30 March, 2009

Pyrohy Addendum

Lest I gave the impression that pyrohy are only for the days when your belly needs something solid to weigh you down, I thought I should share this photo.  This is my mom making pyrohy in Mexico, on Christmas Eve last year.  My pregnant sister insisted that it wasn't Christmas Eve without pyrohy so my mom, despite her desire to read on the beach, indulged her and made a batch.  Notice the empty wine bottle for rolling the dough!

29 March, 2009

Project Improv Blocks

Just under the wire...

I finally got my Project Improv blocks out to Jacquie.  Oh look, more circles!  I did enjoy the colour combo and may have to do something with this again soon.  Hmm, I know a baby or two on the way.

27 March, 2009

The Ultimate Comfort Food

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a good Ukrainian girl.  If you are from anywhere but Western Canada this elicits a questioning, "So?"  But out here that takes pride to admit. Ukrainians are the butt of many a joke about stupidity, frugality, and general country bumpkiness.  Not to mention the ability to consume alcohol and vast quantities of starchy food. My drinking and eating habits aside, I am proud to say that I thinks I gots me some good book learnin', I certainly know how to spend money, and my farm experiences revolve around being shipped to rural Saskatchewan for a few weeks every summer only or investigating potential greenhouse gas reduction projects in my professional life.

As a Ukrainian I can proudly say that I know how to make borscht, blood sausage, cabbage rolls (holubsti) and pyrohy.  Okay, maybe I'm not proud of making blood sausage  - that stuff is vile! But oh, those pyrohy, or pierogies, to the rest of you.

Pyrohy are a go to food in this house.  No energy to cook? Throw some pyrohy in boiling water and dinner is served.  Meeting the potential (at the time) grandson-in-law? Keep water on a low boil until the moment he walks in the door and cook him pyrohy. Shitty, cold day?  Fill up on pyrohy. Pregnant?  Eat them every day your husband, a.k.a. the Diet Nazi, allows.

Although Hubby is only Ukrainian by marriage, he knows the love you get from a heaped plate filled with dumplings, fried onions, and a ridiculously large scoop of sour cream.  When his father was struggling with cancer years back we took a break from the hospital and joined my family at the church pyrohy supper. Concerned family friends asked us how we and his family were managing.  Between bites he simply replied, "Fuck cancer, I'm going to die of a heart attack!" And then he went back for seconds.

It isn't just the tender dough wrapped around creamy, salty potatoes (usually) that fills your gut with a heavy hug, it is the process of making pyrohy. They are time consuming to make. Repetitive and rather boring, it can be meditative. Or you can invite a whole bunch of friends or family over, chat, sip tea (or rye) to stir, roll, and pinch. Trays of frozen dumplings and a lot of laughs later you may not even need to eat them. Okay, you will need to eat them, but maybe a few less.

If you don't have the time or some interested friends, find a Ukrainian church with a pyrohy supper or a European deli that sells homemade. Do. Not. Ever. Buy a supermarket offering. No matter how much bacon, fried onions, or sour cream you slather on, they will not be good. The dough will be tough and the filling gluey.

This is my mom's recipe for pyrohy dough. Find any church cookbook and you will see a million different ways to make the dough. This one, in my handwritten recipe book, makes no sense on paper. No, you are not making glue. Actually, it is damn confusing when you make it too.  Trust me, like the pyrohy process as a whole, take it gentle and it will all come together into your little pillows of goodness.  

Yesterday I invited Julie over and we made a couple of batches between dog adventures, baby snacks, and interviews. She couldn't stop gushing (at least it seemed that way to me) about the tender dough and got me thinking about all sorts of filling options and even frying them before boiling. Bad, Julie!

Baba's Pyrohy Dough

5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 egg, room temperature
2 cups recently boiled water

1.  In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt.
2. Combine the oil and the egg, beat together lightly.  Stir in to the flour and salt.  It will not combine well, but keep stirring and working at it until you have a coarse meal, like biscuit dough would be before you added the liquid.
3.  Pour your hot water in to the flour and egg mixture, all at once.  Immediately start stirring. It won't look like it is coming together, but keep stirring it.  Don't beat the crap out of it, but stir for a minute or two and it will come together into a somewhat lumpy, ugly dough. The next three photos show this.  Cover with a damp tea towel or loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Let it rest for at least 15 minutes, if not 30.

While your dough is resting you can get your fillings together.  Purists will insist upon mashed potatoes, perhaps with some cottage cheese or maybe cheddar.  Some of us love a good sauerkraut filling (the only ones I would eat as a kid).  The classic filling in this house is cheesy mashed potatoes with a crumble of bacon smack in the middle.  Don't mix it in with the potatoes because the sharp bits of bacon will pierce the dough.  Regardless of your filling choice, make sure it is cool or cold, not hot.  Julie brought over two very yummy fillings - mashed potatoes with cheese and carmelized onions and mashed potatoes with leftover chicken and gravy.

You can also make dessert pyrohy.  My sister-in-law loves them simply filled with saskatoon berries.  Recently I made some with blueberries and ricotta.  And yesterday I used the pear left from Smilosaurus' snack, carmelized them with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar mixed with ricotta.  Julie's suggestion was mascarpone, but I had none.  The dessert pyrohy is best served browned in butter with a bit of sugar, like a good blintz should be.  And perhaps some lightly sweetened sour cream on the side.

Let's get to the process of filling that dough now.

First I cut a good hunk from the resting dough, recovering the remainder.  Then roll it out into a log, like we do with playdough.  Make it about an inch around.  Then cut off 1/2 inch chunks. Take those chunks and roll them into balls.  You will have about 1 inch balls.  Of course you can make them any size you want, this is just how I do it.

The next thing you want to do is to roll those balls flat with a rolling pin.  Not too flat or your dumpling won't stay together.  Not too thick or you will have very thick pyrohy and the dough may not cook all the way through.  I would say it's about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch.

Take a heaping teaspoonful of your filling and place it in the middle of your dough.  Again, not too much, not too little.  After you've made a few you will be able to eyeball the perfect ratio for you.  
Fold over one side to create a semi-circle.  I do this all in my hand, but Julie favoured doing it right on the counter - or with her fancy contraption that made them all too perfect for my liking.

Finally, pinch the sides together.  This is where personal style takes over.  My mom, for example, does a solid pinch all the way around, once.  I do a soft pinch for an initial seal, then a firmer crimp.  It doesn't matter how as long as it is sealed and preferably without a big flange of thin dough.
Et voila!  (I don't know how to say that in Ukrainian).

Unless you live in a large family, or an average Ukrainian family, one batch of dough makes more than one meal or two.  The best way to store pyrohy is frozen.  You need to freeze them individually first.  I lay out tea towels, sprinkle them generously with flour, and place the pyrohy on them as I finish each one.  Freeze, then store in plastic bags, containers, or even ice cream pails in the freezer until ready to use.  Just remember to label them if you made more than one kind! 
Last but not least, you need to cook your pyrohy.  Whether you cook them fresh or frozen., the technique is the same.  Bring a large pot of water to a full boil.  Toss in your pyrohy, not crowding them too much.  Keep at a boil and stir gently every now and then.  The pyrohy are finished when they float at the top.  If they are frozen and particularly thick you might poke them gently to make sure the filling is soft.  Drain.

You can eat them straight this way, generally served with fried onions and sour cream.  A lot of people fry them with the onions to crisp up the outsides.  Growing up we ate them boiled for dinner and the leftovers were fried for breakfast the next day.  What else do you do without a microwave?

I serve mine with some garlic sausage/keilbasa/kubasa.  Other traditional sides/toppings include mushroom gravy, dill sauce, and bacon.  If you want to make the pretense of a healthy meal you might serve salad or peas - to the kids -  with this.  Oh yeah, bring on the heart attack.

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 7

While the bird quilt may be the favourite of many, including me, this quilt has my favourite colour combo of this series of doll quilts.  Black, white, and pale blue.  It is modern and fresh. It is crisp and bright without being too bold.

Are your surprised, there are circles?  

For the quilting on this one I did straight lines in the same blue as the circles.  One line, however, has that circle stitch.  I felt it needed a bit of something different, just a little bit.

Now, I know a little girl with a birthday coming up.  And then there is the new nephew who is still waiting for his quilt.

25 March, 2009

Passion Fruit Take 2

After the first disaster with passion fruit I wasn't willing to give up on my family.  Dammit, they were going to like these things!   Considering that it was the seeds that turned off both The Monster and Hubby I knew I need to do something with just the juice.  The novelty of cracking the fruits on the counter just wasn't enough to carry them through the visual.  That left out Nigella's famous passion fruit pavlova.  But everything tastes better as ice cream.  Well, except for that weird savoury ice cream they were always making on the original Iron Chef.

Another trip to More Than Mangos yielded some of the same orange passion fruit and the little purple ones.  Crack 'em open and the orange ones have pale pulp and the purple ones have orange pulp.  Go figure.

We had family in town over the weekend and my 6 year old nephew came in the kitchen to help me make this ice cream. He gleefully smashed the passion fruit, nearly gagged when he saw the insides, and bravely tried a small slurp of the seedy pulp. He admitted that it tasted good, but politely declined any more. Oh, and he was happy to devour a bowl of the ice cream before they left for the night, not so generously sharing with his parents.

A little research and some searching through my own recipe archives and I arrived at a recipe that I thought would work.  I made it once, and then again.  Yeah, it's good.  In case the above photo didn't tip you off, this is no plain passion fruit sorbet.  This is rich, subtly sweet ice cream with bits of meringue in it, passion fruit pavlova ice cream.  The ice cream has the subtle flavour of the passion fruit, with a hint of vanilla.  But it is thick and creamy, reminding you of the whipped cream.  And the bits of meringue introduce a softer texture that disappears as the ice cream melts on your tongue.  Just writing about it now is making me very happy that there is a bit left in the freezer for a before bed snack, if I can keep The Monster successfully diverted with cookies and bed-jumping.

In fact, putting meringues in ice cream is an ingenious idea.  You use the egg yolks for the ice cream's custard base and make the meringues with the egg whites.  No waste, and some extra meringues for nibbling on while your custard chills.

I used a recipe that I found on Orangette.  Hers calls for the addition of cocoa nibs.  While good, I would leave those out for this recipe.  I used my leftover three egg whites, spooned out about 12 good sized clouds, and baked them while I made my custard.  Once cooled completely I froze them.  The texture doesn't change tremendously, but it does help when breaking them into small pieces to put in the ice cream.  Try to be conscious of the colour of your meringues.  It doesn't really matter, but the subtle contrast in the finished ice cream is a nice touch.  Plus, it helps when you are feeding the baby who can't eat egg whites the ice cream and you can see the meringues.

Passion Fruit Pavlova Ice Cream

1 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup white sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees C.  Line a large cookie sheet with Silpat or parchment.
2.  Mix the cornstarch and the sugar together.  Set aside.
3. Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt together in a heavy duty mixer.  Beat until bubbles are small and uniform and soft peaks are starting to form, a couple of minutes.
4.  Gradually add the sugar and cornstarch, a little bit at a time.  Continue whipping until stiff peaks form and the mixture is very glossy.
5.  Spoon the egg whites into circles about 2-3 inches wide on a cookie sheet.  You should have enough for about 12-14 individual meringues.  Push down each meringue in the centre with the back of a tablespoon.
6.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Rotate your pan and watch that the meringues don't take on too much colour.  If they are turning golden turn down your oven temperature.  Finished meringues should be crisp and dry.  Cool completely on the pan before turning out on to a wire rack.
7.  Place half the meringues in the freezer for at least 4 hours before using.  Enjoy the rest as sweet treats.

Ice Cream
4-8 passion fruits - you need about 1/2 cup juice
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split, but not scraped
3 egg yolks
Splash of vodka, rum, or passion fruit liquor

1.  In a heavy saucepan whisk together the creams, milk, sugar, and salt.  Over medium heat bring to a simmer.  Toss in the vanilla bean while heating.
2.  Whisk the egg yolks.  Add about a cup of cream to the yolks, whisking vigorously.  Then stir the egg mixture into the cream.  Continue to cook, whisking continuously, until the custard is thick and coats the back of a spoon.
3.  Strain the custard into a clean bowl.  Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or over night.
4.  Take your passion fruits and find the closest child with a bit of strength or energy.  Get the kid to smack the passion fruit on the counter in order to crack it open.  Scoop the pulp into a wire mesh strainer and stir with a tablespoon to force the liquid through the strainer.  Chill 1/2 cup juice until you are ready to freeze the ice cream.
5.  When the custard is cold, make ice cream according to your appliance's directions.  When the ice cream is done, just before you turn off the machine, add the passion fruit juice and the splash of liquor.  
6.  While the ice cream is churning chop your frozen meringues.  They will still be somewhat soft, so be gentle.  Resist the urge to tear them apart because you will merely squish them down.
7.  Pour your ice cream in to a plastic container for freezing.  Fold in the chopped meringue. Cover with plastic wrap and the container's cover.  Freeze for a minimum of a two hours before serving.

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 6

The last of the doll quilts are finished and are ready to ship today.  Phew... That took a lot longer than I hoped for.

This one is my attempt at a traditional quilt.  Pieced blocks in an old pattern (Churn Dash) count as traditional, right?  Of course I couldn't pick traditional colours.  I've had the border fabrics for years and this seemed like a good time to use them.  Such a vibrant quilt!

I simply stippled this one.  To be honest, I was tired the day I had to quilt it and couldn't motivate myself to try anything else.  I know I shouldn't beat myself up about it because it looks good.  Besides, there is nothing wrong with stippling.  Sometimes it is the right thing to do.  I let the quilt tell me what it needs.  Yes, I'm serious about that.  Some designs beg for certain quilting techniques.  In this case, though, I didn't even ask the quilt.  I just told it that it was going to be stippled whether it liked it or not.  I think it is happy.

23 March, 2009

Never Turn Your Back in the Kitchen

Winter storms attacked us again.  Sneaking in from behind they walloped us good yesterday.  It wasn't much of a day for venturing out, although we did that - there is something to be said for the snowsuit overtop of PJs.  Rather, it was a day for the oven.  And really, it was a day for the couch, but unless you want to watch this all day you have to get up and encourage the kids to jump on the beds.  

With a pile of carrots and parsnips in the house stew was on the menu.  Passion fruit ice cream too, but that will come another day.  The Monster and I set about peeling veg while Hubby tried to rest on the couch.  Oh, did I mention that all four of us have colds right now?  So we get all our veg peeled and chopped and I set to browning the beef.  After a quick deglaze of the pan with orange juice (my favourite thing to use when making stew) I turned around to grab all my veg.  As you can see from the above photo I had cause to pause.  We have a 'no hands on the cutting board' rule in the house, but apparently that doesn't apply to rubber duckies.

There are so many reasons to cook with your kids, giggles notwithstanding.

20 March, 2009

Backseat Adventure - Family Day in Banff

It's been a few weeks since we took a day off and headed a little West to Banff.  But we were talking about brunch and Hubby informed me that he would forgo any brunch in the city to drive to Banff for brunch.  All I have to say is "Be careful what you wish for..."

It was a strong desire for a change of scenery and the promise of a soak in the Hot Springs that took us to Banff.  We will head to the mountains to hike or bike, but we don't usually go in to Banff.  To be honest, we avoid it.  Do you remember that scene at the end of The Truman Show, where they hit the edge of the set?  That's what I feel like when I go in to the Banff townsite.  A wonderfully idyllic setting that seems too pretty to be real.  Really, just a mall with a fantastic ceiling.    This particular day we just wanted brunch, candy, and a soak.  Call it the urban adventure to the Rockies.

We paid our national park entrance fee, parked on one of the empty spots off Banff Avenue, and wandered, nose to the ground, for some eggs benedict.  Then talk about some fantastic friggin' luck.  We cut down a side street to check out a bakery.  Hmm, it smelled good but there were no eggs on the menu.  Hubby needs his eggs.  But just down the road we happened upon The Bison Mountain Restaurant and Lounge.  The downstairs is under renovation, but the restaurant was open.  They happily accommodated our stroller and put us in a quiet spot near the kitchen - not to hide us, but so we could see all the action from the open kitchen.  Then the brunch glory began.

Sure, they had a kids menu, but it seemed too safe, too boring, too predictable.  But the french toast sounded yummy, and it came with bacon.  Everything is right in the world if The Monster has bacon.  And some eggs benny that sounded too pretty to be real.  But oh, was it all so real.  Broek Acres Back Bacon with carmelized onions (or maple onion compote, as they called ).  And I had duck confit with fresh cheese curds on my benny.  Hands down, they were both the best eggs benny we've ever had.  And Hubby knows his eggs benny.  Hence the desire to drive there anytime.

The Monster's french toast came stuffed with smoked gouda and bacon, covered in a blueberry sauce and garnished with an apple slaw.  When the waitress brought the plates out she was looking for the third adult at our table.  "Oh no," we told her, "that's for her."  In the end she ate half of the actual toast, most of the blueberries, all of the cheese and bacon, and she split the apples with her sister.  

A little, just a little, walk was required after all that goodness.  Where else to go in Banff when you aren't there to shop?  The candy store, of course!  World famous, Welch's Candy Shop has been an institution for anyone who has ever made their way to the mountains more than once.  As a kid we always went there, even if we were only skiing for a day.  No trip was complete without my brother's wine gums, my sister's jaw breakers, my mom's almond bark, and my macaroons.  As I got older I always managed to sneak a couple of Flakes in the bag too.

The selection might be a bit overwhelming for the neophyte.  Just don't get overcome by the selection of imported treats and various cliche Canadiana candy.  Save your eyes for the large bulk display.  No, it isn't all homemade on site, but that isn't the point.  Just the visit, the sugar smell, and the white paper bag of your treat of choice are what it's all about.

Finally, the day would not have been complete without a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs.  Yes, it's touristy and generally crowded.  But if you get there before 4, when the ski hills haven't cleared yet, then it's just you, some Canmore locals, and all the Japanese tourists.  And in the winter you can still enjoy the view before darkness settles in.  It sure as hell isn't going to burn off any of the calories from brunch and your candy, but it feels so good on work weary bones.

Hmm, what's Hubby doing this Sunday?

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 5

Remember this quilt?  I had some blocks left over after I played with the layout.  When the order came in for the doll quilts I pulled them out, made a few more and put together this simple, yet bold creation.  What a different feel, even though all the blocks are the same.  A true testament to improvisation.

These doll quilts don't ask for fancy quilting.  Or maybe it's just me being lazy?  Either way, this was another simple quilting design.  Because I don't like to stipple when there are so many seams to go over I merely went in the ditch on the diagonal.  This seemed too simple and quite boring, so I added the wavy line for a different texture.  I would definitely use this idea again no matter the size of the quilt.

Don't you love the backing fabric?  It is too good not use.  It is from the older line by Moda - Peas and Carrots, designed by Sandy Klop.  I need to get to the store and buy a bunch more.  I just used the orange as well - but that's a different quilt (coming soon).

18 March, 2009

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 4

Now, find me a little girl - or a grown woman - who wouldn't love this quilt.  I am thinking of adapting it to at least a lap size or even bed size.  A whole flock of appliqued birds on a modern, bold background?  Hmm, I already have a collection of pinks and browns set aside for another idea...

The quilting really makes this design.  The pattern is simply that of my quilted interpretation of tree branches.  Swooping and curving across the quilt, the branches support the bird and add some flow to the design.  And boy was it fast!

I have to give credit where credit is due.  We have pretty rockin'  Friday nights in this house. Hubby was watching TV and I was quilting a few feet away in our messy dining room.  I threw the fabric that has the small birds in it and a pad of paper his way, with the instructions, er... command, to draw me a larger version.  First shot and he got it bang on.  I probably should have put his name on the label.

Another label, another skinny binding, and another quilt for the order completed.

17 March, 2009

Taste Adventure - Deer

The home of my brother- and sister-in-law is situated in country residential East of Edmonton. Their house is set back from a rural road and surrounded by trees.  Moose will bed down on their front lawn and there is a new deer track every morning.  What a perfect location for a family of hunters.

At our last visit we watched a snacking deer as the sun set.  The Monster was actually quite afraid of the deer, hiding behind her uncle as he tried to point out the doe in the trees.  She constantly repeated, "I'm afraid of the deer."  Hmm, maybe it had something to do with the head of a buck on the living room wall?

Regardless, I was a little nervous as to how she would react when I pulled out a gifted deer roast from the freezer.  Would the memory be so strong and she would be afraid to eat?  Would she get upset at eating an animal, albeit a different animal, she just saw?  

The roast was simply labelled "deer roast".  Hmm, I had no idea what cut it was.  That makes a difference in how you cook a roast.  Animals with lots of connective tissue require a slow, low roast to ensure a tender piece of meat.  At the other end of the spectrum, a cut like a tenderloin needs high heat and to be cooked for only a short time.  What to do, what to do? God love the internet.  Most hunting related sites suggested marinating the roast in buttermilk or milk, overnight.  Well, that wasn't an option.  I was making it for dinner that night.  What I did find is that unless it was a tenderloin that most methods included a liquid of sorts.  So I went with an old fashioned pot roast.

Smashed garlic, a rough chopped onion, and a pile of carrots went into the La Creuset beside the well seasoned and browned roast.  I poured in a bottle of beer and stuck it in the oven for an hour at 350 degrees.  In the end, it was a bit long, with the roast cooked all the way through. But oh, was it ever tender.  You could definitely tell it was game and not beef, but it had tremendous, rich flavour.  I served it with some homemade horseradish cream that my dad makes every year.

It turns out I didn't need to be nervous about whether The Monster would like it or not.  Her plate is always put down first.  By the time I turned around and put down plates for Hubby and I she'd already powered through half of what I gave her.  "Good bacon, Mama," she informed me.  And this past weekend she told her uncle that she was no longer afraid of the deer.

The deer roast was also a good introduction to red meat for The Smilosaurus.  Cut in tiny little chunks she ate more than The Monster.  And since that night she's been a meat fiend.  Steak dinner out one night, ribs, even chicken tagine.  Our little carnivore.  And it all started with the deer our family provided.  Now that's local. 

16 March, 2009

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 3

Simple, modern, and bright.

A pile of scraps and this multi-coloured sale fabric brought this quilt into being.  I pieced together the scraps into a roughly square shaped block.  Once trimmed I bordered it asymetrically with the white fabric.  Very fast, very simple.  It is an idea that could be easily adapted to a much larger quilt and I am tempted to try it, maybe ending up with a result much like this?
I kept the simple thing going with wavy lines in a variegated thread.  Nothing too fancy on a doll quilt.
The back of this one is a stripe that I bought at the same time as the front white.  I have tonnes of it left, so you may see it more than once!

15 March, 2009

What Do I Do With All These Radishes?

It can be pretty tough, but ridiculously rewarding to eat local whenever and wherever you can. But where do you start? Where can you buy? Who makes the stuff? And hey, what do I do with all the radishes I find in July?

There is a great event coming up for Calgary and area folks called Local 101. From the farmer to the chef to the shopper, come and learn more about what it takes to eat local. More importantly, come and learn more about the opportunities we have for fantastic products grown and produced in our own backyard. You'll meet farmers, writers, and a lot of cooks who live and breathe and eat local.

Eating local is fundamental to the grocery purchases in our house, and to the lessons we aim to teach the girls. Somedays I feel like I'm snotty and giving off a major superiority vibe when I talk to other moms about this fact. And other days I feel like everyone I know does this, so what's the big deal? The truth is, there are more people in my circle who shop at the big box grocery stores and Costco than shop at the farmer's market. There are more people I know who complain about the white, expensive strawberries available in March than wonder whether they should even be eating strawberries in the waning days of winter.

So I've invited a few friends and we're heading out to Local 101. They've all heard me from my pulpit, I hope some good farmers will inspire them to get a little dirty and see what our Prairie sun offers.

13 March, 2009

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 2

How is this for an improv piece?  

I started with a pile of fabric and scraps that I thought would go together.  Of course, I couldn't resist adding a circle, and then another (can you see it?)  This one isn't photographing well, but I assure you, it's cute.  This one is for the daughter of dear friends, a little girl who is essentially a big sister to my girls.  Her birthday was a month ago.  She has the busy social life of a 7 year old, so I haven't even seen her since her birthday.  Just a belated treat.

There is a mix of old and new fabrics in this one.  More Amy Butler...  And some fabric that has also been seen more than a handful of quilts produced on the dining room table.

I stole my quilting idea from one of the fabrics, the pale pink with black outlined flowers and dots.  A few lines to anchor the batting and a scattering of flowers.  It isn't perfect, but I imagine that this one will get some rough love.  It will more than stand up to Clare's love, and hopefully her sister's!
Rather than make big labels for these doll quilts I decided to make tags.  Each tag has my name and "Naps" on one side. (More on "Naps" later).  The other side has washing instructions. Every other quilt I've given away has gone to people I know, so I can verbally pass on washing instructions.  These doll quilts are almost all going to strangers, so I had to include the instructions in an easy format - love generously, wash and dry gently.

She just couldn't resist getting her hands on it...

11 March, 2009

Make Your Own Baby Food - Part 2

Take a deep breath and ignore the upcoming mess.  The Smilosaurus refuses to eat baby food anymore.  This, of course, comes only days after I filled a few ice cube trays with pork, beans, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and squash.  It must have been the peas.  Now she insists on feeding herself.  The only exceptions are yoghurt and cottage cheese, and those can't be shovelled in fast enough.

There comes a point when all babies should refuse baby food.  It's often a hard adjustment for us parents.  Will they get enough to eat?  Have I chopped those beans small enough?  Does she have to be so messy?  Many a friend will keep trying to feed the purees and mashes to make sure that the kid is getting enough to eat.  But remember this, by the time they insist on finger foods they usually don't need to eat as much.  And they do get more in their mouth than you think they do.  That is, until they learn to feed the dogs hovering below the high chair.

What started it all for The Smilosaurus was a roasted carrot. I roasted a chicken for the rest of us. Because I love the carrots roasted with meat I threw a bunch in the pan. It seems she loves them too. Soon it became more about what she could get her hands on, literally, and what we were eating. You should have seen her with medium rare steak tonight. I swear she ate half of mine.

It is rather tempting at this point to let them survive on bananas and peas.  This phase of baby food can be more time consuming than the purees.  Only because of the incessant chopping required.  You are your baby's sous chef, dicing and prepping every day.  The one saving grace is that this is also the time when you can start introducing spices, oil, butter, and other condiments.  Knowing that can make your life a lot easier.

At this point you have two choices: reserve a bit of what you are making to steam and chop for your little one.  This only takes a few extra minutes of prep, and maybe another pan/dish if you want to cook it separately.  Or, you can simply take what you've cooked - prior to salting it - and cut it into small pieces.  Okay, you can do it after seasoning it too... but I am notorious for undersalting, according to Hubby.

No recipe, no technique.  This is about the transition from purees to people food.  You've been getting rougher textures already, right?  You've been offering things like bananas, peas, and blueberries to encourage her pincer grasp, right? No? Then start with these.  In fact, I start with these within a month or two of starting solids.  The longer you stay on smooth purees, the harder it will be to move to finger foods.

The next thing to help with the transition is to make sure you are sitting down to eat with your baby.  Too often we feed the baby first, make our dinner, then feed ourselves.  Sure, your dinner will get a little cold or it will feel like you are eating ungodly early, but it is important to sit down as a family and eat.  Your baby will see you eating your food and their natural curiosity will draw them to your food.  Not to mention the extra benefits your family gains when sitting down together.

Don't let a lack of teeth stop you from introducing chewy and rough textures.  My little one has her two bottom front teeth, and that's it.  And tonight she ate about 4 ounces of medium rare steak.  And raw peppers, chopped a little smaller, some steamed green beans, sweet potato, and watermelon chunks.  That was just dinner.

So grab a good knife and chop away.  Some foods will require cooking - like beans, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and even zucchini.  But you can get away with raw peppers, peas, and most fruits.  I would steer clear of hard apples or most raw veg at this point.  Meats and beans are fine, but cut them a bit smaller than you do the soft foods.   Most importantly, don't leave your baby alone when you eat.  This isn't the time to grab a shower or put in a load of laundry.  Finally, here is some good advice in the unlikely but horrible event that you do encounter choking.

Hubby loves this photo of our little one.  He says it reminds him of a combination of The Incredible Hulk and Shrek- if they ate maple baked beans and avocados.

Doll Quilt Show and Tell 1

There has been enough whining and pining for better days on this blog.  Let's get back to some quilts, shall we?

This is the first of 7 doll quilts I am wrapping up.  Six of these are for a special order, and one for a precious little friend.  With the order the request was made for 4 modern, 2 traditional quilts.  I think this one could qualify as either.  It is a rail fence design, but I made the middle section larger than the two side ones.

Isn't that middle bar fantastic?  I'm not supposed to be buying fabric, but I fell in love and bought it in three colour ways.  This one is my favourite.

With such a busy design I went for a simple loopy swirl to quilt it.  Nothing fancy, nothing distracting.

All of the doll quilts have simple backs, no piecing on something so small.  I sadly let go of this favourite Amy Butler for the back of this one.  It's been used on more than three quilts I've made, plus one that was made for The Monster.  It's time to move on.

Over the next week or so I will share all of the doll quilts, and hopefully a few other finished pieces (if Hubby will hold up the quilts in the freezing ass cold for me).

07 March, 2009

Bright Days Ahead

Sorry about that.  I didn't mean to take such a break.  I've been plugging away on a few projects, but none have really been going anywhere.  My doll quilts are almost all done and ready for shipping.  Project Improv is slowly moving forward.  And all has been put aside to get that baby quilt done. Life has taken some unexpected twists and turns lately.  Some great (a pipsqueak of a nephew) and some not so great (hospital visits and such).

The good thing about such times is the opportunity for reflection.  Actually, the motivation to force yourself to regroup.  That's the same thing, right?  Sure, life is crazy and will only get more so in the coming months.  It's a perfect time to launch a new career!

I've decided to make a good and honest woman out of myself.  With quilting, that is.  I'm putting together some class notes and a few pitches and I'm going to get out there and try and convince someone to hire me to teach.  I've been thinking about it for over a year, but haven't had the nerve or the commitment to do it.  But with the return to work looming and the prospect of a few more years at a job that no longer excites me I decided I had to do something. I still have to go back to the desk job, but with Hubby's support I'm taking the plunge, and the time sacrifice, to launch this new path.  To be honest, I'm quite giddy about it.  If only the girls would coordinate their nap schedules a bit better so I can get more work done!

Any tips from you pros? Any notes from the dedicated class goer? 

06 March, 2009

Comfort Food - Bread

Start 'em young, that's what I say.

My bread-making skills (if they can be called that) began in my teens.  Simply out of experimentation I tried a few loaves.  I think my mom was still happier buying the grocery store brands.  But in my last year of university I took a job at an organic vegetation cafe and bakery.  A family run business, I did no more than serve food and maybe marinate some tofu, while the mom, dad, and son did all the cooking and baking.  Then the son wanted to go on vacation.  Despite having to start work by 5 am I was stoked to get in the kitchen and play with the starters.  It took a few weeks, but soon enough there was no difference between my bread and the experts.

But in the 13 years that have passed I've only randomly made bread.  Instead, I will spend some time and not an insignificant amount of money on finding local bakeries and good bread.  And good bread products.  I could live on bread alone, provided I had some sweet butter, jam, and a croissant or two thrown in.  The Monster is the same way.  For a few months there she quite literally survived on bread and fruit.  Yes, Atkins is a four letter word in this house.

With winter hanging on for dear life I decided I needed to make some bread.  The ritual of kneading and the smell of yeast are a comfort on a bright and cold afternoon.  The buns and loaves are a welcome addition to the dinners of stew and soups that keep our bellies full and warm.

As expected, The Monster was happy to join me in the kitchen.  Dumping flour, stirring the wet ingredients, and cracking an egg are always eagerly approached.  What I underestimated was how much she would enjoy kneading.  She dove right in and attacked the dough.  Surprisingly, she was pretty good.  Despite her constant attempts to shake her bum to Coldplay and Paul Simon, she doesn't quite have rhythm yet.  But she did have a good grasp of the rhythm of kneading.  I would fold and turn, she would knead.  We had our pass back and forth going strong.  

Sadly, she wouldn't eat the buns when they were cooked.  Next time I'll play music while we knead.