24 February, 2009

The Princess and the Pea Mama

Growing up I never ate lima beans, lamb, or lobster.  I never ate peppers, raw tomatoes, liver, broccoli tops, cauliflower, and peas either.   In the case of the latter, it was because I thought they were disgusting.  I never ate the former items because my mom didn't like them.  If she didn't like them we didn't eat them.  I'm with her on the lima beans, but I sure missed out of lamb and lobster.  Hmm, maybe she just hated food that started with the letter "L"?

I'm doing my damnedest to not do that to the girls.  Of all the foods I hated as I child I now eat almost all of them, except peas.  Peas are seriously the most vile things on the planet.  They stink and they taste like mud.  Eating a pea is akin to popping a bubble filled with mushy sewage.  

Hubby likens me to The Princess and the Pea, except that I can tell that there is one pea in an entire dish of shepherd's pie.  Or that the samosas do indeed come with peas without even opening one.  Okay, the last one is generally a given.  But the foul odour of peas is distinct and I can pick it up despite pastry or potato coverings.

As I said, though, I am trying not to pass on that dislike to the girls.  I plug my nose when I defrost the frozen peas, scrub my hands with smelly soaps when we go pea picking, and make Hubby feed Smilosaurus dinner if peas are on the menu.  So far I've been successful, both girls love peas.  The Monster will eat them fresh or frozen, raw or cooked.  And Smilosaurus practices her pincer grasp at least once a week with a bowl full of peas.  Good for them.  

But they better not ask me to make split pea soup, ever.

State of the Dining Room

President Obama may be addressing US Congress, and really the world, tonight on the State of the Union, but I am currently concerned with the state of my dining room.  Or should I say, the kitchen table (since there isn't one), the office, the recycling centre, extra fabric/batting storage, obstacle course for the Smilosaurus, and landing zone for nearly everything that comes in to this house.  I love it and hate it.

While the basement is under reno, or as I like to call it, under the idea of renovation, I am stuck quilting on the dining room table.  That means I have to clean up before every meal and if Hubby needs it to look at plans.  Hence the bin of blueprints, a shredder, a sewing machine, ironing board, box of current projects, and cutting mat in the corner.  I want one of those pretty studios filled with organized thread, pretty little boxes of scraps, and an inspiration board. Damn you who have them!

Am I a little bitter?  Hell yeah.  I am so tired of the clutter, of watching that the girls don't play with my thread, and of constantly cleaning up my creativity.  Now I know why kids hate when we constantly tidy their toys and art stuff.  I'm not a messy person (seriously, can't you tell?) but I would love to keep some in progress works spread around.  Oh well, one day.

But I am not telling you the highlight of my day.  I spent almost a half hour on the phone with Mark Lipinski!  We bonded (at least I think so) over discussions about cabbage rolls and the Polish/Ukrainian border.  And I got his commitment for Quilt Canada next year.  He will be the keynote for our Professional Development conference, so mark your calendars for April 26-27, 2010. 

16 February, 2009

Thread Catcher

One of the annoying side effects of improvisational quilting is the constant starting and stopping when you sew.  Depending on your plan of attack it might be difficult to chain piece. That can leave a lot of cut threads, mess, and wasted time.  A good quilting friend of mine taught me this trick.

Take a scrap of fabric and double it up (or use two small pieces).  When you finish a seam, sew a a few stitches in to nothing, then sew in to your scrap.  You can then cut your piece from the scrap without a tangle of threads to deal with.  When you come back to your machine for the next seam just sew from the scrap piece, cutting it off when you go to press.

I usually keep two of these by the machine.  One for the start of my sewing and one when I finish the seam I'm working on.  That way you always have one handy to plug in to the end of your seam when you leave the machine to press.

14 February, 2009

In Progress

There are 7 doll quilts in progress at my house.  One is a present for our friend's little girl.  The rest are for a special order.  This is the first time I've sold quilts.  I'm excited and nervous that the recipient won't like them.  But the process is great.  I do enjoy the opportunity to try something new without great fabric expense.  It is also a great way to play with scale and colour.

Happy Valentine's Day

About 2 hours after taking this picture the dogs ate all but 4 cookies while I was out with the girls.  Happy Valentine's Day...

09 February, 2009

Is there anything better?

This morning I decided that one of my favourite activities in the entire world is baking with The Monster.  She is intrigued by the process and will dive right in making a mess, if only to lick the paddle at the end of it all.  I have a million pictures of her devouring the sticky dough left on that paddle.  But today I took pictures throughout the process.  I don't think there is much more to say today.  Pick you favourite recipe and bake.  Pull up a chair for the kids, make a mess, and watch some Yo Gabba Gabba while the cookies cool.  

A personal stash of chips keep little hands busy while the cookies are in the final mix.

Everyone wants in on the action.

Fresh from the oven and into the mouth.

Cooling cookies and watching Tony Hawk on Yo Gabba Gabba.

The crumbs she swept into my hand, off the table, because they were getting in the way of eating her orange.

All is quiet, but not clean (see that bowl?) during naptime.

Today we made an old recipe for me.  These make a cakey, crumbly cookie.  I'm not normally one for anything instant, but the pudding mix does work nicely here.  You can use vanilla, chocolate, or even butterscotch (my fave). You can also play with the type of chocolate chips. I learned how to make these when I was a little girl. I think the recipe came from a church cookbook.  Really, a duotang filled with photocopied sheets.

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 package instant pudding mix
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Celsius.
2.  Cream butter and sugars together.  Add vanilla and pudding mix.
3.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixed well.
4.  Slowly add in flour and baking soda.  Stir in chocolate chips until well blended.
5.  Drop by teaspoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy with your favourite monsters.


As in trying to get things done.  Like a reno budget, trips to city hall for permits, laundry, cleaning my floors, getting healthy, finishing curtains, paying bills, and even a little bit of quilting.

In the absence of overlapping naps very little of anything is getting done.  Oh well.  The girls are having fun with Mama all to themselves.  I did get this little doll quilt basted with only our Smilosaurus keeping me company.  Pins are very intriguing to an almost 9 month old. Hopefully I can get it quilted after bedtime tonight and before 24.  Then I can take it with me to city hall when I have to wait in line-ups for permits.  Anything to make that process more interesting.

06 February, 2009

Stash Report

There hasn't been much quilting lately.  The girls are not napping at the same time and I've had other work to do.  On the plus side we have a dishwasher finally!  That is saving me some time. To keep this place active I thought I would do the Sew Mama Sew stash interview.  No fancy photos either - I don't want to wake up the girls and my stash is stuck in a corner of their room. The photo above is from the last time I organized things, before we moved it all out of the basement.

What do you usually sew?
Quilts and that's it.  I have some feeble attempts at clothing and crafts, but they are just that, feeble.

When you shop for fabric, what size cuts do you usually buy?
Because I never use a pattern, most of my quilts are stash based.  When I shop it is either to augment a colour or for something like a binding because I don't quite have enough.  That means I usually buy 1/2 metre cuts.  It gives me enough freedom to do different things with the fabric.  If I am buying for a specific project then the cuts are often smaller, so I can have more variety of fabrics.  I find lately that I get tired of a fabric if I've used it too many times, no matter how much I like it.

Do you buy on impulse or go out looking for something you need?
Both.  Sometimes I'm just missing a specific shade of green or turquoise.  And when I'm looking for that I find three other fabrics I love!

Are you a pre-washer?  If you are, do you wash it before you need it or only when you are ready to use it?
I used to be an ardent pre-washer.  Then my stash started growing and I could no longer remember whether a fabric had been washed or not.  Now I generally don't bother, with two exceptions.  I always pre-wash batiks or a purchased/gifted hand-dye to make sure it doesn't run.  I will do this right before I use them because I don't use them often.  The second exception is reds.  This is the most likely colour to run so I usually pre-wash reds right when I come home from the store.  Then they are ready when I need them.

Do you iron it?
I will iron before using, whether pre-washed or not.  If I need to cut precise strips or pieces I iron to get out fold lines so I can cut to grain successfully.  And if I'm cutting random pieces or scraps I generally iron before sewing, at least.

How do you sort it?
As you can see from the photo above, by colour.  I keep my batiks, novelties, and flannels separate.  Any significantly multi-coloured fabric are contained in two other bins.  There are also a few other bins that contain UFOs and pulls for specific, planned, but not started projects. I don't like making quilts with all one line or designer, so I've never bothered to sort this way.

Do you have any special folding techniques?
Nope.  I fold it rather than stuff it in the bin, doesn't that count as a technique?  If The Monster gets into it she rolls it to put it away.

How do you store it?
I have about 15 plastic bins.  Currently they are in an old closet - minus the doors - in my daughters' room.  I can see each colour and can easily grab a bin or two for some project pulls. 

What tips do you have for building up a well-rounded stash?
Don't get stuck on specific designers and buy their entire line.  Buy your favourites from the line.
It isn't necessary to buy a lot of any one fabric, no matter how much you love it.  Will you still love it after you've made your fifth quilt with it and you still have three metres left?
But, don't be afraid to buy what you really love no matter what.  Then don't be afraid to use it!
Don't be afraid to buy a fabric you just aren't sure about.  If you love the colour but hate the pattern you will use it.  Fabric looks different cut into a small strip or triangle.
Buy fabric in a variety of prints. Small-scale, large scale, stripes, dots, solids/blenders, and even florals.  Having a variety of fabrics in your stash will help make your quilts more dynamic.
Don't cull a fabric just because your tastes have changed.  There may be a perfect use for that one brown one day.
Try to have fabrics in one colour that have both shade and tint.  Again, it will add more interest to your quilt.

When do you say enough is enough?
I don't.  Every now and then I will say that I need to take a break from shopping, but then I need just a bit more for a backing.  And sometimes it is worth adding a few new things to get you jazzed about your options again.  I might by one new multi-colour fabric, do a pull from my stash, and never even use that new fabric.  but it got me to look at my stash again and get excited about what I've got.

What are some of your best stash-busting projects?
Anything I do always starts in the stash.  Lately the entire project or at least the majority of it comes from stash.

Do you have a current favourite print in your stash?
Not really.  I find that I have colours I go to, but not necessarily a favourite print.  That being said, I recently put in an order at Purl Soho for the first time.  I've always hesitated because ordering from a US company can cost a fortune in taxes and duties, but I had to have a specific print and took the risk.  It was so worth it!  And now I have this cute robot fabric from David Walker.

What's your definition of a perfect stash?
Well, I think mine is pretty good.  The only thing I would change is a better way to store it.  I would love to have it in a closet, not the bins, and folded better.    

A good stash is not like your favourite quilt store.  You can go into your favourite store and know you are going to get what you need or like.  But go to a new store and you'll see something you've never seen and it gets you excited.  Sometimes you go through your stash and it is like that new store.  We all have our go-to fabrics, but the search for the perfect pink uncovers that one stripe you forgot you bought.  A perfect stash is full of stand-bys and surprises, is used and added to, and it inspires all on its own.

05 February, 2009

Make Your Own Baby Food

One of the nice things about vacationing in Baja when your little one is just starting solids is that she begins her foodie career early.  Aside from a few weeks of cereal at home as her tummy was getting used to solid food, she hadn't tried much else before we went on our trip.  But after two weeks there she was eating avocado, beans, zucchini, papaya, chayote, banana, and mango. It must have been a downgrade for her when we came home and she was forced to eat things like carrots, parsnips, and pears.

I am going to try and not turn this into a lecture about making your own baby food.  I will only ask this: why wouldn't you?  Sure, it takes a bit of time and a bit of freezer room.  But other than a blender, food mill, food processor, or a strong arm and a fork there is no special equipment required.  For me, convenience of a jar does not outweigh knowing what is going into my kids mouth.  Let me, then, explain our philosophy.  Philosophy?  Maybe it would be better to simply say this is our approach and why we do it, it seems less pretentious that way.

First, we make all our baby food.  Okay, I do concede to buying rice/barley/oat cereal until she is old enough to eat oatmeal.

Second, we try to do absolutely everything organic.  I've been accused to being snobby with this insistence.  Maybe, but my thought is that organic food generally tastes better and my biggest concern, aside from nutrition, is developing her palate.  If an organic pear has a better taste than a supermarket one, then that's the one that will teach her what a pear should taste like.  There is also the environmental benefit, of course.

Third, we generally cook in season for ourselves and so we do for her.  That means she is eating a lot of root vegetables that we get locally from storage.  It also means a splurge on the so not local fruits like oranges, mango, and papaya, but they are in season in the Southern Hemisphere.  As her capacity to chew develops and she ages she can then enjoy strawberries for the first time right out of the garden, the first rhubarb, and sweet peas right out of the pod.  it also means I am cooking for all of us, and not just her.

Fourth, what I can't get fresh I buy frozen and still make.  Peas are a perfect example, as frozen are as close to fresh you can get.  I also have fruit from last summer which I froze whole -like peaches and raspberries - that I can easily puree for her.

Finally, I am still breastfeeding.  That means meal time is about exploring new tastes and textures, as well as sitting down together as a family.  She is getting a lot of her nutrients from me, and supplemented by the veggies, fruits, fish, and meats she is trying out.  I must admit, though, that one of the main reasons I am breastfeeding is that I am too lazy for bottles.  My plan is to get her to take a cup so that when it comes time to wean in a few months she will be on a cup and I can avoid bottles all together.

Don't waste your money on fancy kits or cookbooks. Even if you aren't much of a cook, this is easy to do. Really easy to do. Just do one food at a time. As they develop and you feel confident you can try mixing flavours. I always go for things I would generally eat myself - squash with apples and maybe some chicken, beets and oranges, beef and broccoli.  And a kit?  Just fancy ice cube trays and a special DVD.  Read below and email me and I'll get you going.

All that being said, how do I get a load of baby food made and in the freezer with a toddler on hand and a busy schedule?

One thing that has definitely helped has been teaching the toddler how to peel veggies.  To be honest, I'm a little afraid that she'll slice herself with the peeler.  But I held it with her the first few times and now she is a pro.  She asks for help on the end bits, knowing that she could hurt herself.  She's tough, but not stupid.  While the little one naps The Monster and I will stand and peel veggies.  It's a great a activity for both of us.  And the pride she has when she sees her sister eating the food she made is enough to make a Mama Foodie cry.

Smilosaurus (aka Little Miss Sunshine) has now tried most veggies and fruits available to us.  That means we can make big batches now.  When I first introduced a new food I only made one or two servings.  That way I wasn't stuck with a huge batch of cauliflower if she wasn't going to eat it (although you can easily throw it in a cream of veggie soup or macaroni and cheese for yourself).  I would simply put a few florets or tablespoons aside from whatever I was making for the rest of us.

Baby Food Making Supplies

Vegetable peeler
Sharp knife
Pot with tight fitting lid/ Steamer
Food processor/blender/food mill
Ice Cube Trays
Plastic Bags or plastic containers

Wash and peel any vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets, squash, sweet potatoes.  Trim the ends of beans and zucchini.  Peel all fruit (except berries).

Chop the veggies into uniform pieces and place them in a small pot with a fitted lid (what I do) or a steamer.  Add about a half cup or so of water, not to cover, only to fill the bottom of the pot.  Set it on the stove, with a burner turned to high.  Don't walk away and watch TV, otherwise you will boil away all the water and burn your veggies (trust me).  Steam the veggies until a fork will go through them easily, adding more water if necessary.

All veggies, barring cucumber, should be cooked.  I also cook my pears and apples, essentially making an applesauce.  But I do not cook berries, mango, papaya, or bananas.

When veggies/fruit are done, drain them of any water.  Reserve the cooking liquids.  Put your veggies in your blender/food processor/food mill.  You may need to add water to get the desired consistency.  To start with you may want quite smooth purees.  Unless it is a veggie like a sweet potato or cauliflower you might have to add water to do this.  If you run out of cooking water I usually take what's left in the kettle after boiling my water for tea that day.  Some veggies have a lot of water in them and you won't need to add any, like zucchini.  To be honest, we never went the smooth puree route.  From the experience of friends it seems that babies who stay too long on smooth purees have a hard time with different textures - even by a year old.  That, and my food processor tends to have a rougher chop unless I add a lot of water.

Do not feel like you are diluting your food if you add water.  I'm not a nutritionist, so don't quote me if I say it's okay.  But I do know that babies bowels have a hard time with new foods and the little bit of extra water generally helps if they are constipated.  It's not like I'm serving her soup!

Once you've reached the desired consistency, pour your puree into clean ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen you can store in plastic bags or plastic containers.  Each cube is essentially one serving.  At each meal the Smilosaurus will eat anywhere from 1-5 cubes of food.  You can defrost the cubes in the microwave or leave a few in the fridge each morning to defrost.  They are easy to transport and you can still feed your kid your homemade love when you are out and about.

I want to make a special note about meat here.  Generally I will poach the chicken, or keep a tiny piece of red meat or fish aside for her.  No seasonings, but broil it or bake it as I do the rest for the family.  You need a good blender to really get small pieces, and I generally have to add water (the poaching liquid).  When you are feeding the little one, I find it easier to mix it right in with the veggies, you get a better consistency for them.  With fish I don't even bother blending it.  You can flake it into small enough pieces that are easy for a babe to eat.

When all is said and done, an hour of work once every week or two will get you loads of food.  The next step is encouraging your child to eat and explore food.  A few mantras we use around here:

Let them get messy.  It sure isn't pretty and it's hard on cloth bibs and clothes.  But I'm thankful we have dogs that have learned that the floor is pretty tasty after the girls eat.  And I highly recommend bibs that cover the shoulders to save yourself some laundry headaches.

Let them decided how much they are going to eat.  We should all eat like babies - they get loads of colour in their mostly plant based diet and they stop when they are hungry.

Let them try new things, even if they didn't like it the first time.  I saw some guy on TV once (how's that for a source?) who said kids need to be exposed to something about 10 times before they can truly establish a like or dislike for it.  Keep offering it.  I still can't get her to eat applesauce, but I keep trying.

One final note.  Please listen to your public health nurse or health care provider on the recommended way to introduce food.  Certain foods should be avoided in the first year, strawberries and egg whites, for example.  I'm only a mom, not a nutrition or health care expert.  If in doubt, here is a good resource for additional advice and guidance on feeding your baby solids.

02 February, 2009

Taste Adventure - Passion Fruit

In the winter at the Calgary Farmer's Market the pickings get slim.  We still go to buy the bulk of our groceries, have brunch and coffee, and let the Monster jump her little heart out in the bouncy castle.  Bypassing the crafts which we don't need but look nice we skip through the stalls to our regular spots.  Recently, however, a new vendor has been tempting me with the exact opposite of locovore eating.

More Than Mangos has taken up a weekend stall for the winter.  The colourful fruits and exotic smells are intoxicating in the grey and tired days of mid winter.  We've been buying avocados, mangos, and baby bananas imported from Central and South America.  I decided to branch out recently and picked up some passion fruit.  The scent of these orange passion fruit - versus the purple and plain ones Andres has - was more than I could resist.

And I would be the only one.

The Monster was more than excited to open the passion fruit in the recommended way - by smashing it.  The natural curiosity of a toddler led her to ask a few questions about what this new thing was.  Smashing it was great fun.  And as soon as she saw what it looked like inside she walked away and refused to have anything more to do with it.  She wouldn't even come close it after that.  

When Hubby came home I tempted him with this new treat.  I'd devoured that juicy pulp from the one the Monster broke, straight up.  We cracked another one and Hubby bravely took a slurp.  Quite promptly he responded that it was "nasty".  It reminded him of guava, which he hates.

Oh well, more for me.  It kiboshed my plans to make a passion fruit pavlova for dessert.  And so it sat.  The Monster ate a Cara Cara orange instead.  And I finally finished the passion fruit as a topping on some yoghurt.  A tropical, but somewhat disappointing end to that slurpy, sweet pulp.
I haven't given up.  I'll get them to eat it yet...  Smoothies, vinagrettes, maybe even a cocktail or some ice cream.

Another Improv Piece

And another baby quilt.

This will be the first and only glimpse of the quilt I can give.  My sister and brother-in-law are expected their first baby so this is for them.  They've done a fantastic job decorating the nursery and the quilt is inspired by their work.

Here is my fabric pull, although I think I need a few more blues.  I have the pattern, or rather, the technique, figured out.  Now I just need the time to finish it.  I better hurry, she's only a month or so away!  I promise to share when the quilt is done and the baby arrives.