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.  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 truly incredible gravy of 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 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 has only recently become aware of the joys of gravy).

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.

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Catbus

As you may have seen from my last post, this catbus was a hit at Julius’ party!  The toddlers had fun climbing into and out of the bus, looking out the windows and pushing it around.  It was made completely of cardboard, so it was both sturdy and toddler-friendly for when they felt the need to destroy it.  It has held up well though, even with 7 kids playing on it and Julius dragging it around the house over the last 10 weeks.  The best part?  It cost me $6 to make because paint was my only cost; the boxes were upcycled from the sink I had delivered and I already had everything else!  Note the entire project did take me some time.  It took me about a week of nights after work to complete, though at the time I (apparently) had pneumonia, so it might take less time if you can do more than an hour of fever riddled work per session.

Giant Toddler Sized Catbus Playset

What You’ll Need

  • 3 – 3’x3’x3′ boxes
  • Wood glue
  • Xacto knife or razor blade
  • Scissors
  • Foam brushes
  • 16 oz – Orange Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint 
  • 16oz – Brown Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint
  • 16oz – White Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint
  • 20z – Yellow Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint
  • 20z – Red Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint
  • 20z – Black Washable Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint
  • Magnum sharpie
  • 6 pipe cleaners (black preferred, I only had purple)
  1. Place cardboard box open end up and use the Xacto knife or razor blade to slice down middle of one side of the box.  Ideally it is best to do this with one of the sides of the box whose flaps are not taped together on the bottom of the box.  Start at the top flap, and continue cutting down the side of the box, through the bottom flap of the box.  Open out.  Repeat with second box.
  2. Place boxes overlapping each other at the pieces you just opened out.  Wood glue the flaps you created together, and clamp or place heavy books on top while glue dries.
  3. Flip the entire structure over (it should now be 3’x3’x7.5′).  Using a pencil, mark out the locations for a large door on one side of the bus (taking up much of a 3’x3′ face) then 3 1’x1′ windows on the top half of the side.  On the other side cut 5 1’x1′ windows on the top half of the side. Cut 2 1’x1′ windows on the top half of the front and back of the bus.
  4. From the third box cut an oval 2’x3′ for the catbus’ head.  Cut two ears with a roughly triangular shape with two curved legs that is 1.5′ tall by 1′ wide at the base.  Also cut a curved rectangular sign 6″x1′ and two mice.
  5. Cut 3’x1.5′ flaps on left, right and front sides in half down the middle, then curve down from the tip to form paws.  Cut tail into the center of the back of the bus.
  6. Using wood glue, attach ears to the oval head at the top left and right.  Clamp or hold together with books.
  7. Using a pencil, sketch a horizontal wavy center stripe down the center of the boxes on left and right and legs of catbus.  Sketch out ears, stripe, eyes, nose and smile on catbus face.
  8. Using a foam brush paint the side of the bus orange above and below the middle line and on the front on the bottom.  Paint paws orange above and below middle stripe.  Paint tail above the tip of the tail orange.  Paint the cat head orange in the part indicated.  I needed a second coat to make the bus look more orange.
  9. Paint the middle stripe on the bus and paws brown along with the top of the bus, and the front and back of bus where not already painted.  Paint tip of the tail brown.  Paint the stripe on catbus’ head brown as well as it’s outer ears.
  10. Finish off the catbus head by painting the nose red, eyes yellow, teeth white and ears a mix of orange and white.  (See photo.)
  11. Outline the cat’s face, and stripes with the black permanent marker.
  12. Paint the sign with red paint then outline with black permanent marker and the location of your choice.
  13. Paint both mice grey, then add white eyes and a red nose.
  14. Use wood glue to attach the cat face to the front of the catbus so you can still partially see out the front windows.
  15. Glue mice on top front of bus on right and left side.  Glue sign on center of the bus.
  16. Insert pipe cleaners into the face of the catbus through the corrugation, 3 per side to look like whiskers.  (You shouldn’t need to poke holes or anything).

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Hey Let’s Go!

Holy cow, just finished The Witcher series on Netflix and I’m now going to read all the books.  I just love fantasy with magic and a good love story.  Julius (obviously) has not seen it, though he has heard the song “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” about a dozen times.  Julius’ favorite show remains My Neighbor Totoro.  Which brings me to a post (and set of posts) I’ve been putting off for far too long.  For Julius’ second birthday we decided to host a Totoro themed party.  The main snags that came up were that his birthday is in November, right when the weather gets too cold to go outside and Will and I both ended up being diagnosed with pneumonia about a week before the party.  This meant I was out of commission for half a month before the party, trying to struggle through party decorating and planning as if it were some mad fever dream.  Perhaps needless to say I didn’t get to accomplish everything I wanted.  Here’s what I managed…it was still pretty awesome and Julius loved it (which is all that matters).

My Neighbor Totoro Toddler Party

Theme

If you’ve never seen My Neighbor Totoro, you should give it a try.  It is an adorable story about two little girls who meet a giant bunny-owl type forest spirit called Totoro.  Mei, the main character, is a little girl who is not yet school age (and Julius adores).  She stumbles upon the huge sleeping Totoro in the forest underneath a giant camphor tree when playing in her backyard.  She has several encounters with Totoro and his friends which include an iconic Catbus.  As with all Miyazaki’s films there are heavy themes of protecting nature.

For the invitation I sketched a picture of Totoro holding an umbrella, which Totoro wields as a magic staff in much of the movie.  I sketched and colored it on my Yoga X1 Carbon which I’ve become quite fond of.  As always, I used Evite to send out the invites.

Activities

Umbrella Favors

Julius’ favorite word around this time was “umbrella” and Totoro uses an umbrella as a sort of magic wand after Mei’s sister Satsuki gifts him her umbrella.  I bought cheap white umbrellas from Oriental Trading to use as a canvas and intended to have the kids color them with fabric markers.  At the last minute I decided not to use the fabric markers because they are technically not safe for kids under 3 (though I honestly think no products say things are safe for kids under 3….)  Instead I bought a bunch of waterproof Totoro stickers online. In addition I bought green permanent adhesive vinyl and cut out each child’s name and a bunch of leaves with my cricut – this was even cheaper than the Totoro stickers.

Umbrella Stations ready to go…

Cricut cutouts of leaves and kids’ names.

We had all the kids do this craft first to keep them occupied while other guests were arriving.  Julius and the other kiddoes loved sticking the stickers on the umbrellas, though they really would not survive a rain storm.

Enchanted Forest Playset

As I mentioned earlier, Julius’ birthday is in November, which unfortunately is too chilly around here for an outdoor party.  Totoro is all about exploring the outdoors, and I wanted Julius to have the whole Totoro experience so I set about making an indoor toddler friendly playset.  I kept the entire thing a surprise by setting it up in the room over our garage.

Soot Sprites

Leading up the stairs into the man cave, I sprinkled dozens of “soot sprites”. These are elusive spirits that hide in dusty corners of old houses.  Mine were simply black glitter pom poms with tiny googly eyes hot glued on.  I didn’t have the patience to glue on more than a couple dozen eyes, so I strategically scattered the few with eyes amongst the plain ones.  Julius knew exactly what they were when he entered the staircase.

The Catbus

In the story, Catbus helps Satsuki find her sister Mei when she goes missing.  While the Catbus is normally covered in fur inside and out I made the Catbus entirely out of recycled boxes.  This took me the longest time to make, since I worked on it for a solid week while I was sick with pneumonia (before I actually knew I had pneumonia).  I was so exhausted that I could only work on it for about 30 minutes at a time before I’d have to take a nap again.  Somehow I finished it before the party.  I’ll post the how-to in a later blog entry.

The Big Camphor Tree

My friend Ibis had the great idea to do a giant spooky tree in our office cafeteria as part of the Halloween decorations this year, so when we took it down I recycled the paper into a giant camphor tree.  While the Halloween tree was barren of leaves, I got a couple packages of green paper garlands from the Dollar Tree to make our camphor tree lush and verdant!   I used blue tape and push pins to adhere the tree and branches to the walls and ceiling.

Hidden Path to Totoro

Of course Totoro could be found hidden under the big camphor tree, just like in the movie, so I made a little path from the Catbus to the Camphor Tree which included a slide and a tunnel.  To make it a bit less obvious what was under the tree, I used two adhesive Command hooks with a clothesline hung between them, then draped over an old curtain with leaves on it from Will’s grandmother.  I already had an Ikea play tunnel that I used underneath the curtain, so the kids could climb into the area with Totoro under the camphor.  Most kids were too nervous to see what was on the other side of the tunnel so I had to shimmy through myself first (going to have to lose some weight next time) and Julius followed right after.

Big Totoro

I don’t think you can have a Totoro party without Totoro.  Totoro was waiting for the kids on the other side of the tunnel!  I’ll put up another post with instructions on making this big guy, but I made him from old blankets I bought at Savers so he was very inexpensive, even with the cost of 5 pounds of fiberfill.  I intended to stuff him with packing peanuts, but (maybe this is a good thing) I wasn’t able to find anyone online getting rid of large quantities of peanuts.  Julius was very happy and huggy when he saw Totoro, so I’d say the hunt for Totoro was a huge success!

Food

Menu

After the Totoro hunt, everyone was hungry for lunch.  For the kiddoes I prepared Bento Boxes with Julius’ favorites ingredients.  These were prepped right before the party started, and were kept chilled on the porch (it was nearly freezing that day hence why we couldn’t have the party outside).  The bento boxes were made from a 5.5″ square palm leaf bowl, and a 6″ square palm leaf plate “cover” held on with a green ribbon.  They looked really cute and were completely compostable!  We served them at a very short sofa table that we moved to the lounge.

I made a double batch of the sushi the night before and simply served it chilled (I know, I know this is not how sushi is made to be eaten, but I had to entertain toddlers so I couldn’t play sushi chef during the party).  In the interest of time I did not tempera the sweet potato and instead roasted it until soft. I served it with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.  It was the first thing that disappeared, so it must have been alright.

For the Yakisoba I chopped everything in advance the night before (I made a triple recipe, plus a single recipe of the vegetarian version for 15 adults).  I also mixed up the Yakisoba sauces and stuck those in the fridge.  We had someone allergic to shellfish so in lieu of the oyster sauce I used the website recommendation of substituting “stir fry sauce”.  In addition I used ground pork instead of the pork belly since it was easier to find.  For the vegetarian version I just omitted the meat, doubled the veggies and stir fried everything in oil instead.  For the sauce, I threw together something that tasted more like teriyaki sauce since I omitted the Worcestershire sauce (it contains fish).  Before the party I quickly made the Yakisoba, transferred it to their serving dishes (which were oven safe) and held it in the oven on warm (150 degrees F).  This worked perfectly.  Also – fun fact – I found my Yakisoba noodles at Walmart in the refrigerated (not frozen) section!

The edamame was purchased frozen at Trader Joes and I steamed it a few minutes before I served everything.  I served it with sea salt.

I had big plans to make a Totoro cake but I was so behind after the pneumonia that this got cut.  Instead I made green velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  I didn’t even have time to make any cute toppings so Will printed two of my Totoro invites on cardstock (one mirror reversed), cut them out and glued them together with a toothpick sandwiched between.  I thought it looked like the big camphor tree if you squinted hard enough.

Thank you to my mother and father in law and my parents for helping to clean, set up the party and prep food before everyone arrived!

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Get Stuffed, Animals

Julius has full on separation anxiety again. Every morning that I drop him off at daycare he cries uncontrollably and I have to extricate myself from his grasp and practically run out the door to escape.  It is incredibly heartbreaking, especially since I hear him wail, “mama!  Mama!!!” as I dash out the door.  It was bad enough when he was an infant and would just cry when I left, now Julius verbalizing that he doesn’t want to stay at daycare really is another level.  Recently he asked me why I have to go to work and I answered “so I can make money to buy things for my Julius”.  He immediately followed up, “I make money?”  To which I had to respond, “no, your job right now is to play and learn at daycare.”  I explained how money was a necessary but terrible part of life, and he needn’t worry himself with it until he was grown.  He wasn’t satisfied with this answer so our conversation turned onto a ridiculous/adorable path of Julius devising how he could make money at daycare to “help out mama”.

A couple days later while I was leaving the daycare Julius started up his usual crying routine.  I managed to wriggle myself free after a very sad hug, and turned to wave at him one last time.  He desperately sobbed out “I make money! I make money!”  It was simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious.

On a more lighthearted note, I have further developments on the wine front – I have no idea why but Julius is still convinced he is going to love wine.  (“I like wine.” – Julius, age 2.)  Yesterday I made a risotto with white wine, and he really enjoyed it (did I mention that it had cheese in it?)  Afterwards I told him the risotto had wine in it expecting him to be excited that I “let him try wine”.  He was at the time drinking a sippy cup filled water and didn’t even put down the cup to remark, seeming thoroughly unsurprised.  When I followed up with, “did you know that it had wine in it?”  He stopped drinking, held up the sippy cup filled with water, smiled really big and said “this? This (is) wine?”  I almost died laughing.  I only hope he doesn’t ever say “I like wine” in front of any government authorities.

On a completely unrelated note, you can use the following pattern to make your adorable 2-year-old match their adorable Build-A-Bear.  Julius got his Build-A-Bear, Stuffy Bear, on his birthday this year so the bear only cost his age – $2!  We let Julius pick out some accessories, but he only was interested in some roller skates and a happy birthday balloon.  This meant Julius’ birthday-suit roller skating bear only cost $19!  No one could believe we got out of Build-A-Bear spending less than $20.  (Until I told them birthday suit really meant that Julius wanted his bear in the buff…)

For Christmas I decided to make Stuffy some PJ’s to keep him warm at night.  This clothing set was a snap to make and since I used recycled flannel for the pants it only cost me $3.  Making Julius and his bear matching outfits for $6 is pretty incredible if you ask me.  The truly comedic part is that Julius still wanted Stuffy to remain nude even after opening Stuffy’s PJs.  I showed Julius several days after Christmas that he and Stuffy had matching outfits and he was finally happy to allow Stuffy to wear his PJs to bed.  

Build-A-Bear Pajama Pants

What you’ll need:

  • The pattern here
  • 1/4 yard of flannel fabric (or an old pair of dad’s pajama bottoms – I made both Julius and Stuffy’s pants with one pair of Dad’s pants)
  • 1 foot of 1/2″ elastic

Follow the instructions for the 2T Toddler Pajama pants with the following change:

  1. In step 2, mark where the tail hole will be from the pattern and leave that portion unstitched.
  2. In step 3 only stitch and serge the sections surrounding the tail hole, leaving the gap for the tail unstitched.  Fold the seam allowance towards the pants then stitch 1/4″ from the gap for the tail into the seam allowance on either side of the gap.
  3. In step 10 the piece of elastic will only be 12″ instead of 21″.

Build-a-Bear Long Sleeve Tee (from a toddler 2T shirt)

What you’ll need:

  • Template here
  • Size 2T toddler shirt (I bought mine for $3 from Walmart)
  1. Take your 2T toddler shirt and lay template over it so the template is lined up with the shoulders and centered.  Mark.
  2. Cut out around your markings through both front and back layers of the shirt, leaving 1/2″ seam allowance.
  3. Measure from the cuff of each sleeve up 3.5″.  Mark.
  4. Cut off the sleeve 1/2″ above each mark in step 3 (at 4″).
  5. Turn shirt inside out, and pin along the sides you marked.  Leave a gap the width of your t-shirt arm (the length of the line you marked in step 3).  Stitch.
  6. Place one sleeve inside one of the gaps in step 5.  The sleeve should be right side out.  Pin all around the armscye, so the right sides are together.
  7. Stitch around armscye.
  8. Repeat step 6 & 7 for other armscye and sleeve.
  9. Serge the bottom hem, fold inside and then stitch.

 

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Snuggle Bear

Julius is definitely going through a growth spurt.  He has been eating like crazy for the last several days!  Tonight he ate a ton for dinner, then when we got home he asked for more food!  It was right before bedtime so we gave him some applesauce.  Several minutes after going to bed he kept saying “I eat” over and over again.  Luckily when we went in to check on him he only wanted a bedtime song.  I honestly wasn’t sure if we should pull him out of bed and feed him second dinner.  Is that a thing?

The other hilarious thing Julius has been doing lately is telling him how much he likes certain things.  This past weekend we were in Maine and it was “I like boats!” every time we saw a boat.  We also ordered wine at a restaurant and Julius kept telling us “I like wine!” every time someone ordered a glass.  The waiter declared that he had to keep the bottle away from him, and we had to explain to Julius he had to wait 19 more years to order wine for himself.

I’m super tired tonight, but I’ll show you one of the quick gifts I made for Mr. Man for Christmas.  I made Julius and Stuffy Bear (his build-a-bear) matching PJs!  I’ll post the tutorial for Stuffy’s outfit in a later post, but I made both pairs of pajama bottoms from a ripped pair of Will’s pajama bottoms, and the shirts were just 2T cotton long sleeve t-shirts from Walmart for $3 each.  Julius is my snuggle bear, and Stuffy is Julius’ snuggle bear so it seemed appropriate to embroider the shirts with the text “Snuggle Bear”.

What a cutie.

Toddler Pajama Pants (Size 2T)

What you’ll need:

  • The pattern here
  • 1/2 yard of flannel fabric (or an old pair of dad’s pajama bottoms)
  • 1/2 yard of 1/2″ elastic
  1. Cut out pattern pieces according to instructions on the pattern.  Note there is no seam allowance and you should add 1/2″ everywhere.  If you are using an old pair of pajamas, omit the extra seam allowance and instead use the bottom hem of the pants as your bottom hem.

    Cutting out pattern pieces – note that in this example I am using a pair of pajama pants so I don’t add any seam allowance for the bottom hem since I’m reusing the hem from the old pants.

  2. Pin the pants fronts together at the upper front seam and pin the pants backs together at the upper back seam (right sides together)
  3. Stitch, then serge.
  4. Pin the pants front to the pants back at the inner leg seam (right sides together).
  5. Stitch continuously from the bottom of the pants, to the crotch, back down the other inner seam of the pants.  Then serge.
  6. Pin the back and front pants together at the outside edges (right sides together).  Stitch then serge.
  7. If you are using flannel (not an old pair of pajamas) hem the bottom of the pants.  Turn right side out.
  8. Serge the top of the pants.
  9. Fold the serged edge into the inside of the pants an inch.  Pin and stitch, leaving a 1″ gap unstitched in which to insert the elastic.
  10. Thread a 21″ piece of elastic onto a large eyed yarn needle and pass it through the waistband of the pants.  Use care not to twist the elastic when inserting it, so it will lie flat against the body.
  11. When the elastic reaches the other end, overlap the two ends of the elastic by 1/2″ and stitch.
  12. Stitch over the unfinished gap of waistband hem, then vertically stitch up and down the waistband 1/2″ from either side of the back hem, to both keep the elastic in place and mark the back of the pants.
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Merry Thriftmas!

This year for Christmas Will, Julius and I are the only ones who will be at my parents house in RI. We usually do a Secret Santa type thing but we’ve added different twists over the past few years.  Two years ago everyone joked about how we just basically bought exactly what each person asked for and there were no surprises.  Then last year people didn’t want to do it since everyone was remote.  This year I proposed a new twist.

The idea was that we could only purchase second hand gifts or make gifts.  Because thrift stores have a rotating stock of items this meant you were pretty much guaranteed to get a surprise.  My brother (accidentally) dubbed the new gift exchange “Trash Christmas”, which I thought was hilarious.  To prevent anyone from getting actual trash, everyone in the family had to post a public “wish list” with really vague things they enjoy that might be found at a thrift shop. My example was “Corgis, almost anything nerdy, robots, kawaii characters, cook books, crafts of all kinds, flannel, sewing, sci-fi and fantasy novels.  Renaissance or medieval anything.  Party supplies like beautiful serving platters.   A good can’t think of anything gift for me would be to mail me a bunch of fabric from the thrift store.  I’ll find something to do with it.”  Later folks started adding their favorites types of homemade snacks, which I thought was a great addition.

Tonight we are going to have a Google Hangout party to open gifts and play some games.  I made part of my gift, but since I don’t want to reveal anything to the gift giver, I’ll save the post for another day.  Instead I’ll finally show you our Christmas card!

As you know we went as Mario, Peach and Bowser for Halloween.  We had a fabulous local photographer (Shayna Lee Photography) take our photos again this fall and we warned her we were going to want a couple in our costumes.  On the day of the shoot Will and I were so discombobulated that we somehow forgot to pack Will’s Mario costume (though somehow we remembered the hat and mustache).   Luckily Will’s outfit for the shoot had lots of red and blue in it so we deemed the costume “fancy Mario”.  The entire shoot came out fabulous and it was hard to pick our favorites, but this is what we came up with for our Christmas card.

We started with a custom theme on tinyprints and created the front of the card using paint.net.  If you ever want to send out Mario-looking Christmas Cards, I’ve included the template and instructions on how to use it.  Disclaimer: my blog and these blog posts are in no way affiliated with Nintendo and our cosplay and Christmas card are merely paying homage to the original characters through my own original interpretation and parody.  

I wish you all the happiest of holidays!

Super Merry Card

What you’ll need:

  1. Unzip the template above to reveal the .pdn file.  Open with paint.net
  2. Insert photo into the paint.net template on the layer called “Add Photo Here”.
  3. Save As->jpeg/png and say “yes” when paint.net asks you if you would like to flatten the image.

 

 

 

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Stacheing through the Snow

Well, the plant based shepherd’s pie got rave reviews!  Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike were excited to try the infamous “Impossible Meat” so it went pretty quick.  Several people didn’t read the sign and had no idea it was meatless until I told them.  A couple people even tried to correct me when I called it “vegetarian shepherd’s pie”.  I would call that a win!

In other wining news, I’m (possibly) ahead of the Christmas game!  I’ve purchased all the presents I intend to purchase, and have wrapped and shipped presents to 3 destinations already.  I have even sent out Christmas cards!  I actually had ordered them well before Thanksgiving because I have had issues with Christmas card printing and shipping for the last few years.  (S o the fact that I only recently sent them out could be viewed as slightly embarrassing.)  Now I only have about 10 projects that I want to complete before the big day… classic me.

I’ll show you our Christmas cards next week, but first a craft that will have you wondering “what on Earth does this have to do with Christmas cards?”  How to make a Mario hat and mustache!

Will sporting his Mario hat and Mustache

Mario Hat

What you’ll need:

  • 1 yard of red cotton fabric
  • a small piece of peltex sew in interfacing
  • embroidery pattern here (note the file is zipped so you will need to unzip it after you download it)
  • tear away stabilizer
  • a small piece of white cotton
  • red machine embroidery thread
  1. Follow the instructions here through step 19 to make the Mario hat using the red cotton.  Note I have updated these instructions with a brim pattern so you don’t even have to have a baseball cap handy to create the hat.
  2. Use the embroidery pattern above to create the “M” patch for the hat.
  3. Hoop the white cotton on top of the peltex on top of the tear away stabilizer in a 100mmx100mm hoop.  Note, I did not actually put the peltex in the hoop, I just sort of left it floating between the stabilizer and the cotton.
  4. Thread your machine with red thread. Insert hoop on your machine and stitch the first set of stitches which will be a red “M”.
  5. Stitch the second and third set of stitches (an oval around the “M”).
  6. Remove the hoop from the machine and very carefully cut through the cotton and peltex very close to the stitches forming the oval, without cutting the stitches themselves. Be sure not to damage the stabilizer in the process.  I have been using a duckbill or applique scissor to do this.
  7. Return hoop to the machine and stitch the final set of stitches which will be a red zigzag pattern around the border of the patch.
  8. Remove the hoop from the machine and punch out the patch from the stabilizer.
  9. Hand sew the patch to the hat.

Mario Mustache

What you’ll need:

  • a scrap piece of black faux fur
  • Fake mustaches from the dollar store or spirit gum
  • a low temp hot glue gun
  • mustache pattern here
  1. Cut the faux fur to match the pattern above.  Do not remove any hairs that are not connected to the fur backing.
  2. Using the low temp hot glue gun, apply a thin layer of glue between the topmost hairs and the fur’s fabric backing.
  3. Using a dowel (or your fingers if you’re feeling masochistic) gently push the fur into the thin layer of glue so it will stick permanently.
  4. When glue has dried, trim off the excess glue at the top of mustache
  5. Glue two mustaches from the dollar store to the back of your mustache (fuzzy side of dollar store mustache to fabric side of fur). 
  6. When ready to use, remove the adhesive backing and stick to your face.  Alternatively you can skip step 5 and apply the mustache to your face using spirit gum.

 

 

Posted in Crafts & Sewing | Leave a comment

Vegetarianism for Dummies

Tomorrow is our holiday pot luck at work and I’ve been debating what to make.  I want to make something vegetarian, but that also might be appetizing to non-vegetarians.  Since lots of people want to try Impossible Meat I decided to make my vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie.  I love shepherd’s pie.  I make a delicious non-veg version of shepherd’s pie using worcestershire sauce as flavoring.  Until I became a vegetarian I didn’t realize that worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies.  Anchovies are fish (in case you didn’t know).

Can we step back for a second and discuss this whole vegetarian thing?  It seems to confuse people, and honestly used to confuse me quite a bit when I wasn’t eating vegetarian.  Here’s your vegetarian primer from a (current) vegetarian.  Vegetarians do not eat meat.  That includes fish.  If you eat fish you are called a pescatarian.  Vegetarians generally do not consume anything that comes from a dead animal.  For example, chicken broth, fish stock, beef boullion.  Are you with me?  Okay here is where things start to get confusing.

What about products created directly from byproducts of the meat industry such as lard or gelatin?  Yeah, those aren’t really vegetarian either.  (Goodbye marshmallows.)  I only realized this when I noticed the “vegetarian refried beans” sitting in the grocery store and discovered the non-vegetarian ones were chock full of lard.  Okay, then what about stuff like sugar, which is not made directly from animals but uses the bones of dead animals in its processing?  I think the only people who really know about that process are vegans (and me apparently) so I think vegetarians are okay with refined sugar since it doesn’t say “may contain bone char” on the packages.

Okay we’re almost done.  The last thing that confuses me is the term “ovo-lacto” vegetarian.  This means a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy.  This is what people generally mean when they say vegetarian.  I actually used to think the distinction between vegans and vegetarians is that vegetarians consume dairy and eggs and vegans do not.  While that is generally true it is not 100% accurate.  What I discovered is that many of my Indian friends consume dairy but not eggs or vice versa (or don’t consume either) and still call themselves vegetarian.  Vegans do not consume eggs and dairy since they are products that are created by animals, even though the creation of these products may not take the life of the animal.  Honey is also on the vegan do not eat list for the same reason.  So far I haven’t met a vegetarian who doesn’t eat honey.  (I will stop here on the vegan commentary because the different types of vegan are equally confusing and I am not vegan myself.  You can amuse yourself with the wikipedia page on veganism which is probably much more accurate.)

So where do I stand?  I am currently a vegetarian.  Specifically I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, which is what most people mean when they say “vegetarian”.  Everyone has their own reason for vegetarianism, and for me it is environmental impact.  It takes a lot more resources to raise meat for consumption than plants.  Plus the methane from cows is a huge contributor to global warming.  Unfortunately the dairy industry is as bad as the meat industry in terms of environmental impact (and really is just a feeder into the meat industry since cows must give birth to produce milk).  So I’m a hypocrite since I’m not yet willing to give up dairy products.  One step at a time I guess.

Impossible Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 12 oz package Impossible meat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or corn if desired)
  • 1 4oz package instant roasted garlic mashed potatoes (if you make these with vegan substitutes the entire recipe is vegan)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat in a pan with the onion on medium heat.  When meat is brown and cooked through, sprinkle soy sauce on top of the mixture and stir to incorporate.  Add peas (or corn if desired).  Add half of the vegetable broth, cover, lower the heat to low and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Continue to add more broth periodically so mixture stays moist.  While beef is simmering prepare the mashed potatoes according to package directions.  After 20 minutes is up, pour beef mixture into a 9.5″ pie pan.  Top with potatoes.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 30 minutes until tops of potatoes start to crisp and the filling is bubbling.

 

Posted in Culinary Delights | 2 Comments

Play Kitchen

Okay I know I said I would show you the play kitchen soon and there is no time like the present.  Here goes…  Let me start by saying Julius LOVES it.  When he first opened it I’d only given him some fake eggs and some old wooden fruit I had along with a bunch of pots and pans, baking sheets and mixing bowls I’d gotten from the thrift store.  All of it cost me around $25, even though one of the pans was $6!  I felt better getting them used rather than buying the Melissa and Doug sets that were manufactured just for play.  Anyway, after I gave him the set I asked him to make me some eggs and he immediately took out a pot, put all the eggs in it, pretended to fill it with water, put it on the stovetop and turned it “on”.  Will looked at me with an impressed look and mouthed “success!”

So I started thinking about the play kitchen this summer.  I know it would have been easier to buy one second hand, but I really wanted to make one.  I’ve seen some pretty great homemade play kitchens on the internet.  One day on the way in to work I saw the perfect solid wood dresser sitting on the side of the road.  I pulled over, took all the drawers out, put them in my car and then realized I couldn’t fit the rest of the dresser with Julius’ car seat in there (and he was in the car seat).  So I took everything out of the car and put it back on the side of the road discouraged.  Later that day, Will was returning from an errand and i asked him to pick up the dresser for me if it was still there.  It was!  This was June 14th.

Dresser soon to be a play kitchen…

Fast forward to September 18th.  I finally was sick of seeing the dresser sitting in our garage, and realized that this project could potentially take me a long time.  I finally dragged the entire thing down to the basement and started disassembling it.

Initially I had gotten the dresser thinking that it would work perfectly to have an oven on the left and a fridge on the right.  Unfortunately I asked Will if he thought it needed a sink (without telling him that would be 300% more work) and he said “definitely).  So I decided to split the dresser into thirds, instead of halves.  This meant I needed to cut down the door on the right hand size and move the partition almost a foot.  I’d also need to somehow divide the now larger left side in half into an oven and sink area.  The top would become cabinets.  Here is the gist of what I needed to do…

I don’t want to bore you with the details of this part, but it took a LONG time.  The dresser was incredibly well made, and didn’t use any screws or anything just clever miters.  I was able to get most of it apart with nothing more than a rubber mallet, but putting it back together was the hard part.  I added braces with scrap wood from portions of the dresser I didn’t need and screwed the refrigerator divider into those to make it stable.  I also extended the oven/sink area top by adding a length of wood from the no longer needed middle shelves and using it as the divider between the two sides and a brace.  I then added the extension of wood on top of this and affixed the other end to the refrigerator divider.  I also cut down and reassembled the bottom-most drawer to make it a shorter width to fit under the oven.  Finally I used more of the scrap wood for the middle shelving and added dividers for drawer-turned-cabinets at the top.  I used lots of wood glue for everything.  This whole part took me 2 weeks working almost every night after work.

Finished cabinet dividers

Finished frame for oven/sink/fridge

Next I assembled all the cabinet faces, refrigerator doors, and oven door.  I was determined to not have to purchase any wood for this project so I made the oven door by cutting the scrap from the refrigerator door in half and gluing it together.  I think it worked out pretty well and you can barely tell.  It was around this time that I decided I needed a router and the whole router and saw incident occurred. I do have a scar from it, but it’s just below another scar that has never healed in grade school, so I doubt it’s noticeable.  I was able to figure out how to use the router and cut a bunch of drawer faces down to size for the upper cabinets, cabinets under the sink and the drawer face from the drawer under the oven.  I also installed the oven bottom (which is a piece of cheap hardboard I actually did end up purchasing).  I installed them using more scrap wood braces.  I also cut the oven top/counter top down to size and rounded the edge using my router (this was a piece of 1/4″ thick wood that I had lying around from some project I don’t remember).

Oven door created from pieces left over from fridge door.

Fridge door cut to size.

Next I cut out a hole for my sink (a cake pan I’d found at the dollar store).  I used a hole saw to drill holes in each corner then used my bandsaw to cut the rest out.  I sealed up the entryline I had to cut with the bandsaw to get into the inside of the piece with sawdust and wood glue.  It worked great.  I also drilled a hole for where the faucet would fit (I bought a real faucet off craigslist for $15).  I cut a hole using a hole saw and then used my dremel to extend the hole to the exact size I needed so the faucet would fit snuggly.  At this point I was also worried that the faucet would be too heavy for my 1/4″ wood countertop, so using scrap wood I built a beefy brace to sit underneath the countertop and surround the faucet.  I then sanded the heck out of everything at this point.

Cutting out the hole for the sink basin.

Brace for the heavy faucet

Faucet snuggly in place.

Here is where I started painting.  I painted the entire countertop/stove top black.  After it dried I divided it in half using painter’s tape and started sponge painting the part over the sink in random patterns (turning the sponge frequently).  I did it using tan, then white, then a grey/purple I mixed myself.  I made sure to also apply paint in the lip above where the sink basin would sit.  I personally think my fake granite came out pretty great.

Using a sponge to dab on fake granite.

Finished fake granite

For the stove, I created a template on my Cricut (you can find it here) and cut it out using stick-on vinyl.  This I stuck to the stove top half of the counter and painted it white.  I touched it up a bit afterwards, but overall this saved me a lot of time and it came out great.  When the entire countertop was dry I sealed all of it using polyurethane.  After the countertop dried I glued the “sink basin” to the counter with E6000.

Using Cricut stencil to paint the stovetop on.

Gluing the sink basin to the countertop.

For the last minute additions before I painted everything I installed the fridge shelves by gluing braces for where the division between fridge and freezer, and fridge shelf would sit.  I cut the shelves from the bottom of the drawers that I wasn’t using.  For the division between where fridge and freezer would sit I used one of the nice mitered pieces from one of the drawer faces and cut it down so it would look a bit fancier.  Since I had this in place I finally cut the fridge door to form the freezer door and fridge door.   I also installed all the braces for the countertop, and cut a piece of hardboard for the backsplash.  And here is when I finally installed the oven side.

Installing shelves for fridge and division for freezer.

Installing oven side

At this point I painted EVERYYTHING.  The inside of the fridge I painted white, and the inside of the stove I painted black.  The stove door and fridge doors I painted with this stainless steel spray paint Roger had given to me long ago (he couldn’t remember why he had it when I told him this).  I spray painted the cabinet knobs silver (ugly white porcelain things that were the first thing I swapped out in my kitchen when we moved in) and the cabinet knobs I used for the oven I spray painted black.  Everything else I painted in this grey cabinet paint which was far more expensive than I should have paid ($25 for a quart!)  I was sort of testing the paint for my kitchen though.  The coverage is amazing – so it may be worth it someday.

Spray painting knobs

Painting cabinet faces

Painted kitchen

After everything dried I installed the countertop/stove top and put in a backsplash using this super cool sticky backsplash material.  (Also probably not worth paying for this, but looks pretty neat).  I then installed all the cabinets using hinges I bought (and 2 that I had from the project already).  Next I installed magnetic catches for the oven and fridge doors so they’d stay shut nicely.  Then I drilled holes for the knobs and installed those.  I installed the faucet and an oven rack I’d made from a cookie rack I got at Dollar Tree.  The finishing touch was to add a puck light I’d gotten from the Dollar Tree over the countertop.

Countertop and backsplash installed.

Finished Kitchen

Finished Kitchen!

View with under countertop lighting

Inside view of top cabinets

Julius cooking

Checking under the sink for pans.

Under the sink

Fridge

Under the counter light…

Oven inside

Cooktop

Final Parts Breakdown

  • dresser (free!)
  • cabinet knobs (free!)
  • assorted spray paints (free!)
  • Assorted screws (free!)
  • hardboard ($4)
  • 14 hinges ($2.78 a pair)
  • magnetic clasps ($1.25 a piece)
  • faucet ($15)
  • sink basin/cake pan ($1)
  • paint ($25)
  • backsplash ($15)
  • puck light ($1)

Total = ~$85.  Overall it was pretty expensive, given that you can buy a new plastic play kitchen for that price.  If I hadn’t bought the darn paint it would have been more reasonable.  But this thing is all solid wood and metal!  No plastic parts on this kitchen!  If you compare it to some of the models at Pottery Barn it was a complete steal!  Plus, I’m damn proud of it.

Posted in Crafts & Sewing, Thrift Finds | 4 Comments

On a Casserole (sorry)

Well I have no excuse for forgetting to post, except that I forgot it was Monday.  I hope you all survived the commute into work/your coffee break without ladybeekeeper today.

Julius has been loving his play kitchen, which I PROMISE I will show you soon.  Maybe next week?!  I’m just daunted by uploading all the pictures I took.  Anyway, he has been making lots of imaginary foods for us lately.  The other day he made me “soup” and when I asked what kind of soup it was his response was “muffin soup”.  Sounds innovative, I want the recipe.

The other day when we were getting Julius ready for bed, Will told Julius “give Mama a kiss, she is going to go work on projects”.  He said “I projects” which translates to “I want to work on projects” (he’s working on verbs).  Curious, I then asked him “what’s your project, Julius?”  He responded, “ummmm…. muffins.”  I don’t know if this muffin project has anything to do with muffin soup, but I’m letting you in on the ground floor people – invest now!

We’re in Nashville for Thanksgiving, so I thought this would be the perfect time to post my vegetarianized version of Colton Chicken Curry Casserole.  Chicken Curry Casserole is what Will requests every year for his birthday, and is one of the first recipes that I asked Amy for while Will and I were dating.  It is delicious, but sadly not vegetarian, and since I’ve migrated from flexitarian to vegetarian for the last few months I can’t partake.  But instead I’ve been perfecting my Vegetarian Curry Casserole, and have finally settled on my favorite version.  I’ve made it at least 4 times now.  I started with different types of beans, and multiple types of cream of something soup and eventually settled on tofu and cream of mushroom.  You really can’t taste the mushroom flavor at all, but if you really abhor mushrooms, cream of celery has almost the exact same taste.

Tofu Curry Casserole

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (depending how spicy you like it)
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1.5 Tbsp curry (to taste)
  • 2.5 cups frozen peas
  • 1.5 cups cheese
  • ¾ cup cornflakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Press tofu for 20 minutes or so between clean kitchen towels and weights to remove moisture.  Cut tofu into 1″x.5″x.5″ cubes.  Whisk corn starch, cayenne, turmeric together.  Toss tofu gently in spice mixture and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake tofu for 15 minutes and remove from oven. Lower heat to 350 degrees F.  While tofu bakes you can assemble the casserole.  Whisk together cream of mushroom, mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry.  Cover a 2 qt casserole dish with the frozen peas.  Spread cooked tofu over the peas.  Cover with cream of mushroom mixture.  Sprinkle cheese on top followed by cornflakes.  Bake in 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes, or until heated through.

Baked seasoned tofu on top of frozen peas.

 

Posted in Culinary Delights | 2 Comments