Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Sweatshop Item #6: Balsam Candles

I had a large square balsam-scented candle whose wick had run out, leaving large hunks of lovely, scented wax around an empty core. I melted down the wax and stuck wicks in the middle to make recycled candles.

I also reused a large candle jar from another candle that had run is course. I'm not sure how much of the scent's strength is lost in melting down, but for now the candles still smell wintery and wonderful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Sweatshop Item #5: Chili Mint Bourbon

I've been meaning to try this infusion ever since I was served a fantastic Fiery Mint Julep at the Red Stag.
I added a sliced serrano pepper and a fistful of loosely cut mint leaves to 750 mL of bourbon. I let the serrano steep only two days and left the mint in for four days. The result: a fresh-tasting bourbon with a fiery aftertaste. So delicious.
These drinks will be served at my family's Christmas Eve gathering along with our new favorite (thanks to Jess), December Stormies. I also bottled some up as a gift.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Sweatshop Item #4: Hooded Towels

I'm told that the super-hero T-shirts I made last year for my niece and nephew were a big hit. So this year I'm going for a variation on a theme: hooded towels that double as boxing robes ...not that I condone child boxing. Xavier (The X-terminator), Cora (The Crusher) and Finn (The Fantastic) all get their first initial sewn onto the back of their towels. Here's hoping bath-time gets a lot more fun.
Thanks to Make and Takes for the idea!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bed Warmer

Winter is here. Days are darker and Minnesotans are swathed in Smartwool, shearling, and my household's personal favorite: Long unds. I've only recently discovered that winter is a glorious time of year... as long as you have the right clothing. This little bag of warmth is my new winter staple. I honestly have begun using it several times a day, as well as at night.

It's a variation on a rice bag that you heat in the microwave. I found the pattern on Make It Do. This version is cotton on both sides. I didn't heed the warning about only using 100% cotton, and my first version had a faux shearling-type underside. But upon warming the underside would sweat. I realized the cotton transferred the heat better anyway, so I ditched the shearling in the second version. I chose buckwheat for the inside. When heated it has a very faint grain smell, which I actually find sort of comforting.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Sweatshop Item #3: Christmas Caramels

Every year I make an edible gift to give to my very large extended family for Christmas. I've given biscotti, pesto, candied oranges and homemade marshmallows. This year: Caramels. Tonight I was invited to a Christmas cookie exchange so I made the caramels as a test-run.

The recipe is simple but requires patience - the caramel has to be 248 degrees exactly to be the correct firmness. I spent a lot of time peering at my thermometer.

And they came out very nicely. I wrapped these in wax paper, but I found cello wrappers and boxes online for the real gifts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Guest Post: Super-Hero Capes

My friend Rachel has been pondering what sort of gift to make for her good friends' 4-year-old twins, Bruno and Natasha. She settled on super-hero capes, but it doesn't stop there.

Blue and pink capes sewed from satin with iron-on letters, inspired by Superfly Kidz.

Rachel is a food writer. She recently reviewed a quirky local pizza joint whose delivery dudes dress up as super-heroes and drive electric buggies to deliver their pies. Rachel developed her own super-hero persona (Pink Thunder), complete with a pink spandex body suit and bulbous white helmet, and rode along for a night of deliveries for her article.

Her plan is to send the capes to Bruno and Natasha along with a picture of her Pink Thunder alter-ego. Bruno and Natasha may still be young enough to indulge in the fantasy that "Pink Thunder" has selected them as her young apprentices... or at the very least they'll romp around and delight in their new play capes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Sweatshop Item #2: Knitted Neck Scarf

The pattern for this neck scarf is in Martha Stewart. It's surprisingly easy, although I had to re-knit this particular scarf three times in order to get the sizing to perfectly match a single skein of yarn I wanted to use. That's a little bit crazy, but so satisfying when it finally worked.

So far the holiday sweatshop is successfully churning out the necessary pre-holiday gift preparation. Plus, I like this scarf so much I'm knitting one for myself.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Capelet

It's the day after Thanksgiving, also known as "Black Friday," and the Salvation Army is having a sale just like every other retailer in the country. I found a salmon-colored sweater marked from $1.99 down to $0.99 - perfect for testing out the tutorial for this capelet wrap from My Mama Made It.

Then I decided to try the tutorial for a layered flower pin.

And it all fits together rather nicely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elephant series

Off to a baby girl shower this weekend. Needed onesie.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Holiday Sweatshop Item #1: Strawberry Hat

The Christmas crafting has begun. This strawberry hat is a classic. I think I remember Sharon knitting one in college. This little morsel is going to my niece Cora, who was a huge fan of the Super Cora T-shirt she got last year.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sewing Machine Cover

I've been meaning to make a cover for my sewing machine for the longest time, and it finally happened. Now that I've tackled piping on this, I might need to try the weekender bag. Maybe.

I made up the pattern, which is why it's more the shape of the sewing machine than it's own neat shape.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sleepy Bunnies

I found this pattern for the baby binky bunny on Etsy a while back and thought it was adorable! These two bunnies are cousins - the corduroy one is for your little one, Elana! I made one for my baby as well, but have yet to finish the girl bunny (everyone's convinced I'm having a boy, so I started with that one.) Some of the fabric for the quilt is from Amy Bulter, and few are Japanese prints from Superbuzzy. Michael helped organize the quilt squares - he has a good eye!

Lucy was suspicious of the bunnies at first, but eventually warmed up to them. I'm sure she would *love* them if they had a squeaky on the inside!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pears 'n Hearts Apron

I made this apron several months ago, and needless to say it fits better on someone who's not 39 weeks pregnant! I used option D from this Butterick pattern and added the pocket from Skirt a la carte, a book of patterns with fabulous skirt designs if you can read Japanese (or have the patience to interpret the diagrams). The fabric is a light-weight Japanese canvas from Superbuzzy that we bought on sale last year.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh, baby!

The template for these DIY invitations are adorable and free! The cupcake toppers can also be used as gift tags. I modified and customized the design of the baby shower invites in Adobe Illustrator and got the coordinating ribbon and paper from Paper Source.

Baby Swing - Before and After

I updated our hand-me-down Fisher Price "ocean wonders aquarium" baby swing using fabric I bought ages ago from Superbuzzy and Amy Bulter's cherry full moon polka dot from her Lotus line. Although relatively simple, creating a pattern from the existing seat cover nearly contorted my 9-month-pregnant brain into a pretzel. The fish on the mobile don't really go with the fabric, I don't think the baby will notice.



Monday, July 6, 2009

Homemade Ginger Ale

Rachel just tried making her very own ginger ale. It tastes great! Here's a recipe. She used a Nalgene bottle instead of an empty 2-liter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Infusing alcohol is so darn easy. Inspired by Martha Stewart, and by Nick and Jess's blog, I tried lavender vodka, cucumber tequila and rhubarb vodka. I let them sit in a cool, dark place for a week, filtered them through coffee filters and they came out great. Margaritas with cucumber tequila are delicious.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Lavender Drop

aka "The Lemon Eye Pillow," or "The Purple Scurvy-Buster."

1 serving
1 1/2 oz. lavender infused vodka*
1 1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. (or more) sugar or agave nectar

Add ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake well until ice almost dissolved. Rim martini glass with sugar. Shake. Serve. 

Wash several sprigs of lavender. Place in jar and cover with high-grade vodka. Let stand for 4-7 days. Sample flavor to determine strength of infusion. Remove lavender, filter vodka through a coffee filter into a decorative bottle. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Plant Dyes

This morning was my first trip to the Kingfield Farmer's Market. One vendor was a lovely woman, Kim Christiansen, who experiments with natural dyes and yarn. I was mesmerized by her booth, perhaps because it was 50 degrees and I wished I'd brought my handwarmers. 

She explained that the color of a dye is a result of the dye substance, a mordant and the yarn itself. The mordant sets the dye on the fabric and different mordants can produce different colored results.

Pink yarn: Dyed with cochineal, a bug native to Latin America.  Cochineal was used by the Aztec and Maya populations, later coveted by the Europeans. Cochineal are now cultivated on cactus plants and you can mail-order them from Oaxaca, Mexico. The mordant for this yarn was Rhubarb leaves! I don't understand what it is about the chemical properties of these two substances together that works, but Kim does.

Yellow yarn: Dyed with rhubarb leaves and stems.

Brownish yarn: Dyed with ivy berries and "unknown berries."

Green yarn: This one is my favorite. Kim was leading a group of middle school students in a chemistry of dyeing class to gather experimental dyes. One kid wanted to try buckthorn berries. This invasive shrub attacks yards and public lands in Minnesota. Its berries are a deep blue and are guaranteed to stain your sidewalk. but, when used as dye on merino wool, buckthorn berries leave a beautiful green. Another wool skein dyed with buckthorn was a lighter green due to the specific reaction between that wool and the berry.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Party Cheesecake

Summer parties deserve luscious desserts. Last night's early summer gathering inspired me to try a lemon cheesecake. It was my first attempt at the dessert - surprisingly easy once I got over how uncooked the cake actually looks when taken out of the oven. Lemon curd is delicious, but might have overpowered the delicate dairy goodness of the cheesecake. Next time I might not use all of the curd. A nice blueberry topping helped offset the cake's lemony tartness. I candied half a lemon leftover after juicing - nice garnish and delicious to eat.

Rosemary Box

Deck garden season has arrived. I found a collection of $2 terra cotta pots at the Salvation Army (yeah!), along with this little wooden crate. I didn't weatherize it, and expect it will last only a season. But with some holes drilled in the bottom it makes for a nice little rosemary planter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade yogurt. Here's why: 

I like tangy plain yogurt of the variety sold at my local co-op. 
I can't possibly re-use all of of the plastic yogurt containers that are piling up in my cupboard.
The containers aren't recyclable. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Yogurt in bulk. What could be better?

I've made 3 or 4 batches of this with varying results. The most important secrets seem to be the use of milk solids and incubation time. Thanks to the assistance of not one but two yogurt gurus, I have a darn good recipe.

1 quart milk
1 packet starter culture (or 1 Tbsp live active culture yogurt)
1/2 c. non-fat dried milk powder

Heat milk in a double boiler (don't let it boil). When it reaches 100 degrees scoop out 1/2 c. and put it in a separate bowl with the starter culture. Set aside. Note that temps above 120 degrees will kill the culturing bacteria.

Add powdered milk to warm milk and continue heating until it reaches 180 degrees. Hold temp at 180 degrees for about 20 mins and then quickly bring the temp down to 116 degrees. In the winter this can be done by placing the milk pan in the snow, or just use a sink full of ice water. The temp will drop surprisingly quickly so watch it.

Add the 116-degree milk to the starter culture until you have about 1 1/2 c. Then add the starter to the milk. This split process might give the culture a chance to acclimate to the new temp.

Put the milk into a sealed container. Ideally you'll culture it at a constant 100-110 degrees. Without a yogurt incubator, you can warm your oven and leave the oven light on. You can put it in a cooler and wrap a big blanket around it. I tried monitoring a crock pot, intermittently turning the heat on and off. Skip this - unless you have nothing better to do that watch yogurt incubate for 7 hours. 

I put the milk in a jar and into a styrofoam cooler. Ideal incubation time is 7 1/2 hours. 5 hours will make it sweet but not solid. At 9 hours it starts to get a little sour. This still might taste good with middle eastern dishes, for example. I tried Doogh, a savory Persian yogurt drink, for the first time last weekend and immediately thought of homemade yogurt.

After incubation, put to yogurt in the fridge right away and chill for a day. The yogurt will firm up more as it cools. My yogurt has tended toward a thinner consistency, likely because I incubate below 100 degrees. But it's tasty and is great in smoothies. 

* Recipe thanks to Jamin Johnson's decades-long yogurt experimentation. Additional tips from Lauren Dee. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Baby Monster Onesie

I bought a book called Sukie Iron-Ons, which looked cool, but my first iron-on attempt failed to yield a satisfactory result. Instead of wasting the bad onesie, I gave it some felt baby monsters instead.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cable Hat

This pattern started as something more complicated: alternating ribs and cables (I actually needed help with the math to figure out the sizing). After seeing the thickness of my ribs, I went with all cable ribs.  I doubled-stranded Frog Tree Alpaca yarn, which everyone at the yarn store insisted I'd "just love." Turns out, it's the tiniest bit itchy - perhaps because, after all that math, it's one rib too tight. But I still like it. I can't figure out why my casting on seems to scallop at the end, but it makes for a nice effect with this hat.

Photo courtesy Benjamin Pofahl, who would like to share that he's just about had it with his lipomas.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Whale Onesie

Pattern inspired from the Japanese embroidery book (book purchase inspired by Sharon). I've finally added a onesie tag because, well, we keep making them. As Elana says, "When friends reproduce, I produce. Baby onesies."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lemon Curd

This recipe from Fine Cooking kind of rocks. Worth trying on crepes too.

Baby booties

These are called 1-hour baby booties. The pattern can be found in Stitch and Bitch Nation. They really only take about an hour. But the straps take about another hour each. Maybe I labored too long attaching them. Tonight I hosted my own Stitch & Bitch, which was responsible for my finally finishing the straps and buttons.

I'm pretty sure there's a reason babies don't wear booties. I'm pretty sure the booties will fall off as soon as the baby moves its legs. My stitch & bitch comrades assured me that it's enough for the booties to look nice in the gift box and displayed in the baby's room.

Bacon Dessert

First there was haut-chocolat with bacon. It was good. Then there were pig lickers. They were only slightly less good. Sometimes I wonder if bacon desserts are to my generation what Jell-o was to the 1960s: "the vehicle for subversive and rebellious expression." 

I have joined the cause. Today I made Love Me Tender Peanut Butter Bacon and Banana Cookies

And they were good.

Cook the bacon until it's nice and crispy. For more banana flavor, I substituted 1/4 c. mashed banana for 1/4 c. of the peanut butter. On my next batch I won't bother turning the bacon into a praline. Just use chopped crispy bacon. And I mean cook 1/2 lb. of bacon, chop it up and add it to the cookie dough.

This post does not reflect the views or preferences of all Craft It Up staff and management. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Earrings

Clothing exchanges have taken Minneapolis by storm and they are fabulous. They involve women I like, brunch, purging unwanted items from my closet, and coming home with free clothes. This is why I love them. Today I scored several items including two necklaces, one of which I shortened to a more flattering length. I made some earrings with the leftover beads.

Monday, January 19, 2009


December's Gourmet magazine featured a recipe for panettone that, despite being altogether too complicated, I found to be very seductive. I'll include the link as soon as it's published online. Note to self #1: Read the whole recipe before starting, including the part about the recipe taking 2 days start to finish. Note to self #2: If a recipe requires making phone calls to find more than 2 of the ingredients, abort! This recipe required locating: real vanilla beans (not hard and my new favorite way to use vanilla); panettone molds (slightly harder to find); and candied citron (surprisingly difficult - ending with my picking a fight with an employee at a local upscale grocery. I mean come on, try being helpful.)
Note to self #3: A recipe that calls for "heavy duty stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment" needs such a mixer. My puny handheld mixer nearly blew its motor.
This was my favorite part of the recipe: the upside down cooling process. 
The ingredients weren't the right temperature. The dough didn't mix as well as it should have, nor did it rise as much as it should have. The citron was for Grandma's gelatinous fruitcake instead of the delicious citrusy citron that is my favorite part of panettone. I baked it too close to the heat source in my 1960s gas oven, hardening the bottom 10% of the loaf... but the thing turned out pretty darn well.
And then I borrowed a big Kitchen Aid mixer to try... a second loaf. 

This stuff makes delicious french toast too. We tried it with cream cheese mixed with cherry preserves or cream cheese with marmalade. Now that is the way to eat french toast.