Monday, February 28, 2011

Banana Bread

What is it about banana bread?  It's like having a little slice of childhood back with you for five minutes.  We liked to eat it with Kraft Singles when I was a kid.  My husband thinks that's crazy, but then he's the one that won't even put butter on his banana bread, so we don't count his opinion.   These days we usually eat it with just butter because I tend to not buy Kraft Singles these days. 

This recipe is one of those that's been handed down through several generations.  It's worth hanging on to. 

Banana Bread

1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
3 very over ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c chopped nuts (optional)

Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl between.   Add the bananas and vanilla, mix until thoroughly combined.   Add the flour, salt and baking soda.   Mix until just combined.  Fold in nuts.  Pour into a greased and floured large loaf pan.    Bake at 325 degrees until fully baked.  It will take over an hour, and maybe as long as an hour and a half, depending on your pan and oven.  Pay attention to the scent coming from your oven, it will tell you when to check the bread.   There will be a crack up the center and that is the last section to fully bake, so when the bread under the crack is done, the loaf is done. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Little Boy's Tool Belt

I've been doing way too much stuff for my girls lately and my boys were feeling left out.  It's time for a boy project!

I don't know about your boys, but mine like to help their dad with stuff.  Grown up tool belts just don't fit boys.   I was able to just grab stuff I already had on hand to make this belt.  Canvas, upholstery vinyl, and seam tape is all it takes.

1.  Cut your canvas into two rectangles, one measuring 13.25"x15" and one 5.25"x15".   Cut a strip of leather or vinyl 15"x2". 

2. Finish one long end on the big rectangle with some sort of 5/8th inch hem that won't unravel.  I did a simple rolled hem.  Use whatever method works for you.   Fold the other long edge down 5/8th of an inch as well, but do not sew.

3.  Finish one long edge of the small rectangle with a 5/8th inch hem and fold over the other long edge 5/8th of an inch but don't sew, exactly like you did the long edges of the large rectangle. 

4.  Lay the pocket across the big rectangle, placing it right side up on a right side up bottom piece.   The bottom of the pocket should be about 3.5" from the bottom edge.   Sew down.

5.  Finish edge of bag with seam tape.   You can do another method but seam tape gives a nice finished look without extra bulk.

6.  Fold over the top of the bag to the back about 2" creating a casing for the belt to go through.  Sew down close to edge. 

7.  Place vinyl strip across bottom of the bag.  Sew at sides and at different points along the vinyl creating loops for hammers, measuring tapes, and pliers.   (See photo.)

8.  Find an old belt under your son's bed or in the bottom of the closet (if your son's room is anything like my sons' room) and run the belt through the casing.  

The bag is ready to go.  This one is super quick to make and basically free if you've got the canvas or denim in your stash.   It would be easy to use recycled denim for something like this as well.  If you don't have leather or vinyl for the hammer loop strap, you can make a strap with more denim or canvas.  Just make it a double thickness so it's strong enough to support a hammer.   

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another peasant skirt

Carnations and roses in pink, red, and green.  This is my middle girl in her new fat quarter skirt.  I was able to change up the pattern a little bit and found some extra inches in length.  She's very happy with it, although she's decided that her big sister and I both need peasant skirts now.   I'm thinking it would take a lot more than 3 fat quarters to fit around my hips. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good News!

I've been working with a local fabric store lately designing patterns and planning/teaching classes.  We have decided to partner together to release my patterns for purchase!  I'm so excited.  Right now we are working on getting my two most popular bags into a PDF format with easy to understand instructions.  I'm even considering getting the instructions translated into a couple of other languages if there is interest.   (Who knew I'd have so many new friends from Brazil? Hi! Welcome!  Let me know if you want instructions in Portuguese. I'll use someone who speaks the language fluently and not Google's translation program.)

I'll also be working to get more of my patterns into PDF and I'll have a way for you all to purchase and download them.  I'll still have instructions on how to draw out many of my patterns here in the future, but if you want to have me do all the work for you, that will be an option too.   If there is something I've posted in the past you really want to buy the pattern for, let me know in the comments. We'll be doing past patterns in order of interest.

Today I'll be making another fat quarter skirt.  This one is for my middle girl.  She's pretty excited about it.  Thank goodness I can make it in under an hour because I've got a busy day ahead of me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lemon-thyme Roast Chicken

I love roast chicken because it's so easy to make and it's impressive at the same time.  The hands off nature of roast chicken means I can devote some attention to a good salad and risotto.   Roast chicken is also great because it feeds my family for two meals.  (The second meal is always a chicken noodle soup around here,  also super easy.)   This particular recipe combines a wet rub with a special roasting method to create a chicken that's juicy and flavorful.

Lemon-Thyme Roast Chicken

1 3.5-4 lb roasting chicken
1 lemon
2 T chopped garlic
1 T fresh thyme or lemon thyme
1 T kosher salt
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Start by removing the zest from the lemon with a fine mesh grater.   Combine in a small bowl with the salt, thyme, and garlic.   With your hands, spread the rub underneath the chicken skin.  Rub it all over the breast and as much of the thighs as you can reach.   Be careful to not stretch the skin too much and make sure the rub is spread evenly without clumping.  It's usually pretty easy to get in under the skin from the neck end.  You may need to keep a knife handy to cut the connective tissue right under the skin, especially right at the neck opening.   Cut the zested lemon in half and shove a lemon half inside each of the chicken cavities. 

Place prepared chicken in a roasting pan on a rack.   Pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan (don't pour it over the chicken, just pour it to the side.)  Roast for 40 minutes.   Rotate pan in oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Continue to roast the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees, about another 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes before carving. 

If you are going to use a 5lb bird, it's best to increase the time at the front end when the oven temperature is lower in order to maintain the moist texture of the bird.   You do not need to increase the amount of the rub.  The recipe will make enough for a bigger bird.

For those of you keeping track of my $5 or under dinners:   1 roast chicken for $5+1 lemon at 50 cents+garlic and salt at lower than 25 cents+free thyme (grow it myself)=$5.75/two meals=$2.62 per meal.   I probably went over my $5 limit on Valentine's day but not by much.  Remember my home made turkey broth?  Home made broth takes care of more than half the cost of making risotto.   It only takes 1 cup of arborio rice to make enough risotto to feed my family for one meal.   That's 75 cents worth when I buy it in bulk from Winco (my favorite grocery store that only exists in the western half of the US.  The bulk bins are a great place to find really good deals on food.)  I use about 75 cents worth of parmesean, so one batch of risotto costs me $1.50 to make. 

So Valentine's day dinner is up to $4.12 leaving me 88 cents for my salad.  I doubt I was able to make a salad for that amount so we'll just say that valentine's day was a special occasion.   The soup I made later in the week cost me around $4 to make so the two meals evened each other out.   Isn't it nice when it works that way?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Need More Fabric?

Fabric designer Jen Allyson is giving away fat quarter packs of  her new Quite Contrary line!  Enter the giveaway here, and you can have up to five separate entries.  

If you've been looking for something cute for little girl's quilts or summer dresses, this is the line for you.  Wouldn't those make the cutest fat quarter peasant skirt?   or even a sundress.   You'd still have enough left over to make a fat quarter ruffle bag, too.

Good luck!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quick and Easy Baby Gift

Got a baby shower coming up?   How about whipping up a couple of onesie dresses.  They take less than half an hour each and they are as cheap as you can buy a onesie.  The skirt is scrap from other projects and the ribbon is from my I'm-really-going-to-use-it-someday ribbon collection.
 (Ok, so the photography on this one is horrible.  Sorry.  It's February and the light was just horrible that day.)

I started with an inexpensive 6-9 month sized onesie.   This one is pink and white stripes but the horrible photos mean you can't really see the stripes.  It really is a cute little outfit, I promise.

I laid the onesie down flat and measured across the center.  It's about 18 inches around.  
This measurement lets me figure how much fabric to cut for the skirt.  I decided to do a 1.5 times gather so I cut a piece of fabric 30"x8".   The fabric has a lot of body on it's own, so it looked ok.  Next time I'm going to do a full double gather at least (that would have meant cutting 37"x8" for the skirt.)  The fuller fabric would look really cute. 
I sewed up the side seam with a fake overlock stitch.  I don't have a serger or I would have used that.  This seam is going to show and get a lot of wear so make sure it looks nice and won't fray.  I'll be doing a French seam on the next one of these I sew. 
Do a narrow, folded hem (again, looks nice.  won't fray.)  I also sewed a coordinating ribbon about an inch from the hem.  It really added a lot. 
Gather and sew with a stretch stitch to the onsie.  You can see my seam here.  This doesn't have to be quite as pretty but do make sure you are using a stitch that will move with the baby and stretch to go over her head.
Press the skirt and wrap it up for baby.   These are also cute with a little applique on the front of the bodice.  You could do a heart or a crown.  Try a simple iron on design or a ribbon rose.

These little dresses are great summer wear for babies.  They can go out in a lightweight onesie but still be dressed up and cute.   If you've got a good pattern for them, you could make a pair of fabric booties to match as well.   Babies always have the cutest outfits.   Lucky babies.  I haven't gotten to wear a onesie since I was 19.   (If you remember we called them "body suits" and they were cool.   I also had the body to get away with shirts that tight at the time.  Lucky 19 year olds.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day Dinner

This is what we had to go with the cheesecake last night.   Valentine's Day was not on a night that worked well for my husband and I to go on a date, so I used it as a good excuse to make something special for dinner.   My family loves risotto and I love this roast chicken.  Roasted with a garlic, kosher salt, lemon, and thyme rub.  It's really wonderful.   (Poor you though.  You have to wait until Monday for the recipe.)   I used my good linen table cloth, the china, stemware, and we even had candles.   It was nice to include the kids in the celebration of the day.  

What did you do for Valentine's Day? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate Legend Cheesecake

It was either that or "triple chocolate" and that's been done enough, don't you think?  Besides, my husband voted for "Chocolate Legend" and that's two votes right there.  He gets two because he loves me and because I liked his vote.  (If I didn't like his vote then he would have gotten 1/2 a vote.  That's the way it always works.  Doesn't it work like that in your house?)

This was a lot of fun to make.  Lots of extra stuff you don't find in a basic New York cheesecake.  To make this you need your favorite cheesecake recipe and some extra chocolate.  I used the New York cheesecake recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Chocolate Legend Cheesecake

16 Oreos
3T melted butter
1 recipe for New York Cheesecake
1 Giant sized bar of Hershey's Special Dark (or simmilar dark chocolate), roughly chopped
1  4.4 oz bar of good quality white chocolate (I used Lindt), roughly chopped
1/4 c heavy cream
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 c cocoa powder

Grind the oreos in a food processor until crumbs.  Add the butter and pulse for a second until blended.  Pour out into a spring form pan and press flat.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 8-10 minutes.   Set aside to cool.

Make the cheesecake as the recipe directs.  Be sure not to over beat.   Carefully fold in the cocoa powder and melted unsweetened chocolate.   Fold in the chopped semi-sweet chocolate.   Pour out into the spring form pan.

Heat the heavy cream but do not boil.   Pour over chopped white chocolate.  Stir until chocolate melts.  Drop by tablespoons onto the cheesecake batter.   Swirl with a table knife.

Bake and cool your cheesecake according to your recipe directions.   Just before serving you can decorate with white chocolate and milk chocolate curls.   Or not. 

The white chocolate ganache stays soft, a lovely contrast with the chocolate chunks and the smooth cheesecake.   It's perfect for Valentine's Day.  My whole family is looking forward to it.  Good thing for my waistline I have lots of people who have been begging for a piece all weekend.  Chocolate cheesecake makes a good just because present, right?

Friday, February 11, 2011


has a habit of interrupting my plans sometimes.   I did not get my bag done this week.   There are some changes going on in my household that have taken my time and attention.  I should get back in the swing of crafting before next Friday so I can have the bag for you then.  Never fear, I've got posts lined up for next week so you still will see the chocolate cheesecake and a quick and easy craft on Wednesday. 

If you are making your bags ahead of me just remember to carefully plan the order you sew them.   You usually need to sew accents and details before you sew the side seams.  It's just easier to handle a rectangle instead of a tube.  I had to sew my side seams first before I stuck my strap accents on the side and it was a pain in the neck.  

If you are curious about which buckle I chose, I'm going with the cool oval.  Everyone I asked said it was the obvious choice.  The girl is just going to have to suck it up and get her own belt.   Since she's the source of the current life stress that's thrown off my crafting groove and used up my time, I don't feel a bit guilty saying that. 

Have a good weekend.  I've got a date tonight with my sweetheart so things are looking up.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adding to The Easiest Bag

Remember The Easiest Bag You've Ever Made from last week?  Yeah, it was a bit boring, but the point was how simple the bag was.  You can make something cute with cute fabric and whip out a bag in no time.  However, if you want you can dress it up like this:
 Isn't it cute?   I love the bird.  I used a bird image from a royalty free source, re-sized it to about 6x6" in a photo editing program, printed it out, and traced it onto pattern fabric.  (Have you bought your five yards yet? I use this stuff all the time.)

Then I cut out my bird from a cute print and a stabilizer fabric.  I actually used my pattern tracing fabric, but this is the perfect use for fusible webbing if you happen to have some.   Notice which direction the bird faces.   The bottom of the bag is the cut side.  Since you're starting with the 31" square from the Easiest Bag pattern, you need to fold the fabric in half and press it.  That pressing line is the top of the bag.   Fold it in half the other way and press and that is the side of the bag.  Your front is two inches in from the fold and two and a half from the cut.  Place your applique on the front of the bag in a spot that looks good to you.  
 You can sew the applique down with a simple zig zag stitch.  If your machine has a blanket stitch that makes a nice stitch on appliques. 
 Now cut out a strip of fabric 31" wide by 5"tall.  Place it along the width of the bag, lining up the bottom edge of the print strip with the bottom edge of the bag.   Baste it down.  Sew a ribbon over the raw edge of the print. 
 Cut out another piece of fabric 13.5x31".   Sew a folded hem along one long edge. 
 Place on the other end of the bag fabric so the long raw edge lines up with the raw edge of the bag and the hemmed edge points toward the center.   This is your interior pockets.  I decided to have two full size pockets on the wide sides of the bag, so I sewed down from the hemmed edge to the bottom 2.5" from each of the raw sides and then 10.5" from that stitching.   I used the ends as pockets as well.  The side with the seam got pencil pockets.  You'll notice I sewed across the pockets about 6" down so I didn't lose pencils in the bottom of the bag.   For the other narrow pocket I also sewed 6" down making it perfect for a cell phone, sunglasses, or a wallet. 

From this point just follow the construction directions for The Easiest Bag.  And there you go!   These extra additions should only add about 30-45 minutes to your bag.  If you work fast, you could have a new bag in under an hour.   If you want to start with a 30" square you could make two bags from one yard of 60" wide canvas.  With 27" squares you could make two bags from 3/4 of a yard of 54" wide fabric.   You will have to adjust the pocket seams on the inside if you change the dimensions of the bag.   That's easy to do, however, and wouldn't these make great teacher gifts? 

Post a link if you make the bag!  Thanks!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Flip Case and Mistakes

I made myself a new flip case. That bright orange trim and lininng just make me smile.   Love it.

I've been talking a lot about pattern making and I haven't said enough about mistakes.   Patterns don't always come together perfectly the first time.   Often you have to change and rework the pattern to make it what you want.  That happened for me with the flip case.   The camera case instructions I posted here had the changes that were needed for the camera to fit properly, but my original case did not.  It was too small because I forgot to allow for the padding.   This case was made following the directions I posted here and it fits perfectly. 

When something you make doesn't work, don't give up on it.  Sure you can set it aside for a few days until you are ready to tackle it again.   But don't leave it hiding in an unfinished project bin.   Take a close look at it.  What worked for you?  Where exactly doesn't it work?  What could you do differently to fix the problem?   Take notes.  Mark it with pins.  Do what is necessary to find the problem and redraw your pattern. The projects you correct and overcome problems on are the projects you will feel the most proud of in the end. 

This blog is a good motivator for me, and I thank all of you for being a good sounding board.  Without you here my flip case would have always stayed too tight.  I knew I couldn't  post a bad pattern though; I had to fix it for you.   So thanks.   Thanks for listening and making me keep working when things don't come out right the first time.  If I could I'd send you all a piece of next Monday's cheesecake.   We've settled on the Chocolate Legend Cheesecake.  I'll take pictures for you. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Don't Buy Boxed Brownie Mix

Make these instead!  This particular recipe for brownies is just as easy as making brownies from a box and it doesn't taste in any way like a cardboard box.

Our Favorite Fudgey Brownies

1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
3/4 c cocoa
2 t vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Combine melted butter, sugar, and cocoa powder.   Stir in the eggs and vanilla making sure the eggs are thoroughly mixed in.  Fold in flour, salt and baking powder.  If you are picky you can sift your flour, salt and baking powder together before you add them to the batter, but I never do and my brownies always come out perfect.  Just dump in the flour first; then put the salt and baking powder on top of the flour.  They'll all stir in just fine.   When the flour is mixed in, pour the batter out into a greased 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Let them cool for about 10 minutes before you attempt to cut.

These take less than 5 minutes to mix together by hand.   This is the perfect brownie recipe.   You can make it from ingredients that are in everyone's pantry.  They are fabulously chocolatey and fudgey.  It's easy to mix together and it's pretty cheap to make.

Friday, February 4, 2011

From Sketch to Pattern: Phase three, lining construction

I like to start with the lining when I'm making a purse because it lets me see where the pattern needs tweaking.   And this one needs a little bit of tweaking.   I'll get to that in a minute.

To start, I cut out my lining.  That's the two large pieces, the bottom oval, a side pocket, and two pieces for a center zipper pocket.   As you can see I underestimated my lining amount so the zipper pocket is in a contrasting fabric.  I'm glad this happened actually because that gorgeous brocade would get all snaggy inside the pocket anyway.

First thing I do is sew on the side pocket.  Finish the top edge and lay it across one side piece of the lining.  I sewed one seam down the center, 1/4 of the way to one side, and divided that last quarter into three 1" pencil pockets. 
For the zipper pocket, install the zipper and then sew the bottom seam with right sides together.  Flip back right side out.
Place one side of the lining right side up. Then put down the zipper pocket so the bottom seam is 1/2" from the bottom edge.  Then put the second side of the lining down right side down.  Sew up the side seams leaving a turning gap along one side. 
This is where I had my first tweak.  The base pattern I made was too big for the purse.  It didn't give me that lightly gathered look I wanted, so I cut 1 1/8" off each end.    Then I lightly gathered the bottom edge of the lining and sewed the bottom in.
Here's the finished lining.  I'm having issues with the height of the bag.  I've never made one this deep before so it's bugging me.  I'm going to live with it for a couple of days and see if it grows on me.  If not, 3" is coming off the top. 

Now for the last bit of tweaking so far.  I've been very unhappy with the spring clasp selection I've been able to find online.  Everybody sells the same three clasps and they are all boring.  blah.  I have some gorgeous fabric here that does not deserve boring. 

I did run across a woman who sells buckles she got off thrift store belts.   I decided that I can go to thrift stores.  I've got some time.   I'm glad I did because I found this:
Isn't it gorgeous?  I adore it and it would be perfect on my bag.   The only draw back is my oldest daughter loves the belt and wants to use it as a belt.    The stinker. 

If I do let the girl have the belt I do have two other buckles as options:
I like the warmth of the antique brass but it's cheaply made.  The silver tone one is better quality and it looks nice but I'm not loving it as much. 

So what do you think?  Be nice to my daughter and use a second choice buckle or go with the buckle I love best?  I have to decide before I cut the straps. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Just Checking In

Busy day today.  I just didn't get a chance to sit down to post earlier.  I've got a sneak peek at a project I'll be showing you how to make at the end of March.

That's Peter Rabbit and his sisters on the front of that adorable peasant skirt.  I only used three fat quarters to make it.   My little girl just adores it.  I let her try it on and now she won't take it off.

It's supposed to go down to the local fabric store though.  I'll be teaching a class on sewing this fat quarter skirt on the third Saturday of March.  If you love the ruffle bag and the fat quarter ruffle bag, I'll be teaching a class on those in February.    If you live near me and want to take a class, drop me a note and I'll give you a phone number for the store.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Easiest Bag You've Ever Made

This bag takes three pattern pieces and about 30 minutes of your time.  That's it.   It's easy enough a beginner can make it.   It may look a bit boring, but it's perfect as a library book bag or a grocery tote.   It's self lining so it's heavy duty and super easy.  Next week I'm going to show you how to add some details to this pattern.   It's going to get some interior pockets (of course) and some fun on the outside of the bag as well.  

 Start with one large square of fabric.  Mine measures 31"x31".  That's my bag.  The handles are 3.5"x26".   Feel free to make your handles longer.   This pattern works with any size bag, so go ahead and make yours smaller or larger if you wish. 
 Fold the fabric square in half and sew the three sides.  Leave a 4" gap on the long side to turn the bag.  Keep that gap near one end or the other, not in the middle.
 Now we're going to box the corners.   Fold your corners so the seams meet in the middle.   Measure 4" across and draw a line with a pencil. 
 Sew over your pencil line.
 Turn your bag right side out.   Now you have a big ol' rectangle with funny corners. 
 Take it and stuff one half down into the other half.  Make sure to match the base in the seam and corners. 
 See the inside of the bag?  You'll notice that my opening I used to turn the bag is on the inside.   It just makes it nicer if my hand sewing is a bit imperfect. 
Sew that gap closed by hand.  Press the bag.  You want a good crisp edge at the top.  You can press the sides and create a nice crisp line from base to top as well. 

For the handles, fold them in half lengthwise and sew the side seam.  Turn the handles and press flat.   Turn in the raw edges on the ends of the handles by about 1/4".   Position at the top and sew down.  Mine are spaced two inches in from the corners or about 4" from the side seam. 

That's it.  30 minutes to a basic bag.  It's ready for the grocery store or the library.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Never Throw Out Leftover Whipped Cream

It's a crime.  It's such lovely, perfect little clouds of goodness it doesn't deserve to slide quietly into that goodnight of your kitchen sink or sink away without protest in the trash can. 

You're correct that it doesn't keep.   However, you can turn it into some very lovely butter.  Just add a little salt and whip it with the wire whip on your stand mixer until the liquid separates from the solids and the solids turn a pale yellow.   Spoon the butter out of the bowl onto a paper towel and squeeze.   Place in a zippered baggie or other airtight container and refrigerate.   You can use your sweetened butter anytime you would normally use honey butter.   Yes, it does have sugar in it but that little bit of sweetness really is perfect on bagels, muffins, corn bread, etc.

In other news, my husband bought me a real ironing board last night so no more ugly beach towels under my sewing projects.  I've been using a towel on the counter for two years now because we were always going to finish the laundry room "in just a few months."  My hang on the wall ironing board would get hung back up in there and I wouldn't need a clunky traditional board.  Why buy an ironing board when I have one already?  Just because I can't exactly use it doesn't mean it's not there.  Yeah, I'm a cheapskate.   Anyway, my sweetie got tired of me complaining and just bought me one anyway.   Aren't you glad you'll never have to see that ugly purple/blue towel again?   I'm sure my family wishes they could say the same.  Too bad their mother is a cheapskate and won't throw out a towel until it has holes in it.