being extremely loud and making lots of noise so Julius kept asking “what’s that?”  I explained to him that it was just Dada in the man cave to which he questioned in a terrified voice, “bears?”  (Bears after all live in caves.)

So I typically don’t like to post two recipes in a row since I have so many crafts lined up, but I feel like this is a special exception because I have very recently discovered the joy of seitan (aka wheat meat)!  This very gluten-intolerance unfriendly menu item is basically a big ball of seasoned gluten!  Sound disgusting?  Wrong!  It basically tastes like bread when you screw it up, and meat when you do it right!  You can’t go wrong!  And it has an incredibly weird (in a good way) meat like texture.  I think it’s best in flavorful sauces, but my attempt at “beef” stew with it came out delicious enough to post.

Gabe was clearly fueling my obsession with love of Geralt with this year’s program art.

Anyway, the reason my wheat meat recipe must be posted today is because of this Penny Arcade comic that allows me to pinpoint the first time I’d ever heard of seitan.  And more importantly did I mention we went to PAX this weekend?!  We didn’t see Tycho this time so I couldn’t ask him about wheatloaf, but we did get to play lots of fun board games and video games.  My personal favorites were Maquette, Barrage, and Die Crew but we played lots of great ones.  As a sidebar – I have totally forgotten how to play a first person viewpoint game so my skill borderline incompetence has gotten even worse.  This made it slightly nerve wracking to play Maquette in public in front of other humans who are video game competent.  Given that, it speaks volumes that it was my #1!  Anyway, go make some wheatloaf, play some games and don’t forget to vote tomorrow for those who observe Super Tuesday.

Yum. Almost-beef stew.

Wheatloaf Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 cup Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 1/2 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp miso paste
  • 10 cups veggie broth
  • 1 cup wine
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled or scrubbed and chopped into large dice
  • 4 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 or 4 potatoes, peeled and chopped into large dice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp corn starch
  • pepper to taste

Note: I started with this fabulous recipe for the seitan and it came out great!  As usual though I made the preparation lazier so my steps are for my lazified version below.

To make the Seitan:

Place the vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour in the bowl of your mixer, stir.  Add water and stir. When dough starts to come together switch to dough hook attachment and knead on low for 5 minutes.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Combine the miso paste, veggie broth and wine in a stockpot and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cut the dough ball into pieces that resemble 3/4″ thick steaks.  Add to the broth and simmer for 1 hour.  When the hour is complete, reserve remaining cooking liquid and divide the steaks into 3 portions.  Reserve 2 portions in the freezer for later, then chop the other portion into bit size cubes.  Note- I varied mine in size, but the concensus was that the smaller the cubes, the better it absorbed the flavor, so keep the seitan at like 1/2″-3/4″ dice. 

A dough hook makes seitan dough kneading a breeze.

Seitan dough becoming seitan

Finished seitan, cooling.  Looks weirdly like meat, right?

To make the Stew:

Heat oil over medium heat in the stock pot you used for the seitan.  Add onion and seitan.  Brown seitan on all sides and cook onions, stirring occasionally.  When seitan is browned, add carrots, potatoes, celery and bay leaves.  Cover with reserved liquid from the seitan cooking step.  (Note: if there isn’t enough reserved liquid remaining, add vegetable broth to cover the vegetables.)   Bring to a simmer and simmer for an hour.  Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water and stir with a fork until combined into a liquid.  Add to the pot, stirring the stew constantly to incorporate it and prevent it from clumping.  Simmer for another 5 minutes to thicken then season with salt and pepper and serve.

Prepped veggies and seitan

Simmering stew components

 

 

Posted in Culinary Delights | 2 Comments

Sweet Dish of Meatballs

You’ve probably heard me talk about my grandma’s Swedish Meatballs at some point in time (maybe here, here, or here).  My grandma used to make them every year for Christmas and over the years my mom and I have slowly taken over making them.  For this reason I’ve gotten lazier smarter in my preparation of meatballs.  The original recipe requires you to lovingly pan fry them a few at a time but when you’re making 200 meatballs that gets really old, really fast.

The other problem is that the delicious Swedish meatballs my grandma makes contain not one, but two types of meat!  This makes them twice as non-vegetarian (that’s definitely how that works).  German food and gravy are two of the things making me want to cave on this whole vegetarian thing.  I was looking over one of my recipes, which was chicken schnitzel with mushroom gravy, the other day and realized that pretty much the entire world of my grandma’s German cooking is out the window.  That is not okay!    This (and selfishness for not being able to eat Swedish meatballs on Christmas) lead me to attempt a vegetarian version of Swedish meatballs from Impossible Meat.  It was darn close to the original and I’ve had it 3 times now.  Plus with all the shortcuts passed down in the Kohm/Collins/now-Colton family, it is a breeze to make (as far as Swedish meatball making goes).  Now to figure out how to vegetarianize rouladen

‘Meat’balls over spaetzle!

Grandma Kohm’s Vegetarianized Swedish Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2 packages (12 oz each) of Impossible Meat
  • 1.75 tsp allspice
  • ½ c breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp graded onions
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley minced (or 2 tsp dried – I know most people say halve the dried herbs, but in this recipe, don’t)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • olive oil
  • 2 cans of mushroom gravy**

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except mushroom gravy and olive oil.  (It is easiest to mix with your hands to really get everything properly combined.)  Let stand 30 minutes for flavors to mingle.  Scoop meat by teaspoonful and roll into balls.  Place on a rimmed baking tray, drizzled with olive oil and either toss balls in olive oil or lightly spray with olive oil.  Bake at 400 for 10 min until the meatballs have browned, then flip meatballs and cook for 7 more.  At this point you can freeze the meatballs* on a new tray in the freezer until firm and transfer to ziplock bags or freezer proof containers for storage.  If you would like to eat them right away, stick them in a large saucepan, cover with the mushroom gravy and bring to a simmer, stirring periodically to prevent the meatballs from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Let simmer for 30 minutes so the meatballs impart flavor to the sauce.  Serve over spaetzle.  

*To reheat the meatballs from freezing I usually stick them all in a crock pot in the morning, throw the sauce on top and cook on low until dinner time.

**My grandma is the original smart cook, she used to make a delicious gravy to go over the swedish meatballs but eventually realized that canned gravy worked nearly as well and took way less time to make.

Combine ingredients

Meatballs prior to rolling.

Meatballs after the first browning step.

Finished browned meatballs.

Posted in Culinary Delights | 2 Comments

Short stacks

Julius has had so much fun this past week with his cousin Finnegan!  They have been doing lots of adorable things together with lots of adorable giggles.  After the first evening Julius spent with Finn I went up to his room to say goodnight because I was late home from work.  I asked him what he thought of his new cousin Artemis and his response was “baby’s crying” because at the time she was indeed crying.  Then seconds later he got all excited and said, “oh! Finn’s here!” And I told him that I knew and that it was very exciting.  His response was “I like cousin Finnegan” in the cutest contemplative little boy voice ever.

A rare photo where both boys were (mostly) in focus (usually one or the other was blurry due to constant movement).

In other news,  we’ve learned this weekend that while Julius’ love of baking may be waning, his love of music is only just beginning.  He saw Aunt Mandy’s guitar this week and could not contain his excitement.  He asked to play it about a dozen times. My favorite part?  He called the guitar strap “seatbelt”.  Watching Julius play the guitar while singing was adorable.  And I got front row seats! (“Mama sit.” says Julius, patting the ground in front of him.)  The only ones closer were Julius’ loveys Gaga, Sheepey and Baby Sheepey (who got stage seats).

The face of a future rock star.

Despite Julius’ new found love I still decided to reorganize my cabinets for easy access to my muffin tins.  You know, just in case his love of baking renews.  I have this incredibly long, thin cabinet where I keep my baking sheets, cutting boards and cooling racks.  It’s so deep that I also keep all my muffin tins (mini muffin tins included) in there behind the baking sheets.  This is fine when you only need to make muffins every so often, but it got to the point where I’d be pulling out the muffin tins more often than the baking sheets!  In addition to being long and thin, it is also very tall.  To solve the muffin problem I decided to grow vertically.

Baking Half Shelf

Before – Check out all that clutter! You can barely make out the stack of muffin tins behind all the front row baking paraphernalia.

The shelf is an old piece of scrap cabinet that I cut to 10″ deep by 7.5″ wide and sits 17″ above the floor of the cabinet, leaving a shelf 11″ high space for me to slide muffin tins and cooling racks onto.

Finished shelf sits 17″ above the bottom of the cabinet and only protrudes less than halfway into the depth of the cabinet, so if needed taller items can still fit in the front space.

I used repurposed those Ikea wall mounting brackets as the braces for my shelf and screwed the braces onto the shelf before I mounted it.

Note the repurposed Ikea brackets.

Because the cabinet is only 7.5″ wide, mounting the whole thing inside the cabinet was a task of perseverance and raw muscle.  I used a short handled ratcheting screwdriver (that I got from a Yankee Swap several Christmases ago and LOVE) and lower arm muscle to drive the screws into the walls of the cabinet.  The walls were made of some kind of compressed hardboard type board so it was VERY difficult to get them to bite.  I attempted several times to tap in some nail holes to use as pilot holes with limited success.  (7.5″ minus the length of a nail is not very much room to hammer a nail…)  I don’t have a picture of this because it was nearly impossible to wedge myself into the cabinet in such a way that I could reach that far back.  It was completely selfie proof.

Look at how much more organized my cabinet looks!

The shelf works great and makes my cabinet feel so much more organized!  I no longer have to move things around to get access to my muffin tins and I even had space to put my cooling racks on the shelf, making the bottom space feel roomier!

Wow! Everytime I open my cabinet I stand in awe of the baking organization!

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I’m Knots About You

Well friends, we had a great time this past week!  Lots of fun for all including a thrift shopping spree with my mom, another truffle making ladies’ night/board game night for Valentine’s day and an epic lion king birthday party for a friend that Julius attended complete with live exotic animals!  And on top of all that, my family is visiting from all over the country this week including my brand new 2 week old niece!  Woo!

Julius is testing out calling me “mommy”.  I’ve been mama exclusively to this point, but during the last week or so he keeps throwing the word “mommy” in there every now and then.  It confuses me every time.  Much like when I first became a mother and in the hospital room they’d address me over the intercom as “mom”.  I was confused the first several times as to why they were asking for my mom (which to be fair, my mom DOES work at the hospital on that floor, and everyone knew she was my mom).  Either way, I loved being mama but I’m happy to be mommy!  Though I’ve been warned that after “mama” and “mommy” come “mom” which just doesn’t sound right.

Speaking of things that don’t sound right, how about the title of this post?  I googled that pun after I thought of it and NO HITS came up!  Does that mean it’s bad or ingenious?  It’s okay you don’t have to answer.  Anyway, this year they are doing a Valentine’s card swap for Julius’ toddler room and I was ahead of the curve.  I already had plans to make heart shaped toddler lacing toys for all the toddlers using shoelaces I found at the thrift store.  I found the shoelaces in a bag marked $2 and it included at least 10 pairs of shoelaces.  I really wanted to make the lacing toys out of recycled leather scraps, but I couldn’t find anything suitable.  Instead I decided to make it out of the scrap hardboard I had left over from the trail map coasters I made a couple years ago.  I am not skilled enough with the band saw yet to do heart shaped designs, so I had to improvise.  The design for the Valentine cards and lacing toys is uniquely mine.  I hope you like it!

Knots About You Toddler Lacing Toy

For each valentine you’ll need:

  1. Mark holes on one edge of your square on a line 1/2″ from the edge and parallel to the edge.  Holes should be at 1/2″, 1 1/4″, 2″, 2 3/4″, 3 1/2″ on that line.  Repeat markings  for other 3 edges.
  2. Drill holes that you marked in step 1 with a 1/4″ drill bit.  (I drilled 5 toddler lacing boards at a time)
  3. Drill one additional hole 1.25″ below an edge in the center.  You’ll use this to lace up the toy as a heart.
  4. Sand around the drill holes and edges of the hardboard square.  Then dust off thoroughly with a tack cloth.
  5. Assemble by threading a shoelace through the heart, starting at the hole you drilled in step 3. Thread halfway through this hole, then continue threading, doubling back when needed to form a heart.  (See diagram here)
  6. Tie the excess shoelace into a bow on the back of the toy.
  7. Print out the sheet of valentines on one sheet of cardstock, having your printer set to print on both sides of the paper and automatically flip on the horizontal edge if it supports this.  If not, print page one, then manually flip along the horizontal edge and reinsert into the printer.  Print page two.
  8. Cut valentines into 3 strips 2.83″ x 11″ long, then turn and cut each strip into 4 rectangles 2.75″ long.  (2.83″x2.75″).
  9. Hole punch the corner of each card.
  10. Thread a ribbon through the hole in the valentine and the hole in the top left of each toddler toy.  Knot.
  11. Give to your toddler Valentine.

Julius practicing “writing his name” for the Valentine’s cards

Lacing toy – started by Julius

Julius lacing up his lacing toy.

Posted in Crafts & Sewing, Thrift Finds | 6 Comments

Totally Totoro

So I’ve gone all in on fantasy novels again.  I started two series at once.  The first is Wheel of Time, a classic high fantasy which I have never even attempted. It looks like it is going to be a slow burn so I started it on audiobook.  The second is the Witcher series, because I just can’t seem to get enough of Geralt…  So far I’m enjoying both of them.  Apparently I don’t enjoy Totoro though.

Since I returned from my work trip Julius has been a bit grumpy with me.   Yesterday Julius saw the Totoro sticker I have on my laptop (it looks like this).  I commented that I love Totoro and he told me that I don’t like Totoro and that only “Dada and Julius like Totoro”.  Who knew?!  I’m not sure if it’s because he’s being contrarian or if he truly believes I don’t like Totoro because Will lets him watch movies more than I do…

Either way I’m Totoro committed – and you can be too!  The Giant Totoro I made for Julius’ birthday party is bigger than Julius and only took me three nights of sewing/embroidering.  For the fabric I bought grey and off white fleece blankets at the thrift store for only $2 a piece.  I intended to stuff him with recycled packing peanuts to save them from the landfill but I wasn’t able to acquire any over the course of 2 months!  (I suppose that might be a good thing?)  Instead I used the polyfill I already had at home.  I know, I know, polyfill is made of plastic.  It already killed me a little bit inside.  Apparently they sell a recycled version so I will be buying that next time – it’s even cheaper than polyfill!  Even including the cost of the polyfill, Totoro cost me less than $30 to make!

Giant Totoro Stuffed Animal

  1. Using the template as a guide for shape, fold your grey throw blanket in half and trace the outline of Totoro’s body.
  2. Cut, adding an inch for seam allowance all around.
  3. Cut 4 pieces of grey fabric for Totoro’s ears and 2 pieces of interfacing, to scale with the body you cut out.
  4. Cut 2 pieces of grey fabric for Totoro’s tail, to scale with the body you cut out.
  5. Draw an oval for Totoro’s belly on one of the Totoro body pieces
  6. Cut inside the oval for Totoro’s belly by an inch.
  7. Use the oval you just cut out in grey as a template for Totoro’s belly in white.  Add 2″ all around to account for the seam allowance you removed and additional seam allowance for the belly.
  8. Mark the locations for Totoro’s eyes on the body piece with Totoro’s belly removed.  (Use template as a guide.)
  9. Embroidery first eye onto Totoro.  (Hoop fabric with medium weight stabilizer, put black embroidery thread in machine.  Sew first set of stitches.  Apply white cotton fabric with light adhesive to cover the first set of stitches.  Sew second set of stitches.  Trim around second set of stitches, very close to stitching.  Sew next set of stitches.  When stitching stops, swap in white embroidery thread.  Embroider last round of stitches, then trim.)
  10. Repeat for second eye.
  11. Embroider nose onto Totoro.  (Hoop fabric with medium weight stabilizer, put black embroidery thread in machine.  Sew first set of stitches.  Apply black fabric with light adhesive to cover the first set of stitches.  Sew second set of stitches.  Trim around second set of stitches, very close to stitching.  Sew final sets of stitches. )
  12. Embroider mouth onto Totoro using black thread.
  13. Mark locations for three large fluff marks onto top of white Totoro belly.  Make sure they start a couple inches below the seam allowance.  Mark 4 smaller fluff marks below those.
  14. Embroider large and small fluff marks. (Hoop fabric with medium weight stabilizer, put black embroidery thread in machine.  Sew first set of stitches.  Apply grey fabric with light adhesive to cover the first set of stitches.  Sew second set of stitches.  Trim around second set of stitches, very close to stitching.  Sew final sets of stitches. )
  15. When all the embroidery is done, stitch belly to rest of Totoro’s front, right sides together.
  16. Stitch two pieces of tail together, leaving opening at the bottom.  Turn right side out then stuff.
  17. On the back piece of Totoro make a horizontal tail sized slit on the lower 1/5th of Totoro.  Insert tail into the slot then stitch tail between both edges of the slit.
  18. Place two ear pieces on top of one another with ear piece of interfacing on top.  Stitch together leaving an opening at the bottom.  Repeat for second ear.  Turn right side out then stuff.
  19. Place front of Totoro on surface, face side up then place ears on top with unfinished ends near unfinished edge of Totoro, and finished points pointing slightly inwards towards Totoro’s mouth.  Pin.
  20. Place back of Totoro, tail side in on top of Totoro front an ears.  Pin all around.  Stitch, leaving gap at the bottom.
  21. Cut one last scrap piece of grey fabric the width of your Totoro bottom in an “eye” shape.
  22. Pin eye shape to bottom of Totoro, right sides still in.  Stitch closed leaving a 5″ gap.
  23. Turn Totoro right side out through the gap then stuff.
  24. Hand stitch gap closed using an invisible/ladder stitch.

    Julius loves to watch Totoro while sitting with Totoro

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | Leave a comment

Sweet Gravy Love

Hello dear friends and family!  I have been away for the last 5 days on business travel in Austin, meeting lots of co-workers who I’ve never met in person, and seeing lots of co-workers I haven’t seen in years.  My poor co-workers had to deal with my vegetarianism while I was in Austin, a city known for it’s superb barbeque.  I tried to assure them that I could find something to eat anywhere, but they insisted on going to several places with great vegetarian options instead.  They’re too nice.

I hate being vegetarian!  The food is fine, it’s just that I feel like I am doing a disservice to people or being difficult.  My mom is especially affronted.  The other day my mom and dad took us to my favorite seafood restaurant.  After dinner my mom confessed that she was hoping the seafood options would have been enough to convince me to cave and order lobster.  Good try mom… but I haven’t caved yet!

One thing I do miss though is gravy and mashed potatoes.  Roast beef or roast chicken are great, but the real magic of roast meats is gravy.  My mom makes a truly incredible gravy from any roast meat.  My dad and I used to (mostly jokingly) fight to lick the spoon for the last drops of mom’s gravy.  For this reason I knew my only chance of surviving a vegetarian Thanksgiving was a great veggie gravy.  In advance of Thanksgiving I piloted a recipe for mushroom gravy that I thought was pretty great.  It didn’t come out quite as perfect on actual Thanksgiving day because I forgot to buy vegetable broth and couldn’t find Gravy Master anywhere in the south (for this reason I advise you to follow the recipe to the letter).  Even so, it was delicious and better than a no-gravy-Thanksgiving.  Will tested the gravy and rated it “great” (though he didn’t grow up with roasts with gravy, so he is only a novice in the joys of gravy).

“I Survived Vegetarian Thanksgiving” – Vegetarian Gravy

  • .1 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
  • .1 oz of dried maitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 veggie boullion cube (to make 1 cup of broth)
  • 1/4 tsp of Gravy Master
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of corn starch
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pour 1/2 cup of hot water over mushrooms and let sit for an hour.  While mushrooms are steeping, carmelize onion in butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a saute pan.  Remove from heat when light brown.  Heat a kettle of water to boil, and deglaze the onion saute pan with 1/2 c boiling water.  Return the pan to heat and let come to a bare simmer.  Add mushrooms and mushroom liquid and a veggie bouillon cube.  Return to a bare simmer.  When the cube has dissolved and the bits of onion are off the bottom of the pan, strain out the onions and mushrooms, reserving the liquid.  Return the liquid to the pan, add Gravy Master, another 1/2 cup of water and salt and pepper to taste.  Again bring to a simmer.  Mix cornstarch into 1/4 cup of water, stirring until combined.  Slowly pour cornstarch mixture into simmering liquid, stirring constantly to prevent clumps from forming.

Posted in Culinary Delights | Leave a comment