Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Stockings--A love/hate relationship

This is my Christmas stocking display:
I can put it on this blog because those stockings were hand made by me. They look lovely and I'm very, very happy with them. I finished the last of these five about two years ago and treated myself to the stocking hooks then so I could display them properly. They are always the first decorations to come out and the last to go down.

Well wouldn't you make the most of these? I did put over 300 hours into making them. Yeah. Not exaggerating that. Maybe underestimating. That's where the hate part comes in. I like quick projects. By the time I finished my youngest's stocking I was ready to never, ever pick up a cross stitch needle again. Then my husband told me he wanted one too. So I would have to have one as well. You know, so we matched.

I have spent two years on my husband's and it's still not done. I can only get motivated to pick it up and work on it in November and December. Mine I pawned off on my mother who loves cross stitch.

When I started these, I had no earthly idea how long it would take to make them. No idea. I had no clue that I would stop liking cross stitching after about two of them. I did start them when I was 20 though, so you have to give me a little bit of a break. Have you ever met a 20 year old who wasn't idealistic and naive?

Since my children alternated perfectly by sex, that means the stockings can be hung in a perfect pattern and age arranged. It makes my type A heart pitter patter.
BTW, I made the shelf too. If you want the instructions on that, let me know and I'll put a post together.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dinner Rolls

It's quite possible you have hiding in your fridge some Rhodes bread rolls just waiting for the big day. It's possible that you have cans of crescent rolls instead.

Or your family could be like mine, where the dinner rolls are more popular than the turkey or the candied yams put together.

Meet Ruby. She's going to help me demonstrate how to make the best dinner rolls on the planet.
She's brought some friends along to help. She's a bit bossy and vain though, so you have to watch out for her. Dress yours up in her spiral bread hook and pouring shield.

To start: dump 7 cups of flour, 2 T yeast, 1/2 c sugar, 1/2 c powdered milk, and 2 t salt in your mixer bowl. That is 2 T of yeast, not two packages. You will need to buy your yeast in a bulk package like a jar. They are sometimes labeled "bread machine yeast" just because you measure bread machine recipes by volume as well.

ok, Tangent over. Mix those dry ingredients together. Next, measure 2 1/2 c warm water, about 120 degrees. It needs to be a little warm for this mix method. While the mixer is running, slowly pour the water into the mixer. Then add 2 eggs and 1/2 of soft butter. The butter needs to be spread-ably soft, softer than you would usually use in baking.

After a few minutes your bread will look like this:
It's almost ready, but still needs a bit more flour. I added 1/2 c at this point. Yours may not need that. It depends on how you measure your flour.

Here it is after about 5 minutes of kneading. Notice how the dough has pulled away from the side of the pan. It's now very elastic and somewhat sticky.

It's sticking to my fingers here but when I pulled away there was very little dough on my hands. This is still a little bit soft, but I stopped here because I didn't want to over do the flour.

Spray a big bowl with cooking spray and put your bread dough in it. cover with plastic wrap so the dough doesn't form a skin on top. Set aside in a warm place to rise until double. Like this:

Dump your dough onto a floured counter top. Mine was still sticky, so I used quite a bit of flour. If your dough is not sticky at all at this point, you can use cooking spray at this point on the counter instead so you don't get too much flour in your dough.

Knead the dough into a smooth ball, then cut into three equal balls of dough.
Roll each ball out into a large circle, between 12 and 15" in diameter. Spread with about 3T of very soft butter. (ahem. Yes, more butter. In case you didn't know, diet season is officially between Jan 1 and November 20. We're in maintenance season right now. This means more butter. You're welcome.)

Cut the circle into twelve equal pieces. You can pretend that those are all equal triangles. The equal thing is more of a guideline. Don't panic if you have some big ones and some little ones. It will be just fine.

Now take one triangle of dough and roll it up from wide end toward the point.
(Please excuse my lack of a manicure. I don't spend money on my hands. And yes those are the hands of a grown woman, not a 12 year old boy. Buying gloves is no fun.)

Roll that triangle until the point is on the bottom and then stop. Like this:

Isn't it cute? Now do the other 35. Lay them out so they touch on a greased baking sheet. Mine is commercial sized, so it fits all 36 rolls.
Let them rise for another 15 minutes or so. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Like this:

Hungry yet? Those have been brushed with more butter. You can skip that, but I have no idea why you would want to.

I am. I have to save those for tonight's dinner with the in-laws though. It's torture.

Dinner Rolls

7 cups flour
2 T yeast
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c powdered milk
2 t salt
2 1/2 c water
2 eggs
1/2 c butter

Mix dry ingredients in mixing bowl. While the mixer is running, slowly pour in the water, then add eggs and butter. Continue mixing for about 5-10 more minutes. The dough will pull away from the side of the bowl. The dough should be smooth and elastic, tacky but not too sticky. Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place. Dump out onto a floured work surface, kneading a few times to form a smooth ball of dough. Divide into three portions. Roll each portion out into a 12"-15" diameter circle. Spread with 3T of very soft butter. Cut into twelve equal triangles. Roll each triangle from wide end to point, leaving the point on the bottom of the roll. Place the rolls so they touch on a greased baking sheet. Let rise for 15 more minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until rolls are golden brown. Brush with butter while hot.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Project Season!

I always get way in over my head in November and December with a million and one projects and crafts I want to do for Christmas. My kids always get PJ pants; some years they match and some years they all have a different fabric. Then they all get one other hand made gift. I will often do a few handmade gifts for the nieces and nephews as well.

This year, as I've already mentioned, I'm doing a bushel of Monsters. Five for my kids. Five for cousins on my side of the family. Five for cousins on my husband's side of the family. (I already finished six.)

We're also having a bit of a thin Christmas this year. (For many reasons, which I won't go into, this is not a begging for money post. I would just send money back if anyone tried to give me any. We're fine.) So I thought that having two handmade gifts would really be fun for the kids. I'm trying to keep it to stuff we already have in the house, but I already broke that rule for this:
Doll Farmhouse bed

You just went "Sqeee!" didn't you? I know I did. This is a project from Ana White. Her Doll Farmhouse bed is so adorable I couldn't resist making a pair of them. I have two little girls who will be so happy to get a bed just like that for their dolls for Christmas. I had to go buy lumber though. I didn't have enough scrap on hand. It cost me less than $10 per bed though. I do have the paint and plywood on hand and that does make a bit of a difference.

I spent my morning cutting the wood for both beds and sanding the wood for one. Unfortunately I don't have a full shop like Norm Abrams so I have to use a huge cordless hand sander. My arms are still shaking. That sucker is heavy. The wood was super quick to cut on our miter saw. I will get constructing tomorrow and paint when both are put together. I'm toying with turquoise for the color. Wouldn't that be adorable?

Also on tap is a wallet for my eight year old (he requested one.) It will be orange with dinosaurs if I can manage it. And then my 15 year old will be getting either a necklace and earrings or a purse. I may make her a ruffled bag if I feel like I have time.

My 12 year old boy has me stumped though. I did a trebuchet last year and a portable game system/game case the year previous. Anyone got any ideas?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge

It's candy making time! My favorite part of Christmas is the candy making. I remember helping my mother make candy as a child. I remember her teaching me all the little tricks to get the candy to turn out perfectly and my sisters and my mom and I standing around visiting while the candy cooked, taking turns stirring the toffee, because it's a long process and has to be stirred continuously, listening for the mixer to down shift, signaling that the fudge is finished, getting to be the first one to try a piece.

Love it. Candy making is as much in my blood as potatoes and my religion. (I'm a fifth generation Idahoan and my Grandfather was a potato farmer in Eastern Idaho, just in case you were wondering how inbred religion and potatoes could be.)

If you would like to see pictures of the fudge making process, read this post on making chocolate fudge.

Peanut Butter Fudge

3c sugar
1/4c light corn syrup
1/2 t salt
1/2 c milk*
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c peanut butter
2 t vanilla

In a 4 quart heavy bottomed pan, stir together everything but the peanut butter and vanilla. Put a lid on the pan and turn on the burner to medium heat. Let it cook with the lid on until the candy has boiled for 3-5 minutes. This is called sweating the pan and is very important. Meanwhile while the pan is sweating, rinse off that spoon you stirred your candy with earlier. You need a clean wooden spoon with no sugar crystals clinging to it to stir the candy once it boils.

After the candy has boiled with the lid on for 3-5 minutes, remove the lid and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Stir occasionally until the candy reaches 238 degrees. Watch carefully because you do not want to over cook the candy. If you have a stand mixer, immediately pour out the cooked candy into the bowl of your stand mixer. Only pour out the candy that will pour easily out of the pan. Do not scrape the pan. I'll say it again. DO NOT get out your spatula and carefully get out all the last little drops of candy. Don't. You'll cause your fudge to crystallize. It won't be creamy. Just pour it out and stop when you get only a small, thin stream of candy.

If you do not have a stand mixer, leave it in the pan.

When the candy has cooled to about 120-110 degrees you can start whipping it. Add the peanut butter and the vanilla and beat it with the flat beater. If you have a Kitchen Aid, speed 6 is just about right.

If you don't have a mixer you will have to beat it by hand. Stir with a wooden spoon using a strong, firm hand. You will want to have friends around to take turns with you and start beating when it's about 120 so it's softer when you start.

You beat until the mixture loses that glossy look. It will turn matte and if you are mixing in a mixer it will look like frosting in the bowl.

When it's done beating, scrape out the bowl into a buttered 9x9 baking dish. Pat it flat and cover with plastic wrap. make sure the plastic covers the surface of the fudge. Eat when it's cool.

*The recipe base (vanilla fudge) came from my grandmother who was a depression era lady. The milk was supposed to make the cream go farther. You can make this with all cream if you like. I do the part milk, part cream because I can get four batches of fudge from one quart of cream that way. I make a lot of fudge as gifts and it's nice to have the cream go farther. It comes out just fine with a lovely creamy mouth feel even with the milk in it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Monsters!

Aren't they cute? I've been having a lot of fun with this project and my kids are as well. They love seeing their monster drawings come to life. I've had to hide the monsters when I finish them because my kids just want to play with them. Not so great when these guys have to go to cousins as Christmas presents.

My oldest designed this one for her 13 year old cousin who's a Boise State fan:
Robot monster also has an evil side:
The blue isn't quite right, but I figure I can get fudge it just a bit.

This is Dizzery, designed by my 8 year old:
The spiral eyes were done using six strand embroidery floss. I tied a knot on the end and pulled the thread up through to the front. Then I carefully laid out the thread in a spiral, a bit at a time, and used a couching stitch to hold the thread in place. I pulled the embroidery thread back down and knotted it when I got to the end. This way there are no loose ends to come undone. It's perfect for toddlers and babies because there are no choking hazards on this monster face.

Another monster, PentaTenta, designed by the 10 year old:

I am in the middle of another monster right now. He's got some face work to finish up (my embroidery needle broke!) and then I can get him sewn together. My youngest is sad because hers is last. Silly girl, she doesn't know I still have 10 more to go after I finish that one!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Better Mashed Potatoes

So the other day as I was making mashed potatoes, I looked in the fridge to grab out the sour cream and happened to notice my buttermilk. The wheels in my brain started turning and into the potatoes went the buttermilk.

They were soooooooo good! I'm not kidding. Best mashed potatoes I've ever made and I make dang good potatoes. I used the buttermilk instead of sour cream or cream or cream cheese, all my standard liquid ingredients. I was also able to use half the butter I normally use, 4 T instead of 8 T. (If you need a recipe, just Google Buttermilk mashed potatoes. I am apparently quite behind on this one and there are at least a dozen recipes out there.)

When you consider the fact that buttermilk has less than 1/4 the calories of sour cream and cream cheese and heavy cream and the fewer calories from the butter, mashed potatoes suddenly aren't so fatty anymore. So there you go. Lower calorie mashed potatoes without losing flavor. Because who actually likes mashed potatoes made with chicken broth? ew.

Buttermilk. Just keep a quart in the fridge from now on. It can sit right next to your quart of heavy cream. (or is it just me that always has a quart of heavy cream on hand?)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monster Doll--Step by Step

My kids love Ugly Dolls. They are pretty cool characters. My kids also love to draw monsters of their own. For Christmas we have to have presents for 10 nieces and nephews. I thought it would be fun to make monster dolls in the style of Ugly Dolls for their cousins that my kids designed.

Here's my first:
This monster was designed by my oldest son for his cousin who loves purple. He was super simple to make. Here's how I did it.

First you need to get your kids to draw you some monsters. Have them draw lots of them so you have some to choose from. Some monsters are easier to copy than others, of course, and you want to start with something simple. I started with that red ink monster in the top left. You will also need pattern tracing fabric, which is available at most fabric stores. I use a product made Pellon that I buy at JoAnn for $1.99/yd. I love the stuff and buy 4-5 yards at a time. JoAnn keeps it with the interfacing, so check there. I also found my flexible ruler to be a huge help. That I got at Staples in the drafting section and I love it. It's very useful for a lot of projects. It's the blue and white tool in the top center. And of course I used scissors and a good pencil (gotta love my Dixons.)

Mark your pattern fabric at the outer edges of the size you want the monster to be. My monster is 14" tall by 14" wide at the outermost points, so I made four small marks at each end. These reference points helped me keep my drawing sized correctly. Next, mark the center point of your fabric, also as a reference point.
This particular monster is symmetrical, so I started creating the pattern by drawing one side of the monster's body. The original monster your child drew may have to be modified. It will be very difficult to stuff narrow sections smaller than 1/2" wide. Keep your sewing skills in mind, but try and stay close to the original.
Curves and circles can sometimes be harder to draw smoothly. I rest the heel of my hand on the paper and sketch the curve like my hand is a compass. You can also use the flex curve to create the curves you need and trace the edge.

Next, mountain fold the paper in half along the center marking. Trace your pencil lines onto the other side of the paper.

A closer look:

If you did a mountain fold, you should have a complete monster when you open the paper back up again. Now you get to do the face. The face my son drew was very easy for me to replicate. I love the straight mouth! Now that I can sew.

Now you need to add your seam allowance to the whole pattern. I used a seam gauge like this one. Notice it has a little hole near the end. I set my gauge 1/4" from that hole and put the pencil in the hole. Then I could just follow the edge of the pattern and draw the new cut line in one super easy step.

The arms on this particular pattern were close together. I just got as close as I could with the seam allowance and marked the sewing lines on the fabric. I could sew the arms and then trim them apart later.
Next I marked the fabric for the face. This style of marking may not be familiar to you. My mom called it "tailor tacking." I have no idea where she got it from, but it's quick, easy, and it uses up all my bobbin thread from past projects. It has it's limitations, but works just fine for this. Basically, I mark my spot with one single stitch leaving the thread long at each end. The eye, by the way, was made by tracing a spool.

Next I needed to sew on the face. This is embroidery and applique work, so you need to use a stabilizer behind the fabric. I remembered this after the fabric went all funky trying to sew the mouth. oops. The mouth is a very tight, small zig zag sewn in a straight line. The eye is hand sewn with a button hole stitch and a big fat French knot in the center. Teeth are sewn just like the eye. If you have a machine with an adjustable button hole stitch on it, you could machine sew it. My sewing machine isn't that cool. Basically, sew down what you need to sew down or zig zag where you need to zig zag. You do not need an embroidery machine to make one of these monsters. Ok, now we get to start sewing. Put right sides together and sew all the way around the monster.
You can see there where I marked the arms so I could get the seaming correct.
Well, all the way around except for a 4" opening along one edge. Make sure this is big enough you can fit your hand inside. You'll need to be able to reach in the monster to stuff it.

Then you get to do my least favorite part: clipping the seam allowance. Clip your curves to reduce fabric with those inverted triangles. Clip inside corners as well. You can also see where I cut the arms apart.
Turn the monster right side out and start stuffing. Make sure you get in the little places well like horns, arms, feet, tails, etc. I find a dull or un-sharpened pencil works well to help get the stuffing in place in tight spaces. Stuff you monster well because he will be getting lots of love.

Sew up the opening and your monster is ready to play with.

I'll be posting more monsters as I get them done. Good luck with yours. :)

ETA:Just to give you an idea of the variety you can make with these guys: Here's a few more monsters I've made lately. And another set of monsters.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


So I don't always work in fabric. Recently my husband and I built a set of bookshelves for the play room. I love them! We went with floor to ceiling built ins with fixed shelves. We wanted height and easy build.

Since I wanted the shelves to be strong, we choose to not build them in place (I wanted the nails straight with no toe nailing and the back of the shelf nailed in place as well.) That meant keeping the unit shorter than the actual ceiling height so we could tip it into place when we brought it in the room to install it. The lovely moulding on the bottom is actually covering a 2x4 box my husband built to support the piece. So we built a complete bookshelf 3 and a half inches shorter than we wanted it to be and then tipped it up and set it on the box. It worked perfectly.

The shelves are nailed on three sides for stability and edged with 1"x2" for strength and looks. The whole thing was built with plywood and 1x2.

As you can see, the big shelf holds the kids' books. We've been collecting for awhile and it's such a relief to finally get a unit that holds everything!

Opposite the big shelf is another weird jog in the wall, so it got a little matching bookshelf for my books. It is not nearly big enough:
But I still like it. Same construction techniques.

And here's a close up of our pretty, pretty moulding:

We have a lumber yard near our house that specializes in seconds and over stocks so we got that beautiful 4" base for $6 a stick. Not a foot. $6 for the whole piece. We picked up crown for the basement at the same time and it cost us $20. Yeah, I can deal with a little bit of blade chatter for that price.

Sorry it's been awhile since I posted something. Getting my last post picked up by a big craft blog was really intimidating.

On tap for the next few weeks: Christmas presents. I have five nieces and nephews to craft for. I've got to figure out something a 13 year old boy who only plays video games would like to have. Wish me luck! (three of them are getting my version of the Ugly Doll.)