Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Mama's Apricot Brandy Pound Cake

I mention my grandmothers often here, because both of them have taught me so much in my life. My paternal grandmother is the one whose sewing machine I have, and she died when I was in college. She's the inspiration behind my sewing and the one who had the peach orchard. She was a diabetic, and although she apparently was a great cook, by the time I came around she wasn't cooking much at all (she preferred to sew!).

My maternal grandmother is the one I cook with (hi, Mama!). She says she'd have to start cooking dinner around 2 in the afternoon when I was a small child because I insisted on "helping," so everything took a million times longer than normal. She's the who taught me to bake -- particularly how to make pie crust. She made this pound cake one weekend when I visited a couple of years ago, and I've been meaning to try it out ever since. We had friends over for dinner last night, and with all the gorgeous strawberries I've been buying (I go through at least 4 lbs. a week, no exaggeration), it seemed like the perfect time to try it out and use in strawberry shortcake. It'd also be delicious drizzled with a lemon-powdered sugar icing, or sliced and used in trifle (layered with jam, frozen berries, vanilla custard and whipped cream).

I made a few modifications owing solely to ingredients I had on hand, not at all to improving the recipe. I used a peach liqueur instead of apricot brandy, and I only had about 2 1/8 cups of sugar, so I shorted the amount of sugar in the cake. Also, since I was using peach instead of apricot, I used almond extract instead of orange (um, and because I didn't have orange extract) and I used real rum instead of rum extract. Oh, and I ran out of white flour and had to throw in 1/2 cup of white whole wheat flour, and used 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup yogurt. Miraculously, the cake was still wonderful. It's super fast and easy to mix up, but it does need more than an hour to bake. Here's the original recipe.

Apricot Brandy Pound Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp. each: vanilla extract, orange extract, rum extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
3 c sifted cake flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup apricot brandy

Heat oven to 325 F. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flavoring extracts.

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour cream and brandy. Mix well. Put into greased 3-quart Bundt pan and bake about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Etsy Finds: Thank-You Notes

I had a baby shower on Saturday, so thank-you notes are on my mind! I've been trying to use up the remainder of my boring old store-bought stationary so I can start purchasing my paper from independent artists and designers. There's nothing to compare to the quality, humor and beauty of the non-Hallmark stuff out there, not to mention the benefits of shopping handmade. Plan ahead, so you have the cards available when you need them (I didn't plan ahead for my hostess gifts, and ended up having to hit a local boutique and getting not quite what I wanted instead). Here are a few sets of cards I found while window shopping on Etsy. And do go check out these shops, because there are more pretty cards than what I've featured!

Thank-You Cards
1. Plum Blossoms from desTroy 2. Thank You Very Very Much from smockpaper 3. Why, Thank You from corybo 4. TV notecard from pixelandpost 5. graphic letterpress cards from vandaliastreetpress 6. Pink Merci Scrolls from articulationsevents

Blank Cards
7. Literary Cards from CantonBoxCompany 8. Oval-Shaped Flower from dekanimal 9. Aqua, Red and Chocolate Floral Fabric Cards from lockette 10. Urchins from inklingpaper 11. Purple Letterpress from sweetbeets

Personalized Cards
12. Viney from ohlouisedesigns 13. Printable Modern Teardrops from turnarounddesign 14. Cherry Blossoms from rah4mu

If a link takes you to a sold listing, check the seller's shop to see if they've relisted the set.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Artist Focus: June Craft

I can't remember where I first saw Kayanna's gorgeous prints -- I think it was Scoutie Girl -- but I do know the minute I saw her fantastic Happy Spring Banner (you can get it here on Renegade Handmade), I fell in love with her work.
I've since gotten to know her a bit on Twitter, and she's such a warm, friendly person. So when I found out I'd won a giveaway from her shop (check out the awesome recipes in the comments), I was so excited. Like I said in an earlier post, I never win giveaways, so I don't know what's made me so lucky lately (don't worry, universe -- I'm finishing up one giveaway and have another planned, so I'll be balancing my karma!). I got to choose a 5x7 print from Kayanna's shop June Craft, and narrowed it down to two:


Since I couldn't decide, I ended up buying Norman for the nursery. He's adorable!

Kayanna's work is heavily influenced by Scandinavian folk art, and you can see that in the bright colors and clean designs, as well as the whimsical flower and fruit patterns.

I think I'm so drawn to that style because of my design background. There's something about the graphic simplicity paired with the bright colors and patterns that just gets me excited. I guess I'm just trying to put my own twist on those ideas.

She stays busy with a family and a full-time job designing packaging for retail, but says her independent design keeps her grounded.

It's incredibly hard to juggle a full time job, kids, husband and a hobby that's become a little business. But it's all so important to me so I make it happen. I try really hard to use every second of my day to it's fullest potential but sometimes the dishes pile up and the clothes go unwashed. I try not to sweat that little stuff so much. And to be honest, my wonderful husband does more than his fair share of housework when I'm holed up in my office sewing. :) As a parent it's so incredibly easy to lose track of YOU as an individual so my shop is a way for me to have something that's completely mine. Something that ties me to the bigger picture and I'd like to think adds beauty and color to the world. Also it just keeps me sane. I love my full time job ... but sometimes I get very depressed by the politics and the icky side of marketing. I work for corporate america but my lifestyle really celebrates handmade, recycling, etc. so I become very torn between those two worlds sometimes.  This is a way for me to get away, relieve stress and keep me focused on what's important.  I'd be sewing, drawing and creating anyway so why not share it with others? I'm not trying to get rich or make a huge profit on my stuff. I just want to share it with people that will enjoy it and earn a little extra money so that I can invest it in other handmade goods that I couldn't otherwise afford.

So hop over to June Craft and see what's new! She'll be updating all week.

all images copyright Kayanna/June Craft.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday

Sneak Peek Sunday
Originally uploaded by isfive

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

"Suggestible" is not strong enough to describe how I am about food. If someone mentions anything (ice cream, hot dogs, cake, even steamed broccoli), I get hungry for it, and this has only gotten worse over the last several months. About six weeks ago, I read the latest Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich -- I have to mentally prepare myself for the onslaught of food suggestions when I read those books (fried chicken, peanut butter, Cheetos, birthday cake and always pineapple upside-down cake -- but never cabbage rolls), and even though I've never had pineapple upside-down cake, I always come away from that series craving pineapple upside-down cake.


But strawberries are in season right now. I try to eat as seasonally as possible, which usually means gluttony in the spring and summer as I consume as much as I can of fresh, ripe vegetables and fruits before they go away for winter. In the middle of my pineapple cake craving, I was hit with a new one -- one for strawberry upside-down cake. I've never had it, either -- I've never even heard of it. So I took a pineapple cake recipe from Joy of Baking and with a few modifications and some advice from my mom, came up with this rich, delicious cake.

Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) (55 grams) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (160 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (160 grams) white sugar
approx. 2 cups sliced strawberries
dark chocolate chips or pieces (I used ghiradelli 100% cacao chips -- the cake is so sweet, you want to go as dark as you can with the chocolate)

Cake Batter
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Butter (or spray with a non stick vegetable spray) a 9 inch (23 cm) round cake pan.

Place the butter and white and brown sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking for a few more minutes until the sugar starts to caramelize, but do not stir! This will crystallize your sugar and you'll have to start over (trust me on this one). Then remove from heat, and pour into your prepared cake pan. Evenly arrange the fresh strawberry slices and chocolate on the bottom of the pan.

I only put chocolate on half the cake, since this was an experiment. Next time it's all getting chocolate.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat in the vanilla extract.
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture (in three additions), alternately with the milk (in two additions), ending with the dry ingredients.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar just until the whites hold a firm peak. With a large spatula gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter in two additions. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 - 55 minutes, or until the top of the cake has browned and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (a toothpick inserted into the cake -- not the strawberries -- will come out clean). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake onto your serving plate.
Serve with softly whipped cream.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Things that make me happy

50 zillion unfinished projects? Those do not make me happy. Once again, there's been no progress on the socks this week, and millimeters of progress on several other projects instead. The nursery's a wreck, and starting to make me a little frantic even though I have six weeks (fingers crossed) to go. Luckily, my mom's coming in a couple of weeks, and I'll definitely put her to work. I really wish you could see the awesome progress she's making on the quilt we designed for the baby, but she won't let me share pics yet. Seriously -- it's incredible.

Anyway, with all these things making me crazy, I wanted to share a few things that never fail to lift my mood. They're all just sad little iPhone photos, because that's all I have on me at the time (oh, and if you want to see some amazing photography, check out my friend Stephanie's blog. This girl does incredible work with paper and scrapbook-y things, and takes some of the best pictures I've ever seen, all while being a fantastic mom and wife and friend).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How-to: Make Your own Bias Tape

A few weeks ago, I posted a tutorial for making your own piping. The amazing Alice Merlino (aka Futuregirl) commented (don't think I didn't get excited about that!) about another dream of hers, making her own bias tape. And that got me thinking about how super easy bias tape is to make -- even double fold! If you can cut and iron, you can do it.

that's it!

Step 1: Measure!

This is always the first step, isn't it? Measure your project to see how much bias tape you need. Make sure to add a little extra just in case. Then, lay out your fabric on a cutting surface with the selvedge straight. Measure your fabric at a 45-degree angle, just like you did for the piping, to make sure you have enough fabric to get all the bias tape you need. Decide what width tape you want, then multiply this number by four. This is the width strip you will cut. If you want quarter-inch tape, you'll cut a one-inch strip.

Step 2: Cut

For my quarter-inch tape, I'm cutting a 1-inch strip

Cut your strips along the bias -- the 45-degree angle to the warp and weft of the fabric (45 degrees to the selvedge -- see how my cutting mat has a handy bias line already marked?). It'll be the stretchiest angle -- this is what helps you bend the tape smoothly around curves.

Step 3: Iron

Fold your strip almost in half and iron it. Be careful not to burn yourself! You might try pinning your strip to hold it in place to prevent steaming your fingers.

Open the strip up. Take one side and fold it all the way to the first fold, and iron it down.

If you want single-fold bias tape, just iron these two folds and you're finished!

Take the other side and iron it to the first fold. Because the first fold wasn't quite down the center, this will give you one side that's slightly narrower than the other, just like in commercial bias tape, and it ensures when you sew it onto your fabric you catch both sides of the tape in your stitching.

Now, re-iron that first fold -- the one that goes down the center of the tape. Ta-da! Double-fold bias tape, in a custom fabric to match your project.

There are loads of great tutorials out there for actually using this tape, so I won't repeat them here. I really liked this video tutorial from Angry Chicken, but there are lots of others out there you can find with a simple search.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Whole-Grain Waffles

One of my favorite weekend breakfasts is homemade waffles. I make up a big batch, then freeze whatever's left over (if anything). During the week, all I have to do is pop a frozen waffle in the toaster for a quick, delicious breakfast -- way better than Eggo! I am all about foods I can make in large batches and freeze right now, and these waffles are perfect.

The fun thing about waffles is how easy it is to add ingredients to make them a little more fun. My husband prefers chocolate chip waffles (pictured above with sliced strawberries and powdered sugar -- you should have seen him hovering impatiently waiting for me to photograph his breakfast!), and I like to add blueberries or pecans to mine. High-water fruits like strawberries are best sliced on top, not cooked inside, by the way. Just put enough batter for one waffle into a measuring cup and add your extras -- this way you can make infinite variations (or at least a dozen) per batch of waffles.

If you don't already have a waffle iron, let me recommend you get one that has removable plates, and one that flips over is not necessary but is handy. It'll be much easer to clean, and if you can flip the waffle iron over (you know, like the ones they have at hotel breakfast bars), you'll be able to get your waffle out without quite as much trouble if you forget to adequately grease the plates (cos let's be honest here -- nonstick coatings don't always do much).

Don't forget to butter the waffle iron! Still edible, but what a mess.

Whole-Grain Waffles
adapted from Vegetarian Classics by Joanne Lemlin

1 cup oats
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted (I've substituted 1/2 cup vegetable oil with no problems)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Blueberries, nuts, chocolate chips or other extras to mix in

1. Preheat the waffle iron.
2. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and grind into a powder. Pour into a large bowl and thoroughly mix in the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
3. Beat the eggs in a medium-size bowl. Beat in the buttermilk and melted butter. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until blended but still a little lumpy. Do not overbeat.
4. Cook the waffles according to the manufacturer's directions. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Embroidered Handkerchief and Best Intentions

I know I didn't post a progress report on my socks yesterday -- that's because there's been very little progress. Instead, I've been frantically working on something I want to use for a giveaway, and intended to post that today. Unfortunately this one, like so many of my best intentions, gang aft agley.
So you'll have to wait just a little while longer -- maybe it can be something to lift you from the depths of despair in Wuthering Heights. Meanwhile, as the Bronte-along leaves Jane Eyre behind this week, I leave you with the finished handkerchief (the free pattern's available in the download section) and some thoughts about film adaptations.

I love the way outline stitch is really just backstitch in reverse. It makes for such a tidy wrong side -- perfect for things like hankies that don't end up framed.

A lot of literature lovers -- especially academics -- are critical of film adaptations. I certainly don't advocate using a film in place of the actual novel, especially in a classroom or lecture setting (in fact, this makes me shudder), but films so often play a role as a jumping-off point for new readers. I've seen more tweets and blog posts during this Bronte-along that mention never having read Jane Eyre, but as soon as the writers see the film, they're hooked and dying for more of the story and they turn to the novel. Sometimes a film helps a reader get the feel of the story, and gives a reader a visual handle with which to manage characters and events, all of which makes the written prose more accessible. This is especially the case with Victorian and earlier novels, written in a style that's rather difficult for modern readers to manage. Is the book better than the movie (any version)? Undoubtedly. Is it frustrating to a book lover to find people who claim intimate familiarity with a novel, only to discover they haven't actually read it, they've just seen the film? Absolutely. It also drives me crazy that I can no longer remember how I pictured Mr. Darcy when I read Pride and Prejudice at age 14, because I've seen the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version enough times for the actors to supplant the characters in my mind. But overall, I love film adaptations, and anything that brings someone closer to being a reader is a good thing in my book (ahem. Unintentional pun, I promise). And I love seeing all the participants who've worked their ways through not only Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre but her Villette and Shirley, as well as Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell (the Bronte sisters' biographer, by the way) and up through Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair (haven't read that one? You must, if you don't mind a dash of Douglas Adams and Doctor Who with your Victorian literature).

A bouquet of rosemary lends a wonderful scent to the handkerchief.

So, haven't read Jane Eyre yet? Check your local library for the print edition, the audiobook (many libraries also have downloadable audiobook services, with audiobooks compatible with both Mac and PC platforms), or get it right now from Project Gutenberg. Quickly, before we're sunk in the mire of misery known as Wuthering Heights next week!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Plain to Pretty: How to Applique a Step Stool

Our house has really high ceilings, and the closets take full advantage of it. Wonderful for storage, not so wonderful for actually reaching the stuff on the top shelves. I bought several plain white step stools from Target when we first moved in, so I saw this awesome step stool re-do from Prudent Baby featured on Ohdeedoh back in January with the exact same stools I had, I filed it away to await design inspiration.

Remember the lovely fabric I ordered from Daisy Janie a month or so ago? One was a gorgeous coral-and-cream pattern destined to recover my desk chair someday, and the other was a tiny little linen/cotton remnant just the right size for one of my step stools. The orange and blue matched the color scheme I'm using in the nursery, so I came up with a quick applique design for the stool instead of using paper like the original tutorial.

Note (aka learn from my mistakes): if you're Mod Podging fabric, test a scrap first to see how it takes the glue. I didn't do this, and while it's not bad, I am not entirely happy with how it worked with the blue fabric (ripped out of an old fabric shoulder bag I never use).

Step stool
Base fabric, big enough to cover the top of the stool
Fabric for the applique
Marking pen or pencil
Fusible web interfacing (like Steam-a-Seam)
Sewing machine (optional)
Mod Podge or other decoupage glue

Step 1: Measure and cut the base fabric
Like in Prudent Baby's tutorial, you'll cut the base fabric a bit smaller than the top of the step stool because it just looks nicer that way, and it's easier to Mod Podge. Place the fabric wrong-side up on a cutting surface and trace the stool. Cut it out about a quarter-inch inside the line you traced.
See? If you want a different size border, go for it.

Step 2: Transfer the applique design
I drew my design freehand, but you can easily print out any simple line drawing and cut it out to make a stencil, or use carbon paper or your favorite transfer method to get your applique design on the fabric you choose. You can get crazy and use different colors of fabric, or you can keep it simple like this one with just one color. I used a chalk pencil to draw my design, but you can also use water-soluble markers. Notice I also drew the design backwards, on the wrong side of the fabric. This way I didn't have to worry about getting rid of the tracing marks later.

Read step 3 before you cut out the applique -- your method of applying fusible web will determine whether you cut now or later.

Step 3: Apply fusible web interfacing to applique and adhere applique to base fabric
There are different ways of applying the fusible web. Either way you do it, first you remove just one side of the paper backing.
My method, because I'm a saver and hate wasting stuff, is to cut out the applique from the fabric first, then dig out all the little scraps of fusible web leftover from other projects and piece together enough to cover the back of the applique, then trim the excess (like photo above).
The easier way is to stick your applique fabric -- uncut and right-side up -- on the fusible web, then cut out the applique design from the fabric and the webbing at once. You'll end up with a negative applique, too, which could be kind of cool.
Anyway, once you have your fabric stuck to the fusible webbing, peel the other layer of paper off and stick your applique onto the base fabric.
Once you stick it down, check to make sure it's exactly where you want it. Right now you can still peel it up and re-place it.
Look good? Ok, you're ready to iron (P.S. don't be like me -- you should iron the base fabric before you stick the applique on. It's much nicer). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for ironing this dude down. It usually involves pressing straight down for 10-15 seconds, working in overlapping sections until you've ironed the whole design.
Since you're going to be Mod Podging this little guy onto your stool, this will be more than enough to keep it from peeling, and you can skip to step 5. But if you like the look of stitching, or if you're just not confident in the power of glue, move on to step 4 for sewing.

Step 4: Sew the applique onto the base fabric
I used a zigzag stitch because I thought the roughness of it looked good with my design. You can make the zigzag shorter so it looks more like a satin stitch for a more polished look. Whatever you decide, test your stitch on scrap fabric first to make sure it looks like you want.

Your machine will have some variation of the picture below for zigzag:

Change the top dial (stitch width) so the horizontal direction, or zig, of the stitches is the width you like. Change the bottom setting (stitch length) so the vertical, or zag, of the stitches is how you like. Making this setting smaller will give you a more satin stitch or buttonhole look, and making it bigger will make it look like mine (or even more open).

It's also a good idea to set your machine to stop with the needle down (if you can) and to set it to half speed (also if you can). It'll look something like this:

Because of the curves and tight turns of my piece, especially the tiny helicopter, going s-l-o-w-l-y was imperative. If you don't have these settings, just take it easy and use the hand wheel to move the needle down whenever you stop, before you lift the foot to turn the fabric. Luckily, you don't have to worry about pins since you used that nifty fusible web interfacing!

Before you start gluing, add any embellishments you need to add by hand (I added the helicopter rotor blades, skids and the contrail by hand, since I'm terrible at freehand machine embroidery).

Step 5: Glue! And glue again!
And now we're back in Prudent Baby tutorial territory. Make sure the step stool is clean, then paint a layer of glue on the surface. Check to make sure the edges of the base fabric are clean and not fraying -- trim any loose threads. Place the fabric on the glue, and smooth out any bubbles. Let dry completely before moving on. While it's dry, it's not a bad idea to use a lint roller or piece of tape to get up any pesky bits of lint or stray threads that might be stuck to your fabric. You don't want to glue those down!
Once the glue is dry, apply a layer of glue to the top. Let it dry, then apply another layer. Repeat ad infinitum, or at least for 3-4 coats for durability. The brush you choose will determine the texture of the surface -- a smooth foam brush and thin coats will make a smooth surface, a bristly brush and thick, impatient coats will make for a more textured surface for little feet to grip.

That's it! Let me know if you have questions, and post a link in the comments to your versions!
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