A Lovely Homemade Life

A Lovely Homemade Life: September 2014

Monday, September 29

Isla's New Favorite

When Luca was about 5 months old, we started him on his first foods.  It was important to me to feed him the best I could find, so I made almost all of his early baby food.  Rice & barley cereal from scratch in a baby food mill, pureed fruits and veggies, the whole business.  He has always been a pretty picky eater and I definitely got discouraged when he wouldn't eat a lot of the food that I had spent so much time preparing. I saw this face quite a lot.

But once in a while I got this one too :)

Since starting Isla on solids at about the same age, I haven't taken the time to make all of her baby food from scatch.  Poor second baby :(  And I think I was remembering how discouraged I used to feel when Luca rejected something I had slaved over.  But now, at the ripe old age of 9 months, she has made it clear that she is "too old" for spoon feeding.  She has a great pincer grasp and feeds herself puffs, small bites of banana and crackers very competently.  She (so far) doesn't seem like a picky eater (as long as you're not offering her baby food) and she loves gnawing on a carrot or big hunk of apple.  She seems ambivalent about avocado, but we'll keep trying...

I decided I'd go ahead and make her some simple foods ahead of time that I can pull out of the fridge for meals and snacks.  No preservatives, all natural.

The first one was a simple acorn squash.  I used a veggie peeler to peel off the skin, then I cut it in half and removed the seeds, then diced it up in small cubes.  I like getting it to the size I want before I cook it.  When the pieces were cut, I tossed them in a steamer basket and steamed until they were soft.  She loved them!  She ate a whole bunch.  Isn't she cute?


Next up will be some sweet potatoes.  I'm finding she doesn't care for the little pieces as much if they're cold, but microwaving them is problematic.  I'll have to work on that one, but for now I'll just keep offering :)

Friday, September 26

9 Months Already?

My baby is 9 months old already!  Sometimes it's really hard to believe, and other times it seems like she must be much older.  She has a tooth now, she's a very adventurous eater, she pulls up to everything and she cruises around at warp speed, just like her brother.  She's starting to get brave and take a wobbly step from one hand hold to another.  She's getting rather vocal, and it often sounds like she's yelling "mama!" when she's mad.

She's definitely "the eater" of the pair of them (Luca gets the distinction of being "the sleeper").  Yesterday she ate about 30 smushed black beans.  The boy, on the other hand, protested for almost an hour that there was a single bean on his plate.  He never did eat it...although it's easy to forgive him that when he sleeps from 8:30 at night to 7:15 the next morning (who needs an alarm clock?).  Take notes Little Miss! 

We're planning a quiet weekend at home full of lots of craft projects and maybe some fall comfort foods...depending on the weather.  I'll have to share some pics next Friday.  Have a great weekend!

**Special update.  After her 9 month appointment yesterday in which the doctor asked me how she slept and I mentioned 'not for more than 5 hours at a time ever in her life', he said she was probably past the point of 'needing' things at night and we should probably try letting her cry it out to get her to sleep all night.  Which would be great, since I've been up 2-6 times per night all but about 10 nights since she was born.  Sleep deprivation has completely set in and my 2 cups of coffee has turned into more like 6-8...  But I digress.  So last night, since we already knew she was going to be mad at us, my mom suggested putting her in her crib that she despises and killing two birds with one stone.  So, when she fell asleep on her own at 9pm, we popped her in her crib.  She actually stayed asleep there, which she has never done, and 45 minutes later we prepared for our big showdown.  She cried and screamed for 25 minutes, and after much comforting, but no picking up, she settled back down to sleep and slept until 7:15 this morning!  Yay!  Go girl!  Let's see how many more nights it will be until we are over the crying part :)  Hooray for a full, uninterrupted 8 hours**

See...this is the $400 crib that my daughter hates and the $40 pack and play knock-off that she prefers to sleep in... :-/

Wednesday, September 24

Yarn Along--Baby Favorites

Good morning all!  Today I'm sharing a pic of my most recent custom order for Baby L--an Easy Baby Cardigan.  (She already has a lavender one that another friend ordered for her months ago, but Mama loves it and wants one in white for winter)  She'll be so cute in it!

Have you ever read this book?  When I was pregnant with Luca I saw a neat idea to ask people to bring a favorite children's story book instead of a card.  We ended up with some really special books, and this one from my cousins Melissa and Brandon and Aunt Amy is by far my favorite.  Socks for Supper by Jack Kent is a true classic that teaches great values like generosity and kindness, and as an added bonus, it's also a little bit about knitting.  :)

I've also ordered Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett for them for Christmas.  I'm excited for it to get here and make it's way to my secret Christmas stash.

Linking up with Ginny.  See you next week!

Monday, September 22

Learning from Failure

Recently I had my friend over for an evening of knitting and chatting.  I had made a batch of Dark Chocolate and Caramel Topped Shortbread for the occasion.  This is a recipe I've done before with great results.  I thought these were going to turn out even better, because the caramel had cooked exactly how the directions specified this time and everything was tasting great.  But then this happened (and these are the best of the best):

 (Go look at the original picture, where the end result is tasty AND pretty)

I offered them to my friend a bit sheepishly, as they were so ugly, but still so so tasty.  And she said, not unkindly, "Well, it's nice to know that not everything you do comes out perfectly."

Which is true.  It's nice to think that everyone makes mistakes a has missteps.  But I think she may have cursed me...because nothing else has come out right since then...

I am very new to canning.  I've read up on water bath canning a bit and I've tried several different recipes and most things have worked out just fine.  But not everything.  A while back I canned some Peach Salsa, which is a fantastically tasty recipe.  But, not understanding canning thoroughly yet, I put some not-hot salsa into steaming hot jars just before processing them and lost an entire quart because the bottom of the jar broke.  Oops...

This week at the store, peaches and nectarines were a great price.  I thought to myself "Oooh!  These would make a great Peach Salsa.  I can rework the recipe to add nectarines and maybe share it on the blog and it will be so tasty!"  Nope.

(Look, I was so hopeful.  Isn't this a great intro shot?)

Nothing about this recipe went right.  It started when I blanched the peaches, but their skins still wouldn't come off.  (I tried blanching nectarines too, but I wasn't even sure you could do that with them...it didn't work either, for the record.)  I should have stopped there.  I should have given up and gone on to another project.  But I didn't want to be a quitter.

So I peeled the peaches and nectarines, and decided to add some mangos.  Yum, right?  The mangos had been in the fridge since last week and their skins were...questionable.  But do you know what?  They were the only thing that went right.  After peeling those too they were so tasty and juicy, it gave me hope that this recipe might turn out after all.

From there, I chopped onions (so much crying), peeled garlic (tiny cloves are the worst!), chopped cilantro (can you say wilted?), juiced limes (not so juicy these limes) and diced jalepeños (where were the nitrile gloves!?  My fingers are still burning!).  Give up, give up! I kept telling myself.  Why don't I listen?

So I finally mixed the salsa up, put it in jars that had been washed but were not hot this time and sealed them up.  I was planning to put them in the water bath at room temp, with room temp water and heat the whole business up to boiling together, starting the processing count down when the water boiled.  But they floated.  Because the peaches and nectarines and limes weren't juicy enough to fill the jars with lovely, dense juice.  Sigh.  So I added some vinegar and water to each jar (just to make sure the acidity would be high enough) and let them process 25 minutes after the boil (which is sufficient time to sterilize the jars and contents).  When I pulled them out their lids popped, so at least they sealed.  But who knows how the contents will taste?

So, since I'm not offering any useful content, can I point you in the direction of a very helpful pin that I have learned a lot from today?  Avoiding Common Canning Mistakes--by Jackie Clay-Atkinson.  I should have read this first.  But now I know.

I think I'll take a little break from canning.  And maybe I'll buy a canning book.  An actual book that has been published and not a recipe from Pinterest (who vets these things, really?)  This one looks nice: Canning for a New Generation.

I wish you better luck in your endeavors than I've had in mine :)  Have a great week.

Friday, September 19

So. Many. Legos.

Isla and I got to have a special lunch date with Daddy at Tuscan Slice.  Yum!  She was so good and she loved the flat bread they bring to your table.  She was pretty sleepy after her big meal.  I can't believe how fast she's growing up!  She can even roll the ball--it's so cute!

And Luca and his Legos.  OMG!  He's so smart!  Do you see the houses in the second to last picture?  Those are his design.  Michael has some great videos of him describing his creations--precious!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, September 17

Yarn Along--Cookbooks count, right?

Happy Wednesday all!  I've been keeping busy this week with my mountain of projects (because everyone needs to have multiple knitting, canning, cross stitching, sewing and business projects in the works at once, right?) but I might be making a dent in the to-do list.  This week's picture is a sneak peek of a design I've been working on.  It needs a few more modifications, but it's getting close.  :)

Many thanks to everyone who downloaded my first pattern Baby Wren last week!  And an extra extra special thank you to my awesome test knitters who are working their way through the larger sizes of Sister Wren.

On Monday I shared a quick look at my recent apple canning endeavors, and yesterday I added to the stock of preserved apple creations with one (one! how did 8 apples make only one?!) jar of applesauce and a second try at the apple peel jelly.  (Still no gelling, in case you were wondering :/)

On a related note, do you like making bread from scratch?  I was always really intimidated by bread making until Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was recommended to me.  (The given link will actually take you to the newest edition of the book, and full disclosure, if you were to click the link and decide to purchase the book I would receive a small percentage of the purchase price)  Five minutes a day you say?  Absolutely!  It's ridiculously easy to make all of the recipes in this book, and as long as you have the ability to measure accurately and stir you're pretty much guaranteed a great result.  I make at least one batch (but often more) a week.  Our favorite recipes are the standard Boule and the olive oil recipe.  Luca has decreed that Friday is pizza night, so it's nice to know we can make our own at home and know exactly what ingredients are in our meal.  The best is when Michael makes homemade mozzarella and we break out a jar of red pepper & tomato sauce...yum!  With such a busy week, this was about the only thing I accomplished reading, but if you're nervous about making bread or like doing it but don't very often because it's too time consuming, this book is definitely for you.

Linking up with Ginny.

Monday, September 15

All the Apples

I've been doing a lot of canning lately.  Apples have been a great price at the market and so tasty this time of year!  I just want to jar them all up and save them for a cold and rainy day.  I wanted to share a few recipes that I've tried with all of you in case you're wanting to can all the apples too :)

For all of these recipes I used Gala apples, which are one of my favorite varieties anyway, but have been 78 cents a pound!  I'm sharing links to all of the recipes I found on Pinterest--these are not my personal recipes so I won't infringe on their creator's intellectual property and reproduce them here.  Just click through to see the recipe for yourself :)  The pictures of the jams are all my finished products though.

So I started on Wednesday with Apple Pie Jam.  I wanted to try two different recipes this day so I chose one with a smaller yield for the sake of time.  You could easily double or triple it if you have a big enough pot.

I used an immersion blender to purée the apples once they were cooked down.  I liked the addition of just a little liquid pectin--the finished jam has a nice texture without being too firm.  It spreads nicely on toast. :)

The second recipe for Wednesday came from a post containing 4 recipes that all look great.  I only had all of the ingredients on hand for this particular one (the last in the post) but I want to try some of the others another time.  I chose to do Honey Lemon Apple Jam.  This is a lovely twist on apple preserves with the addition of the floral honey and tangy lemon juice.  I chose a variety of orange blossom honey and the flavor characteristics definitely come through in the finished jam.  I also got to use my immersion blender on this one for a more uniform product.

But even doing both of those recipes, I still hadn't exhausted the 13 lbs of apples from the store.  So Thursday I did a batch of Canned Apple Pie Filling.  I didn't have some of the ingredients, but I improvised, using the recipe as a guideline.  I'll include my updates below.  I washed and sanitized 5 quart jars.  Using the apple corer peeler slicer contraption I borrowed from my friend, I was able to quickly peel, core and spiral slice about 3 apples per jar.  I cut the spiraled apples into 8ths and packed the jars to the neck.  Even though I had started the syrup mixture way in advance, mine didn't seem to cook down as much as I would have liked.  I went ahead and filled the jars up with the syrup so the apples wouldn't brown, but I imagine I'll have to mix in a little cornstarch slurry when I go to make up pies to thicken the sauce.  Next time I'll start even earlier to get a thicker syrup.  And I found that this recipe needs more headspace than other types I've done.  I had issues with the syrup leaking out and the lids not sealing properly, so this batch got processed twice.  Next time I'll only fill them  up to the 'shoulder' part so there will be enough space to expand.

My syrup recipe (based on the one I linked, but modified because I didn't have all of the ingredients)

- 10 c water
- 4.5 c sugar
- 2 T cinnamon
- 2 t nutmeg
- 1 t ground ginger
- 7 cardamom pods (I left these whole and added them to the boil, then removed before canning)

I put all the ingredients in a large pot and brought it to a boil, then simmered, stirring occasionally to reduce.  This made just about the right amount for 5 quarts.  If it had reduced a bit more it would have been spot on!

Even with the double processing, one of the lids didn't seal...but there was no reason to be upset!  We just made an apple pie the next day with that pesky jar.  I mixed up a simple shortening crust and pressed it into my small stoneware dish while we warmed up the apples in a saucepan and added a little cornstarch (mixed with cold water so it wouldn't clump).  I baked the empty crust for about 12 minutes (pricked with a fork first), filled it with the warmed apples and thickened sauce and topped it with a streusle topping (Michael's own creation--brown sugar, oats, flour, cold butter, cinnamon I think?)  Then it went back in the oven for 15 minutes or so.  And we may have cut into it before I took a picture...but either way, it was delicious!

The final canning recipe I attempted was Apple Core & Peeling Jelly.  I saved all the peels and cores from the pie filling apples and just added water and simmered.  I strained the liquid through a cheese cloth and followed the rest of the directions, omitting the food coloring.  It's such a lovely color, I didn't think it needed anything else.  I was running a little short on sugar by this time, so I may not have gotten the whole 9 cups in there... The jelly still hasn't "gelled" yet, but according to the pectin box it can take several days for it to set, so the jury is still out on this recipe.  It's very tasty, and it's definitely a "user error" issue ;)

So...to any of my readers out there who are also canners:  What are your favorite apple recipes?  I'd love it if you'd share them (with a linky if possible) in the comments!  Thanks in advance for the great recipes to try!

Friday, September 12


Happy Friday all!  I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the wonderful and positive response I've gotten about my first design, Baby Wren.  (In case you haven't picked up a copy yet, I'm offering it for free from my Ravelry store with coupon code LOVELYSEPTEMBER until Sunday at midnight!  Just use the above link, put the code in--you don't even have to be a member of Ravelry--and voila!)

Since Wednesday morning, nearly 4000 copies of the pattern have been downloaded!  It's just so exciting!  I can hardly wait to see project pages start popping up!  And (if you're familiar with Ravelry) my pattern even made the "Hot Right Now" List on the Pattern Search page.  Squeeee!

In honor of this, I'm also offering 15% off purchases from my Etsy store (this discount is on top of clearance prices too!).  The coupon code for that is BABYWREN3000
Check out my shop A Lovely Homemade Life.

In addition to all of that excitement, I've been doing a fair bit of canning this week.  Since Gala apples were a steal at the store I bought almost 13 lbs!  I've made two kinds of apple jam, plus apple core jelly and apple pie filling.  I'll share those recipes and some pics on Monday, so stop back by!

And today I made a 2nd batch of red pepper jelly.  Actually...a triple batch.  And bless her, Isla napped through the whole project!  She's learning to do so much!  Standing, cruising along furniture, climbing stairs, wrestling with Luca.  And he's been doing awesome at school!  I'm so glad that's he's enjoying it so much.  Love them!

Oh, and that project Michael is working on in the pic above?  I'll let you see that one of these Mondays too :)  Have a super weekend!  See you back on Monday.

Wednesday, September 10

Yarn Along--Baby Wren Coupon Code

Good morning everyone!  I am excited to announce that in honor of test knitting beginning for Sister Wren, the girl's version of Baby Wren that will be released mid-October, I'm offering Baby Wren for free with coupon code LOVELYSEPTEMBER from my Ravelry shop.  Use the link above to take you directly to the pattern page.  I'm excited to see your finished versions!

I am also looking for a few more test knitters for Sister Wren.  The pattern will be offered in 5 sizes--4 year old (6, 8, 10, 12) with finished chest circumferences of 26" (28", 30", 32", 34").  Any worsted weight yarn will work and yardage requirements are as follows: 350 yds (440, 530, 630, 730).  Gauge is 16 stitches & 21 rows = 4" in stockinette stitch with sz 9 needles (or size to obtain gauge).  If you'd be interested in test knitting, please join my Ravelry Group--A Lovely Homemade Life and post your wish to join in on the thread.  I need about one additional tester per size--the limit per size is 2 testers.

Enough business. :)  I finally blocked my Driftwood and got a good picture of it.  It came out so beautifully!  I can't wait to wear it...Texas is a tough place for a knitter to live, but I hear the weekend is supposed to be cooler!

I also started a Christmas project.  In case the recipient stops by I'll refrain from sharing the pattern for now, but let me just say that madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light is fantastic to work with.  I'm in no hurry to get through this one...it's so relaxing to knit with this yarn! 

For Michael's birthday he asked for What If? by Randall Munroe and he's been sharing choice snippets with me this week.  If you're into hypothetical questions, science and math then this book is for you!  The author has a regular web comic where he takes questions from people and then "maths them out" in a rather entertaining fashion. You can check out his work at what-if.xkcd.com.

Linking up with Ginny.  Happy knitting!

Monday, September 8

DIY Custom Photography Backdrop

One of my biggest struggles as an Etsy seller is taking attractive pictures of my products.  I don't have a DSLR camera, a studio set up or any training or experience at taking great pictures.  As a result, my pictures have been less than stellar, which is a major drawback for my business!  Attractive pictures are what get people interested in seeing what you have to offer.

But I have resolved that I am going to improve the photos for all of my existing items (currently on clearance in my shop!) and take better pictures of new items that I'm adding to my line-up.

A big part of this is the backdrop.  For right now, I will still be using my Sony Cyber-Shot 16.2 megapixel camera.  I really like the background defocus setting for taking close up stills.  So since I'm not upgrading my camera right now, the backdrop will be my primary area of improvement.

Recently, I decided it was time to get rid of all the big plastic storage drawers in our play room in favor of a used piece of furniture I could repaint.  I found this cabinet on a garage sale website for $40 and saw some serious potential!

We removed the hardware, drawers and doors and painted the cabinet in Valspar's Color of Money (Signature Line ar2010).  When it was dry we reassembled it and changed out the hardware.

So much better, right?  The only issue is that the top is easy to scratch and green isn't a great color to photograph on!  So the next project I came up with was a new top that would sit on top of the cabinet and be a much better backdrop.

This project required a trip to Lowe's for more supplies.  We used:

-11 premium furring strips measuring 1"x2"x8' ($0.98/each) for $10.78
-2 pieces of 1/4"x3/4" Aspen board, 48" long ($2.76/each) for $5.52
-1 piece of 2-1/4"x8' decorative chair rail for $12.82
-1 box of 100ct 4x3/4 phillips screws $4.58
-1 half pint Cabot stain in Early American (from the mistints and clearance shelf) $1.00

Also needed for the project that we already had at home:
-220 grit sandpaper
-paint brush (ours was 1.5")
-saw, power sander and drill

We measured the top of the cabinet (53" x 16") and decided to make the piece about 1/2" bigger all around. 

Michael laid out the strips, clamped them together, and then attached them to the cut-to-size pieces of aspen with a screw in each board.

Once he attached the two outside pieces, he evenly spaced two others between them for stability.

 Once the planks were secure, he cut the whole thing to size and sanded it thoroughly.

I brought it inside, propped it up on top of a large piece of cardboard, and after a couple of trials on the scraps to settle on a color of stain, gave it two good coats, waiting overnight in between (this would not have been my first choice of project location, but our garage is about a thousand degrees!).

Once the stain was dry and I decided two coats had achieved the color I was looking for, Michael gave it the first coat of polyurethane (he's much better at it than I am).  The next day after plenty of drying time, I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper and gave it a 2nd coat of poly.

He then secured the top to the cabinet with 2 screws in the center (the top was a bit bowed because the furring strips weren't quite straight, but securing it down fixed that problem and also made it safer for the kiddos).  After measuring to determine the proper height for the decorative trim, I chose an ornate piece that Michael cut to size with mitered corners.  Two coats of stain, one coat of poly and we were ready for the final assembly!

 So what do you think?  I'm really really happy with it!

The whole set up, with 2 backgrounds for picture taking and lovely afternoon light.  I'm looking forward to updating my shop pics soon!

Friday, September 5

The Week in Review

This week has been awesome!  In case you can't tell from the pics, a lot of Lego building happens around our house...and it's not just the boys!  Isla loves to play with the bigger Legos too.  It's so cute when they play together.

The pic with her arms up in the air?  Any time we say "Soooo big!" she does that.  Love her!

Luca started preschool this week.  His teacher is fantastic, and I'm really loving the small class size--there are only 6 of them so I know he gets lots of individualized attention.  He was super excited to go back, and his teacher and I are presenting a united front to get him comfortable with nap time.  (He had a bit of a traumatic experience last year and I ended up picking him up each day after lunch because nap time was such a problem)  I'm really glad he's able to participate for the whole day and I can get so much more accomplished at home with the extra time!  Way to go Luca!

Hope you have a great weekend!  See you again on Monday for Make It Myself Mondays with a special tutorial.  Cheers!