Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cooking: Mini Buttermilk Chocolate Bundt Cakes

This may be my all-time favorite chocolate cake. It's an individual sized buttermilk chocolate bundt cake, extremely moist, with butter frosting. Should be butter glaze but I am overly generous with it. It's difficult for me to stop eating it! My whole family loves it too! I love my father's reaction when I tell him this is what's for dessert! It's a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart's great pumpkin cake.

Click below for the recipe.

Christmas 2010: Details

We had a great Christmas with the girls! I love everything about Christmas, including wrapping presents. I've always loved wrapping gifts, in fact even had a job in highschool during the Christmas season wrapping gifts. I usually come up with some sort of theme and this year it was brown craft paper and burlap with different bows and bells and snowflake ornaments. I think a tree looks even more beautiful if the presents underneath are wrapped similarly, but I couldn't put mine out before Christmas Eve because wrapped gifts don't stay wrapped in our house very long! If you'd like to see some of the details, including our Christmas Day dessert and a few other things click below to read more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Card 2010

Here is this year's Christmas Card. I just got it in the mail yesterday. Next year I really am going to do this little project earlier so I am not doing the assembly line thing late at night so late in December (when I could be knitting or sewing or wrapping presents)!  The thing that set me back this year was the idea of using a photo of the girls in their Christmas dresses. We (probably more fair to say "I" as my husband thinks it's all much ado...) didn't do that last year and maybe won't next year. But I liked the idea of having them a bit dressed, probably because the card is being mailed with Tess' birth announcement so that makes the whole thing feel more formal to me.

Because they are mailing out together I wanted the two pieces to relate to each other a bit. I contacted the designer who did my Christmas card last year, Jill Means, and worked with her on this. I loved our card last year and Jill has some great off-the-shelf designs too. The custom approach made it possible to match fonts ("Bickham Script Pro" is the one with all the ligatures--I love it! and "MrsEaves Roman"). I was originally going to try and match paper and ink colors but with two different printers, two different designers and me all in different locations I opted to package the announcement with photo in its own vellum envelope so that they are companion pieces but don't need to feel as integrated. Probably I am the only one that even thinks about these sort of things, but I can't help it!

Some wringing-of-hands later I think it all worked. It's in the mail anyway.

So about the card. I kept thinking about how fortunate I am to have the miracles of three beautiful daughters. They seem angels to me and are likely the result of some angels above. It has made me think much about the Christmas carol, "Angels We Have Heard on High," which I love. More than most carols it makes me wish for a better voice! I wanted our card this year to feel joyful and thankful and I thought about using most of the first verse of the carol but ended up with the two references--to the Gloria chorus and the "gladsome tidings" the shepherds sing. I also thought the birth announcement was another gladsome tiding to be sharing this time of year. Once again, this type of thought may be lost on all the recipients but it makes it more meaningful for me.

As a sidenote, it is so fun to see the photos of the three girls together as they look so individual! Tess actually looks quite a bit like Audrey did as a baby but her coloring is lighter. We may have a blue-eyed girl in this mix afterall!

Such a merry Christmas!

Birth Announcement: Tess Augusta

I told myself I would do Tess' announcement immediately after her birth, but once again, I was busy doing other things. Seems we usually get them out about three months later. I guess Scarlett's was a bit quicker than that since hers went out with our Christmas card, but not by much. Anyway, I lean towards the formal and traditional when it comes to big life events such as a marriage or a birth so I like formal announcements. Ideally mailed in their own envelopes. But this year I am sending out this announcement with our Christmas card (again). the timing is just too close to not save a stamp and envelope (a tree or two?) and some time! It's not without a little bit of misgiving.

I love the announcement. I have a real thing for letterpress that began when I took a BookArts course in college and was lucky enough to use movable type and presses to make my own books. I'm hoping I get to do that again sometime. Audrey's and Scarlett's announcements were letterpress too and with any luck I'll use it again for their wedding invitations, but probably not so much in between as it's a bit of a splurge.

I love the fonts used on this, especially the script with all the ligatures for her name. And I love the illustration of fruits and flowers. I wanted something that felt like the warm abundance of August...  And I also LOVE the ink color (PMS 1788U). I think it is just perfect! I wanted something pink-orange-red, a good coral, on an off-white paper. Just keeping with the color palette used on her blanket and sweater and such.

We decided to pair this with one of the photos we took of Tess on her blessing day. It looks appropriately old fashioned to me and I think the creamy whites and peachy skin tones work well with the announcement colors.

I used A Printable Press (which has a pretty cool business model) to do the design work and Mercurio Brothers Printing for the printing, and despite the virtual (email/PDF/etc.) nature of the whole process for something so tactile,  it went really well (please ignore my intentional smudging in the photo)! And I'm going to mail them out in time for Christmas after all. Just barely.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knitting: Looped Scarflette Pattern

As predicted, my first Looped Scarflette has inspired some iterations. This is such a fun and quick knit! I just love the endless possibilities presented by combining two yarns! I finished the pattern in a few sizes: 18-24 months, 2-4 years, 4-6 years, and 6-8 years and it would be easy to upsize it for an older child. I listed it in my Etsy shop this weekend and just activated a coupon code to give my blog followers 25% off  for the next month! (UPDATE: Please note that the coupon expired in January of 2011)

This pink Scarflette is knit using Lion Brand Homespun yarn in Covered Bridge Red (a chunky, cat 5 yarn) and Lion Brand Jiffy yarn in Dusty Pink (another chunky, cat 5 yarn). This pink version may be my favorite because both yarns are a bit fuzzy, but each one I make is my favorite so it probably has more to do with the fact that it's the last one I've finished!

I do think after making a few of these now, that for children I prefer yarns with more acyrlic because they are softer and lighter weight.

I made this purple Scarflette for Audrey, because it is her favorite color, and because I just had to try another combination. It uses Vanna’s Choice yarn in Magenta (a worsted weight, cat 4) and Bernat Roving in Plum (a chunky, cat 5). I think it looks cute peeking out from her coat.

And I also love it with this chartreuse shirt! Such a great color combination.

I would love to knit some of these for my nieces. To my advantage is the fact that this project takes just a couple hours and is perfect for stash yarn--you could probably make three Scarflettes from two skeins of yarn if you aren't tempted to switch up the colors. This is the perfect thing for last minute Christmas gifts! Maybe I should knit some for my nephews too. What do you think? Do you think the Looped Scarflette would work on a boy?

I have a women's pattern in the works too. I want one in grass green!

If you are interested in the PDF pattern, which includes some tutorial photos, it's here in my Etsy shop

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sewing: Plaid Christmas Dresses

When I was in highschool I bought this great black plaid fabric with red, green, white and yellow stripes and made myself a dress. It had an empire waist, a scooped neck, a long gathered skirt and buttons down the back, and I loved it. But just a few years later I of course thought it passe and was ready to get rid of it. My mother took the dress and took off the skirt and began using it for a Christmas tablecloth. These many years later I found the plaid  fabric among her Christmas things and decided it was the perfect thing for the girls' Christmas dresses. It's made quite a fun trip to end up hanging on them this Christmas season!

I barely had enough fabric to make these two dresses work! I laid out the pattern pieces one time and thought it was good but then realized I hadn't matched the plaids. Laying it out to cut was a bit of a nail-biter. It took more time than you would think to try it a number of different ways until I got it to work. So it goes with this size of a repeat I guess. Luckily the weave on the fabric is completely reversible and the plaid can be oriented in either direction. Otherwise it wouldn't have worked. Haven't tried all this plaid matching before. The result is great but I'll certainly buy a lot of extra fabric next time I am smitten with plaid.

I saw a vintage pattern I wanted to use for Audrey's dress but it was sold out. It was a full-skirted jumper with a fitted bodice and square neck. Pretty simple and seemingly easy to duplicate. I found this pattern (McCall's 6020) and thought "close enough." I love that it is fully  lined and has a square neck in front. I dropped the waistband it includes on the front bodice and opted for a buttoned back (covered buttons of course!)

But, sadly there is a "but," I forgot about my original inspriation for this dress as I got into it. I was sewing it under self-imposed deadline--trying to get these ready for them to wear for pictures for our Christmas card--and only when Audrey was wearing it this past Sunday did I realize I'd veered and didn't like the result as much as the initial idea. So what to do? This dress is pretty straight, and to make matters worse, I made it a size larger than Audrey's because the photos on the pattern made it look more fitted and I wanted to be sure there was room for a blouse underneath. She still looks pretty cute in it...

...but it's not as cute as I'd like. So now, deadline past, but Christmas still approaching I'm wondering if it would be worth the effort to either: 1. rip some things apart and take in the side seams on the bodice (this would disturb the plaid the least but involves bodice lining, bodice and skirt, which will need to be re-gathered, sewn, etc....), or 2. rip some more things apart and add two darts in the front and back of the bodice (which would change the look of the plaid on the bodice, obviously, but might be a nicer fit, lots of ripping and reseaming however...the skirt might as well come all the way off...), or 3. go buy some very wide black satin ribbon and see how it looks if I sew it to the side seams to make a sash in the back?

Audrey certainly won't know the difference, and you can't see much of the dress in the photos anyway.... But I would sure love the dress so much more if it were a bit fit-and-flare. Wish I'd thought to make the back of the bodice with a square neck too, but nothing to do about that now. So maybe I'll see how I'm feeling about taking in the bodice in a day or two. Makes me want to hunt again for that vintage pattern!

Scarlett's dress on the other hand is perfectly darling (in my opinion)! I love this simple a-line jumper. Also fully lined. Also with covered buttons. It's such a cute shape on her. I have used this pattern (Simplicity 3662)  before, in a dusty rose colored corduroy for Audrey to wear under a sweater I knit for her, and I'm thinking I should use it some more.

Scarlett and Audrey are wearing matching black knit Olive Juice blouses under these jumpers, which saved me some time. Also time-saving is the use of Scarlett's first Christmas dress for Tess. I thought it would be fun for Tess to add some punch to the picture with a bit of red. Still love that corduroy dress. This is not the picture we are using for the card (since it appears Tess is toppling out of view) but it's one of the better ones we got. Such a stress trying to get a picture with all three looking as close as possible to their darling selves, and before one or all have a meltdown!

If you want to view the last few years of Christmas outfits here they are:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cooking: Advent Sunday Cookies

Yesterday was the third Advent Sunday of the four we celebrate leading up to Christmas. This is a tradition my family embraced while we were living in Germany and my siblings and I have continued it now that we are adults with our own children. It was my turn to host so my family gathered to read the Christmas story from Luke 2, sing carols, and eat Christmas cookies.

A few years ago I made my siblings the present of Advent songbooks. I found the lyrics to our favorite Christmas carols, along with a bit of history on the carols and a few illustrations and bound them in these booklets. I made personalized covers for every family member using vintage Christmas illustrations and included a CD with instrumentation for all the carols since none of us had pianos at the time. The carols are all numbered (and correspond to the tracks on the CD) so the family can literally be all on the same page. These worked so well last night, especially now that there are grandchildren old enough to read the words. Without them it seems we often get the verses all mixed up!

I have an Advent wreath on my dining table, just as last year, with four candles. I should have lit three of these last night but I don't have this set up quite right for a low risk candle burning so I've left the candles unused. Still very pretty I think. 

My father read the Christmas story and the grandchildren listened quietly, quietly because the quietest earned the opportunity to pick the first Christmas carol we would sing. My nephew, Holden, was the winner and he chose Frosty the Snowman!

Audrey and I had been making cookies for a couple weeks. I wanted to serve a variety because my grandmother, my mother's mother, used to always bring a huge variety of her homemade cookies with her when she came to our home at Christmas. This year I made some traditional and some new, including:

(From the current issue of Bon Appetit and which I served single instead of sandwiched. You pipe the dough for these cookies, which was a first for me. Fun to make and very tasty! )

(I have been making these for a few years and LOVE them! Not too difficult!)

Underachiever Homemade Sandwich Cookies rolled in green and red sugar

My grandmother's Ginger Molasses Cookies (recipe below the break)
(which I served with orange slices)

Caramel Apple Cookies and homemade caramels my sister made.
(Saw these cookies earlier this year and had to try them!)

Luckily we had a decent crowd so we don't have too many cookies left over. The challenge of baking them all is trying not to eat them all!

The highlight of the evening was singing The Twelve Days of Christmas. I have assembled props, including Audubon stuffed birds with recorded bird calls (my favorite is the French Hen), for each of the days and we line up the cousins, each with a prop or an action and sing through all twelve. I love the leaping lords!

Read more for the Ginger Molasses Cookies recipe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cooking: Buttermilk Syrup for Gifting


I went to breakfast with some girlfriends this week to celebrate Christmas and exchange some small gifts. What a luxury to go out to breakfast, and especially this time of year! It was so nice to take a breather and talk about lighthearted things before leaping back into juggling kiddos and Christmas to-dos. The annual gift exchange and lunch, which is what we typically do, is one of my favorite events of the season! I came home with some heartfelt and handpicked things to add to the Christmas display and to use all year round.

This year I was giving this fun snowflake-shaped pancake mold and wanted something to go with it. I don't typically do handmade for the Christmas gifts (I save that for the birthday gifts, such as these) but I decided to make some buttermilk syrup to go along with these. I saw a recipe for this syrup in this cookbook and have been thinking about it since. I found some recipes for it online as well so I combined them a bit for this version (click below to read more for recipe).


To package the syrup I used these simple canning jars I found when planning Audrey's birthday party this spring. I love the brushed silver lids and they were readily available when I was trying to pull this together in an afternoon.  I cut out circles from some scrapbooking paper to stick on the top of the lids and wrapped the jars with red ribbon. Then I punched out matching tags (using this recently acquired Giga punch) for the pancake molds, loaded everything in a tote and I was off to breakfast!

Click to read more if you are interested in the syrup recipe. If you like butter and sugar then this is the syrup for you!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crochet: Spa Cloth Gifts

I have a group of girlsfriends with whom I swap birthday gifts. Seems such a rare thing at this age--to give and receive birthday gifts with friends--and so it is so much fun!  There are no spoken rules but the idea is that these aren't expensive but they are girly and fun and sometimes a bit luxurious. Some very minor indulgence you wouldn't buy yourself, not necessarily due to cost, but because it isn't a necessity. We get together for lunch a few times a year near one of the birthdays and the birthday girls goes home with an armful of little luxuries.

Two of these friends share the same birthday and it's in early December, so I make an effort to chose something for them that has nothing to do with Christmas becauase I figure December birthdays are threatened to be overwhelmed by the big holiday this month. For the past few years I have also tried to give something handmade. I have been coming up with something and then duplicating it throughout the year for all the birthdays. Last year I made and gave monogrammed stationery, and the year before that I gave felted flower corsages, and before that some simple crochet scarves like these.

This year I am doing spa cloths. These are cotton washcloths I crocheted in the sedge stitch using this pattern. I love this stitch! It has such a gorgeous texture. I've thought of using it for a children's sweater but haven't yet. Seems the perfect little indulgence for the bath. I am giving two paired with a good bar of soap. So many possibilities here but I went with Burt's Bees Radiance bar. It smells great and I love the natural ingredients. A good all-natural package.

Wrapped the little stack in a natural tissue, tied with yarn and added a tag I punched from some scrapbook paper I had on hand.  I would enjoy receiving something like this (and haven't yet made some cloths for myself--cobbler's children...) so I hope the birthday girls feel the same way!

Oh, and did you notice I seem to be continuing what I'll call my Tess Color Palette, which began with this cut-chenille blanket and this lavender crib bedding? Why not? I think these colors are gorgeous together!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Knitting: Blue Baby Mittens on a String

The landscape has sure changed around here--we're below freezing and covered in snow. Clear blue skies however, so it is gorgeous. The perfect environment for little blue mittens. I found the pattern for these (after seeing them on a linky party, and now I can't find the blog...) on the Spud and Chloe blog and just had to knit them up for my friend Amy's baby, Frankie. He is the cutest thing ever and I hadn't come up with a welcome gift yet and thought these would be perfectly cute, if not perfectly practical! I always lean towards the former and why not?

I do think there is something a bit practical about mittens on a string for babies, however (I added the string, a crocheted chain, after seeing a pair with the same on that linky party; the pattern doesn't include it). I love keeping their little hands covered and the string makes it impossible to lose a mitten. Typically you would thread the string through the arms of a jacket, where they would hang at the ready when not in use, but you could leave it out too. I would use these indoors or outdoors, and they would be so darling in a photo of a bundled-up baby! Maybe with a baby-sized scarflette!

When Amy put these on Frankie (don't worry--I know they have a bit of "frosting" in these photos but trust that they were cleaned and dried before gifting!) he seemed to love just looking at them on his cute little hands. They are a near match for his eye color--such great baby blues. So they also double as a baby toy. And, if all else fails, they would look great draped on the limbs of a Christmas tree.

I made these in 100% cotton, because it seems ideal to use a natural fiber for babies, and it will make them both stretchy and easy to care for. This is Bernat Cottontots in Blue Berry.

Did I mention these "mittens" are actually thumb-less? Thank goodness. It's hard enough getting mittens on a toddler let alone delicate little baby fingers.

I think Tess needs a pair.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Knitting: Looped Scarflette in Scarlet

Before Thanksgiving, and before the series of storms that have covered our world in chilly white, I made a little scarf for Audrey. It's a looped, smallish scarf, so I'm calling it a "Looped Scarflette." It was just the thing to add a bit of warmth on a warm Fall day and now it will be perfect for tucking into coats to keep her neck warm.

This is one of the few knitted items for which I created the pattern, and it was fun, and I think successful. I figured it out based on a darling women's Anthropologie scarf my friend Margie showed me. I love the loops--makes so much sense for a child too--no chance of it falling off on the playground and getting lost.

I used two yarns knitted together: Paton's Classic Wool Roving in Cherry and Stitch Nation Bamboo Ewe in Lipstick. I love these two cheery scarlet reds and their subtley different hues and weights knitted together. Both are a blend with wool, which I picked for warmth, and Audrey said "ooohh, cozy!"

I need to work out the pattern in a variety of sizes. This was so much fun I feel a surge of Scarflettes coming on! I want one for myself (I would wear it indoors as an accessory for extra warmth), and need to make one (at least) for Scarlett, and they would make such fun gifts... I love the possibilities of combining yarns.

So one Looped Scarflette down; more to go!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks: A Baby, a Bonnet, a Blessing Day

Every Thanksgiving my family tops the list of things I am grateful for, and so what better way to celebrate the week of Thanksgiving than with a baby blessing? 

Tess was an unexpected blessing this year and it's impossible to imagine our family without her. It was nice to formally acknowledge her arrival by blessing her this past Sunday, surrounding her with family and close friends and invocations for a life filled with the good and important things. Doesn't every baby deserve this kind of welcome?

We served a brunch of strata, spinach salad and cinnamon rolls (on the table with the new Thanksgiving centerpiece).


Tess wore a bonnet I finished (just in time) to match the bootees I made. I think she looks beautiful in it and I love the old-fashioned look. I can't get enough of that old-fashioned, Puritan baby look (appropriate for Thanksgiving, no?). This bonnet reminds me of the one I knitted for Scarlett last year. I made up the pattern as I went along. It was an experiment based on the bootees and it certainly isn't perfect--it is a bit big and the shaping along the back of the neck could be improved--but it worked, and it was fun to work it out. And fun that she has a couple things made specifically for her blessing day. I love the crochet ties and plain single crochet rows framing her face.

Click to read more if you are interested in the bonnet pattern and strata recipe.

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