Category Archives: tutorials

Bottle cap cufflinks and a lesson in elastic


Rob had a birthday this past week. He collects cufflinks and has many interesting novelty pairs, including a couple I have made from Scrabble tiles and Legos. This year I was thinking it would be fun to have a pair made from the bottle caps of an iconic beer–maybe PBR or something. Dorothy and I keep a stash of bottle caps for crafting so I checked them to find a fun matching pair but all I found were caps from yuppie imports, nothing with the “real man” cache as Pabst Blue Ribbon. I did find some Coca Cola caps, however, from a case of Mexican Coke (made with actual sugar!) we’d bought on a whim last year and enjoyed by drinking with ice cream (him) and bourbon (me), and decided these would work. I glued three stacked pennies inside each cap to make a platform for the cufflink hardware, then glued it on and that was that. Making cufflinks is really a three-step process: 1) find what you want to use, 2) acquire cufflink hardware, and 3) glue them together. Done!

Here is my crew getting ready to sing the birthday song to Dad. Dorothy made the paper chain decoration like last year, and I made Rob’s requested angel food cake with strawberry icing and also devil’s food cupcakes for the chocolate-loving sinners like me. Worth has just recently graduated from his high chair and is proud to be seated in an elevated chair at the table with his sister.

Dorothy decided to sew yesterday. I gave her some scrap fabric and she announced she wanted to make a pair of mittens for her brother, a simple thumb-less pair just like some he’s already got. I don’t like to get in the way of her crafty experimentation, so I allowed her to cut mitt-shaped fabric much too small. She impressed me by turning the fabric right-side-in before stitching around the perimeter of the mitt, but once she turned it right-side-out she realized the sizing problem. Undaunted, she stitched up the other mitt and presented them to him, saying, “Buddy! I made you finger-warmers!” And he wore them around the house proudly. After a few minutes, though, she got to thinking maybe she wanted to try again. This time she asked for my help and suggested that her previous design might also be improved with some elastic. I unearthed some scrap fleece which I thought might make better mittens than the cotton, rounded up the requested elastic, and together we cut out much larger mitt shapes. She stitched around the edges and I helped her make a casing for some elastic at the wrist. Our joint venture just about fell apart at this point because she could not get the hang of pushing the elastic (with attached safety pin) through the casing. She shoved it over to me and just wanted me to do it for her, but I knew she’d enjoy this project more if she could really call it her own. I got an idea to sew a casing into the side of a plastic bag, so she could practice threading the elastic through it and actually see the progress she was making through the clear sides. This worked perfectly.

Dorothy figured out how to push the elastic through very quickly and then did it several more times.

She was rightfully proud of the mittens she made her brother, modeled by her because he refused to have his photo taken in them. He’s fond of them too, since she made them, and I’m hopeful he might even keep them on outside.

I’ve been growing herbs in my basement, of all places, courtesy of an AeroGarden I purchased used last year. I’d gotten it around the time we moved but never had the chance to set it up until this fall when the cold weather chased my outdoor gardening efforts inside. The setup really works beautifully and looks so lively and cheerful downstairs in our basement classroom. The basil has been so prolific I’ve had to take snips upstairs to put in water in my windowsill until I can use it. It feels a little decadent to be snipping fresh herbs in January. (Please ignore the splattered window in the background. I never claimed to be a great housekeeper.)

I just realized that this blog’s second anniversary has now come and gone. Two years! That doesn’t seem right, but as I’m browsing back through my early posts it seems even longer than that, making tiny things for the “big” boy who now sits at the table, and then admiring his wee ways. Dorothy’s grown so much in this time too. I’m glad to have this record to reflect on; thanks for joining me!


Barley in a rice cooker


Right around the time the baby was born I upgraded my rice cooker. Before, I had a little red one (Oster, maybe?) that was okay for making a small amount of white rice in a pinch, as long as you didn’t mind a little burned to the bottom. But it wasn’t very good at making brown rice, which we prefer, and it wouldn’t keep the rice warm for any amount of time without scorching. I used the Cooks Illustrated method of making brown rice in my oven, and that never seemed like a big deal. But somehow the addition of an extra human to our family rendered the steps involved in making rice (boiling water, for example) too fussy, and I invested in a good rice cooker. It works great, and as of today I love it even more. A few weeks ago I tried making quinoa in it, according to a suggestion I read online. That worked so well that today I decided to branch out and try pearl barley. It worked! Hooray! I used the liquid-to-barley ratio suggested on the package (2.5 cups water to 1 cup rinsed barley). I rinsed my cooked barley to cool it down, then made it into a Greek-style grain salad similar to this recipe. It’s yummy, and I’m about to take it to my “baby” brother’s birthday party tonight in my fun new thifted bowl. (Is it possible he’s 30?? Holy cow!)

And oat raisin muffins! Rob and I have a little tradition of taking homemade muffins on road trips. We once made a little peace summit trip to Galena, Illinois (our agenda: to discuss the possibility of ending nearly a year of not speaking to each other by getting just getting married) during which we munched on my homemade pumpkin muffins the whole time, and since then it just feels like small road trips and muffins should go together. Today I experimented with a new recipe plus adjustments for what I had on hand, plus addition of fallish spices, and this is what I got. They are yummy! We’re going to take them on our camper-seeking expedition. I’ll share the recipe I ended up with:
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup quick oats
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
2 eggs
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisin
Preheat oven to 400. Spray 12 muffin tins with cooking spray. Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl by using a whisk or a fork. In another bowl or large measuring cup whisk together eggs and wet ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, blend. Stir in raisins. Divide evenly into muffin cups (each should be about 3/4 full). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before removing the muffins from the cups. If you take them out too soon or wait too long they will stick.

A soccer bag


Dorothy starts soccer tomorrow! We keep her ballet gear in a special tote bag hung on a hook in her closet so she always knows where to look for little slippers, tutus and tights. I decided a similar approach would probably work well for soccer, but this time the tote needed to be big enough to hold a ball and shin guards. I let Dorothy choose fabric from our stash, and although I was encouraging her toward a sporty bold-colored stripe, she selected this really feminine vintagey floral. But hey, it’s her bag. I used Photoshop to change the colors of a clipart soccer ball to match the fabric, then printed it onto transfer paper intended for dark items (so it would cover the pattern).

If your peanut also needs a soccer tote, cut a 30 inch by 17 inch rectangle from an old sheet, with the 30 inch length going along the finished edge. Fold in half (to make a rectangle 15 by 17 inches, with the finished edge at the top) and stitch up the side and bottom. If desired, square off the bottom by making gussets in the bottom corners. Cut another rectangle 15 by 6 inches. Press the rectangle in half lengthwise, open, then press each edge in toward the middle fold, then re-fold the middle to make a strap 2 inches by 15 inches. Stitch closed and sew to the bag. Iron-on clipart optional.

I have no idea what is going on in this picture, but I just think it’s cute. I love kids in footie pajamas and it was finally chilly enough last night for mine to wear some. Dorothy often wears weather-inappropriate jammies, since she picks out her own, but that doesn’t count. I’d bought these sweet guitar jammies for Worth in size 12 month and he’s almost outgrown them already! I’m not sure how I was planning to wrap up this post, but will now share that Worth is in my lap as I type and just saw the photograph and is now holding his arms up again, in imitation of the kids on the screen. Cute! Must be some new baby trick. 🙂

Pesto from scratch: the sequel


A couple months ago Dorothy and I repotted some basil I’d grown from seed into bigger pots. It was really ready to cut and eat a week or two ago, but we finally got around to it today. Dorothy decided we should eat it on pizza, so tonight I baked vegetable pizzas with pesto, yellow squash and sundried tomatoes. Rob and I thought it was delicious; Dorothy picked off the visible vegetables, dug in, then declared that our basil was “nasty.” Luckily I’d thought to bake a separate pizza with more traditional toppings. If you’ve never made pesto at home, it’s fun and easy. Fill a food processor bowl most of the way with clean basil leaves, then drizzle with olive oil, throw in a handful of pine nuts, a handful of shredded parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not its bastard cousin that comes in a plastic can), sprinkle with salt and whirl. Yum.

So yesterday I went shopping with my mother. Being the generous Nana she is, she bought Dorothy some new clothes from Children’s Place–clothes Dorothy picked out herself. The girl selected one of her new outfits this morning and put it on first thing, instead of the usual time spent lolling in jammies. She put on this shirt with this matching (skimpy) shrug. My first thought was, sheesh, my mother bought my daughter hootchie-girl clothes! Why must little girl clothes be so much like skanky teenager clothes? Can’t they be little and non-sexy for just a few years? Then I got totally knocked off my high horse. My kid said, “Mommy, in this outfit I look just like you! See this shirt? It has a nursing bra!”

The "sweetest" bouquets


Today is the happy day Dorothy and Worth get their grandparents back in town forever. Hooray! My in-laws, who have been living in Saint Louis for the last nine years or so, are closing on a house nearby today. It makes us feel great that we’ll have our whole cast of important people in town and near us. Dorothy and I made a cookie bouquet to take them tonight as a house warming gift (and dinner, but no help from Dorothy on the soup). I’ve done a couple experiments in the cookie bouquet realm over the last few years and I think I’m establishing best-practices, so in case you ever want to make one, here’s how.

First bake a recipe for soft and chewy cookies of any type. I’ve done double chocolate and chocolate chip. Today I used this recipe that I found online and it worked perfectly. You can’t just use any cookie recipe, because one that only makes small cookies (which might not scale) or crisp cookies (too brittle or crumbly to hold sticks) wouldn’t work. When you take the cookies out of the oven, immediately skewer them gently with wooden barbecue skewers. Push the skewer all the way in, but not so far that it comes out the top. Put skewers in more cookies than you think you will need just in case some fall out or break when you’re assembling the bouquet. (Don’t ask how I learned that!) Then walk away and don’t touch the cookies until they are perfectly cool.

While the cookies are cooling, prepare a container to hold the bouquet and some decorations for their packaging. I’ve used clean peanut butter jars in the past, just decorated with ribbon and fabric. A decorated yogurt container weighed down with uncooked rice would work nicely too. Today we used a container that actually came with a professional cookie bouquet we received after Worth’s birth. It already has little holes for skewers. Dorothy decorated it with permanent markers. We also decorated little stickers to put on the outside of the cookies. I used round Avery inkjet labels, which I printed with little welcome home slogans, then let Dorothy decorate with the markers. In the past I’ve printed out simple labels with words in a flourishy font in a color to match the ribbons I use on the cookies and jar–simple and pretty.

After the cookies are completely cool, wrap each cookie individually with plastic wrap and tie it up with a ribbon. Cut off the bottoms of the skewers so the cookies are of various heights, then arrange them in your vessel. Stick the labels on the front of the cookies. Finally, stabilize the cookies by arranging tissue paper around them. I wish I could think of a better way to handle this last step than killing trees by using the tissue, but I can’t. Only tissue paper (that I can think of) can be wadded up at the bottom and splayed out at the top to gently support the cookies all the way up.

Gift the bouquet, then enjoy the leftovers with milk! 🙂
I saved a couple skewered cookies by wrapping gently in foil and freezing. These individual cookie “pops” will make nice hostess or birthday gifts from Dorothy in the next couple weeks.