Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Brownies and the Bachelor

Oh, the Bachelor! What in the world is going on with this season? Has there ever been a woman as abrasive and sickening as Courtney? It makes me ill to think that there are women out there who really believe that using mind (and body) games and manipulation to "win" a man is acceptable! It shows so little respect for men and her extreme arrogance...it's painful.

"I wonder if he's ever gone skinny-dipping with a model before?"  


My two favorites are Casey B. and Emily, they are genuine and smart and very 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get.' It must be maddening to have to live 24 hours a day in a small space with Courtney and her obnoxious facial expressions. Even though I see Emily digging her own grave every time she bashes Courtney to Ben, I can sympathize with her and it would be tough not to try to take the whole thing into your own hands. Frustrating! And Ben, get a haircut, man!


Luckily for me, yesterday afternoon, I was craving brownies and made a yummy batch so I had one (or five) to sweeten the whole Bachelor experience. These are "The Brownies of My Dreams." I ruled out a lot of recipes before I found them and believe you me, I have a pretty specific set of guidelines. I don't like crisp edges, chewiness, icing, filling or cake-like texture. I love dense, dark chocolately, not too sweet, European style brownies. Nuts and chocolate chips are fine in the right proportions.  After trying many recipes and reading many more, I've determined the things you need to look for in a good brownie recipe (if you have the same brownie needs as myself, of course).

-Not too much flour. If the recipe calls for a ratio of more than 1 cup of flour to
5-7 oz. chocolate, then it's going to be cakey. Cakey = not good.
-Lots of chocolate. Calls for melted chocolate, not just cocoa powder.
-Calls for eggs but NOT baking powder or soda. Powder or soda makes them too fluffy and cake-like.
-Calls for butter, not oil.

Here they are!

I cut them small because I like my chocolate bite-sized and often.

The Brownies of My Dreams:
1 stick of butter
2 T. of strong, brewed coffee (Is there any other kind, really?)
6-7 oz. of bittersweet or semi-sweet baking chocolate or a combination 
2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350, grease a piece of parchment paper (or foil) to line an 8x8 baking pan.

Melt butter and chocolate in a small saucepan, add cocoa powder, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Continue stirring over low heat until sugar mostly dissolved. Remove from heat.

Lightly beat 3 eggs in a separate small bowl or cup, slowly add about a cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs stirring constantly, then add eggs back into the saucepan, still stirring. (This is called tempering the eggs and it's a really important step, nobody likes scrambled egg curls in their brownies.) Add salt then whisk in flour a little at a time until smooth. If you want nuts or chocolate chips, stir them in now.

Pour a bit of batter onto the parchment (helps weigh it down while you fold corners like wrapping a package so that you'll end up with a nice square edge). Add the rest of the batter. The good thing about baking with parchment is you can just lift the whole pan of brownies out and onto a cutting board after they cool. It would be great for cakes and things too!
I used foil because I'm out of parchment, but parchment is best.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick or fork comes out with crumbs stuck to it. If the stick comes out clean, then they are overdone.

Delightful, delectable, brownies of my dreams...I think I'll have one now.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A few ways to tell for sure that you are in NOLA

1) Trees are blooming and budding and it is January.

2) It's 65-75 degrees outside and it is January.

3) It's 65 degrees outside in January, you and your family are dressed in short sleeves, but the locals are wearing turtleneck sweaters, tights, and wool coats.

4) Because it's a beautiful 70 degreese outside, you decide to grill out. When you stop at a convenience store for charcoal, they tell you they only sell it in the summer.

5) You go to a church potluck and approximately half the dishes contain seafood.

6) The fact that half the dishes at a church potluck contain seafood doesn't surprise you or send you screaming "FOOD POISONING" in the other direction, you proceed to eat it and pronounce it delicious.

7) You can run around the corner for beignets. (Or, as I like to call them, "Beign-YAYS!")

8) A wondrous thing called Praline Bacon exists here and is available to delight your tastebuds. (GO TO Elizabeth's)

9) You see signs for drive-through daiquiris. (You just can't put the straw in the cup until you arrive at your destination.)

10) The only thing that outnumbers the lifesize, blow-up football players in front yards are the number of friendly people you meet everywhere!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Little Man Letterman Sweater Tutorial

I like cardigans and sweaters for boys that have something different or unique about them. One glance through the girls section at Target yields a cartful of fun clothes, but for the boys it's all fleece zip-ups, hoodies, and sweatshirts. We have our share of those, some very cute! Maybe it's because college basketball season is in full swing,  but vintagey looking sportswear with all of its stripes and letters and embroidery has been on my mind!

So I picked up an X-Large, men's t-shirt for $4.99, a little piece of gray, ribbed knit from Hancocks, and raided my button bag and ribbon scrap box to make this:

Here's how!

Create Pattern Pieces:
Grab a loose fitting long sleeved t-shirt that fits your little cutie, a fabric marker, scissors and the men's t-shirt (or similar knit fabric). Use the child's shirt as a template and trace a back and a front piece giving a little extra width if need be so that the cardigan won't be too snug. I positioned these front and back pieces so that I could use the existing t-shirt hem as the bottom of my cardigan (saved a little time). Trace the front piece just like the t-shirt, we will make it into two pieces in the next step. Now trace two sleeves but don't taper them to the wrist! You want to cut them straight from the underarm to the cuff. Cut out your four pieces. (See rough sketch of pattern pieces below)

Front Opening:
Take the front piece and fold it in half so that the fold is along what will become the front opening. Take your marker and trace a curve from the shoulder to about the middle of the front (in a very gradual, gentle 'v'). Cut along this line and then straight up the fold from the bottom. Now you will have a left and right front piece with a "v" neck. Here are the basic shapes you should have once you're done cutting.

Attach front to back and add sleeves:
With right sides together stitch front and back pieces together at the shoulders. Next, take a sleeve and match the shoulder seam to the top center of the sleeve, pin and sew. Repeat for the other side. (You should have open sides and open sleeves).

Front Edge and Collar:
For the collar and front edging, cut a 5 1/2 to 6 inch wide strip of ribbed knit (with the grain) long enough to line the front opening, go around the neckline then back down the front plus a little extra for seam allowance on each bottom end. Fold the strip in half with right sides together and sew across each bottom end. Now turn right sides out (this will leave you with clean, finished bottom edges).

Now pin the doubled strip of ribbed knit to the right side of the cardigan opening-matching raw edges. Sew all the way around using a stretch stitch or zig-zag stitch set on 0 stitch width, finish seam using serger or zig-zag.


Now flip the ribbed knit "open" and topstitch (still using a stretch stitch) all the way around the seam of cardigan and ribbed knit. This helps it stay put, cleans up the seam inside and gives a more professional finish.

Here's the inside.

Sleeve Stripes:
For the sleeve stripes, you could use single fold bias tape or strips of knit fabric, I used twill tape. The red is poly (but it feels and looks like cotton) and the gray is cotton that used to be handles on an Anthropologie bag (Ha! That's a lesson in not throwing away anything textile related :)!

Lay the sleeve flat, position the trim in rows, straight across the sleeve and pin in place. Raw ends are fine, they will be sewn into the seam when you stitch the sleeves closed. Sew the trim in place, stitching along each edge.

To Close up the Sides and Sleeves:
Turn the cardigan right sides together, and pin, matching raw edges, all the way from the bottom edge to the armpit then down the sleeve to wrist opening. Sew together using a stretch stitch, finish raw edges and repeat this process for the other side.

For the cuffs, cut two rectangles of ribbed knit 4 inches wide and as long as the circumference of your child's wrist plus 1/2 inch. Ribbed knit is stretchy in all directions, but most stretchy against the grain. The ribs should be perpendicular to the long side of your cuff so that they are nice and stretchy (check out the photos just to double check).

Fold the cuff in half with right sides together and sew along short sides of the rectangle, press seam open.  Turn cuff right side out and fold double so that the two long, raw edges are together and the seam is hidden inside. Now put cuff around sleeve (right sides together) matching raw edges and seams, pin in place. You will need to stretch the cuff open as you pin so that the sleeve is evenly spaced, now stitch the sleeve and cuff together (important to use a stretch stitch here) stretching cuff open as you sew. Trim raw edges if needed and finish seam with serger or zig-zag. Repeat for the other cuff.

 It will look a little wonky on the inside, but awesome and professional when you turn it to the right side!

Buttons and Buttonholes:
Last step! Starting just under the "v," mark button and buttonhole placement on the ribbed knit edge. I used 3 buttons, you could do less or more depending on the cardigan size. I did not reinforce the buttonholes with interfacing, that wouldn't be a bad idea, but the double layer of knit holds its shape pretty well.

I LOVE how it turned out. It's comfy and wearable and lightweight enough for a NOLA winter. Imagine how stinkin' cute this would be in a newborn size! Good thing I've got some friends having baby boys soon!

Go Team!!  C---A---T---S!  CATS, CATS, CATS!!

I'm toying with the idea of adding a letter P, I went so far as to cut it out of felt and back it with interfacing. The next step was going to be adding french knots all over, really close together to give it that old-fashioned, "carpeted" letter look, but I'm not sure. I don't want this to look overly 'costumey.' It is, however, an option and could be super cute!

P.S. If you sew up one of these, I would love to know how it goes! Leave comments or add some pictures to my Flickr group "You Sewed" and maybe be featured on my blog. Just click the Flickr tab under the header!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Bring-Me-Some-Spring" Reversible Coat

I've been completely fascinated by this season of Project Run and Play, the things that these ladies are whipping out week after week is amazing! They have such great ideas and even better, they are able to execute them! This week is outerwear and since I had snagged the perfect fabric (I've been eyeing it for weeks and waiting for a sale. Finally got it for $3.99 a yard! Yes!) I decided to go ahead and sew it up so that I could "Sew Along."

I'm so happy with how it turned out. I call it the "Bring-Me-Some-Spring" Reversible Coat, because while it might still be a little sober, dark and gray outside, the bright colors and sunny, blue skies of spring are just around the corner...

(Get it?  Reversible coat... ;)

I love this lightweight, gray suiting fabric! It is soft and sturdy, warm but not bulky(bulky is bad for the ol' carseat) and machine washable. I saw it on the shelves in the fall and thought it was perfect for a boy coat. The line of bright blue is still playful enough for little guys and the dashed white line gives it a 'ticking' stripe feel. Both sides of the jacket have welt pockets (with a fun, contrasting color inside).

The fall and winter side has corduroy covered buttons. The underside of the collar is bright blue and because this coat is size 2/3 the sleeves are a little long but P will be able to wear it all through next year-I like the cuffs and pop of color that they add.

The spring side is a soft, baby wale corduroy in what I refer to as eye-popping blue. The buttons are flaming red stitched on with sunny yellow thread. I love the colors and I think P will wear this a lot during the cool spring months when we are all craving warm weather but it's still too cold for warm weather clothes.

Shoo, catching this guy in one place was a chore! I kept standing him where I wanted then sprinting away to snap a few photos then repeating the whole process again. It's worth it!

I used the 2-in-1 Reversible Coat pattern from Figuerosa and LePage's book Sewing for Boys but I added welt pockets to both sides. It's a really great pattern with lots of room for adapting to your own taste and style. I kept it pretty simple to reduce bulk and because I like simple clothes for boys!

Peter Pan Hat PDF

I am finally getting around to posting the PDF pattern for the hat that I made for P's Peter Pan Halloween costume. I made the pattern "from scratch" so only for personal use, thank you! This could easily be used for a Robin Hood, medieval archer, elf, or brownie costume as well, use your imagination! I think dress-up is so fun for little guys. I can't wait until P understands! I have great plans for the best dress-up box in the history of the WORLD... (cue maniacal laughter) Anyway...it keeps them busy and thinking and creative and playing actively, which is awesome.

Click on the picture above to download or print.
**NOTE**: On the pattern I typed "Pin WRONG side of brim to wrong side of hat." It should be "Pin RIGHT side of brim to wrong side of hat" so that when you flip the brim to the outside all seams are hidden. My apologies! I'll change that on the pattern when I get a chance. 

Because of the shape of this hat, I think you could probably use it for any child from 1 year to 3 or 4 years old. Just measure first and add a little extra fabric if you need to. For best results, make this hat out of felt.

P.S. If you make this I would love to see how it goes! Leave some comments or send pics!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fabric Covered Buttons

I love adding fabric covered buttons to my projects. They can always go sweet and girly or funky and modern, but they're also great for boys since masculine trims and decorations are so limited. Buttons can add that little something extra and still be boyish. They're a great way to give new life to an old garment, adding them to a coat or cardigan is an easy upgrade and can give that sort of "vintagey/Anthropologie" feel that I'm crazy about (notice next time you go shopping how many really nice garments have fabric covered buttons).

I always use the Dritz brand, half-ball cover buttons, these are 3/4" size ($2.99 for 4). They are really easy to assemble without any tools and are very sturdy and secure after assembly, but you do have the option of prying off the backing if you make a mistake or need to change fabrics. The ones that require a tool cannot be undone. These can be thrown in the washer and dryer and come in many different sizes.

Purchase your buttons, when you open it up you'll find an equal number of curved front pieces and flat back pieces. Raid the scrap bag and cut rounds just a little larger on all sides than the button. (There is a template and some brief instructions on the back of the Dritz box.). One thing that I always do is sandwich a small circle of interfacing approximately the same size as the button between the button and fabric. The metal is so shiny that after stretching the fabric around the cover, it can still reflect through-even if it's not sheer. This takes away from the quality, something akin to wearing a flimsy dress without a slip. :)

Next use your thumbs to pull the fabric up and over the edges of the cover, catching it on the spikes. Once it is relatively smooth and evenly distributed, grab the button backing and pop it on. Easy peasy...

And with rewarding results!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What is happening here?!

A few weeks ago I had a sweet little baby boy. He was mischievious and into everything, but relatively unaware of his misdemeanors.

Now, I am seeing a new side of this little man. Those of you with bigger children will be laughing at me and saying "Duh." I was surprised the first time he looked me in the face and deliberately did what he was instructed not to do. I was even more surprised when, after I took away a household item that he had decided was a fun toy, he screamed and tried to hit me. I've always known he had a little heart in need of grace (just like myself), but I had just never seen it so clearly.

I definitely didn't see it in 2010! Look at that face!

So...I consulted a few parenting books and decided on time out for his particular age and level of understanding. Happiest Toddler On the Block reccommends starting out by simply taking your child to another room (away from the situation at hand), leaving them there and walking out-using the "kind ignoring" technique. Then gradually you start a timer and persist in putting the child back into time out when he or she gets up. I have to tell you, P seemed to find this absolutely delightful. I knew the system wasn't working when every time-out session ended in fits of giggles and with P peeking through a crack in the door where I was watching to make sure he didn't get into anything.

So, last week I bought a time-out booster seat. It stays in the corner of our office with a kitchen timer beside it and I am commencing to faithfully administer time-outs. This discipline thing is one of those child rearing issues you don't think about when you are "oohing" and "ahhing" over soft, miniscule baby clothes at baby showers...unless it's a shower like the one we threw for C a few months ago. The guests went around and gave a piece of baby advice as C opened her gifts. It was funny and sweet and informational all at the same time.

"Enjoy every moment, they grow up too fast."

"Write down those little things they say and do because you won't remember it later."

"Don't feed your baby Vienna sausages at public events like piano recitals" (Thanks for that one, Ashley)

...all true and all great suggestions.

One I remember clearly was from C's Mom, she said:

"Someone has got to be in charge, it had better be you."

Amen, Mrs. H!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Constructing a Welt Pocket

I used a new technique yesterday and I am so excited! I have all kinds of ideas brewing on what to do with these clever little pockets and I can't wait to share it with you so that you can plaster welt pockets onto everything too!

Welt Pockets in 10 Steps:

1) Decide how wide you want the opening of your pocket. (The one pictured is 4 1/2" for cold, little toddler paws.) Mark the length and position on the right side of your pattern piece and back this area with fusible interfacing.  The large rectangle marked around the pocket opening represents the interfaced area.

2) Cut welt and pocket pieces. (one welt and one pocket per welt pocket)
Cut a strip that is 1/2" longer on each end than the pocket opening (a little extra is fine, you can trim later before tucking in the raw ends) and twice the width that you want for the finished welt. Back this with fusible interfacing, fold it in half longways with wrong sides together and press (it's important that the long raw edges match perfectly).
Pocket Pouch:
This piece is shaped roughly like a kidney bean for this type of pocket placement but it would be a rectangle if you were adding welt pockets to the back of shorts or pants. The pocket needs to be 1/4" wider on each side than the pocket opening (the center crease pictured above is the area you need to measure, the length is up to you-deep pockets, shallow pockets, medium pockets, you choose!) Fold the pocket piece right sides together and press.

3) Match long raw edges of welt piece along pocket opening line. Pin in place. Lay pocket, right side down over the welt, matching pocket opening line and the pocket crease. Pin in place.  (concave portion of the kidney bean/pocket pouch should be facing down)

4) Now use chalk or disappearing ink to mark stitching lines, 1/4" from the crease on each side and 1/4" from the pocket edges on each end. Stitch along marked line.

6) Press pocket to each side, creasing along seams (this will help when you turn the pocket to the inside).

6) Unfold. Inside the stitched rectangle, mark a straight line up the center and short diagonals from each corner. Carefully snip through all thicknesses along these lines, not cutting stitches.

7) Turn pocket and short raw pocket ends to the inside. With right sides together, match raw edges and sew pocket closed, sewing as close to the welt as possible without sewing through it. If the garment is unlined, finish pocket edges with zig-zag stitch or serger.

8) Now trim welt ends to 1/2" past pocket opening and tuck raw ends inside. I used the end of a writing pen to help do this.

9) Fold welt down and pin in place. Repeat on the other end.

10) Topstitch along each welt end. That's it! I did four of these babies in about half an hour, no sweat and very rewarding results! Use a heavy, duty needle for the topstitching!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Abundant: Think it Through Thursday (on Friday...)

My husband and I were chatting the other day about New Year's Resolutions. It's been the topic of everything from radio shows to magazine articles to blog posts to...well, you get the idea. W said he thought a New Year's resolution was kind of silly, he thinks we should have resolutions and make changes all year long. I said I agreed, but that I also think there's something motivating about a fresh start. Although it can also be an excuse to put off making changes, "Oh, yeah, I'm starting my diet TOMORROW." "AFTER New Year's I'm going to start doing the dishes."

There's a blog I follow called The Lettered Cottage, if you haven't read it you should check it out. Anyway, this week Layla posted about choosing a word for the year. Not really a "resolution" so much as an idea or an inspiration or a reminder. It seemed to me in glancing through the links over at Lettered Cottage, that most of the words that people chose were verbs relating to attitudes and outlooks on life.

Words are powerful. They can be truly hurtful or incredibly encouraging. They can tear people down or bolster their confidence. They can make a marriage stronger or destroy it. Prayer (through the work of the Holy Spirit) has power to change us, it humbles our hearts and teaches us to lean on the Father and it's a way for us to come into the presence of God and pour out our hearts in supplication for hurting or sick friends, family or strangers. Words are a gift and we need to take care not to wield them like weapons or use them to make excuses.

One of my favorite books in the world is Rachel Jankovic's, Loving the Little Years. If you are a Mama raising babies and toddlers it is an absolute must-read! There's a section in this book where Rachel writes about having a one year old, a two year old and newborn twins all at the same time (gives me some perspective with my single 19 month old). She describes the craziness and how incredibly hard it was. She goes on to say that during this time (changing diapers for 4 and nursing 2), she caught herself using the word "overwhelmed" several times a day-in answer to questions about how she was doing and also to herself. I'm sure that no one observing her life would have called her nuts or selfish for feeling "overwhelmed," but Rachel said she realized that in a way she was throwing herself a pity party. She decided to cut that word out of her vocabulary, to dive into this hectic life that God had given her and tackle the work cheerfully. She replaced a negative word in her life with something positive and she said that there was a palpable change for the better in their household after her change of attitude.

We all do this with words. "I'm just worn out" or "I'm so stressed right now." These may be the truest words ever spoken, but maybe they shouldn't be spoken. Maybe take out these negative words and replace them with something positive. I know this is something I need to do on a daily basis. When my husband walks in and asks how my day was I often say "It was a LONG day." The unspoken insinuation being that it was very full of unpleasantness, too much to handle and I had to do lots of things I didn't want to do and the toddler ran me ragged (or didn't take a nap or shredded a whole roll of toilet paper or learned to climb on the dining room table or dropped an electric razor in the toilet...the list is endless). I'm going to start thinking of my days as "abundant" instead of burdened and long. I am abundantly blessed with work, abundantly blessed with friends and family and an awesome 19 month old and the best, kindest husband in the world.

I don't mean that I'm going to (or that I think anyone should) adopt a weird, sappy, sweet demeanor that just ignores hard, unpleasant, real-life stuff, but an attitude that says "I'm not going to dwell on the bad, I'm going to appreciate and revel in what I have." Imagine how great it would be if in 2012, everytime you start to say, "I'm so stressed, " you say "I am so blessed" or you think "I'm so annoyed" but instead you say "I'm overjoyed." It might seem a bit over-the-top at first, particularly if you start speaking in rhymes, but it could be a good reminder to chalk up all the many reasons you have to be thankful and give some perspective on the one or two that you may have to be legitimately stressed, annoyed or overwhelmed about.

Have an abundant year, everybody!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Hey, Mr. Knickerbocker!"

Thankfully, Barney has no place in this house, but when I started working on these knickers for Baby P, I remembered the song from when my sister (now 19) was a toddler and loved Barney and Baby Bop. She even had a Barney birthday party once. She caught a glimpse of the big, purple monstrosity and ran, terrified and shrieking, in the opposite direction...that's a good childhood memory. Anyway...

I made P some knickers. I don't know whether to call him "Squirmy" or "Bagger Vance." This little man is hard to catch in one place. He went from angelic to taking off his shoes to riding horsey on the arm of the couch in 2.5 seconds.

The back of these little shorts are pleated and have a strap and buckle to make the waist adjustable. Sort of a paper bag waist, boy style. They definitely have a 1920's or 30's schoolboy feel.

Here's P turning his pockets out, searching in vain for a rock he found on the playground. 

Got it! Yes!

Instead of using elastic around the legs, I did (backwards) box pleats in the middle front and back of the cuff. They're still comfy and with enough ease to do some climbing. I left them a tad on the long side so he can wear them into the spring...although it feels like spring year round here in NOLA. I like the idea of mixing a more modern, casual top with the knickers on bottom.

 This pic doesn't even show the shorts (I did not make the shirt or sweater), but I just couldn't resist those long, long eyelashes! Jealous, Maybelline?1

Blue suckers are 'da bomb" (dot) blogspot (dot) com! 

Oh, this great day is about to get even better!

Wonder of wonders, a train went by. P ran up to the sidewalk and plopped down on the ground to point and say "Oooohhh" and clap.

Bye, bye!