Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A bug-tastic birthday bash

Last weekend we went to Minnesota to celebrate my nieces' birthdays. They were having a nature-themed party, so I wanted to make them a special cake. They requested frogs and ladybugs and drew me a picture of what they wanted the cake to look like.

 My nieces were great helpers and they added a lot of great touches to the cake. They were especially great at cutting out all the circles for the ladybug's spots and the frog faces and making the grass border on the bottoms of the tiers.

As an added unexpected surprise, we added a different food coloring gel to each layer to create a rainbow cake on the inside. 

Overall, I think the finished cake turned out great!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More pickles!

When I was a kid, one wall in the garage was dedicated to my mom's canning jars. She would can all kinds of things - peaches, tomatoes, cherries, applesauce, etc. and we would get to eat the fruit year round. Since I have all this extra produce from my garden, I thought I'd try canning some pickles.

I ordered this handy-dandy canning discovery kit from (By the way - Amazon Prime is the greatest thing ever. I never have to leave the house!)

The kit includes a canning rack, three jars with bands and lids and an instruction booklet - for about 10 bucks. The booklet outlines three easy steps - boil water, fill jars, put jars in boiling water.  And voila, instant pickles!

Ok, so it's a little more complicated than that - you have to make sure your pot is deep enough to fully submerge the jars. (Thanks to Mary for lending me her pot.) And you need to make sure that you have the right amount of space in the top of your jars before you put them in the water. And you have to boil the jars for the right amount of time. But this is not rocket science.

For the brine, I used the Ball dill pickle mix recipe from the side of the mix container. Super easy. Pour the brine over the sliced cucumbers, add lids and bands and boil for about 15 minutes. I also threw in a little dill from the garden for kicks.

The mix says the pickles will be best in 4-6 weeks, so I'm looking forward to cracking them open. I have a bunch of tomatoes in the garden now, so I'm thinking of canning some salsa, bruschetta or tomato sauce next.

Sew Easy?

When I was little, my mom used to make adorable dresses for me all the time. I wanted to see if I could make something for Eliana, so I started with a pattern that had EASY written all over the front.

I picked this cute little jumper from McCall's (#M6193) and found a fun multicolored polka dot fabric.

The whole process was only 8 steps long. How hard could that be? Well, kinda hard. I'm not going to be winning Project Runway any time soon. But this is certainly doable.

Step 1: Use the pattern pieces to cut out the fabric. Since I think I may want to use this pattern again, I had to figure out a way to cut out the fabric without cutting the pattern size lines. So I used a yellow sharpie to trace the pattern onto the fabric and then cut on the markings. Since the part you cut ends up inside a seam, you won't see it at the end.

Step 2: Stitch up the sides of the main jumper body.

Step 3: Iron the interfacing. I had no idea what interfacing was. It's really just a stiffener that you iron on to the back of a fabric to give it more stability. Iron the bumpy side of the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric.

Step 4: Stitch the interfaced pieces to the main garment. Stitch with right sides together and then flip it around. This part was a little challenging because I'm only good at sewing straight. Rounded edges are still a bit tough.

Step 5: Topstitch the neck and arm holes. This took me way too long. Probably because I thought it would be fun to use a contrasting thread color. I used pink instead of brown so I had to redo it a bunch of times to get it to look right. Again with the rounded edges.

Step 6: Hem the bottom.

Step 7: Add the buttons and button holes. My sewing machine instruction book had a couple good tips here - by taping the buttons in place and taping a pin to the machine foot to create a shank, it helped make the button process easy. I dropped the feed teeth and used the zigzag setting to get the machine to stitch the buttons in the right spot.


Step 8: Add button holes. I used the button hole maker steps on my sewing machine. Again, I had to do this several times to get it right. I am getting quite handy with the seam ripper, however.
There were a couple of extras steps involving adding patch pockets to the front, but I decided to leave them out. I started to make the pockets but got frustrated when I couldn't make them perfectly round.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. There were a few things that were difficult to understand, so I'll probably stick with the "easy" patterns for a while.

The pattern also included an adorable little jacket - we'll see if I can pull it off.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tis the Season

It's that time of glorious time of year that I look forward to all winter long - blackberry season! A few years ago, Ben's wonderful Grandpa Milt passed away. He was an outstanding person and we all miss him very much. One thing we shared was our love of blackberries. Fresh blackberries are difficult to come by in the Midwest, and Grandpa Milt had a berry bush in his backyard.

After he passed, I wanted to make sure that we could still enjoy those summer berries. So, we transplanted the bush into my backyard. It took a couple years of TLC to get it to produce, but we are now enjoying the fruits of our labor. The berry bush is overflowing with ripe, juicy blackberries.

No holiday in the Walter family is complete without a blackberry pie, and it is a tradition I intend to continue. I didn't have quite enough ripe berries yet for a whole pie, so I used this cobbler recipe from Williams-Sonoma and added in some nectarines and a dash of nutmeg as well. I made one for me, and one for Ben's grandma.

I have to say that every recipe I have ever tried from Williams-Sonoma has been a smashing success. I have about seven of their cookbooks and the food is always delicious and the recipes are easy to follow. It looks like I'm going to have a large amount of berries this year, and they have a few other blackberry recipes that I may try this year. YUM!

The 40 day clutter challenge

I'm embarking on a new challenge. I found the idea on pinterest, and it is brilliant. You write out a list of 40 areas in your home that are full of clutter and need a little organization help. They can be as simple as your underwear drawer or as extraordinarily cluttered as the garage. Each day you tackle a new area and in 40 days you have an organized house.

Today is day three and I'm loving it! I couldn't believe the amount of junk we hauled out after just doing our sock drawers and the master bathroom cabinets. Sometimes it's hard to get rid of stuff - even stuff you didn't know you had - but it's safe to say that sunless tanner wasn't going to give anyone a sun-kissed glow anymore.

I'm working my way through the master closet right now, and *sniffle, sniffle*, 10 pairs of shoes are about to find a new home. I haven't worn any of them in at least a year, and so out the door they go!

I hope we can keep this up for the next 37 days. It feels so good to purge. As you can see from the list, big projects await!