Heavily Meditated

I am planning to take my first baby free weekend the week before I go back to work.  Eep.  I’m not sure yet if this is a good idea or a bad idea.  On the one hand, if I’m not ready to spend so much time away from him yet, it will be sad to force myself to do it early.  On the other hand, if he and I aren’t ready by that point, we better get ready.  For my first trip away, I am going on a yoga retreat in western Massachusetts with my sister and my friend Amy.  Worst case, it’s only an hour away, so Will offered to come meet me with the baby if it is a total nightmare.  (Hopefully it won’t come to that.)

I’ve always wanted to go on a yoga retreat.  This one is lead by my yoga teacher, April, who I credit with introducing me to the world of yoga.  The 3 day retreat includes meditation sessions and a reiki session.  Exciting!  Well since I’ve had the baby I’m way behind on my goal of meditating multiple times a week.  I was so good while I was pregnant, but I’m back off the wagon again!  This is really embarrassing but towards the end of my pregnancy and now that we have Julius I have the tendency to fall asleep while meditating.  Even before parenthood I could sleep almost anywhere (which lead to great concern one time from my friend Amy when I completely passed out on a rocky lawn in a park).  So I have to be careful to find that fine line between clearing my mind and passing out.

Either way, to prepare for meditation sessions I decided to make a meditation cloak.  The cloak is made of fleece and nice and snuggly.  Perfect for staving off a draft while you’re meditating!  And as and added bonus you look like a Jedi in it!  Since this is basically just a giant blanket with a hood, its pretty much one size fits all.

While meditating on my cushion.

Hooded Meditation Cloak

What you’ll need:

  • 90″ of 58” wide fleece (you can do wider fleece, the arms will just be longer, but definitely don’t do narrower)
  • hook and eye closure
  • hood pattern here
  1. Cut a 90″ section of fleece.
  2. Cut a 45 inch slit from the bottom of the fleece rectangle to the middle, perpendicular to the selvage (see picture).  The slit will be 45 inches long and 29 inches from either side.  Easiest way to do this is to fold in half the long way and cut a 45 inch long slit along the fold.

    Cut 45″ slit along lengthwise fold.

  3. Cut out hood.
  4. Stitch hood together along curve.

    Pin and stitch hood along curve.

  5. Stitch a 3/4″ rolled hem along the face of the hood.

    Form 3/4″ rolled hem along all sides, and hood front.

  6. Stitch a 3/4″ rolled hem all along the perimeter of the square, stopping when you get to the slit.  At each corner, form a mitered corner.
  7. The portion at the slit is a bit tricky.  Line the hood seam up with the center of the slit, and pin, right sides together.
  8. Stitch the hood to the cape leaving 1.5″ seam allowance.

    Attach hood to slit (neck edge) right sides facing, leaving 1.5″ seam allowance.

  9. Turn the seam allowance under to form a 3/4″ rolled hem.  Stitch along the whole inner portion of cape from corner to corner (once again forming mitered corners.)

    A close up view of what the hood should look like when attached.

    Fold under seam allowance on slit all the way up to where it attaches to the hood.

  10. Hand stitch the clasp to either side of the cape directly below where the cape meets the hood.

    Hand sew closures on, just below hood.

  11. Zen out!

    Front view

    Back view

    What it looks like when I raise my arms…

 

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 1 Comment

A Dicey Endeavor

So this past weekend was PAX!  PAX, for those who don’t know, is the Penny Arcade Expo; a convention for all things nerdy produced by the creators of a webcomic empire.  This year, we decided to take Julius along for the ride.  This was a bold decision, and one that we are overall pretty happy with.  We had a hotel room in the hotel that is connected to the convention center, which was extremely necessary.  On one hand the convention is so loud, and Julius is so distracted while eating, that I had to go back to the peace and quiet of the hotel room to let him eat.  On the other hand, the white noise was perfect for napping, so Julius napped in the stroller more than he has ever done during the course of a normal day.  This meant, as long as we didn’t mind occasionally waiting 20 minutes between turns, we could play anything we wanted.  Plus, after Julius went to bed, we could play anything we wanted.

Julius is ready for PAX.
(You may recognize the pink yoshi hoodie)

Julius and Will looking at a giant display I think.

Player 3 has entered the game (and he looks exhausted)

On the second day, we made a big mistake.  We checked out of the hotel.  This caused two problems: firstly we had nowhere quiet for Julius to eat and secondly, we couldn’t do anything after his 7pm bedtime.  That, combined with the fact that we didn’t want to subject our friends to the “occasionally waiting 20 minutes between turns” rule meant I did very little gaming.  I DID manage to buy some really sweet dice though, more on that later.  We both agreed that, PAX with a 5 month old baby is totally do-able and even enjoyable, but also agreed that if we were to do it all over again, we’d keep the hotel room one extra night.

So many dice!

So more on those dice!  For a while now, I’ve wanted to make dice jewelry.  I have some sweet mini-d20 earrings, but I wanted more!  So I went to the chessex booth and searched through their seconds bin (.30 cents a piece!!) until I found some cute d4s to make into earrings.  Then I found some cool d20s, and some %ds and d6s and then I accidentally had a full cup of dice.  It was like looking for seashells or rocks at the beach.  You spend what seems like a few minutes, and actually turns into an hour, looking at one little patch of sand, to find you’ve a small mountain of discarded crustacean houses that would look great as jewelry, but in actuality you’ll never use.  Or is that just me?  I suspect it’s not just me because there were two other women and one man digging through the Chessex bin with me, but for an even longer period of time.  Bottomline?  Expect some upcoming posts on ideas for dice jewelry.  Additional bottomline?  If you pick out an entire cup full of dice, your dice only cost 20 cents a piece!  (Though if you randomly scooped a cupful they were only 13 cents a piece…)

D4 Earrings

What you’ll need:

  1. Put on safety goggles.  I don’t say this enough, but after a scary incident with paint thinner I ALWAYS wear safety goggles when doing anything crafty.  Drilling is one of those things where even before the paint thinner incident I would have worn safety glasses.
  2. First you’ll need to drill a hole straight through your D4.  It is highly recommended that you use a drill press for this.  Insert 1/16″ drill bit in drill.  If you have a drill press, clamp D4 so desired number is facing up.  Position drill bit over vertex of pyramid and lower drill press until you’ve cut clean through the die.  If you don’t have a drill press, clamp D4 upside down in your vice, so desired number is facing down, and flat plane is facing up.  Position your hand held drill over the center of the die face and carefully drill through the die, readjusting to guarantee you’ll drill through the tip of the die on the bottom.

    Drill straight through face of die.  I used a rubber jar opener to cushion my die in the vice.

  3. Sand any sharp edges caused by drilling.

    Sand any rough spots caused by drilling

  4. Insert head pin up through the bottom of the D4 so the flat side of the die rests on the head of the pin.

    Insert head pin through bottom of die

  5. Using your pliers, shape the excess wire into a 3mm ring.

    Shape excess wire into a loop.

  6. Insert ear wire into ring.

    Insert loop onto ear wire.

  7. Wear with pride!

    Wear with pride!

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 2 Comments

Plant Night

Let me tell you that daddy day care has been going great!  Or at least from my perspective it has been.  Julius has been taking bottles!  Will has also been working to educate Julius or at least Alexa has.  That’s what it seems like when listening from the basement.  I keep hearing things like, “Alexa, define gravity” followed by Alexa rambling off a paragraph of text.  Maybe Julius will absorb some of it through educational osmosis.

Julius, what do you really think of Daddy’s schooling?

Since daddy daycare was going so well we decided to host a Ladies’ Night (plus board games in the mancave with Will).  For a while I’ve been wanting to host a “Plant Night” where we plant a counter top garden of some kind.  Everyone wanted to plant an herb garden, so that was what we decided to try.  To keep costs low and reduce waste, we used 28 oz tomato sauce cans that I picked up from the town recycling center.  Since I could only obtain 16 cans and I wanted everyone to have 3 planters each I also purchased some 6″ terra cotta planters from Job lot for only 1.80 a piece.  With the exception of the activated charcoal, I purchased all the planting items from Job Lot.  All the craft items were purchased from Walmart, Joann Fabrics and Dollar Tree (and several people brought their own supplies and containers if they wanted something specific).  The supplies below were for 10 people and cost a total of $70 (excluding the cost of the terra cotta pots) which includes plenty of leftovers.

Plant Night

Menu

  • Bacon quiche with hash brown “crust” (GF)
  • Onion quiche with hash brown “crust” (V, GF)
  • Garden Salad

    Simple quiche and salad dinner.

Preparation

Purchase all crafting supplies and planting supplies (see below).

The day before the party, wash the cans thoroughly then dry.  Make sure the tops of the cans are not sharp, by using a can opener and sandpaper to thoroughly remove any burrs.  Then spray paint the outside of the cans with white primer.

Prepare the quiches, cool and then refrigerate.

Set parsley seeds (if using) in a bowl of water to soften seed shells.

Spray paint washed and dried cans with primer

Day of the party Set out a crafting table with glue guns and other crafting items.

Set a separate table with planting supplies.  Cover table with a plastic table cloth and the floor with a drop cloth.

Prepare salad.

Place the quiches in the oven an hour before the party at 350 F.  After 20 minutes drop the oven temperature to 150 F to keep warm.    If the quiches start to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

Craft materials all set up and waiting for guests

Planting table set out with plastic table cloths and drop cloths under the table.

Making the Planters

What You’ll Need:

  • 30 28 oz cans
  • white primer spray paint
  • several packages of clothesline
  • 1.5 yards of burlap fabric
  • black fabric paint
  • chalkboard paint
  • chalkboard duct tape
  • stencils
  • stamps
  • foam brushes/spouncers
  • disposable plates or palettes
  • tissue paper
  • mod podge glue
  • glue gun
  • scissors

Let your guests be creative with decorating their planters!  Some folks only wanted to add chalkboard tape labels, others decided to do decoupage or other fancy things!  Here are a few ideas to get your guests going.

Decoupage:

Rip tissue paper into rough 2″x2″ squares.  Coat a 2″x2″ square on your can with mod podge using a spouncer.  Apply tissue paper square over the glue and press firmly.  Apply more glue to on top of the tissue paper square using spouncer.  Repeat, overlapping squares slightly until the whole can is covered.

Morgan and Mary showing up stenciling and decoupage

Rope/Twine Wrapping:

Hot glue a row of rope to the can along the very bottom.  Wrap rope snugly around can, tacking with hot glue to can in 2 to 3 spots along every turn.  When you reach the top of the can, affix the final row to the very top of the can, hot gluing around the entire perimeter.  Cut rope, then secure the end of the rope to the inside of the can using hot glue.

Alie did some lever multi-colored stenciling, and rope works of art.

Stenciled/Stamped Burlap:

Cut a piece of burlap 2″ wider than your can’s height and 2″ longer than the can’s circumference.  Stamp or stencil onto your burlap using fabric paint.  For stencil: place stencil on fabric, use a spouncer to apply paint evenly over stencil.  For stamp:  Apply an even layer of paint to a palette or disposable plate, press stencil onto paint then onto fabric.  Let fabric dry, then glue to can with a hot glue gun, overlapping at the seam.  Glue excess fabric on bottom of can.

Place even layer of paint on palette and press stamp into paint.

Stamp burlap.

Planting the Herbs

What You’ll Need:

  • 32 quarts of indoor potting mix
  • fertilizer for indoor plants (optional if your potting mix includes this)
  • 48 oz planting charcoal
  • 5 packets of container friendly herbs, such as dwarf varieties

Place 1 inch of planting charcoal in the bottom of your pot (only necessary if your pots don’t have drainage)

Fill the rest of the pot with potting mix and fertilizer (as specified by package directions).

Plant and water seeds as directed on package.

Full crafting mode.

Planting and crafting!

Cute stencils!

Tin planters plus a decoupage “party” can planter.

Clever use of chalkboard tape and stenciling.

My finished planters

Posted in Crafts & Sewing, Culinary Delights, Parties | Leave a comment

“Vacation”

Before I left on maternity leave, I cannot tell you the number of times co-workers would ask me when I was leaving on my “vacation”.  These were never co-workers with children, and furthermore whenever the term “vacation” was used in front of a co-worker with a child the perpetrator would be swiftly corrected.  I laughed it off everytime.  Sure I knew it would be tough for a while, but we have had a dog (our practice kid) for a few years and she figured things out very quickly.

Well, if you haven’t realized it by this point in the blog, I’ll just spell it out, humans are a lot more difficult to raise than dogs.  I envy having to teach Dany to avoid peeing on (most) rugs in our house.  To be fair to mama dogs, in the beginning puppies are bigger squishes than humans but even in dog years that helpless period is short compared to that of a human baby.  Anyway, the point of this paragraph is to educate anyone, like my former self, who believes that raising an infant is like training a pet.  Cats and dogs are a heck of a lot less needy and infinitely more independent.  So dear, misguided co-workers, while extremely fulfilling and joy-bringing, parenthood is not a vacation.

But, I am on vacation now!  That is, Will has taken his two weeks of paternity leave!  Also known as Daddy Daycare!!  After 139 days, it is Daddy’s turn to take the wheel of this fender-less, dented jalopy!  As it stands today, I plan to feed and care for Julius before and after “work” (or what would be work on a normal day).  For the other 8 hours he is Daddy’s baby.  Mostly we decided to do this because Julius has a little problem taking bottles.  I know, you’re probably thinking, “but I thought he was exclusively fed by bottle for over a week after he was born”.  Well it’s true, but to curb some of that overproduction problem I switched to exclusively breastfeeding him a couple weeks after we got him to latch.  A month after that he no longer would take a bottle.  We’ve (Will’s) been struggling almost daily to try and feed him by bottle when he gets home in the evening.  (This is what I refer to as “Daddy torture time”, since both Will and Julius are never happy during this time.)

I can report however, that despite many tears, I don’t think Julius completely starved today.  Though I did find it quite comical when Will asked me how I have time to shower or brush my teeth during the day.  I just simply explained that I didn’t.  (For reference, I do shower but I just do all those things before he wakes up or after he goes to bed.)  Just to be totally clear, I know it sounds like quite a sob story that Will is taking two weeks of time to do what you now know (if you didn’t before) is not at all a vacation and in some cases closer to torture.  But for perspective, he just returned from a 4 day, real, honest-to-god vacation in the Caribbean while I kept Julius and Dany alive and happy.  And on top of all that I managed to accomplish several projects!  This project you can complete in just one naptime (that is if you’re baby naps at all, unlike mine).  Plus it is super easy, inexpensive, and produces great results!

DIY Rubber Stamps

What you’ll need:

  1. Draw a design on your rubber eraser.  Make sure to specify the areas that will be removed.  Keep in mind that you’ll need to remove rubber to form any “whitespace” in your design.  If you want to make a mark on the paper, you’ll need to leave the rubber in those spots.  I find it easiest to color the areas to be removed black so you know it needs to go.  This sounds simple but is very easy to mess up.  Take your time analyzing!

    Draw design on stamp

  2. Use your linoleum cutters to start removing the areas you have marked for removal.  Start with the smallest size to define the edges of your design, and move to a larger sized cutter from there.

    Cut out design using linoleum cutters

  3. Cut off any excess edge of the eraser, using a scissor or knife.

    Cut off excess edge of rubber stamp

  4. Test your stamp.  Use an inkpad (or acrylic paint applied thinly to a sheet of aluminum foil) and press your design onto the pad.  Firmly press stamp to scrap paper.  If ink lands on the paper in a location it shouldn’t remove additional rubber using the linoleum cutter.

    Test your stamp

 

 

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 2 Comments

Oreo about you but I think these are delicious

Well this weekend was Saint Patrick’s day and since I’m 1/16 Irish (though my freckles might make you think it was more) we always feel the need to celebrate.  My mom (who is 0% Irish normally but 100% Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day) always makes corned beef and cabbage and we drink some kind of Irish beer.  For dessert we usually have something green-ish.  I’ve never really found an authentic Irish dessert recipe, but I’ve made potato cake once or twice, which seems authentic but supposedly isn’t.  (If you have a good authentic recipe I’m all ears.)  Eventually I abandoned authentic-seeming recipes for anything just plain adorable and Saint Patrick’s day themed (ie: green).

This year I was looking for an excuse to use up these Ghiradelli chocolates from ladies’ night so I bought some Oreos thinking I’d make chocolate covered Oreos that look like gold coins.  Well a couple days disappeared and so did the Oreos.  So I bought a second package at my next trip to the grocery store. This time I warned Will I was saving them for a project, and that he could only eat one row of them.  Skip ahead two days, and we were back to 0 Oreos in the house.  (Turns out we have a slight Oreo addiction.)  So I went back to the grocery store and this time I discovered they have a package of Oreos labeled “Party Size“.  You read that correctly, not “Family Size“, but “Party Size“.  Well I decided to purchase two packages of the Party Size, just to be on the safe side.  Skip ahead another couple days and we’re down to a half package of Party Size Oreos.  (Okay maybe its a serious Oreo addiction.)

Moral of the story?  Don’t buy Oreos.  Ever.  Or you will definitely gain 15 pounds in approximately 7 days due to exponentially increasing Oreo frenzy.  (Oh, sorry, did I imply it was just Will eating those Oreos?  Well that was just a lie.)  Anyway, once you have Oreos in your house and have somehow managed to avoid consuming them all immediately you can then make them even more fattening and delicious by dipping them in chocolate!  According to Will it makes them 2x’s as good as normal Oreos.  (A dangerous statement.)  So go ahead and try it, and you’ll be as happy as if you’ve found a real pot of gold.

Gold Coin Chocolate Oreos

Ingredients

Temper chocolate (still using my redneck candy thermometer holder)

Temper chocolate.  I follow the steps for tempering on the back of my candy thermometer.

  • In a double boiler with barley simmering hot water, stir chocolate with a wooden spoon.  (Use 1.5 cups). Heat chocolate to 120-125 degrees F.
  • Remove bowl from heat and cool melted chocolate to 86 degrees F.  Add small pieces of tempered chocolate to cool it.  (Gradually add the reserved 1/2 cup of chips.)
  • Raise the temperature by setting the bowl back over the pan of hot water for brief intervals.  Reheat to a maximum of 88 degrees F for white or milk chocolate, or 90 degrees F for dark chocolate.  Keep chocolate in the 86 to 90 degree range while dipping.

Dip Oreos and let excess drip off with a fork

Dip Oreos in chocolate and let excess chocolate drip off with a fork.  Place on waxed paper lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle with gold sugar

Sprinkle with gold sugar before chocolate hardens.

Wait for cookies to harden (15 minutes or so) then shake off excess sugar and store in an airtight container.

Cookies last at least 2 days (probably longer, but they’re usually gone in 2 days or less).

Gold Coin Oreos

Nom.

Posted in Culinary Delights | 1 Comment

Hats off to Julius

Julius was baptized this weekend in his grandparents’ church in Nashville.  Of course, we hadn’t realized it was daylight savings time and his second nursing session of the day fell right in the middle of the service.  Oops.  (Not that his timing is 100% accurate anyway.)  Luckily he only cried for a short while during the time he was in the chapel…and once the pastor held him he was a little angel!

Slight non-sequitur, but last week I discovered that there is a renaissance festival in our hometown!  What!?  They just moved it from its previous home in Connecticut… to 5 minutes from our house.  Fortuitous?  We’ll see.  When I closed the doors of Whimsical Brims, I instructed Will to remind me how tiring it was if I ever said I wanted to do it again.  Well, last week I proposed that I sell the rest of my supply of hats at a short running festival, and then I brought up the Faire in Lancaster.  Will actually said it was a good idea!   So much for convincing me not to do it again!

Well I decided that I should at least attempt to satisfy my urge to make more hats in a benign way and with Julius’ Christening I had an excuse!  I had seen lots of adorable pictures of these baby boys in dapper little pant suits complete with tiny flat caps.  I’ve never made a flat cap before, but they didn’t look too difficult, and the miniscule amount of fabric required made any attempt basically free.  I made the hat entirely from material from my enormous scrap bin (including the interfacing).  You may recognize the blue seersucker material from my seersucker maternity shirt!  (What better fabric choice for a Nashville baptism?!)

The pattern below is for a 3-6 month old.  (Julius’ head is 16.5″, but there is elastic to accommodate a larger or smaller head.)

Baby Flat Cap

What You’ll Need

  • lining material (~1/4 of a yard)
  • outside material (~1/4 of a yard)
  • peltex 70 interfacing (a few inches)
  • 2.5 inches elastic
  • Pattern here
  1. Cut out all pattern pieces from lining and outside material. Make sure to leave 1/2″ seam allowance on all pieces.  Make sure to include darts, center and overhang markings.

    Cut out all pattern pieces. Be sure to transfer markings for brim location.

  2. Cut out two brims from peltex.
  3. Pin lining top of hat to lining front of hat along the curved portion of the hat front.  Stitch.
  4. Pin and stitch dart in back of cap in the lining.

    Pin and stitch hat top to hat front.

  5. Pin the lining brim overhang to the lining front of the hat, lining up centers and markings.

    Pin lining brim overhang to the hat front.

  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 for the outside material.
  7. Stitch brim interfacing together.

    Stitch two piece of brim interfacing together

  8. Stitch brim pieces (outside material) together along the convex curved portion of the hat.

    Pin brim covering together and stitch.

  9. Clip curves, trim seams to 1/8″ and turn right side out.  Insert brim interfacing inside.

    Insert brim interfacing inside

  10. Baste along the inner (concave) curve close to the interfacing.

    Baste brim close to interfacing

  11. With hat inside out, place brim into hat, on to of overhang.  Line up edges of the brim with edges of the overhang.  Brim will curve slightly to fit.

    Pin brim to hat, right sides together.

  12. Baste.
  13. Right sides together pin lining to outside of hat. Stitch leaving the portion from side seam to side seam opened.

    Pin hat lining to outside of hat., right sides together. Brim should be sandwiched between the layers.

  14. Stitch the end of a piece of elastic to the outer material on each side.

    Stitch ends of a piece of elastic inside hat.

  15. Stitch back of hat close to the seam to close.

    Stitch back of hat close to the edge to close.

  16. Hand stitch a couple of stitches on the top of the hat to the brim if desired.

    Finished cap.

    Tummy time champion of the world in his hat.

    Rockin’ the flat cap.

    Look at that happy gent!

    Side view of hat (while Julius eats the blanket)

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 2 Comments

Something Fishy

So I think Julius is camera shy. He’ll be smiling and laughing for me for hours, and as soon as I take the cell phone out he freezes up and stops. It is almost impossible to make him smile on camera! I really have no idea why.

Last week we took Julius to JcPenney portrait studio to get his pictures taken and he would not smile AT ALL.  Not one real smile – a couple half smiles or smirks but that’s it. The photographer tried so hard too – making ridiculous noises and voices and faces. No smile. It seemed as if he was thinking, “what is this lady doing? She must be crazy. Perhaps it would be rude to laugh at her insanity”. Of course as soon as we left the room he started smiling.

Trust us – his lack of huge smile didn’t stop us from buying lots of photos!

Speaking of smiling on command, my sister-in-law (who is currently pregnant) recently recalled a situation that also happened to me. When she went for her regularly scheduled baby check up, the OB checked the baby’s heart rate using a fetal doppler. If you haven’t seen one before the fetal doppler is basically a small microphone that they lube up and rub over your belly. When they find the right spot on your belly to hear the baby’s heartbeat it sounds like a scratchy whirring dishwasher.  After a few seconds you can recognize that all the dishwashing noise (hopefully) has a regular pattern, which you then conclude might be a fast tiny heartbeat. The first time it happens, all that train of thought goes through your head and you are a bit confused for a while.  Once you realize it is the baby’s heartbeat it is a relief that the baby is indeed in there and doing well.  After the first time, you just cut straight to the latter feeling of relief.

Well, the interesting thing that my sister-in-law mentioned to me is that when they finally found the heartbeat the first time the OB looked up at her expectantly.  And I don’t mean a glance, they looked right into her face and didn’t say anything, just waiting for a reaction. She said she felt the need to put on a show and act exceedingly happy or maybe break down crying to show how grateful she was to be hearing this tiny dishwasher.  Obviously after the initial “what am I listening to” confusion she was happy, but her “oh is that is the heartbeat” smile didn’t seem like what they were expecting.  The same situation (find heartbeat, look expectantly at your face for a reaction) happened to me every single time I went to the OB for a prenatal checkup. Even when I was 9 months pregnant and Julius was kicking me while they were looking for his heartbeat, they looked up at me and patiently waited for my reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I was relieved every time they told me the heartbeat was normal, but I never felt like I gave them the face they wanted. Which leads me to wonder, what exactly are they looking for, and what percentage of the female population give it that they watch you every time?  Perhaps (as usual) we’re the weird ones and it’s the reaction of two engineers that’s just atypical.  Anyone else have this experience?  Or did you cry tears of joy?

On a lighter note, this recipe will have you crying tears of joy with how easy it is to make (okay, maybe only if you get really emotional about tuna fish). This is a quick version of Tuna Casserole that you can stick in the crock pot and forget about until lunch. While delicious, it is extremely filling, so you may want to consider splitting it with a friend. But it is easy to prepare and as a bonus for all you mamas, it’s meal you can eat with just one hand!

Crock pot tuna casserole

Ingredients

  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¾ cup egg noodles
  • ½ cup frozen green beans
  • ½ 12 oz can chunk light tuna, drained
  • ½ 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup
  • ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup crunched potato chips

Combine everything except chips in the little dipper crock pot.  Cook for 2-3 hours.  Top with crushed potato chips right before serving.

It’s difficult to make Tuna Casserole very attractive… but trust me it is tasty!

Posted in Culinary Delights | Leave a comment

Crockin’ n’ Rockin’

Wow, it seems like so much has happened since last week.  First Julius had to go to the doctor’s to check into some issues he’s been having.  Poor little guy.  He was SO GOOD at the doctor’s office and didn’t cry or fuss once, and we spent TWO HOURS there (practically torturing him for much of that time).

Then on Saturday we spent the night out on the town while my parents watched Julius.  My grandparents also came over (we know who everyone really wants to see), and Julius could not get enough of his great grandpa.  Apparently he laughed at everything he said.  Will and I of course had a marvelous time and saw Waitress – part of our Broadway in Boston subscription.

On top of that I’ve been burning the midnight oil doing some projects.  (Maybe that is why the week felt extra long…)  As you may or may not know, I’ve owned an embroidery machine for a few years now with the intention of making my own embroidery patterns.  It didn’t really go anywhere but recently I have been toying around with applique.  Keep your eyes out for a post on that soon (I hope)!

Oh, right, probably the real reason this week felt so full was because I finished Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  Will read this book a few years ago, and I kid you not, the book took him at least 6 months to read.  I made fun of him gratuitously during that time period, saying that no book should take that long, and that it must be really really awful.  Well after reading and loving Snow Crash (one of Will’s favorites) I decided to take the plunge into Stephenson’s magnum opus Crytonomicon.  But based on how long Snow Crash took me, and how ridiculously slow a reader I believed Will to be because of the six month thing, I thought I could finish it in a couple weeks.  I took the book out from the digital library collection so I could read it on my kindle and as proof of how confident I was that I’d finish it quickly, I spent a few days finishing a Miss Marple mystery before I even downloaded Crytonomicon.  Let me tell you, that book is DENSE.  Definitely a tome, but thoroughly entertaining and the technical scenes hold up surprisingly well, given it was written 10 years ago.  I really enjoyed it, but 18 days was almost not enough time… and days before my loan was about to end, I had to practically speed read to finish the thing.  So naturally it feels like I’ve lived 50 years in the last week via that book alone.

Well all this running around during the day and entertaining Julius makes it really difficult to get in a square meal at lunch.  Frequently I’ve been eating a meal of peanut butter crackers (not homemade) and an apple.  I find that is incredibly unsatisfying and instead turns into a meal of 4 packages of peanut butter crackers, 2 granola bars and an apple.  Not the greatest way to eat healthy.  Instead, I’ve been playing around with crock pot meals in my tiny crock pot.  I’ve come up with a few meals that simply involve measuring and dumping into the crock pot.  No chopping required.  This means I can assemble them in the morning during his nap (no matter how short) and then forget about them until lunch time.  This first recipe was a combination between a chili and a tortilla soup recipe my mother in law makes – it is quite yummy and filling for a winter afternoon!

Chicken Black Bean Chili

Chicken Black Bean Chili

Ingredients

  • ½ 15.5 oz can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • ½ 14.5 oz can of tomatoes with green chilies (not drained)
  • ½ 12.5 oz can of chicken (drained)
  • ¼ cup frozen corn
  • ⅛ tsp onion powder
  • ⅛ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • Big pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Cheddar cheese and sour cream for serving

Combine everything in a little dipper crockpot and cook for at least 3 hours.  Top with cheddar cheese and sour cream if desired. 

 

 

 

Posted in Culinary Delights | Leave a comment

Galentine’s Truffle Party

Every year for Valentine’s Day I cook something fun for dinner and try to make a craft or treat as a present for Will.  (I guess basically I boycott consumerism to the dismay of Hallmark.)  Last year I made him some Han Solo in Carbonite Reese’s.  Will usually just buys me fancy chocolates but this year Will tried to be extra nice and watched Julius for a whole night, which unfortunately for Will ended up being a bit of a disaster.  When he sticks with his usual gift, our favorite chocolates are the crazy concoctions they come up with at Hedonist Chocolates in Rochester.  We like them so much that we even made a pilgrimage to Hedonist last time we drove up to Niagara Falls for the Gathering.

My favorite of their chocolates are the lavender truffles which are white chocolate centers flavored with lavender and dipped into a heavenly compliment of dark chocolate and cocoa powder.  Since I wasn’t getting these chocolates this year I thought I’d create some truffles myself.  Not only that, but I’d do one better and host a truffle making Galentine’s Day party!

The party was a huge success (in my humble opinion) and one of my favorites so far.  I will definitely be doing it again!

Preparation

The day before the party I made three types of ganache fillings; white chocolate lavender, dark chocolate (this recipe minus the liquor) and dark chocolate mint (same recipe but add 1/2 tsp peppermint extract in place of liquor); and stored them in the fridge.  I also prepared Shepherd’s Pie and a Garden Salad for dinner (both gluten free since we were expecting someone with a gluten allergy this time around).  Lastly I printed out a couple dozen of my Chinese take-out box truffle boxes on fancy paper.  (See the link here for full instructions.)

Setup

On the day of the party I removed the ganache fillings from the fridge several hours before and did some additional setup.  I laid out 6 cookie trays covered in waxed paper, dark and white chocolate chips for melting and en-robing, bowls and spoons for toppings and a station for do-it-yourself packaging and box setup.   I also, at the last minute, realized that I don’t own a normal double boiler and candy thermometer setup and spent the better part of an hour creating what I thought was a very clever contraption to melt and monitor chocolate.  Will told me the device should be featured on redneck contraptions on reddit which was both flattering and insulting.  Finally I put the Shepherd’s Pie in the oven 30 minutes before guests were supposed to arrive.

Truffle making station on the island – waxed paper lined trays and chocolate ganache fillings.

My box making and wrapping setup with heavyweight paper box templates, scissors, rulers and decorations in the basket. In the bowl I have truffle wrappers, foil and waxed paper.

Dining room set up for Galentine’s day dinner.

Since the kitchen was prepared for truffle making, I set up the dinner buffet on the bar. Dinner was simple: salad and shepherd’s pie.

My redneck double boiler apparatus – I drilled a hole in a cork to insert the candy thermometer so it wouldn’t touch the side of my curved mixing bowl.

Party Procedure

We ate dinner as soon as the guests arrived and then got down to business.  Two guests had bought truffle fillings, and others brought items to decorate the truffles with including sanding sugar, nonpareils, coffee beans and nuts.

First we put on aprons, rolled all the fillings into tiny balls, placed them on the waxed paper lined trays and then chilled them in the fridge and outside on the porch (it was 30 degrees out).  Next we tempered chocolate for dipping using my redneck invention.  Using plastic forks with the two center tines removed we dipped the chilled filling balls in the tempered chocolate and set them back on the waxed paper lined trays.  Before the chocolate set someone sprinkled on decorations.  With so many hands (7 people!) the process went fairly quickly and we made a couple hundred truffles in less than 3 hours.  Whenever anyone needed a break they went over to the wrapping station and made themselves a box.  I think the party was a huge success and I can’t wait to do it again!  I can even imagine adapting this for a kid’s birthday party (assuming a parent does the chocolate melting). Frankly the only problem with the whole party was that the next day Will and I ate 20 truffles between us and were nearly ill from chocolate overload.

Here is the small army of ladies rolling truffles.

Ka the chemical engineer took over chocolate tempering duties.

Here I am tempering chocolate.  I look a wee bit crazy.

A box of truffles.

Look at how shiny that chocolate is! It was worth tempering it!

Being a hippie I wash and save plastic take out containers. I gave everyone a container to fill with chocolates.

Finished Truffles

Finished Truffle boxes.

Here’s the inside view of a mint truffle!  Nom!

Posted in Crafts & Sewing, Culinary Delights, Parties | 4 Comments

Trail Map Recycling

The last couple months we’ve been going up to my parent’s condo at Sunday River.  It has been amazing because Will, my dad and I will ski while my mom watches the little guy.  It is technically our chance to dip our toes into the whole babysitting/childcare situation.  And I really mean dip our toes in since I’m honestly not sure our scenario really counts.  You see we’re a bit spoiled in that we get to leave Julius in the capable hands of Grandma who is also conveniently a licensed and practicing R.N. currently working in postnatal/postpartum.  While others lament that they worry about their baby’s well-being the whole time they’re out, I really only miss snuggling with him.

Due to all these baby qualifications, Julius must feel the need to pull out all the stops and go the extra mile to impress.  As an example let me tell you about Julius’ latest development.  Julius recently hung out with a 7 month old baby who was quite adept at getting around via army crawling on his stomach.  Until this point in time, Julius would tolerate tummy time for approximately 12 seconds before either proceeding to lie there like a slug or screaming.  (Unless of course he was asked to do it at the doctor’s office where he shows off gratuitously to the point where the doctor deems his tummy time efforts “wonderful” and she thinks I made the whole aforementioned slug/screaming scenario up for comedic affect.)  Either way, after seeing this 7 month old baby moving around like a champ, Julius’ life was changed!  For the next several days he put in heroic tummy time efforts of several minutes at a time and looked (as close as a 3 month old baby can look) like an olympic gymnast!  Several days later he hangs out with Grandma, puts in that extra mile, and boom he rolls over!  He hasn’t repeated it since but at least he put in the extra effort for Grandma’s birthday.

Well I couldn’t compete with that sort of present but I decided to make Mom/Grandma something anyway!  Since we’re always at the condo Will had the great idea to get her a framed map of the mountain.  I thought I’d add to that gift and make her some Sunday River map coasters from old trail maps!  Many of the “DIY coaster” posts you see on Pinterest involve using a ceramic tile as the base.  I started out by looking for ceramic tiles at every single hardware store in the area, and then online.  The smallest square tiles that these stores sell are 4.25″x4.25″, which make comically huge coasters.  After several stores, and several hours online I gave up on ceramic tiles and invented my own DIY coasters based on some wooden coasters I actually own.  This method is a bit more time consuming, but I think the coasters look quite professional and they are the proper size.  You could use this technique with any paper goods.

Trail Map Coasters

What You’ll Need:

  • old trail maps
  • hardboard (only about 1 sq ft)
  • thin cork sheet (from the scrapbook section in your craft store)
  • acrylic spray enamel
  • wood glue
  • mod podge
  • foam brush
  • x-acto knife
  • waxed paper
  1. Cut hardboard into 3.5×3.5” squares.  I made 6 coasters.  I did this using the combination of a circular saw and a hacksaw with fine tooth blade since those were the tools at my disposal.

    Cut squares from hardboard

  2. Clamp all coasters together using a vice and sand all four sides using coarse and then fine sandpaper until they are smooth to the touch.

    Sand edges of coasters

  3. Gently iron your map on a low setting under a piece of parchment paper to smooth out wrinkles.

    Iron wrinkles from map on low setting.

  4. Place coasters on the map in locations you desire. Using an x-acto knife cut out pictures from the map using each coaster as a template (since they may each vary slightly).

    Cut out map using coaster as a template.

  5. Using a foam brush, coat the face of each hardboard square with mod podge and place the corresponding map cutout on top, right side up. Center and press down firmly, smoothing out any air bubbles.  Repeat for other coasters.

    Apply mod podge to face of hardboard using a foam brush

  6. Place a piece of waxed paper and a heavy book on top of the coasters. Let dry 30 – 45 minutes.
  7. Coat the face of each coaster with a thin coat of mod podge.  Let dry 15-20 minutes and then apply a second coat.

    Apply mod podge over face of coaster

  8. After the coaster is completely dry, flip over and lightly coat the bottom side with wood glue using a foam brush.

    Apply wood glue to bottom of coaster

  9. Place the cork sheet on a sheet of waxed paper then press the wood glued side of the coaster on top.  Repeat for other coasters, then place a book on top.

    Firmly press coasters on top of cork

  10. When cork adhesion is dry (approximately 30 minutes), trim the cork around the coaster using an X-acto knife like you did in step 4 for the map pictures.

    Trim cork

  11. Apply spray enamel according to bottle instructions.

    Spray with acrylic enamel.

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | 2 Comments