Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cooking: Minestrone Soup with Spinach (Recipe)

Are you making some resolutions a bit early? Or at least (as I am) trying for some moderation before the next feast? If so, this recipe is for you! It's healthy and filling and will warm you up on a cold Winter day. I shared it during Delia's Soup of the Day series and thought this week between Christmas and New Year's would be the perfect time to share it here.
I love soup. It doesn't get much better than a one-pot meal that can be made ahead and kept warm. This Minestrone Soup with Spinach just may be my favorite. It hits the spot when the weather turns cold. It's warm (of course) and has a richness that comes from the flavorful vegetables rather than a lot of added fat. So it's healthy too. The perfect thing for lunch or dinner (or both?), especially if you are trying to pace yourself with all the rich food during the holidays.
I love this soup all on its own, but it's hard not to give into a small handful of freshly grated Parmesan and a slab of good homemade or bakery bread. (This bread, which is pictured, is really really good with this minestrone, and super simple to make, but also a bit indulgent. Yum...)
Click to read more... (recipe follows)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FYI: Merry Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoyed the last few days full of family and good food and warm hugs and all things good.  We were fortunate to have lots of family around and several good meals and some thoughtful gifts.
 We also got a white Christmas. Just in time. It was snowing all day Christmas Eve and then sunny and blue and white on Christmas Day. So perfect.
The presents made it under the tree just in time too. This year I opted for all kraft paper with some red ribbons, and my new favorite--burlap strapping. It is such a generous width and comes on a very long roll. And it's got great drape. Such pretty bows!
I have always loved gift-giving and used to dedicate days in late November and early December to hunt through stores for just the right thing. It seems impossible to get to a store these past few years so it it's either an online purchase or something handmade, and I much prefer the handmade.
But it does take some time... so I had to cut a few things off my hand-making list this year. I accomplished a decent amount of sewing (these blankets for instance), but some I am saving some for gifts in the early part of 2013. They'll likely be more fun then anyway because they will stand on their own. Other things I just let go...
This was the first Christmas in quite a few that I didn't sew Christmas dresses for the girls to wear to church the Sunday before. It was relatively easy to let that "to-do" go because I had sewn last minute dresses for our beach/Christmas card photos. But the ruffled dresses wouldn't work on a snowy Christmas Sunday, so we found some to buy instead and the girls looked adorable. Part of me wondered why I don't just buy more and sew less--it is much easier! But I was telling my husband it's somehow hollow. So it's hard to know which way to go. I guess it's all about making the trade-off that makes the most sense at the time. I'm working on being able to discern that! 
I feel like I struck a pretty good balance this year. I hope you did too. I was looking for a peaceful Christmas and am praying for a peaceful new year. (Thus the more serene Christmas greeting this year--cards executed beautifully by Jill Means of Brightside Prints. I love the bamboo paper!) We all need some more days and nights where it is "calm and bright." That's my Christmas wish for you.
Merry Christmas.

My "FYI" posts share news or a perspective about something that's been on my mind. You can read them all here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sewing: The Ultimate Cuddle Blanket (Tutorial)

Last year for Christmas I made my husband the Ultimate Couch Blanket. It was a big hit. In fact it has been fought over and in use non-stop for a year now--by everyone but it's recipient! He never really gets the chance to use it because someone else has always snuggled in before him.So I thought it was time for more blankets!

This year I have made each of our girls an Ultimate Cuddle Blanket. A bit smaller than the adult-sized couch blanket, it is still one that they can grown into for years. It's perfect for the couch, bed, sleepovers, and pretending to hibernate in a cave. It's even big enough for two and it is super luxurious...

Each of these Ultimate Cuddle Blankets are about 48"x60" (some more some less depending on the width of the different fabrics) and made with the same incredibly soft minky. I used different minky fabrics for the front side and on the reverse they all have the same minky shag I fell in love with in the Ultimate Couch Blanket. I can't get over this stuff.

And of course, they all have the giant "foot pocket" on the shaggy side. No toes sticking out from under the blanket.
It's hard to show the pocket easily, but it's 36" high and the width of the blanket (about 48") with some stitching in the middle of the opening to keep it from falling open and hanging down. It will certainly keep our little girls' toesies toasty and could practically serve as a sleeping bag while they're small.
I am so relieved to have these three finished and under the tree. And I even get to share them with you before Christmas because my girls are too little to snoop around online. Can you guess which girl is getting the Dalmatian print?

As crazy as it sounds, if you can get your hands on some minky you could pull off one of these by Christmas. Or file this away for an upcoming occasion. I made these a bit differently than the original (Ultimate Couch Blanket) so you could look at both tutorials and decide which you prefer. Click through to read the full tutorial.

Fabric sources:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sewing: Faux Fur Infinity Scarf for Women (Tutorial)


It seems there isn't enough of us to go around these days. Enough love, enough support, enough hugs, enough protection, enough faith. It's tough. I am relieved my children aren't old enough to see the news. I am grateful to have them at all, and to have them safe and healthy and home when they are supposed to be.

It's hard to pick up where we left of last Friday morning but then I thought about the things I am driven to do when someone I know is hurting. I've called and I've shown up and I've brought food and given hugs and sometimes I've made things to provide a hug when I can't be there. There is always someone who could use one.

So I thought I'd go ahead and share this tutorial I'd planned for last week because you could make this cozy scarf, and quickly, to wrap around someone you love, or to extend your Christmas giving list a bit, or to insulate yourself a bit from whatever is troubling you. Small things can make a difference.

I designed this pattern for women, but it works just fine for girls too. If you aren't familiar with "infinity" scarves, they are giant loops, which you twist in an "8" or infinity shape and throw over your head.

I made a couple and I think I may head back to the fabric stores for more faux fur. Just remember to keep the vacuum handy so you're ready for the faux fur snowstorm.
Click through to read the tutorial for the Faux Fur Infinity Scarf. (And if this is your first time sewing with faux fur check out my tips for that here.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cooking: Beer Bread (Recipe)

I have always been intimidated by bread-making. It seems like it takes a full day commitment to let it rise, punch it down, rise again...  And even then seems it doesn't always go as planned. (My husband however has tackled sourdough breads and does an amazing job.) Maybe it has to do with my constant multitasking. I'm not too confident I would notice when the bread has risen to the right height. I am convinced I would blow it.
I am excited to try some of the new (at least to me) no-fuss breads such as this recipe one of you shared with me, but for the past decade or so I have been making this super simple and very yummy beer bread recipe. You won't believe how easy it is and it is the perfect thing to serve warm with soup or chili.
I have also wrapped up this bread in parchment paper and a cheery dishtowel to give with homemade jam at Christmas. It is pretty hard to beat delivered warm on a snowy morning!
Click for the recipe...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Crafting: Party Necklace


It's the party time of year, and so the question of what to wear... We went to a fundraising dinner that was preceded by a bargain hunt to find a new dress because I didn't have anything to wear. Or at least it seemed like that. I was excited about a pretty aqua find but it really needed some accessorizing, which is not my strong suit. Unless we're talking about crochet, I guess!

It's funny. I really don't shop much at all if it isn't online or at Target. It's got to be one-stop or open in the wee hours. I'm sure many of you would say the same, right? So I wasn't sure where to go for a necklace. I'm sure I could have found something great, and perhaps even inexpensive, at the mall, and I'm sure I could have found something really fabulous at Etsy, but I had two days and so I went to the fabric store for beads to make one instead!

Yet another example of doing things the hard way! The project turned into a bit of a nail-biter because I was finishing it after the babysitter arrived. There were a couple times when the beads slipped off the cord. Grrr... I am not really into beading so I was "winging" it without much in the way of technique or supplies. My husband was kind enough to lend his finger for knot tying and was patient enough not to remind me that we were running late. And eventually I had a new necklace to go with my new dress.

Given my fast and loose approach to this project I don't have a tutorial to share. I'm sure I could learn how to do this more easily from many of you. But here is a little summary of what I did if you want to make something similar.
  • I purchased all the beads (some glass and some acrylic) at Joann
  • I used stretchy cord because I had it, knew I could knot it, and because I couldn't see a better alternative that wasn't stiff wire (requiring crimping or something...)
  • I strung three strands, created a knot around the beads at each end (by taking the end of the cord, wrapping it around the bead and then pushing it back through center hole a second time and knotting securely), and then formed a loop with the cord at the end of each strand and secured it with multiple square knots and a dot of glue.
  • And finally, I laid out the three strands parallel to each other and using some satin ribbon, strung one set of three loops at one end of the strands, and then strung the opposite set of three loops and tied the ribbon in a bow. Another way to do with would be to use the two pieces of ribbon to tie the three loops together on either end and then tie the ribbon together, and there are probably other ways I didn't think of in my panic...!
So there you have it! It was fun to wear, and will be fun to wear again. And at the time it seemed easier than going shopping for a necklace or brooch. But I don't know... Do you have a go-to party accessory?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sewing: Coastal Curtsy Dresses for the Beach


Not only is this the season for grand family gatherings, it is also the season for those pull-your-hair-out Christmas-card-family-photo sessions. Right?! Well, I was determined to get ahead of December this year (last year I think I was still sewing the photo outfits in mid-December) but by mid November I still hadn't taken any photos.
I had been thinking about an ensemble of neutrals in an earthtone setting (tone on tone on tone) and then I realized our beach trip over Thanksgiving would provide the perfect backdrop! I can't help myself the last few years--I view just about every trip as an opportunity to find a different setting for photographing my girls.

I had imagined sewing a ruffled dress for Scarlett inspired by Katy's Coastal Twirly Skirt. I used her tutorial to make the skirt and then used my own pattern for a boatneck tee for the shirt, which went pretty well, but I did have to pay a lot more attention to the direction the ruffles were laying when I was pinning! I used an offwhite and charcoal dotted ruffle fabric purchased here and added this oversized crochet pouf

For Audrey I had a more tailored dress in mind. Something in linen from a vintage pattern. I sort of missed that Labor Day linen deadline, and was thinking of rebelling and doing it anyway, but then it was a couple days before we were leaving town and I realized the technical sewing just wasn't possible. So I pulled out this gorgeous grey ruffle fabric I bought after seeing Katy's Coastal Curtsy skirt (same as many of you I bet!) and decided I would do a ruffle dress for Audrey too!

These ruffle dresses were perfect. They pack well (scrunched into the suitcase at the last minute, to be honest), were super fun for the girls to wear (no couching needed for these shots of them frolicking on the beach), and they look pretty too.

So we pulled off the family photo. My sister and I each wrestled our families down to the beach one morning and took turns behind the camera for the full family shots. Which meant we got some fun cousin shots too. It was a great way to do it, especially last minute.

And it wasn't too painful for everyone. I don't think our "shoot" lasted more than 10 minutes and there was plenty of time for running around.
Why is it that the idea of a family photo, even a spontaneous one, always seems so awful, especially for the dads in the group, but then afterwards we're all pretty happy about it? (Dad took these shots, by the way.)

Tess wore a ruffled linen purchased dress. I'm practicing the practicality of not doing it all myself all of the time....

So the photo portion of the cards is complete, and we got some beautiful new dresses out of the effort too. (Thanks, Katy!) I'm saving THE photo to share later, once the cards are designed. It's nice to be a bit ahead of schedule this year.
How about you? Planning a holiday card?

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