A Lovely Homemade Life

A Lovely Homemade Life: January 2015

Friday, January 30

Creative Corner--DIY Terrarium

Luca received a really fun DIY Terrarium kit for Christmas from our cousin Salina's shop Fresh Digs.  The kit included a plastic screw top jar with everything he'd need to create his own dinosaur terrarium.  There was a link to a great instructional video too.

It was pretty straight forward--we layered all of the contents as instructed and then he arranged the moss and figures.  It got pretty tight in there with all of the different kinds of moss, but he made it work.  The kit also included some seeds that have already sprouted, much to his delight.  I'm not sure how long we'll be able to keep this little eco-system going, but it was definitely a fun afternoon project that you could complete on your own at home.

If you've got a giant, empty peanut butter jar and can scrounge up some pebbles, soil, seeds and figures, you're in business.  I'm not sure what the best option would be for the moss, but your results would still be fun without it.

It's the little things, right?  Little projects to entertain them for an hour and the joy of seeing something you've planted grow.

Wednesday, January 28

Yarn Along--Follow Your Arrow 2

I had such a wonderful time last year doing Ysolda's MKAL Follow Your Arrow, that I jumped at the chance for another choose-your-own adventure type knit along with her Follow Your Arrow 2.  I chose Sage Cascade 220 Fingering in my stash (since I'm on a yarn diet).  So far I've knit option A for Clue 1 that has a lovely sloping shape and the first part of 2B, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here.  It's so relaxing to just knit something new that has no deadline.  I'm really loving it!

No book this week...I've been working hard on finishing the hand-quilting for Isla's Downton Abbey quilt and trying (but failing) to organize the house.  It's going to be 80 degrees here today and I just want to open every window and let the fresh air in!  It's definitely got me thinking about Spring Cleaning early.

Linking up with Ginny this week for Yarn Along.  Happy knitting!

Monday, January 26

The Great Bedroom Makeover Project Part 1--The Design

You may have noticed if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, that I like to take on big projects.  And of course, it would be completely unrealistic for me to take on just one big project at a time...I need to have several going at once.

Well...my newest endeavor is rearranging my kid's bedrooms.  Last year we painted both rooms--Isla's is London Coach by Valspar and Luca's is Forevermore by Olympic.  I really love the colors, so we're definitely keeping them as-is.  Since Isla will at some point be falling out of her crib onto her head, I'm trying to get an early start on this project so we're ready to move a big girl bed into her room when she's ready.  Luca jumped out of his crib at 18 months, which seems so early, but I'm going to be ready if she's an overachiever like her brother.  That means I have 5+ months to finish my project.

Here's the plan:  the crib in her room converts to a full size headboard/footboard combo.  That's moving to Luca's room along with the espresso finish dresser to match.  I also found a fantastic bedside table that coordinates and a dark finish bookshelf.

Isla is getting all new old furniture.  I have a twin sized headboard ($10), a chest of drawers ($40), a cedar chest ($50), an antique vanity bench ($15) and a bedside table (free) that I have procured over the past few months that are all going to be finished with off white chalk paint, waxed and antiqued.

In addition to the furniture mix-up, I'm making them each a new quilt and new accent pillows.  I'm hoping to make a rug for Isla's room, either out of super bulky yarn crocheted like a doily or out of cotton strips, maybe like a braided rug.  I'm still mulling over my options.

So...in a 10 part series, I'll be sharing my progress and then sometime this summer you'll get to see the finished rooms!  Wish me luck!  I'm excited to share an update on my progress with you in a couple of weeks!

Friday, January 23

Week in Review

There have been so many projects going on around here this week!  Luca projects, quilting projects, knitting projects...we've been quite productive.

More coming soon on those, but for today, a couple of cute kiddo pics.  Luca has been very excited about projects lately...he's created a TV with remote and a spaceship and helmet out of some spare cardboard boxes.  He's executes these ideas pretty independently (although we're called in constantly to supply pieces of tape) and I'm always amazed at the end result.  He's also been enjoying a couple of kits he received for Christmas that I'll feature in a couple of weeks.  He's so smart and creative!

Isla is often seen wandering around with her plastic chopping knife and Little Tikes baby.  Yes it's creepy, and no I don't have a clue as to why she always goes for these two items.  But in addition to her pretend knife skills, she's also learning to use a fork!  She was successful on Waffle Wednesday.  This was the first time I had given her a fork for dinner and she acted like she'd been using one forever. 

Wishing us all a productive weekend!  On my list are hand quilting Isla's Downton Abbey quilt, piecing another 3 rows of Luca's Confetti quilt, completing a feather and fan blanket for a local photographer, and repainting an old dresser.  And making my first batch of water kefir.  And working on some upcoming blog topics.  And maybe filing taxes.  And Michael is brewing...

Sounds like a typical weekend around here ;)

Monday, January 19

Slow Cooker Pork Three Ways

One easy protein prep.  Three dinners.  One happy mama!

One of my favorite ways to add protein into our dinners is to put a pork roast in the slow cooker with some water or broth and a few seasonings and let it cook all day until it shreds apart easily.  What makes this even better is when I can use the meat in several ways to create meals for all week.

Since I wanted to be able to do minimal meal prep last week, I bought about 2 pounds total of pork roast and I slow cooked it all day with water, chicken bouillon, cumin, salt and pepper.

Day 1
We started off on Monday with Pork Sandwiches on Homemade Wheat Rolls with Coleslaw.  This was my first time attempting coleslaw in the BlendTec, and I can't say I'm happy with how it turned out, although it was tasty.  The pieces were a bit uneven and I think next time I'd just use a bag of preshredded cabbage and carrots for convenience's sake.

I took some of the shredded pork and mixed in a sweet and tangy sauce made up of chili sauce and homemade red pepper jelly.  The creamy coleslaw was a nice and crispy addition to the sandwich, and the homemade rolls were so soft and tasty.  (I used the Light Whole Wheat Bread recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day)

Day 2
Tuesday we heated up some more of the pork with taco seasoning for Taco Tuesday.  I whipped up some guacamole and a corn and black bean mixture to add to the filling, along with Not So Cheese (totally yummy!) in the BlendTec.  Dinner accomplished.

Day 3
Wednesday I had planned to make Tortilla soup to use up the leftover corn, black beans and guacamole from the night before.  I again used the BlendTec, which made this dinner really quick and easy too.  I've included my recipe below, with a note about how to prepare it in a standard blender.

Quick and Easy Tortilla Soup
Add the following ingredients to your BlendTec or blender:
-1 hothouse tomato, quartered
-1/2 lg carrot (if you're using a standard blender, omit the carrot, or cook until soft before adding)
-1/2 red bell pepper
-2-3 oz pepper jack cheese

-salt, to taste
-garlic powder, to taste
-2 c warm water
-leftover guacamole (or 1/4 avocado, 1 chunk of onion, handful cilantro)
-1/2 c corn
-1/2 c black beans, rinsed

Blend on the "Soups" setting in a BlendTec, or until the desired consistency (we like ours smooth).  Heat and serve with a dollop of sour cream, a few slices of avocado and some of the shredded pork.

This week I'm making Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce from scratch to work into several of our meals.  What methods do you use to minimize your kitchen prep but maximize your meals?

Friday, January 16

Creative Corner--Date Snacks

Preparing the dates
Explaining to the live studio audience

No no...not that kind of date.  Luca had a brilliant idea the other day to make 'date snacks'.  (Apparently he had seen a kid's cooking segment on Disney Jr. that morning where they made these.  I had no idea what he was talking about the entire first time through the conversation, but I caught on by the second telling)

Luckily, I had just purchased a big bag of pitted dates at Winco in the bulk section for all sorts of yummy BlendTec dessert recipes (like Pine Nut Pudding, which is exceptional on ice cream) and after a quick inventory of the fridge, I determined we had all of the ingredients.

He's so adorable...he set to work in his 'TV' voice explaining how to make the snack and why it was a good and healthy snack to eat, like he was performing in front a live studio audience instead of just me and his sister.  Love him!

As he's my picky eater I'm constantly trying to get him involved with food prep to hopefully spark his interest in trying new foods.  So it was really gratifying when he came up with this idea and we had everything we needed to execute it right away.  He did try one of the peanut butter dates and ate about half before saying in a very strained voice "I like it..." (which means he doesn't, but doesn't want to admit it...a very rare occurrence around here)

I'll count that as a win Buddy...

To make your own Date Snacks at home, you'll need whole pitted dates, peanut butter and/or cream cheese and salt.  Smear some peanut butter or cream cheese inside each date and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 14

Yarn Along--Weasley Vests!

Good morning friends!  I don't know about you... but I've been having a rough time getting back into the blogging spirit these last couple of weeks.  I've written up a schedule of potential posts for the near future though, so hopefully that will get me back on track.

This week I'm working on Weasley Vests for a custom order.  They're coming along great...just one more (in light blue) to go and then letters!  And I finished one for my Mom over break, which she was kind enough to model for me (you can see her here on my project page).  Thanks Mom!

Michael got me a copy of My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz for Solstice.  At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to delve into the world of fancy French cooking just after the new year, but the recipes are so delicious I just couldn't resist.  We've already tried the Bleu Cheese, Ham and Pear Quiche, the Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse and the French Onion Soupe.  Divine!  Excellent instructions make it easy to pull these delicious meals together.  And the author includes lots of lovely stories and anecdotes which provide some nice reading in amongst the recipes.  Good choice Michael!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse from scratch...A. Mazing

French Onion Soupe with homemade crusty baguette. Mmmm...

Linking up with Ginny this week.

Friday, January 9

Ambition and Time Constraints

I have a confession to make...I've been spending WAY too much time looking at Pinterest lately.  As I may have mentioned before, I have already more than filled my plate up with kiddos, keeping house, feeding us all, canning, knitting, crocheting, cross stitching, quilting, furniture refurbishing, blogging, pattern writing and Etsy shop running...  Whew.  I'm just tired from making that list.

So I'm putting myself on a diet.  A yarn diet.  A project diet.  It's part of my New Year's Resolutions.

I do so hereby resolve to finish projects that are already in progress and to not buy supplies for new projects unless they're needed to finish up existing projects or for commissioned work.

-Emily's Wedding Quilt of my own design (only 2 years overdue!) with a tutorial in the works that I'll share with all of you! 

-Isla's 2014 Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery sampler only 10 months to go!
-The 13 projects in my Ravelry queue that I already have yarn for.

-The 6 or possibly more designs that I have sketched up, and purchased yarn to knit samples of.

-The Dress Me Up Blanket for Kids that I hunted down the fabric for and want to make Isla for Solstice this year.

-A GREEN Weasley Vest for Luca (since all other colors are abhorrent)

-Refinishing Isla's new bedroom furniture (headboard, side table, cedar chest, and vanity chair...you'll definitely be seeing a post on these beauties!)

-"The Winter Quilt of 2007" (which has been 7+ years in the making.  I finished the quilt top, did a rough machine baste/stitch in the ditch job on it, bound it off so we could use it one weekend, and vowed to hand quilt at a later date...to be determined apparently...)

-Repainting the master bathroom and cabinets

-A dozen flannel blankets for the shop

-More Waldorf dolls, also for the shop

-A couple more knit stroller blankets

-To complete Isla's new bedroom--my own interpretation of Lady Mary's hospital quilt from Downton Abbey (with tutorial of course!)

That's all I can think of right now...I'm sure there could be many more entries, but these are the big ones that have been weighing heavily on me.  I like my projects best when they're accomplished, rather than languishing.

I'll leave you with this for today...lest you're worried about my sanity: 

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.  --John Quincy Adams

Preach it, Brother.  ;)

ETA:  I am adding just one project to this list...a new quilt for Luca's bedroom.  I had a beautiful one already chosen and a plan for how to get it done...but he doesn't like it and has chosen this one instead.  Opinionated, isn't he?  I think with a grey chambray as the background and green and blue corner triangles it will work just as well. And I won't have to hear about it until the end of time ;)

Monday, January 5

From Scratch--Yogurt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The helpful birthday brother blowing out the candle for her
Not sure about what to do with this
Is this right?

I know, I know.  Everyone's just made their New Year's Resolutions to eat better and lose weight and exercise.  And I totally support you!  I've made those same resolutions!  Although my idea of eating better doesn't just mean cutting fat and calories.  I have resolved to use fewer processed ingredients in our food preparation too.

For us, that means we've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  Our new BlendTec (thanks Mom & Dad!) has been used daily to make green smoothies for lunch, homemade roasted tomato sauce for pizza, whole wheat waffles and even strawberry ice cream.  Yum!  Michael also made up a batch of mozzarella from scratch and brewed a new beer this weekend that provided the spent grains for a couple of fantastic loaves of bread.  We're eating a bunch more fruits and veggies and we're excited about this positive change we're making.

But back to the cake...

Since Isla's 1st birthday was the day after Christmas and we didn't have a chance to celebrate with my parents, we invited them over this weekend and I wanted to make a cake for the occasion.  I was looking for something that used plain yogurt to keep it moist, and I knew cream cheese frosting was a must.

I couldn't quite find a cake that met my criteria, so I improvised my own recipe!  This might be my new favorite cake...It's so moist and dense, with a little crispiness at the edges (thanks to the butter).  And don't get me started on the cream cheese frosting!  Yum!  It was truly a decadent treat for her first birthday!

I submit for your approval, my very own Yogurt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.


For the cake:
- 2 1/4 c unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup salted butter, softened
- 2 cups organic cane sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 8 oz plain yogurt

For the frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 8 Tbsp butter, softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two 8" round cake pans with parchment paper.  (I also made two mini bundt cakes out of the one batch I mixed up...your cakes will just be a little taller than mine!)  Sift together flour, baking soda and salt, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter & sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy (I used a hand mixer, but a stand mixer would work great too!).  Beat in eggs one a time, then add the vanilla.  Add about a third of the flour and combine, then a third of the yogurt, continuing in this manner until all ingredients have been just mixed together (do not overmix!)  Batter will be very stiff.

Spoon batter into prepared pans and spread out with a spatula.  (At this point, I swirled about 1/2 cup of homemade strawberry syrup through the batter to make it a strawberry cake.  Since the batter was so thick, it didn't quite 'swirl' like I was hoping it would, but it did add nice flavor.  It would probably be smarter to just mix it into the cake batter, or use a flavored yogurt.  :)  If you add a fruit syrup to your cake, the baking time will increase by 5-10 minutes).  Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until golden brown at the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack before assembling the layers.

For the frosting:  Beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar.  Try not to eat it all before it gets onto the cake!

To assemble:  Spread a layer of frosting on the top of the first cake, then place the second cake on top.  Using a frosting spatula, frost around the sides and top of the cake.  Add a beautiful strawberry and some sparkly sprinkles and enjoy!

Or, if you have a talent for cake decorating, maybe you could try piping some of these beautiful rosettes that my mother in law added to the cake she made for Isla on her birthday.  (I'm definitely not that talented...I'm just lucky the whole cake is covered and there aren't too many crumbs showing ;)


I referenced this recipe as a starting point.

Friday, January 2

Creative Corner--Felt Food

Our play kitchen has been seeing a lot of action lately.  We bought a really inexpensive, all assembly required (I mean, we even had to snip the parts away from the molding frames) kitchen set (at Aldi of all places!) about 3 years ago, which I intended to give Luca for his 2nd birthday.  But right around that time, we moved to Texas and put all of our stuff in a POD until our house was sold and we were in a new one.  About 9 months later, all the transactions were settled and the POD was delivered to our new home, and we pulled the kitchen box out with everything else.

In the meantime, while I was hoping that we would someday be in our own house and have access to all of our stuff again, I purchased three felt food kits and instructions on Etsy, from a fantastic shop called Sweet Emma Jean.  The kits included all the felt needed for each set, and the instructions were very detailed on how to construct each item.  We chose to get the Felt Food Pizza set, the French Toast Breakfast set, and the Summer Cookout set.  It was really hard to choose just three, because all of the designs are so adorable, but we thought he'd like those the best.  A word of warning...three sets was rather ambitious of me to take on...but after many many hours I had everything finished and Michael had the kitchen together.

The big day rolled around and we presented the set to the birthday boy!  He had everything he needed:  gender-neutral kitchen, stainless steel kid sized pots and pans, utensils, dishes, food, appliances, even an adorable chef outfit!  And...he played with it maybe 5 times.  So much for that...

It pretty much sat in the corner, waiting for someone to make some magic there again.  And wouldn't you know it?  It's Isla's new favorite thing.

I never really believed that girls and boys only wanted to play with their specific gender-stereotyped toys, and that if boys were given the opportunity to plays with dolls or kitchens and girls were given the opportunity to play trucks and trains they'd be perfectly happy doing so.  But having one boy and one girl, I definitely see differences in how they play and what they choose to play with.  Sure, Isla will drive the trains around with the best of them, but give her a doll to cuddle or a cup to sip from or a pot to stir and she's all over that.  And if you can build with it, Luca will certainly do so.  And watch out dollies...he's not much of a cuddler.

So at least the kitchen is getting it's time in the spot light.  And it's super cute when she brings me a bowl as if to say "here Mama...try some!"  The addition of her newest Christmas and Birthday presents--a Fisher Price Tea Set, a Fruit and Veggie Cutting Set, and a B. Let's Dish! set really round out the fun.  Thanks Gita and Grandma!

So I'm curious...do (or did) any of your children 'break the gender mold' so to speak in the toys and activities they choose?

 The opinions I offer here on the products and patterns from Sweet Emma Jean are my own and I have not been compensated for doing so--I just want to share a fantastic Etsy seller and her products with you!  The other links within the post are Amazon Affiliate links and if you were to buy any of the products linked here I would receive a small percentage of the sale price.  Thank you for your support!