Thank you for visiting my blog; it is an exciting venture for me and I hope this will become a forum for moms and homemakers of all types to share stories, frustrations, and triumphs. There will be recipes, pictures of my latest and greatest soap creations, and anything I think will be interesting to Enthusiastic Homemakers.....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Let Them Eat (Red Velvet) Cake, Then.....

Ok, I know I'm late to the Red Velvet Cake party; for the last several years it seems every show I watch about "trendy" weddings, bridal showers, sweet sixteens, and baby showers always mentions how "in" Red Velvet Cake is. The truth is, being neither "in" nor Southern, I had never tasted a red velvet cake, and had no idea what to expect. In typical budget conscious Mama fashion, it never occurred to me to buy a red velvet cake until I received a coupon for one. Now, I don't usually fall for the "two cents off if you buy 500" coupon thing, but if it is a substantial coupon for at least a few dollars, and it's an item I either would be buying anyway, or an item I can substitute for what I would have bought anyway, I'll consider it. Since I was intrigued by the idea, and it was such a great Costco coupon; I brought home a giant, scrumptious-looking red velvet cake on Saturday. Oh my goodness! I think it was the best cake I had ever tasted! After doing some research on the so-called "authentic" red velvet cake, I decided to find a great recipe and make one for our twelfth anniversary, which is coming up on May 1st. After learning plenty of contradictory do's and don'ts; I found a recipe that is as authentic as I can find.

Food Network Recipe

  • Vegetable oil for the pans
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows
  • Crushed pecans, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake

Hopefully I can make a cake as gorgeous as the one in the picture! Unfortunately, I'm afraid that by May 1st, red velvet cake will be hopelessly outdated, and "out". Oh well, I've never been very trendy, anyway! 

Que Sera, Syrah....

Wow! I had such a great weekend! On Saturday; after doing my usual grocery store rounds and errands, I got to spend some time with my oldest friend. We've known each other since we were practically infants, and although distance and a difference in lifestyle have taken us apart over the years, she's one of those friends that you can not see or speak to for years, then resume your friendship as though you had just spoken the day before. She recently got married, so we've had fun rekindling our friendship by doing "wifely" and domestic things, like going to Costco together, or just lunch. When we were growing up, there was a little tiny, old drive-in restaurant in the town we lived in called "The Hungry Onion". I wish I had pictures, the old neon onion is still there, lit as brightly as ever. This place has been there since the fifties, and was a staple when we were kids in the eighties. I've enjoyed revisiting it over the years, and often take my boys in the summer, but my friend hadn't been there in at least fifteen years. So we packed up baby Elvis and went to the Hungry Onion. We had a great time, and Elvis even partook in the food (I know, bad Mama; but he wanted it sooo much!). We had a great, bad-for-you meal and then went back to her house for what was supposed to be a movie afternoon, but we ended up ignoring the movie and talking the whole time!

On Sunday, James and I had one of our rare "dates"; at a local winery. Ste. Chapelle. It's only about a 30 minute drive; through wonderful country scenery; including driving by the most wonderfully named road in existence: Chicken Dinner Road. That name conjures up a lovely Sunday family dinner, and is strangely poetic. At the restaurant we went to beforehand, they had some local info and I finally found out the secret to the prosaic name. In the 30's there was a woman who lived on the poorly maintained road who made a mean fried chicken dinner. After some town officials partook of her famous fried chicken; the road was fixed, and named after her best dish. So sweet! One of those local things you only find out about when you take the time to visit smaller towns. As always when James and I get a chance to go out together, we look at each other and remark that we forgot about being a couple, and are always pleased to find out that in addition to loving each other, we actually do like each other, and all the things we connected on when we were dating are still there; it's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day trials and forget to be great friends as well as husband and wife. We don't get a chance to go out often, but when we do it always helps us have a greater appreciation for the other person, and helps get us through those times when the stresses of the day overwhelm us.

Now, in case you were wondering; I do know that the song Doris Day made famous is actually spelled "Que Sera, Sera", the silly name comes from a wine we tasted on Sunday that I absolutely fell in love with, called Syrah; named after a particular dark-skinned grape, which are the type shown in the picture. I don't normally love dry red wines, but this particular one was divine. It reminded me of those old York Peppermint Patty commercials, where one bite would transport you to a whole different place. When I sipped the Syrah; I could envision myself in a bubble bath, with no laundry! I love coffee and dark chocolate, and this wine hit on all the same notes. James made a joke about the song when we were served it, and I've had that silly song in my head ever since!

I've got a busy week ahead of me, including having my carpet cleaned, which is my favorite thing ever.

Happy Monday All!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Potion, Potion; Make me a Potion....

As much as I like to smell nice; I am not a perfume-wearer. My allergies hate perfume; and I always seem to get a headache when I wear it. That's part of why I love to make natural soap and lotion; it leaves a nice scent without being "perfumey". But the other day, I was dashing around as usual and decided to use a little sample of perfume I've had hanging around forever; it was a freebie when I placed an order at a place that I can't tell you about; because its a "secret". Well, my husband couldn't stop raving about how great I smelled! He has similar feelings about synthetic fragrances, and loves that I don't douse myself in scent; but something about that particular silly perfume he loved! Honestly, he complimented me so much it was getting ridiculous. So, I had an idea: there's a wonderful shop on my Bath and Body team on etsy, Mermaid Lane Perfume, who makes wonderful, natural, perfume; a woman on the team got some samples from her and loved them! I decided to find out what was in the "secret" perfume and try to get a custom blend. It turns out this perfume my husband loved is described as a "fruity floral" and has jasmine, bergamot, and a million other things in it, so I decided to have a sample made with similar notes. The owner of the shop gave me some wonderful info; telling me that the perfume my husband loved is 99% synthetic, so the blend she makes me will smell differently, but hopefully better! She will e-mail me a questionnaire about my preferences, then for a few dollars, she will mix up a sample for me, if I don't love it, she'll try again. I have to tell you, I'm not getting anything for promoting this shop; I just think it's so wonderful to have the talent to create custom scents, and I'm so excited to have my own scent that is natural! Of course, it is not an inexpensive prospect, but she says with care, your scent will last a long time. I know some feminist-types would cringe to hear that I want a perfume mainly to please my husband, but isn't that what we all want as wives? Getting compliments and having your husband think you're awesome is certainly not without benefit on my end; so I'm willing to save up to make an investment like this. My 12th anniversary is coming up, I think this will be my gift to my husband! (or his gift to me?). I should be able to save a few dollars each week from the grocery budget, or my etsy money, to buy a bottle of lovely, natural perfume. I so wish I had a talent like this, although I think I have a good "nose" for scents, and work with essential oils and botanicals in my craft; I know nothing about the complicated process of top notes, base notes, etc. It's so wonderful that what she does brings people joy! And also, I'm a little bit obsessed with mermaids, so I love her shop name!

I'm starting my day in a very tidy house; courtesy of my husband, who stayed up until the wee hours folding laundry and cleaning; after my late-night sewing took it's toll and I was dead to the world! Tomorrow, I will be spending the afternoon with my best friend; revisiting a drive-in restaurant that we used to go to as small children, followed by watching the new 'Alice in Wonderland' movie. Such fun! 

Happy Friday Everyone!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mr. Sandman.....

So remember my pledge not to stay up past midnight? We'll that's all gone out the window now that I realized I only have barely over a month until our vacation, and several pieces that are a must sew. The bathing suit pattern I cut out the other night is on the top of my list; I would hate to wait seven years for a vacation only to end up at the beach in a threadbare, stretched-out, five year old,  I've-worn-it-through-two-pregnancies-and-never-liked-it-anyway bathing suit!

So last night I buckled down (at 11pm) and got to work; movie on the laptop; boys and husband in bed. After all my enlarging/reducing/reducing I found that I had made the shorts gigantic! I mean, really big! I stitched them together as cut because I didn't want to lose the lines of the pattern; tonight (if I survive that long), I'll try them on and reduce by taking in the side seams. I have to adjust to the fact that they are meant to be rather flowy, drapey shorts, as was the style, and I don't want to lose that. However, I also don't want to be drowning in fabric. I think it will all work out; I did have to change the pattern size significantly, and it's natural for there to be differences in fit with a vintage pattern compared to modern expectations.

I hope, hope, hope to be back on track; sleep-wise soon, as soon as I catch up a little (promises, promises). For tonight, I feel rather exhausted, and may or may not pass out completely as soon as a finish this post!
I do have a great weekend coming up, and I'm excited about tomorrow being Friday!

Have a great night, everyone!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dishes at Dawn?

I've posted before about the joys of late-night sewing; but this morning started out very differently. First of all, last night I fell asleep at 9:30! A far cry from my usual night-owlishness; I think all my late night shenanigans are catching up with me. After feeding Elvis at 5 am; I decided to get up and get some things done. I had already had nearly 8 hours of sleep; which never happens, and I also had a mountain of laundry that I had intended to fold. I was dreading another morning doing the digging-through-the-clean-laundry-looking-for pants-shirts-socks-no-not-that-shirt-where's-my-Perry-the-Platypus-shirt-those-aren't-my-underwear "thing" that I do whenever I get behind; so I put on another classic movie (thank you Mr. Netflix) and started folding. It would've been a perfect morning, except I didn't have any coffee, since I'm terrible at making coffee, James was asleep, and I was afraid to run the coffee grinder for fear of waking up some boys. I held out until 6:30; then woke up James, who made coffee, using his patented "coffee-grinder in between two couch cushions" method of noise-free coffee grinding.

I was thinking this morning about whether I need to switch from late-nights to early mornings, I just might be able to get lots of things accomplished, while still being able to spend the evening with James, and maybe, just maybe, getting more sleep, too! Or maybe it is impossible to "do it all"; I'm sure I'll keep trying!

On a completely unrelated note, I've been looking for a movie that I remember seeing when I was a teenager, it starred Van Heflin, who was famous for doing a coin trick while onscreen; it was his way of making sure the camera was on him and not his co-stars. I remember it was a Film Noir kind of movie, involving a lot of gangsters and a lot of drama; but it was also a very sweet love story. I remember one of the last lines in the movie was Van Heflin saying to the female lead "You're my good luck charm" or something similar. Either I have imagined a very plausible movie plot, or it's a rare movie, since I haven't been able to find it! I've googled, wikapedia'd, gone to the TCM website, read biographies of Van Heflin...what in the world? Any of you movie buffs out there that can help me; please do!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Write with a Goose Quill Dipped in Venom

Isn't that a great line? It's from one of my favorite Film Noir movies; Laura. I watched it last night while working on my sewing since I just figured out how to watch movies from Netflix on my laptop. I know, people have been watching movies on their computer for centuries; but since I had no computer until last December, this is all new to me! I'm no movie expert, but I've been a fan of classic films since I was a little girl watching old movies with my mother. I'm like a kid in a candy store! So many movies I've never seen, or some of my favorites that are hard to track down. Since I have a laptop, it's easy to have it set up on my worktable, start one of the classics and get to work!

This was the view from my kitchen last night; I got to work resizing my vintage swimsuit pattern, a process I started the night before. Although when giving the resized pieces a second look last night, I realized that I had made them far, far, too big! It must have been because of the late hour, after taking a few measurements, I realized I made the swimsuit front several inches too big, the top picture shows the front piece, in a Junior size, and the white material is the pattern material, which is printed in one inch grids. You can see I had to add quite a bit, including adding length from top to bottom, for coverage and modesty. After I took this picture of the piece which I had just reduced in size, I still needed to remove a few more inches in width. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, trying desperately to achieve the correct size! The lower picture shows my workspace; the kitchen table, covered in sewing stuff; which is the worst part about sewing, at least for me; because I don't have a dedicated space, and have to carefully put away everything despite the late hour; otherwise my boys will have a field day in the morning! For some reason, my littler boys are fascinated by my sewing machine and equipment, and when I leave my sewing machine out, I always have to check it carefully; since they usually have changed all the settings!

A few weeks ago, a fellow etsian on my team did an interview with me about my shop; she published it today; check out her blog; By the Book Paper

It's a great Monday; since my boys are out of school for President's Day; I'm hoping to have a very laid-back day today; Happy Monday!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Heart Free, Day-Old Baked Goods.....

My blog has a new look! It's totally revamped; I'm liking how bright and cheery it is! There's a not-funny story about that......*embarrassing*. Let's just say, I'm a bad, bad, blogger! So any of you tech-savvy people see me k do anything (else) that violates the Internet Laws That Everyone Follows Except Me, please let me know before I get into any <more> trouble!

Enough about that, look at the fun cake in the picture! It was free! Every week or every other week, we are the recipients of the baked goods from a local bakery; the ones they can't sell. There's a lady who works there that distributes them around town to anyone that can use them, and of course; we can use them! Some weeks it's lots and lots of bread and rolls, but my boys love it when there are lots of "treats". This being after Valentine's Day, there were lots and lots of treats; this cake, cupcakes, etc. It was a much-needed surprise, since yesterday I committed the capital offense of forgetting to make a dessert, and having a bunch of things in the freezer helps out immensely on days I can't get it together to make bread or rolls for dinner, much less a dessert. I've even come up with ways to use the items that are stale; I make garlic bread or little toasts with the baguettes that have seen better days; last time I was out of garlic and made an artichoke spread, then toasted the rounds in the oven. You can make French Toast with stale sliced bread; and for the donuts; James makes an awesome donut bread pudding that uses up tons and tons of stale donuts; although it is not exactly health food, so we save it for special occasions!

I have a hopefully productive weekend of sewing and soaping ahead of me; I've decided to switch my sewing strategy and start with the "must have" items for my vacation, since it's only a little over a month away! Aaak! I received that darling pattern I posted about earlier, it will make a great everyday dress, and I hope to use the fabric I already have for it.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grumpy Mama Creamy Pasta; or How to Feed a Tribe for $6.00

A few days ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Brittany at VaVoomVintage posted a recipe for Grouchy Girl Pie after a grouchy day. I had a very, very grumpy day today; where I started to think there was no way I could accomplish all the things I set out to do. I was very grumpy on the way to pick up my older boys, and then I decided to "get over myself" and just do what I had to do. I came home with a plan; after giving my boys their daily chore assignments and having no idea what to make for dinner; I decided to fall back on one of my "easy dinners" that just happens to be a very thrifty meal to make. Today I just happened to have about 1/2 cup of white wine that my husband poured me last night and I fell asleep before drinking, so rather than throw it out, I decided to add it to my recipe; but I normally make non-alcoholic pasta, so just substitute more milk for the wine in this recipe. As always, I'm a very "throw it in" cook, so these are my best estimates of what I use! And this makes a huge amount;  I will feed six people (plus Elvis, indirectly) with this and have leftovers for a lunch or two or three. I weighed the pot after I was finished; over 10 pounds!

Creamy Pasta in a Pinch

20 oz dried rotini or a similar shape pasta
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
2-3 cloves garlic
3-4 marinated artichoke hearts
1/4 cup butter or olive oil (or a combo)
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the cheap stuff)
1/2 cup white wine
Your favorite seasonings, basil, oregano, or an Italian blend

The first thing I do is set a pot of water on the stove to boil, then I oil a glass pan, add the chicken breasts, salt and pepper them and put them in a 425 degree oven to bake. Then I chop the garlic while the butter and/or olive oil is heating up in a skillet. I add the garlic and saute briefly. I add the flour, stir to make a roux, then add the wine and/or milk gradually while mixing with a wire whisk. Stir until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat, add chopped artichokes, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, seasonings. By this time the pasta should be ready and the chicken should be cooked. Drain the pasta, return to the pan, add the sauce, chop up the chicken and add that as well. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Simple!

I also serve this with a loaf of my home baked bread which I posted a recipe for earlier, salad mix, and broccoli or asparagus. Here's how I break down the cost:

Pasta $1.50
Chicken $2.00 (I have three freezers and only buy chicken if it's $2 or less)
Garlic, Seasonings, Oil, butter, and flour .25
White wine (doesn't count because it was re purposed)
Milk .25
Parmesan .50
Artichoke Hearts .10 (I got a great deal on a jar of artichokes, and just used a small amount)
Homemade Bread and one stick of butter (my boys like butter!) .75
Salad Greens .40
Asparagus .25

I may have under-or-over estimated a few of these things, but I think it all comes out in the wash; so I've managed to feed my hungry family for $6.00!

And it's delicious!

Flour Frenzy

This picture is a quick snapshot, of me, in my kitchen in all my red apron-ed glory....I wish! Ah, for those yellow dishes! I love yellow dishes! Unfortunately my kitchen is not as darling by half. Today is Thursday, which means that tomorrow my Andrew will be selling homemade bread for the mock economy in his classroom. My bread is in high demand there; probably because it is bought with mock money; so I try to make at least 6-8 loaves for him to sell. And that's on top of the bread I'm supposed...I mean am making for everyday use. I also am extremely backed up in the soap department, so today's tasks include one batch of Patchouli soap...which is done; and I have three loaves baking in the oven as we speak.

And it shows. I have developed a system for making the most of my tiny kitchen and limited mixing and oven space. I make one batch of bread which makes 3 loaves, using the recipe I posted earlier, let it rise in the mixing bowl for about an hour; then when it's risen, I take it out and immediately start another batch of bread in the mixer, then form the first batch into loaves, repeat until exhausted and covered in flour. If I do this properly, I should have one batch rising in the bowl, one batch rising on the baking sheet, and one batch in the oven.  Unfortunately I am terribly behind today, and at this rate will not be able to fill my kitchen from floor to ceiling with bread; although I am exhausted and covered in flour....

Off to bake more bread!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My All-Natural Baby

I hate to say, I've turned into rather a snob about my all-natural little baby Elvis. He was born after a natural (hard) childbirth in an antique brass bed at a birth center, attended by wonderful Midwives. Because of his "all-natural" beginning; I have endeavored to keep him as natural as possible. Now, I'm not taking anything away from babies that were born in a hospital; I had my first three babies in a hospital and know that the "natural" route is not safe or desirable for everyone. But for myself, as someone with no risk factors and a good track record; a Midwife-attended birth was a good fit. Since I also decided to use cloth diapers for the first time, I think I've been even more careful with what I put on my baby. After the birth, I was given a sample of Calendula balm which is made by Sierra Sage, and let me tell you, that's the stuff! It's good for everything from dry skin to diaper rash, which is what I mainly use it for. After doing research on Calendula, I found that it is excellent at getting rid of even the nastiest rashes, and has natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. I also found that it was rather expensive, so almost as soon as I began to make soap, I bought some Calendula balm through my supplier, and have used it for everything from soap to lotion. I seem to have misplaced that jar of balm I've been using for seven months now, so I decided to use my new-found skills and whip up a batch of my own. I got a little carried away and didn't really measure, so I'll do my best to give the proper proportions, although it's not an exact recipe and is easily modified and customized.

Baby Balm:

You'll need:

Olive oil
Virgin coconut oil (unrefined, it even smells like coconut and has tiny specks of the "meat" in it)
Castor Oil
Shea Butter
Hempseed Oil
Caldendula Extract
Rosemary Essential oil

Now, I realize that this may be more of a pain than it's worth, as the average person is not likely to have these ingredients on hand, but all of these ingredients are good for all sorts of things and can probably be found at your local health food store or online.

You'll also need a small food processor, for emulsifying the mixture. I don't usually use my kitchen equipment for making my beauty supplies, but all of these ingredients are "eatable", or at least not toxic, so I felt ok using my food processor and washing it out well. Although I would certainly not recommend ingesting this mixture, no matter how yummy it smells!

I basically started with a "base" of olive oil, it making up the main portion of the amount I wanted to use; for a 4 oz container probably 2 ounces would be olive oil. I then added a scoop of virgin coconut oil, about an equal amount of shea butter, melted; only a smidge (maybe a few teaspoons) of hempseed oil, a little castor oil to make it smooth, a teaspoon or so of Calendula extract and a few drops of rosemary essential oil. All of these ingredients serve a purpose, and blend together nicely. I then pulsed the heck out of the mixture in order to emulsify and thicken it. I did this until the blade was hitting just air, because the mixture was stuck to the sides and thickened.

I used this on Elvis; note that this is not a zinc oxide cream, and doesn't make a thick coating, it absorbs really well into the skin; the only little issue I had with it is that there was a small amount of minuscule specks of coconut occasionally, but they are really tiny and didn't present a problem. I know that diaper creams are a no-no with cloth diapers; but I think this might be ok, because it absorbs into the skin so quickly, also all these oils are very washable and soluble. At least, I'm willing to risk my cloth diapers on this balm!

I've applied it a few times to Elvis; I guess I'll see how it works and whether I like it as much as the balm from Sierra Sage!

The Sound of My Silence

I don't usually post pictures of my family; but I can no longer resist! My Sweet Elvis!
I had a slightly overwhelming, busy day yesterday; and after the boys went to bed I absolutely collapsed with exhaustion even though I had a million and a half things to do, as always; and a must do thing (sewing a button on one of the few pairs of pants Bentley hasn't either worn out or outgrown). I even woke up at midnight to feed the baby and when back to sleep in my clothes; which is horrible. So at five, when Elvis woke up again, I took the opportunity to take a shower, and check my etsy shop and e-mails. I always love creeping quietly out to the living room when the house is quiet. It's the only time the house ever is quiet and I can have productive and reflective time to myself. I need to do that more often; of course, when I have the choice between that and sleep, it's a tough call.

It was also a momentous occasion this morning for my two and a half year old, Dorian. He was one of my easiest potty-trainers; I think because I was determined to rely almost totally on cloth underwear, and didn't soften the blow with Pull-Ups; which may as well be diapers, and I have found to lengthen the time it takes to potty-train; which is very counterproductive. Dorian has been in cloth underwear solely for several months now, except at night, because I've noticed staying dry at night lags behind potty-training by a few months. I vowed when I bought the last package of Pull-Ups that it would be the last package of pull-ups; and the night before last was the last one. We explained to him carefully that he was wearing real underwear and that he would have to stay dry. After an early snafu; shortly after he went to bed; which shows that he had been using the Pull-Ups as a crutch; he woke up this morning dry! What a big boy! I've been pleasantly surprised that potty-training has seemed to get easier with each boy; four and counting; I think it's a combination of my increasingly matter-of-fact attitude and having really sweet little boys who have all been serious about being a big boy!

In other big boy news; my sweet little Elvis, who is 7 and half months, and doesn't quite sit up yet; has decided to skip that step and start pulling up! I can't believe that my tiny boy, who was born what seems like yesterday; is becoming quite the little man! How fast they grow!

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The shoemaker's wife is barefoot...and my husband has no soap!

I love the old Ivory Soap ads...not that I am old enough to remember this particular ad; but I remember the 80's ads for Ivory; they always had the most beautiful pictures, and the cutest babies! Maybe I was always meant to make soap; I've always loved to get a new bar of soap, unwrap it, and display in my bathroom. I remember wanting to keep soap in a pristine condition by not using it; I always loved the designs stamped into the bars, and the "feel" of a brand-new bar of soap....ahhh, but I digress!

The reason for the title of the post is that ever since I've started selling my soap, I have been terribly reluctant to actually use my soap myself! I've gotten such kind compliments from people, and I truly enjoy making something that people enjoy. Meanwhile, I'm looking wistfully at bar after bar of my soap in my drying closet; still working my way through my early attempts, scratch and dents, and slivers of my soap! Although I do always test each batch for gentleness by washing my hands with the trimmings, I must confess there are several varieties I have not used! So tonight, in the spirit of taking care of myself so that I can be the best wife and mother; I took a deep breath; opened my drying closet, and picked out a soap! I have to admit; it was an imperfect soap, one that I was saving for free samples, but I felt like a kid in a candy store! I also used a shampoo bar, and gave my poor husband a pristine, saleable bar of the soap I made with him in mind! Poor thing, he's been using a tiny of sliver of soap for who knows how long; he confessed he was afraid to ask me for soap! I feel terrible! The reason I started making soap in the first place was provide high-quality soap for my family; it seems that I may have lost sight of that a little; I hope to keep balanced in my endeavors and make sure that I'm taking care of my family above all; the rest will take care of itself. I must admit, I feel quite refreshed, after lathering myself up with soap I was pleased with, then slathering myself with mounds of shea butter lotion. I made it after all; I shouldn't be going around with dry skin! What kind of example does that set?  

On a side note; I got so much sewing accomplished last night. I was feeling tired and headachy and grumbling about getting my sewing stuff set up. As soon as I got into the project; I immediately felt energized and wonderful; I truly must remember my love of sewing, and that no matter how tired I may feel, a good project aways gets my creative juices flowing, and it's so worth the effort! I hope to do more sewing after I finish this post; hope all of you have a great evening!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Name is Brandi; and I'm addicted to patterns.....I'm also REALLY bad at math!

Ok, full disclosure; the post I made yesterday; about homemaking: I just realized now that 1951 was in fact; 60 years ago; not fifty....

Wow; no more late-night blogging for me!

Today I woke up, ready for action; and while checking my etsy shop; noticed that one of my favorite shops Vintage Treasure Huntn had added some new patterns; and there were a few I just could not pass up; even though I have lots of patterns, lots of fabric; and almost no time or energy left! The one above is the one I finally decided to purchase; after justifying the expense six ways to Sunday and vowing to make it worth it by not buying new clothes for the next decade, at least!

Fortunately, Vintage Treasure Huntn has very reasonably-priced patterns; very much in the grasp of a budget-minded mama like me! The fact that it is my size made it seem like Serendipity; I just couldn't say no! It is a "half-size" pattern, which means a petite, but it's very easy to alter that, and the fact that I'm only 5'5" makes it even better. I have some fabric that would be perfect for this, probably the pink linen that I posted a picture of earlier, although I have to say I'm completely in love with the blue/grey with contrasting cuffs and belt, as shown for view A. I also have some navy blue and white polka dot, that may work, and the red accents for that would be darling. I'll have to wait until I get it, once the pattern is in my hands, inspiration just seems to flow better!

And I must, must, must make more time to sew this week; I don't want all my beautiful patterns to go to waste!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Homemaking; Fifty Years Later...

"If you're tired from overwork, household chores you're bound to shirk.
Read these pointers, tried and true
And discover what to do" ~ From the Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1951 edition

When I first bought the book from which this advice originates; I was amazed by the matter-of-fact assumption that a woman would aspire to do this very underrated job: make a home. All the directions and advice were geared directly toward women; because of course in 1951, the home was the woman's domain. There was no shame in it, no pressure for a woman to come up with gourmet meals and climb the corporate ladder at the same time. The cookbooks were written with the homemaker in mind; with tips from start to finish on stretching that grocery budget, keeping meals nutritious, colorful and interesting, and curiously for a cookbook, tips for the woman on staying healthy and keeping her spirits up. Feminists everywhere faint in horror; but as a homemaker myself, I find the treatment of that hardworking homemaker charming and sweet. In addition, I've found that the advice is surprisingly practical and ageless. Some of the menu plans are a little quaint; that is to say, I've never served this on "Some Sunday Night"...or ever!:

Welsh Rarebit with
Tomato Slices, Anchovies, and Gherkins
Chilled Pears
Chocolate Cupcakes
Coffee, Milk, or Tea

I do think it would be fun to try out some of these menus, get a real "flavor" from the past! (perhaps another project to undertake?)

Friday, February 11, 2011

If there's a cure for laundry; I ain't found it!

Happy Friday! I know on this blog I've bemoaned the constancy and volume of the laundry in my busy house, so I decided to make it an actual topic,  rather than just a complaint, and share some tips I've learned over the years and mountains of laundry. Just to give you an idea of the vast scope of the laundry that is done in this house, I've posted the picture below, which is clean laundry waiting to be folded. This is not the biggest mountain I've ever had, this is my normal laundry pile that is produced ever other day!

Just to keep up, I wash and dry at least two loads on the "off" day, as well as about five loads on the days I plan to fold. And don't get me started on the sheets! My problem with laundry started when I was quite young. We had a large family growing up, and I often folded laundry with my sister. Actually, my sister folded, and I sat and cried because I hated laundry so much. So, the joke's on me, because I got married and had five little boys, and there is nearly as much laundry now as when I was a little girl, crying because I had to fold part of it!

And unfortunately, I have looked far and wide for a cure, and have found none! The only way around laundry is through it! In order to reduce the cost of doing laundry, at the very least, I found a way to make my own laundry detergent that costs only .03 per load, instead of the 15 or more cents per load using the Costco size natural laundry detergent. It's easy to do, with ingredients that are readily available, and it works; it really does! So here is the "recipe" I use:

For 1.5 gallons (the size of the empty laundry detergent jug I have)

4 oz Fels Naptha Soap, grated
1 Cup Borax (my fave)
1 Cup Washing Soda (like Baking soda, but in the laundry aisle under that name)
Water (preferably distilled, but I use tap water all the time)
A few drops of the essential oil of your choice (lavender, lemongrass, lemon, are all nice)

Melt the grated soap in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Warm up more water and add about 3/4 of a gallon to the laundry jug with a funnel. After the soap is melted, add the borax, washing soda, and essential oil, until they are all combined and dissolved. Add mixture to the jug, then fill with more warm water to the top. Shake often as the mixture cools, and before each use. Use 1/2 cup per load; warm water cleans the best with this; as most detergent.

So I may not have found a cure; at least not easily obtainable (think delivery laundry service....) but at least you can save a little money, as well as use something that is not petroleum based and is free of surfactants. I will post later about my folding system; and I will keep dreaming about that cure!

Check out my new feature; tips from a 1951 cookbook on thriftiness and homemaking, I will be posting a new tip every day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lipstick Blues....and Reds and Pinks

This is a first for me! I'm certainly no http://vavoomvintage.blogspot.com and I don't normally talk about fashion, but I felt compelled to blog about something that has given me all sorts of problems for years now. Lipstick. I've always loved makeup, loved wearing it, buying it, seeing it, experimenting with it. From the very first time I was allowed to wear makeup out of the house, I've always wanted to be a red lipstick wearer. In fact the very first time I was allowed to wear makeup out of the house, I was first required to remove the red lipstick I had applied! Red lipstick is to me, vintage glamour personified. From the very first Technicolor movies, I have watched gorgeous blondes and redheads with coloring similar to mine pull off the very reddest of the red lipsticks. This is a case where life does not imitate art! I have bought scores of red lipsticks, all claiming to be flattering to a fair complexion, all claiming to be low maintenance and smear and smudge free, comfortable, lasting, wonderful and beautiful. It is all lies! Lies! Red lipstick is not for the faint of heart! It requires constant peeks in the mirror, which I don't have time to do, even the long lasting stuff wears off eventually, leaving a horrible red ring around your lips, and the long-wearing kinds is devilishly uncomfortable, since it makes your lips feel like they are Spongebob when exposed to a heat lamp. I have purchased and tossed more lipstick than I care to admit, usually settling for lovely smooth lip balm and maybe a non-sticky lip gloss. I finally came to the conclusion that I am simply not a red lipstick lady, and decided to expand my horizons. I remember reading some review for Revlon Matte Lipstick, as being very vintage-y; and I decided to see going over to the dark side of a pink lipstick would suit me better. It is lovely! The lipstick itself is smooth and comfortable and the color Pink Pout is so similar to my natural lip color that it doesn't require constant touch-up and care. It also has the bonus of not making my rather large mouth resemble clown makeup; which is the other problem I've always had with red lipstick. For me, anyway, there's just so much red, it makes me feel like my lips arrive 20 minutes before the rest of me. I'm sold! I'm a pink lipstick lady now!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I can see it in your eye; that you want to make pie....

I decided to put up a post about one of my favorite things; pie. I just happen to have a half bushel of apples that are mocking me; reminding me daily by their presence that I have a million things to do that I never seem to get around to doing. So in the spirit of pie making, and with hope that I will, in fact, use the apples for the purpose with which they were intended, I decided to share a few things about pie that I have learned over the years, mostly from that lovely lady, Betty Crocker. As I talked about on an earlier post, my favorite cookbook is a reprint of a 1951 Betty Crocker; the pictures are charming, the recipes a dream. It provides a glimpse into the daily lives of my favorite of the species; 50's housewives. There is a wonderful section which gives tips on stretching the family budget as well as keeping your spirits lifted; no therapy required. I actually think I will post about those tips at a later date; they are just priceless!

I always use Betty's version of a pie crust, it's so simple! Modern cookbooks make the process seem so difficult and time consuming; when it should be....easy as pie! You don't need the finest quality butter, or a food processor, or special flour, or special equipment, just flour, shortening (I know, I know), cold water, and either a pastry blender (which is just a little hand-held gizmo), or two forks. Also, modern recipes call for a higher percentage of fat to flour, which is just not necessary. The recipe I use calls for 2/3 cup of shortening per two-crust pie, certainly not health food, but I have seen other recipes use almost equal amounts of butter to flour! And I just roll the dough out with a wooden roller, no fancy-dancy new models with Teflon, on my wooden cutting board. I would love to have a marble inset to my counter top for dough; but for now, wood it is!

The problem with making pie, is that it is a fairly time-consuming dessert, so last time I made pie, I came up with a new technique, based on something my Granny used to do while making pie. Some of my best memories of my Granny are from my visit to her home in Missouri when I was eleven, she loved pie, and loved baking pies, so my sister and I helped her while she made lots of fruit pies. She came from a time and a place where pie was a staple, more of a way to preserve and a vehicle for fruit than a fancy dessert. She told us that while she was growing up in the 1930's, her mother used to make a dozen pies at a time. I always think of that when I bake pies; and hope that my pies would be Granny-approved! I remember her making the filling and then freezing it for another time, since she didn't have enough pie tins or oven space, so last time I made pies I did something similar. I don't claim that this is completely my idea, I'm sure other ladies have figured this out long ago, but for me it was a new idea!

I simply made enough filling for an extra pie, and placed it in a pie tin with no crust, greased. I did this with cooked filling, but I'm sure you could do this with the uncooked filling as well. I then baked that pie tin with just filling until it was done, then cooled it in the pie tin and when it was cool, stuck the whole thing in the freezer. I froze it until solid, then popped the filling out of the pie tin, wrapped it in plastic, and put it back in the freezer. When I needed a fairly quick dessert some weeks later, I simply made up a pie crust in the same pie tin, added the frozen block of filling, topped with another crust, baked as usual. It made a delicious, fresh-baked pie, and since the filling is the most time-consuming part, was ready in a snap! Of course, you can also freeze entire pies, but that requires putting pie tins out of commission, but I haven't had the greatest luck defrosting whole pies, and the crust has a tendency to become soggy when frozen. 

Now, do you want to make pie?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gerber baby without the Gerber!

This vintage Gerber advertisement made me laugh! I didn't realize my baby was saying "Mm mm for Meat"! I have been making homemade baby food since my first baby, Andrew; but I've always "filled" in with jarred food at times, like Gerber. There's just nothing as convenient as being rushed on a busy morning and grabbing a jar of baby food! And then too, there are some things that, try as I might, just are not possible to make in a home setting without certain equipment. For example, how in the world do the baby food companies create banana puree that is neither stringy nor discolored? I know they add ascorbic or citric acid (just vitamin C) to the mixture to prevent the color from changing, but I have never been able to make such a smooth puree of bananas. I've tried using a food processor, which usually changes even the most stubborn of foods into puree easily; but bananas stay clumpy and stringy no matter how hard I try!  I think they must cook the bananas in some fashion, then liquefy and strain. Needless to say, I often buy jarred bananas. In addition, there are some fruits and vegetables that are not readily available in my area, and any of those varieties that I could purchase would be out-of-season and not the greatest quality. I've given jars of things like mangoes, plums, peaches, and blends of things I don't often (or ever) have on hand, like Mango Risotto. For most other things, and to provide the basics, I make baby food, which always seems more daunting than it really is. Some people like to go the old-fashioned route, and use a baby food maker that works on a hand-crank, but that requires buying the silly thing, and I've never been able to justify the expense. I used to use my good 'ol Kitchen Aid blender, but that meant dragging it and all it's parts, and making a huge quantity of one food at a time; not ideal. A few years ago, I got a small, simple 2 cup food processor, which I love for making salad dressings and chopping garlic; then found it was perfect for whipping up some baby food with a minimum of cleanup. I even have plans to use it when Elvis begins eating more variety; to quickly mash table food. For purees, this is what I do.

Scrub, Peel and chop into chunks harder foods; like root vegetables or apples.

Put into a microwave safe bowl, add a small amount of water and pop in the microwave. Cook in 5 minute increments until soft. Add some of the fruit or vegetable, along with a little of the cooking water to the bowl of the food processor, pulse until pureed; adding water as needed until it reaches desired consistency.

For other foods, like soft fruits, peel by placing in boiling water, then "shocking" in icy water, a process also called blanching, then follow the same procedure as above; although the fruit may be sufficiently cooked by the peeling process, and probably needs less water in the pureeing process.

You can also do this with meats; fair warning, pureed meat is not appetizing, but I have done this by boiling a chicken breast  which is well-trimmed, then pureeing with small amount of cooking liquid, then straining through a strainer. This could also be done with beef, although I don't want to think about boiled beef; but the end product is great mixed with some vegetables or fruit or cereal and given for a "dinner".

After the food is pureed, I spoon it into an empty (clean) ice cube tray, freeze until solid, then pop out the cubes and store in a Ziploc bag in the freezer; well labeled because frozen cubes of food start to look the same after a while, and it would be bad to accidentally give your baby pureed chicken instead of applesauce in his or her morning cereal! It's also a good idea to warn your family members about the ice; James has received a shock a few times when pulling out an ice cube tray for ice for a drink and finding it full of food! He warned me that it's only a matter of time before he serves himself a quite unusual drink!
In this picture; I have made a small batch of applesauce along with a small batch of sweet potatoes, and divided the food into one ice cube tray. I also love to create my own blends of food, by simply putting a cube of two of a few different, complimentary foods (like apples and sweet potatoes) into a bowl, putting it in the microwave on a low setting until thawed, then combining. Of course, you must be careful of "hot spots" when using the microwave; it's best to leave the thawed food out for a while to be sure it has time to cool. None of my babies have ever preferred warmed-up food, and that makes it easier to be sure I'm not going to burn them with hot food.
As you can see, it's very easy and economical to make your own baby food; no special equipment required!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Foolproof Busy-Day Bread.....

I posted earlier about making bread for my family and want to share the recipe I use. It's always difficult for me to share recipes, because I'm a "throw it in" kind of baker, especially when it comes to bread, but this method I use is actually based on an episode of 'Cake Boss'. Some of you may have seen it; when Buddy and family went to Italy, they stopped in a bakery that makes bread daily in a centuries-old wood fired oven. The bread looked absolutely delicious, and although I don't happen to have a centuries-old wood fired oven handy, and in fact only have a years-old floor model from Sears electric oven, it still makes awesome bread! In the episode of 'Cake Boss', the baker was asked what their secret was. He answered that it was "the air" in that particular region of Italy that made the bread so great; alas, I have no Italian air, only Idaho air, but the bread doesn't seem to notice. I make all my bread dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer that was a wedding present, and is something I still use every day and couldn't live without, but you can certainly use a little elbow grease and mix and knead the bread by hand. I developed this recipe by listening carefully, or rather, reading the subtitles when the baker said "5 grams salt per kilo flour". A rough estimate of 5 grams is 4 teaspoons, and that's the amount of salt I use per kilo, which is about 2.5 pounds. This seems like a lot of salt, and I've actually found you can reduce it a little without affecting the recipe. I should also add that instead of bread pans, I love making bread in the traditional Italian fashion, round loaves which are formed by making a simple dough ball, smoothed over with ends tucked into the bottom, slashed on top once with a knife, on a baking sheet. Cornmeal is good to sprinkle on the greased pan, but I generally forget to do this, and it's not crucial. So here goes:

Busy-Day Italian Bread

2.5 pounds unbleached flour
4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. active dry yeast
Warm water (think warm bath temperature: 100-120 degrees)

Add the dry ingredients to a stand mixer bowl, or other large bowl. Mix with wire whisk. For stand mixers, use the dough hook attachment, add warm water while mixing on the lowest setting. By hand, add some water, then mix with a wooden spoon. When dough starts coming together and pulling away from the bowl, or becomes too stiff to mix with spoon, stop adding water and mix away until a soft, slightly sticky, smooth dough forms. With mixer, continue to mix with dough hook, which kneads the dough,  for a few minutes, until everything is well mixed and the dough is smooth and while soft, is able to be removed from the bowl in a big dough ball and handled with floured hands. If you've added too much water, just add a bit more flour, but don't overdo it, it should still be a soft dough. If you're kneading by hand, knead your little heart out, it will take probably 10-15 minutes of vigorous kneading to reach the same point. Cover bowl and allow to double in size, an hour or so, then punch the dough down, divide it in half for two large loaves, form loaves on greased and cornmeal-ed baking sheet and cover with a towel. At this point preheat your oven to 400, and put the rising bread on top of your range, to allow the heat from the preheating oven to accelerate the rising process. The second rise is faster, in my oven the bread is ready to go as soon as the oven finishes preheating, probably 20 minutes to a half hour. Pop the bread in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. And that's all there is to it!

If anyone needs me to clarify anything or has further questions, please comment and I will respond with whatever help you need (short of actually coming to your house and baking the bread myself!). Enjoy!

I'm so sorry there are no pictures of this bread! I never thought to take any, but I will take photos later today when the bread for today is finished, to show!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vintage Success....one down, LOTS to go!

I posted a few weeks ago about a vintage sun suit I was making for Baby E, along with lots, and lots, and lots, of projects I intend to finish before our much-anticipated vacation at the end of March. I've been trying, and trying to find time for my sewing, but lately it has been difficult to fit it in to my ever-busy schedule. Tonight James had a late soccer game, so I was able to do some of my other chores, like making more Crunchy Mama soap for my etsy shop while he napped. I was so close to being finished with the sun suit, I only needed to do the dreaded buttonholes, and of course the normal hand-sewing and trimming thread duty that I despise. So here, at long last, is the finished 1955 sun suit; with shaky atrocious buttonholes! Fortunately, I found adorable buttons with anchors on them to lend a nautical air, and to hopefully disguise my usual wretched buttonholeing when the suit is worn this summer! I loved this pattern, straightforward, simple instructions, and a new twist, a technique I've never encountered before; flat-fell seams, where instead of sewing the side seams with right sides together, which makes a seam allowance on the inside; you sew the side seams wrong sides together, then on the right side, trim one of the seam allowances, then lap the other allowance over it, making a clean line, then top-stiching over all. I love to learn new (old) techniques, that's what makes vintage sewing so interesting, you never know what kind of instructions you may find, and it challenges your skills as a seamstress.

Also, I am at this moment, defying my self-imposed curfew, but since James is out playing a soccer game, and it is a weekend, I decided that it was allowable! No pumpkin-ing for me! I hope to be productive while I have this little opportunity, and perhaps even sleep in just a bit in the morning!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Desperate Housewife

No, I'm not talking about the TV show, which I do not watch, but about little ol' me! It seems that this whole having-five-children-and-an-etsy-shop-and-attempting-to-make-a-new-wardrobe thing got a lot harder all at once! I don't know where the time goes! I wish I could be like this woman in the pictures, blissfully and serenely making her house beautiful calmly, all while wearing a plethora of colorful aprons, but the reality is, I am often frazzled, harried, annoyed, panicked, and most of the time wearing a layer of baby food, flour, or something worse over the outfit I choose hopefully in the morning. There are a few things I insist upon, one of them being that I get fully, fairly nicely dressed every day before taking my boys to school. I just feel so much better about life when I can at least put on some lipstick and go out into the world. I know lots of mothers who bring their children to school in pajamas, and think nothing of it; I don't judge them, in fact I admire their ability to "roll with the punches" and adapt to whatever is going on that morning, but for myself, I just can't mentally go there. The other thing that is important to me is to have my house looking as clean and inviting by dinnertime as I can make it. Now, I'm not married to a tyrannical, oppressive husband, and I know James would never fault me if he came home to a topsy-turvy house, but I feel as a homemaker, this is my foremost job, and I just wouldn't feel like I accomplished anything if I hadn't made significant progress on the home front by the time James got home. The sad truth is that the house often starts out looking great in the morning, and becomes progressively worse as the day wears on, despite my frenzied efforts to the contrary, and this bothers me. It seems like I should be getting somewhere for my efforts, and I guess staying ahead of the mess five children can make is a difficult task, but really? As I said in an earlier post, it is often close to midnight before I feel my job is done for the day, which gives me exactly seven and a half hours in which to sleep, sew, and make soap. Hardly enough. I need to either get on a better routine, or clone myself! I think I will start by allowing myself the breaks and the rest I need, because I think I will be much more effective if I start getting more rest. That brings to mind an old saying, which I recall from 'Mary Poppins', but I'm sure is much older than that, "Well begun is half done". I can hardly begin things well if I am not getting enough rest, so I vow to go to sleep no later than midnight from now on! EEK! That will be a hard one to stick to!