Bandanna bib

Finally, after all of the chaos of last week, I’m able to get back to some of my (far too) many ongoing projects.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I currently have a drool monster living in my house!  Since he got more mobile and is rolling everywhere, he has also become something of a spit up monster.  In the hope of keeping at least some of his clothes clean, I wanted to put bibs on him all the time, instead of just for meal time (homemade baby food posts to follow – stay tuned!).  But, the bibs that we have, while cute enough and certainly functional, cover up the cute outfits that I so diligently choose several times a day.  Cue my search for bandanna bibs.  These tend to be smaller than regular bibs, so they’re great for drool (although not so much for food-related messes), and can be more a part of the outfit than a cover for it.  And you know what I found?  Man, are those things expensive for what they are.  I mean, seriously, a small piece of flannel and cotton for $4 each?!  Are you kidding?!

With this is mind, and armed with coupons, off we went to Joann fabrics and crafts after church on Sunday.  I had planned to get a couple of flannel fat quarters and a couple of cotton fat quarters and start from there.  What I actually ended up with was a small bundle of each (reduced from $9.99 to $5.99 each).

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OK, the polka dots may not be the most masculine of prints, but it’s going to be drooled on by a baby who hasn’t yet been introduced to the concept of masculinity.  I think we’ll get away with it.

I should say at this point that I am definitely not meant to be a seamstress.  Sewing always seems like it should be so easy, but for some reason I seem to create a multitude of problems with tension, threads catching or breaking, or just not even getting the stitches straight.  So if I can make these, you can!

For these you’ll want one piece of cotton and one piece of flannel.  Actually, it doesn’t really matter what fabric you use, as long as at least one of them is absorbent.  Once you have your fabric, you want to start with squares.  Or at least, roughly squares.  I measured 12 inches down each side of the fabric, folded it intro a triangle and cut around it.  If you want the pattern in a specific orientation when the bib is finished, you may have to rotate your fabric, since the diagonal between 2 corners will end up being the top of the bib.  One square will make 2 pieces, so you can just use one square if you want the same pattern front and back, or you can use it to make 2 bibs so that you can replace the first one when it’s been soaked through!  Keeping your “square” folded into a triangle, fold it in half again so that you can find the middle of the long side.  Either mark or make a small cut here (you won’t be keeping this piece, so don’t worry about making a hole in it). Unfold back to the first triangle, and measure 1 inch down from the middle point that you just marked or cut.  Draw a straight line from this point to each corner and cut, leaving 2 pieces that are roughly triangular with a shallow v on the long side.

Pin the pieces with the right sides facing each other and cut around an inch off of the top corners to make it less bulky when you turn it.  Sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance, making sure you leave a hole to turn it the right way afterwards.  Where you leave the hole is up to you.  Personally, I find the finish a little neater if I leave one of the ends open, but it is definitely harder to turn.  You may also want to cut a small notch into the point at the bottom (being careful not to cut the seam), just to remove some of the excess fabric.

Once your bib is the right way round, press it to neaten the seams.  Of course, you don’t have to do this.  If I’m rushing because I don’t have much nap time left to work with, I’ll skip this step.  If I was making this for someone else, I would definitely do it.  Pin the hole closed, and top stitch all the way around  Finish up the ends, sew on a snap and you’re all done!

The only thing left to do is wrangle it onto the drool monster!

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Since the fabric was reduced and I got 40% off the snaps, I managed to make 8 of these for about $14.  There are no specific fabrics that you need to use for these – you could upcycle an old towel or t-shirt, or dig through the bargain bins at the store.  The only hard and fast rule is to make sure those snaps are on nice and tight so that they don’t become a choking hazard.

If you want a printable pattern instead of measuring, folding and cutting, please let me know and I’ll make one.  If you make some of these, I’d love to see the results!

DIY positivity

I had so many plans for last week. Baking projects, baby projects, crochet projects, blog posts… And then it all went wrong. My father-in-law went into the hospital for a minor procedure and ended up having major heart surgery. So instead of the baking and sewing and crocheting, I worked and took care of the baby and tried to just keep everyone going. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have finished at least one of my projects so that I can post it. But until then, I’m just working on staying positive.

While I was pregnant I took a lot of yoga classes. I was actually in a class the day before I went into labor! My favorite instructor at my local studio likes to start the class with a short story or anecdote from her week, and a quote that helps or inspires or encourages her. In the middle of my pregnancy I also lost my dad to cancer, so I was willing to take positivity wherever I could find it. It was around that time that she read this quote in class:

This really spoke to me, and inspired me a great deal through the pregnancy. Being a mom has definitely proven that it was worth turning my life upside down! So I’d like to share this with you today, and encourage you to embrace the change, big or small, because you never know if life will be better upside down! 

Oatmeal “cupcakes”

Being a nursing mom, there’s one thing that I spend a fair amount of my baby’s nap times doing.  No, sadly not sleeping.  Eating.  I eat A LOT!  While originally I was concerned about when I was going to lose the weight, I found that what I was really concerned about was when I could stop wearing maternity jeans and wear “real clothes” again.  Well, during all of the planning of workouts and counting of calories I discovered that what is far more important to me than that is producing enough milk to feed my tiny boy with a seemingly monstrous appetite.  Once again, the pinterest searching began, looking for ways to hide those ingredients that are supposed to help with milk supply.  I’ve stayed away from the brewer’s yeast, partly because of the hassle of getting the right thing, and partly because everyone seems to think it tastes awful, but what I do eat in fairly large quantities is oats and flax seeds.  I’m not the biggest fan of morning oatmeal – I’m a savory breakfast person, and so oatmeal just doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve been making chocolate, almond butter “energy balls”, which are fantastic, but take a block of time to prepare, thereby taking up all of the time during one of my son’s naps when I could have actually been eating or showering, or doing any of those other things that simply need to be done in order for life to work.  So, I decided to try to come up with something a little quicker, or at least less involved.  Out came the cupcake pan and the silicone liners, and a few of my pantry staples.  Within minutes, these were in the oven, and 20 minutes after that they were cooling to go into the fridge.  I use the term “cupcake” fairly loosely here, purely because I don’t have another name for them at the moment, but I’ll gladly take suggestions!

To make these I literally took all of the ingredients and threw them in a bowl.  After mixing, I distributed everything into the silicone cases, topped them up with water, and put them in the oven.  Done and done.  So foolproof that even I, with my mommy brain, managed not to screw it up (unless you count accidentally throwing the measuring cup in the trash and then spending 10 minutes looking for it!).  And it’s completely customizable with any ingredients you like.  Can’t eat nuts?  Just leave them out.  Don’t like coconut?  Swap it for something.  Don’t have applesauce?  Switch it for banana, or just leave it out.  You get the idea.  Mine are not particularly sweet because I don’t add any sugar, but you could sweeten them if that’s your thing.  If you come up with other flavor combinations I’d love to hear about them!

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup each of your fillings
    • chocolate chips
    • coconut
    • dried apricot
    • chopped walnuts
    • anything and everything you like!
  • pinch salt
  • water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Line a 12 hole cupcake pan with silicone cases (or paper cases)
  3. Mix all ingredients together
  4. Distribute between cases
  5. Top up with water – just below the top of the filling, you don’t want it too wet
  6. Bake for 20 minutes
  7. Store in the fridge once cool

Chocolate walnut couronnes

This is not the post I had planned for this week.  I was hoping to get my next baby project posted, but sadly it’s taking more time to finish than I anticipated.  So, instead, I baked.

My husband and I have recently starting binge watching the Great British Bake Off, and it makes me want to bake.  A lot.  I shouldn’t be surprised by this given my affinity for baked goods.  Apparently, at the age of 3, when asked what I wanted for Christmas, I responded with “some cake”, and at the age of 5 or 6 I asked my Mum to teach me to bake without a mixer, in case at some point in my life I didn’t have one and still felt a compulsion to bake.  So what I wanted to bake first was some kind of sweet bread.  I would have loved to start with a traditional Cornish saffron cake, but my husband isn’t a big fan, and he tends to get mad when I bake for people who aren’t him!  So instead, I was planning to make a Croatian povitica.  That is, until I looked at the recipe and saw that the dough would need to be stretched out to 1m in length, and that just isn’t going to happen in my mournfully small kitchen.  So, option 2 was a couronne.  This is a twisted sweet bread named for it’s crown-like shape.  The one on the show was filled with apricots and marzipan, which sounds delicious to me, but my husband wasn’t loving that idea.  I’m not much of a traditionalist with much food – I’m all for changing things up to suit different purposes.  In this vein, I switched out the filling for something closer to that of a povitica, although I’ll say now that I didn’t really follow a recipe so much as look at a list of ingredients and make something up.  I also decided to make 6 small ones instead of 1 large one.

I made a couple of substitutions to the dough itself.  I didn’t have any bread flour, and with a 5 month old I’m not dealing with the hassle of the grocery store for 1 ingredient.  So I used regular all purpose flour instead.  I also didn’t have instant yeast in my pantry, but I did have a jar of active yeast in the fridge, so I used that instead and just converted the quantity.  The rest of the ingredients and instructions for the dough were following Paul Hollywood’s recipe, which you can find here.  OK, one other substitution I should admit to – I made it in my mixer and just finished the kneading by hand.  Tired Mommy arms and all that…

Once the dough was made and rising, I started on the filling.  I creamed 1/4 cup butter with 1/3 cup sugar until pale and, well, creamy.  I then beat in 1 egg yolk, followed by 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa and finally 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.  The walnuts could have been finer, but I wanted there to be a bit of texture instead of the filling just being paste.

To assemble the couronnes, I basically followed the instructions in the original recipe except that after rolling the dough I cut it into 6.  I spread the filling onto each in a fairly thin layer and rolled them tightly from one of the long sides.  I did find it helpful to pinch the seams closed before cutting the rolls in half lengthwise, and then twisting the pieces around each other.  Once twisted, I curled the ends around to make circles and transferred the couronnes to a baking sheet.  Next time, I’ll probably reduce the width of the initial rectangle so that the 6 pieces aren’t as long and either have them be wider or a little thicker to make the rolls smaller but thicker.

The recipe stated to glaze with apricot jam, but since I didn’t have any, and I’d already separated an egg to put the yolk into the filling, I used the beaten egg white to glaze them.  I did this once they’d been in a 400 F oven for 20 minutes, and then put them back in for another 5.  The final step is the icing, which has to be done once they’ve cooled.  For this I used the icing that I put on my scones when I bake them.  It’s very simple, just powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract.  The exact quantities aren’t overly critical, it depends on what consistency you’re going for.  All I would suggest is to add the liquid very very gradually – it doesn’t take much to make it too runny.  You can use water instead of milk, and switch the vanilla extract for something else or leave it out altogether if you prefer.  I didn’t want the hassle of cleaning a piping bag for something so small, so I used a snack sized zip top bag with one corner cut off.  Put the icing into the bag, squeeze out the remaining air and seal the top.  Cut one of the bottom corners off (the amount you cut will determine how fine your piping is) and squeeze.  Then just throw it out when you’re done!

OK, they might not win me any baking championships any time soon.  But that’s not going to stop me eating them all before my husband gets home fighting my husband for them when he gets home from work!

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Chocolate Walnut Couronnes

For the dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 packet instant yeast or 2 1/4 tsp active dried yeast

1/4 cup butter, softened

3 1/2 oz milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the filling:

1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

For finishing:

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1/4 – 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1-2 drops vanilla extract

1/2 – 1 tsp milk or water

 

To make the dough:

Put the flour into the bowl of a mixer, add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix until a soft dough has formed.  Knead until the dough is soft and smooth.

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

Cream the butter and sugar until pale.  Beat in the egg yolk.  Stir in the cocoa and walnuts.

Then, assemble the couronnes:

Pre-heat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.  Roll the dough out into a large rectangle and cut width-wise into 6 even pieces.  Spread the filling on each piece, leaving a gap around the edge.  Roll each piece tightly from the long edge, and then cut in half lengthwise, leaving a small piece attached at one end to make the twisting easier.  Twist the 2 pieces together like a rope and join the ends to form a circle.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Glaze with the egg white and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.  Once cool, finish with a drizzle of icing.

Pre-baby freezer stocking list and Cornish pasty recipe

As I mentioned when writing my toad in the hole recipe, the best idea I had in my final weeks of pregnancy was to fill my freezer to the brim with pre-made food.  I will start with a disclaimer here – I have a compulsive need to organize things, and there’s almost nothing I love more than a good spreadsheet.  Seriously, it comes right after family, friends, wine and chocolate!  So, armed with my trusty laptop, I spent many, many hours searching the internet for recipes that sounded good, and arranged them all in my mind-saving spreadsheet for easy access.

Now I realize that this doesn’t sound fun to some (OK, let’s try 99% of) people.  And so, what I’d like to do with the first part of this post is to share my own for you all to use as you wish.  The only thing that I have removed from the spreadsheet is the highlighting that I used to keep track of what I’d made and what was still to be done.  It’s a small thing, but I really recommend doing that as you go.  My list was really big, and my mental capacity at the time was teeny tiny!  It’s amazing we manage to get through pregnancy at all, with all of the things our darling unborn children do us along the way!

In it’s full form, this spreadsheet also included many other sheets, including our baby registry list, contact info for various people (in all seriousness, my husband could barely remember my name by the time we got to the hospital, we needed lists!), packing lists, lists of classes we were taking, and a few other things.  If you want a more comprehensive version, let me know and I’ll send it to you.  For now, this is purely my recipe list.  I didn’t actually get everything on this list made, mainly because my apartment contains a somewhat sorry excuse for a freezer, but I have since had everything on the list, and I personally like all of the recipes.  For things that don’t need a recipe, or for recipes that I already had myself, I just listed freezing instructions.  You’ll see when you look at it.  The spreadsheet is freely available for you to download.

Freezer list.

There is something on this list that you may not be overly (or at all) familiar with if you’re not from the UK, and that is Cornish pasties.  This is something that I have been eating since I was a child, because my Mum’s side of the family are all from Cornwall, and it’s one of those things that would always put a smile on my face when my Mum made them for us.  Originally, they were something that the tin miners would have had for lunch, with a savory filling at one end a sweet filling at the other end.  The folded crust made it nice and sturdy to hold, and would be thrown away so that they didn’t have to try to scrub their hands clean in the middle of a mine.  They’re very simple in terms of ingredients, but if you want to make the pastry from scratch, they can be time consuming.  The list does include a link to a recipe from the BBC website for shortcrust pastry if this is a route that you want to take.  I have to admit that I have never been good at making pastry.  Scratch that.  I’m terrible at it.  I have almost no issues with baking cakes, breads, other baked items.  But when it comes to pastry, the only success I’ve ever had is a recipe that uses a food processor and makes a sweet shortcrust pastry for a chocolate ganache pie.  So, being heavily pregnant and easily annoyed by almost anything, I cheated and used pre-made pie crust.  Does it taste as good as when my Mum makes it?  No.  Is it good enough when you’ve barely slept and only have 5 minutes to eat?  Hell yes.  The other ingredients are potato, onion, swede (also called turnip or rutabega, depending on where you are.  Only the Cornish call it turnip though, don’t confuse it with the small white things that the rest of us know as turnips!) and chuck steak.  You don’t even need to pre-cook anything.  We always used plates as templates to cut the pastry – side plates for smaller ones, dinner plates for large ones.  And when I say large, I mean enormous.  A side plate sized one is plenty for most people.

To make the pasties, cut your pastry into circles, and fill one side with a decent heap of diced potato, swede and onion.  Add some steak, also diced, and season with salt and pepper.  Fold the other side over, and use either milk or egg wash to make sure that the edges seal together.  Fold the sealed crust inwards, similar to a calzone, and transfer to a baking sheet.  Poke a hole in the side to let the steam escape, brush with milk or egg wash, and bake at 350 F for around 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Done.  Personally I think they’re best hot with tomato ketchup, but they work cold too.  If you’re making a batch and freezing them, cook them, let them cool, wrap each one individually in foil and then freeze them all together in a large ziploc bag.  Then you can just pull out as many as you need, unwrap them and reheat from frozen in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes.  I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you give them a try please let me know how they turn out!

 

Hyperbolic crochet ball

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my pregnancy prompted an almost obsessive desire for crafting baby things.  This was, of course, accompanied by an almost obsessive amount of reading up on things that would help my son developmentally.  I was wanting to make all kinds of baby toys, and I saw many many posts of balls.  Great, I thought.  I can make those and stuff them.  But, it also occurred to me that it would be a while before he would be able to hold spherical objects, and would probably just end up accidentally throwing them across the floor, much to everyone’s annoyance.  This is when I came across the concept of hyperbolic crochet.  Despite it’s somewhat intimidating name, this is actually really really simple.  It just involves doubling the number of stitches per round.  (Being a nerd, I feel like exponential crochet would be a more apt name, but what can you do?!).  The simplicity of it makes this a great project for anyone, regardless of crochet skill level.  So, armed with a nice bright color yarn and the recommended size crochet hook, I dove right in.

What you’ll need:

Yarn (your choice of color) – for the best contrast, go with white and edge it in black, otherwise just go for something bright and colorful.

Crochet hook – since my yarn was a size 3 (light weight), I used a 3.5mm hook, but you can adjust this to suit your needs.  If you wanted a small ball, go with thread and a small hook, for a bigger one, chunky yarn and a bigger hook.

Stitch marker (optional) – I worked the ball in spirals rather than joining at the end of each round, so a stitch marker was helpful.  If you choose to join at the end of each round, you can get by without one.  If you don’t want to buy special stitch markers, a paperclip works very well.

To make a hyperbolic ball:

Round 1: chain 6, join to the first chain with a slip stitch

Round 2: sc in each chain around (6 sc)

Round 3: 2 sc in each stitch around (12 sc)

Round 4: 2 sc in each stitch around (24 sc)

Repeat this process of 2 stitches in each one until you have a ball of the size you want.  Mine was about 9 rounds in total.  Finish with a round of 1 sc in each stitch (using a contrasting color if wanted), fasten off and weave in the ends.  Don’t worry about making it fold – it’ll do that all by itself, leaving you with a great texture covered in folds that are perfect for tiny hands to grab on to.  If you make this for your little one, I’d love to know what they think of it!  I had to wait until mine was asleep to take a picture of it, seeing as he rarely puts it down!

 

Crocheted plastic bag plastic bag holder

No, that’s not a typo you see in the title.  This is my plastic bag holder that I crocheted using plastic bags.  You know, the kind that you get 800 of from a trip to the grocery store where, if your local store is anything like mine, 2 would have been sufficient.  Despite my best efforts, we too frequently grabbed a few items on the way home from work without enough forward planning to have taken reusable bags with us.  And so began the mountain of plastic bags that ended up in our pantry.  My original plan was just to make something to store them in, but while rooting through my yarn stash I remembered just how versatile crochet can be in terms of it’s starting materials.  I originally learned to crochet because I wanted to make a flower to go on a bag that I was making, and I definitely got bitten by the crochet bug.  Despite spending years watching my Mom and Grandmother knit at what can only be described as the speed of light, knitting just never worked for me.  I never really understood shaping, and while I can get a half decent square or rectangle out of it, I just couldn’t get my head around anything more complicated than that.  Crochet on the other hand was a completely different story.  There’s something about it that’s inherently easier for me to understand, whether it involves changing the shape, changing the stitch styles, or a combination of the two.

Early on in my crochet journey, a friend mentioned something to me about crocheting with old t-shirts, allowing you to mix up fabrics and colors without spending a fortune on yarn.  It had never even occurred to me that something like that would even be a possibility.  So, when I started looking into how to make a plastic bag holder, it occurred to me that maybe I could kill two birds with one stone, and upcycle some of the bags by using them to make a holder for the others.  While looking around on the internet, I discovered that this is apparently not a new concept.  It’s typically referred to as plarn – plastic yarn.  I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After all, how many times have you come home from the grocery store and found the bag barely holding together because something ripped a tiny hole in the side which rapidly grew into the size of a small crater?!  But it turns out that this stuff is actually much sturdier to crochet with than it is to make bags out of. The reason is that it’s cut into small strips which end up being used at double thickness once they’ve been attached together.  This does, however, have a downside – it’s not particularly easy to work with because it isn’t that flexible.  I remember having to put it down and take a break at times because the plarn was hurting my hands.

Making the plarn on the other hand, is really really easy.  Take your plastic bag and cut off the bottom and the handles, leaving you with a tube.  Leave the sides in tact.  Then, fold it or roll it to make it easier to work with, and cut it into strips about 1/2 – 1 inch wide.  The exact width doesn’t matter, as long as they’re more or less the same, so don’t worry about trying to measure or be exact with it.  Unfold each piece – you should now have several circles.  To make one long piece, start joining them together.  Lay one on top of another and pull one end of the bottom circle through the top one.  Pull the top loop back through the bottom one, and gently pull them until a knot forms (sorry if that’s not the best explanation, hopefully the pictures will help!).  Keep joining more and more loops onto the end, giving you one long strand of plarn.  At some point you’ll want to start rolling it into a ball to keep it all under control.  If you start turning it into a center pull ball, then you can keep adding to the outer end while rolling from the inside.  I found this particularly useful, since I had no idea how much plarn I would need, so doing this allowed me to add extra bags as I was going.  There’s a good tutorial on how to do this here.  Now you have a ball of plarn, it’s time to start crocheting!

To make this plastic bag holder, you’ll need:

Your ball of plarn

2 elastic hair ties (you can use rubber bands if you want, but I find hair ties are easier to work with)

Crochet hook – the size isn’t too important, just make sure it isn’t too small because the tighter you make this, the more difficult the plarn is to work with.  I wouldn’t go with anything smaller than 6mm, but bigger would be fine.  It depends on what size you want, how tight you crochet and how pliable you find the plarn.

Row 1: Crochet around the first hair tie with single crochet.  My hair ties were old and getting a little stretched out, so for me this ended up being 18 sc.  The numbers I’ll use from here on are based on this, but if yours are different it isn’t important, you can add or remove stitches as necessary.

Row 2: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in each stitch around (36 dc).

Row 3: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in next stitch, repeat around (54 dc)

Row 4-18 (ish): chain 6 (counts as 1 dc and chain 4), skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch, *chain 4, skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch* repeat around.  From here on you’ll be working in spirals.  When you get back around to where you started row 4, there will be some overlap between the first and last set of chains and dc – just keep counting in 5s and working your way around to create a mesh – you want the dcs to be staggered from one round to the next.  Keep this going until you have a tube of the size that you want.   For me, this ended up being 15 rounds.

Row 19: dc in each stitch around (54 dc)

Row 20: dc2tog in each stitch around (27 dc)

Row 21: dc2tog in first stitch, dc in next stitch, repeat around (18 dc)

Row 22: sc in each stitch, crocheting around second hair tie

Row 23: chain required length for hanging loop (for me this was 14), sc in next stitch of row 22.  Fasten off and weave in ends.

And there you have it – an upcycled plastic bag holder that’s totally customizable for your needs and preferences.  Seeing as I already had all of the materials, this project cost me absolutely nothing!

Please note: you’re welcome to use this pattern for your own use and to make items to sell, but please link any posts back here.  Thanks!