Thanks for sticking around guys. I promise we’ll get back to more or less regularly scheduled programming soon!
Phew. This was a long time coming. LongJohn went through a period of time where he was particularly uncooperative so getting this done was a bit of a challenge. As you know, a while back (a WHILE back) I made a whale floor cushion for grown-ups to sit on while hanging out on the floor with LongJohn.
With the second old pillow I had, I made him a boxfish. Why a boxfish? Well the pillow is rectangular, and I’m making a box cushion. So it makes sense to make nature fit my plan. Plus I had a gorgeous scrap of blue jacquard that looked very similar to a boxfish in pattern. That pretty much settled it.
I only had a small piece of it though, so I had to carefully hoard my trimmings. That’s why some of the bits and pieces I’ve tacked onto this sucker look a little weird.
So here’s the stuff I planned to use for the snout of the fish.
Here you can see the bits I got for the tail. And then I happened to have some gorgeous orange stuff with a bit of embroidered detail on it I decided to use for the rest of the fins, so I loosely cut out basic shapes.
Don’t forget the eye, which I made out of felt.
I freehanded the sewing of the fins.
And once they were sewn I trimmed the excess, turned them inside out and sewed lines in from the scallops for further separation. I realize that’s a terrible description – hopefully the picture makes more sense.
Then I stuffed it!
Here’s the tail. The tail was definitely the weakest of my half-assed derivations.
Especially seeing as I wasn’t paying close enough attention and didn’t sew it far enough and it came undone. Rather than fixing it properly I just ran the machine over it a bunch of times. I’m now passing it off as a war wound from some battle the box fish had with whatever predators they deal with.
Stuffing the snout.
Because I only had *just* enough fabric, I didn’t have any leftover to hem the edges of my open seam, so I rummaged through the basement and found some gray grosgrain ribbon that I folded in half and sewed over the raw edges.
Now for the complicated process of attaching the fins to the whole shebang. This was wayyy easier than doing it with that stretchy whale fabric.
Turn everything inside out and securely pin everything in place. Sew, sew, sew!
Now the eye …
Everything is attached except for the side fin and the snout, both of which will be hand-sewn because they’re hella awkward and not on seams.
Also the tail, which is not on a seam either. I cut a hole in the side and stuffed that in.
That was easy to sew with the machine.
Next I take the corners and flatten them so the seam is in the middle. Then I sewed across to make an isosceles triangle, with the base being the height of the pillow.
There’s my pretty box corner, with the tail attached!
Now the job of hand-sewing on the snout and fin.
Complete! LongJohn loves it, and we enjoy having a second place to plant our butts.
As a follow-up to the angel food cake we made in the last post, I made this devil’s food cake the same day to use up the 12 yolks I had on hand. The only problem was that there wasn’t actually a recipe out there that used 12 yolks in a chocolate cake. We had long since grown out of doing that, using whole eggs instead. All the 12-yolk recipes on the internet were for yellow cakes, not chocolate. So I had to make it up. And here it is. I’m quite pleased with the results.
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and grab yourself a bundt pan. You can do this in any pan you like, or make it into a layer cake, but because I was serving this alongside the gluten-free angel-food cake, I wanted them both to be round with holes in the middle. Butter or spray your pan and then flour it to be on the safe side.
If you can bear to part with it (and as a parent of a nearly one-year-old, that’s a big sacrifice), save 1 3/4 cup coffee from your morning brew and allow it to cool. To up the coffee insanity (unless you made espresso earlier), tip in 2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder and stir to combine.
Chop up about 1 cup chocolate into wee pieces and toss it in the top of a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and let that sucker melt. Let it cool a little bit so it’s not molten lava.
In another container, whisk together 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, 2 1/4 cups flour, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.
In the bowl of your mixer, cube up 1 cup butter (softened) and beat the crap out of it together with 1 1/2 cups sugar until it’s soft and fluffy.
Then grab your 12 egg yolks and slide them into the mixer one at a time until they’re fully combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add in 2 teaspoons vanilla as well.
Look at that yellow loveliness.
Now beat in your melted chocolate until your batter resembles a tar pit.
Then grab your flour/cocoa mixture and your coffee.
Alternate adding the two ingredient groups, flour-coffee-flour-coffee-flour and mix until the batter is smooth.
Even with a spatter shield in place I still had a bit of a mess.
Smooth the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if it’s 35 minutes or not. I didn’t write down that part of my recipe and after having dropped one angel food cake and had to make up another it kind of slipped my mind. But I’m guessing 35 minutes. If it’s not, then it’s a little longer, maybe 45 minutes. But certainly not less than 35 minutes. So keep an eye on it. And tell me what you come up with.
When the cake has somewhat cooled you can tip it out onto a rack to cool completely. You can see the light coloured stuff on the surface: that’s the flour/butter from the pan. If you don’t want that to show up – like if you’re not planning to ice the cake – then don’t flour it (maybe use cocoa?).
While the cake is cooling, you can make up a ganache. Chop up another 8 oz chocolate and set it in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup whipping cream until it’s just simmering, then pour it over the chocolate and stir it occasionally until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is uniform.
Let that cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency.
Then jam it all over your cake.
I decided seeing as I suck as icing things in an artistic fashion to kind of make it look like stucco by smacking my icing spatula against it and pulling it away.
Then I added some chips of white chocolate that I had on hand for contrast. I could have applied them better but again, not so good with the artistic part of cake-making. I’m more into the cake-eating.
Which is what you can do now!
We’ve made this cake before. Many times. But I thought I’d make it again for a dual birthday celebration we had a few weeks ago. This cake was for the Pie’s grandmother, who recently turned NINETY. The next cake on our list I made for Papa John, her son, who turned SEVENTY at the same time. The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac and she’s also lactose-intolerant, so making her a special treat for her birthday was going to be a challenge I looked forward to.
And why not actually go through the old traditional way where you make an angel food cake the same day as a devil’s food cake, so that you can use up all the yolks? So the devil’s food cake will be in my next post – stay tuned!
Begin with your egg whites. Separate 12 eggs, saving the yolks for the chocolate cake coming up (you can freeze them), and bring them to room temperature. Normally I do this by leaving the bowl in a patch of sun on my counter but if you’re in a hurry, you can set the bowl in warm water and that’ll do the trick too. Don’t try to use pasteurized egg whites from a carton: they will not whip at all. I’ve tried.
Plop your 12 egg whites in the bowl of your electric mixer with 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar and 2 teaspoons vanilla (or however much a generous dollop is. I never measure vanilla).
Beat that with the whisk attachment until it’s nice and thick and foamy, and then slowly tip in 1 cup granulated sugar while you beat it some more. It’s the sugar that makes the meringue here stiff and solid, so don’t skimp on it!
Once that’s ready you can set it aside for the moment and whisk together your “flour.” In this case, our tried-and-true combination for gluten-free gorgeousness is 1 1/3 cups icing sugar, 1/2 cup tapioca flour/starch, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup rice flour, 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1/4 teaspoon (a pinch) fine salt.
Fold that flour mixture into the meringue mixture very carefully. You have to be gentle enough that you don’t smush the bubbles in the egg white, but thorough enough that you’re not leaving pockets of flour in the batter.
Smooth the batter into an UNGREASED angel food pan (can’t stress that enough, never grease your angel food pan or it will fall out on you).
Pop that in the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and dry to the touch. If you see cracks, that’s good.
Fantastic. Now take it out of the oven and invert it over a bottle or if it has feet, stand it on the feet. This keeps the cake from collapsing under its own weight as it cools. Once it cools it’s a lot more firm. The gluten-free version is always way squishier than the gluten-y one so this is very important.
Here’s my issue: my angel food pan is actually NON-STICK. So as I was inverting it, the bottom segment shifted away from the sides and I bobbled the whole thing, dropping it with a clatter. KABOOM.
At precisely that moment and not ten feet away, the Pie had just put his elbow down on LongJohn’s plate, spectacularly spattering his lunch all over the floor and wall. Windows too. That’s the kind of day we were having.
So I made another one. Which meant that we had not just 12, but 24 egg yolks. And a busted cake. “I guess that means we’re having trifle for dessert tonight,” said the Pie as he scrubbed hummus off the wall.
So that’s what we did. But that’s neither here nor there. I made the other cake. And it turned out even better than the previous one.
You can see that the pan is trying its best to screw me over by separating. Jerk.
Once the cake has cooled you can decant it from the pan and decorate it as you see fit. I usually whip up some cream and slather it all over with some fresh berries, but the Pie’s grandmother is also lactose intolerant, so I decided to try whipping coconut cream instead.
Coconut cream is a bit harder to find in Ottawa than regular coconut milk, but I eventually tracked some down in the local health food store. I was told by the cashier that the trick in getting it good and whippy is to make sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are all extremely cold. So the 2 cans coconut cream went into the fridge overnight and the beaters and the bowl went into the freezer.
I tipped the cream into the ice cold mixer bowl together with a few tablespoons icing sugar and a dobble or two of vanilla bean paste and gave it a whirl with the whisk attachment.
It takes a while, and it doesn’t get as stiff as whipped dairy cream, but it sure tastes good.
Slather that all over the cake. It’s a bit slippery so make sure to keep it in the fridge until you’re serving. Does anyone know if there’s some kind of stiffening agent you could add to make it stay put?
Pop some berries on top and in the hole in the middle and we are good to go!
There’s the idea that you shouldn’t put your kid in a big puffy snowsuit in their carseat because the snowsuit doesn’t allow you to do up the straps as tight as they need to be and that could be unsafe if you were to get into an accident. Accordingly, they sell these things called “car ponchos” for small children, and they’re all fancy with faux fur trim and buttons and snaps and zippers and whatnot and they cost like SEVENTY BUCKS. Seriously? Eff that. Also, this is CANADA, and here it’s always colder than it is in other places. So most of those fancy car ponchos are wayyy not warm enough to combat that howling wind when it’s minus twenty.
I figured, seeing as I’m doing all this sewing these days, why not make my own? At the fabric store near us, fleece is pretty expensive, usually about $7 a metre, but at IKEA, you can pick up a POLARVIDE fleece blanket for $5.99, and they’re almost 2 metres. They come in a variety of colours depending on the store and the season, and sometimes they go on sale and they’re even cheaper. I picked up two, for layering.
FOR THE LAZY: Just use one blanket. Sewing two together is less than easy.
One side of the fleece has little round flibbety things that stick out, so I cut them off using my rotary cutter.
FOR THE LAZY: Leave ’em on.
Then I went through a million permutations of how to layer the blankets together so that the raw edges were inside the blanket. But it was much too complicated for me so I just folded each in half on the short edge and flipped them so the folded edge of one blanket was against the open edge of the other.
FOR THE KEENERS: Sandwich the open edges inside so that the folded edges show on both sides.
Then I started sewing the blanket together, starting with a straight line right down the middle, followed by another that bisected it perpendicularly.
I kept going, dividing each un-sewed section in half and sewing through it, then I sewed around the edge. I did this to keep the different layers from bunching around each other. Four layers of fleece is hella bulky and it was really tricky with my little pink machine.
FOR THE KEENERS: Maybe try a bias binding on the outside edge, or sew your lines radiating out from the centre at angles.
So now I have this big bulky blanket with four layers of thin fleece all quilted together. I need a head hole in the middle.
Here I am doing a very scientific measurement of LongJohn’s head diameter using a salad plate. It’s a little big, but babies heads grow alarmingly so I know it’s better to go too big here than too small. If you’ve ever tried to shove something too small over an angry baby’s head then you know what I mean.
Then I used the salad plate as a guide for cutting out the centre hole.
I waited until everything was sewn together before cutting out the hole because I knew I wouldn’t necessarily be able to line up all four holes properly if they weren’t already permanently stitched in place.
I’m trying to figure out what to do with the circle I have left. Any ideas?
The resulting hole was a bit jagged (cutting through four layers of fleece at once with a circular blade is also less than easy). But it was easily tidied up with a pair of scissors.
Then I had to consider the hood. I was considering not doing a hood but babies don’t wear scarves and I didn’t want LongJohn’s neck all exposed to the elements, especially seeing as the head hole was so big.
The VITMOSSA blanket, also from IKEA, is only $2.99. It’s a thinner fleece with a bit of stretch, and I figured that if I doubled it, I’d get a decent flexible hood.
I measured a distance of slightly over half the way around the circle and I cut a length of the blanket accordingly.
The idea here is that if I fold the piece over itself, the seams line up and the hood forms naturally.
Because I want this thing to be reversible, I opened up a few of the centre seams in the poncho so I could sew the hood into the space in the middle.
Then I folded the rectangle that I cut out in half across the short side again. Inside-out.
And sewed up the two open sides perpendicular to the fold.
Turn it right-side out and then line up the two seams.
Tada, a hood! It has a pointy top so I would not recommend making this out of white fleece, if you know what I mean. Just to be politically correct.
FOR THE KEENER: Sew down the pointy top.
Then I pinned it into the head hole of the poncho.
You can see here that it fits between the two colours of fleece.
Pin, pin, pin.
The hard part here was now sewing the hood into the poncho (that’s six layers of fleece, if you’re counting). I had to shove so much bulky blanket through the little arm of the sewing machine. And then rotate it as I went around in a circle. Slow and steady was the best course of action here.
Once finished, you can see how it works on the gray side …
… and on the red side. I actually had to go around on the red side again because I’d missed a layer in my excitement.
FOR THE LESS LAZY THAN ME: Be more careful and get all the layers sewed at the same time.
And now the test on my model.
As you can see it’s roomy in the neck at the moment but I can always pin or clip that closed for now. He’ll fill out soon enough. He’d wear the poncho like this when I was carrying him or he was walking around. Which hopefully is far distant in my future.
Then here he is in his high chair, which is standing in for the carseat (because it’s freaking cold outside today and I’m not going outside just to take a picture for you guys). The back of the poncho flips over the back of the car seat and the front part can be twitched aside while you do up the straps snugly against your little one. Then you just tuck it back down again and your kidlet is warm and snug!
I’m making another one for a friend with a much bigger baby (makes a great gift!) and I’m confident my head hole size (22cm diameter) will be entirely appropriate. I also have enough left of the VITMOSSA blanket to make a thinner, warmer-weather poncho too!
Thanks, climate change. When I first moved to Ottawa over twenty years ago, winters were long and dark and dry and COLD. Like, -30°C cold. Now they’re still that cold, but interspersed with warmer, sunnier days where everything melts, potholes form, and we start to believe that the worst is behind us. For like, two days. And then it gets really cold again. And our skin really pays the price for all this temperature variation. So here’s an easy, quick and relatively cheap solution to our winter skin woes, one that everyone in the house, including the baby, can make use of. If you have eczema you might find this a lovely soothing lotion.
In a double boiler, or a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water, plop 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/4 cup shea butter. Let that melt.
While that’s on the go, take a heaping 1/4 cup oats (rolled or quick, not steel cut), and use a food processor or spice grinder to reduce them to a fine powder.
Once the oil and butter have melted, remove the bowl from the heat and let it cool for a while, until the sides start to harden. If you live in a cold place, pop some plastic wrap over the top of the bowl and chuck it outside in the snow for a bit. Or shove it in your freezer if you’re impatient. Full disclosure: I left mine outside too long and it froze solid. What you’re looking for is something mostly solid but still mixable. If it’s too liquidy then the oatmeal will sink before it’s properly mixed in.
Tip in a few teaspoons vitamin E oil and 5 drops each lavender and chamomile essential oil. The essential oils are optional if you’d prefer to go scent-free.
Then plop in your ground oatmeal.
Give that a serious whaz with a hand mixer until everything is uniform.
Spoon it into a container and leave it for a few days to allow the oatmeal stuff to work its way into the oils. This lotion is a little grainy when you first rub it in, so I prefer to put it on at night, but it soaks in nicely.∗
∗If you’re not a fan of the grains of oats, you could try a few options (I haven’t tried these but they seem logical): you could infuse the oats in the oils as you heat them and strain them out, or leave the powder in there and it might be a bit softer. Or you can take the oats out altogether and use oat straw extract – Avena sativa – instead, but this stuff is pretty pricey.
Why do I keep doing sewing projects? I HATE sewing! I promise you that the boxfish floor cushion is coming soon. LongJohn has been remarkably uncooperative these past two weeks so I’ve had to pick and choose my grown-up activities carefully.
In the meantime, here’s a sewing needle case I made out of stuff I already had and was already using. As a needle case. Like, I had a box I was keeping sewing needles in already. And now I’m just keeping MORE needles in it. But it’s, like, organized and stuff.
Because, you see, I have this to currently stash my sewing needles.
And because I’m me, this happens to the needles that I put in there. And that causes all kinds of problems, like making the wheel stick and having needles randomly stab me. So that’s terrible.
This is my Altoids tin that I’ve had since probably high school.
It currently holds my weird sewing needles and a bunch of other sewing stuff like stitch rippers.
Ideally I’d like it to hold all my weird needles, a stitch ripper, a needle threader, and a wee pair of scissors. If the measuring tape fits, then even better.
This is a magnet from my dentist. It’ll work to hold the big needles in place.
I want something to hold the little tools onto the lid, but something that will allow me to change up the tools as events warrant.
A little hot glue later …
The velcro tabs allow me the flexibility of sticking whatever it is I want to the inside of the lid. It may not look pretty, but it works.
Traditional needle books are basically just felt books all sewn up – but that doesn’t prevent the needles from being stabby if you hold the book wrong. So that’s where the metal tin comes into play.
I cut out eight felt “pages” for my book the size of a business card (2″ x 3″). In the end I used only six of the eight because otherwise the lid wouldn’t have closed on the box.
Then I cut out wee tabs to sew across each page to hold the needles. You can put the needles straight through the page if you like but it increases the risk of stabbiness.
Then I sewed them on. The page with the two tabs is for my weird needles. Nobody ever said I could sew in the straight line.
Then I sewed the pages together like an accordion, to make the pages sit flatter inside the tin than they would have if I’d sewn all one side like a book.
Then we stick in our needles, weird ones first:
Then the big huge ones …
… then I had the monumental task of SORTING all the little ones I had. Ugh. This is super not easy when you have severe carpal tunnel …
In they go.
The finished “book,” from one side,
Then I needed to snazz up the outside of the tin. Something not super-cutesy, and something visible. Because my other issue with those wee plastic cases is I’m constantly losing them when they slide behind or underneath something else.
I had some fun with craft paint and crackle medium to come up with this effect. If you’ve never used crackle medium, give it a try. It’s fun.
Here’s my uncooperative baby being a butt while I wait for this to dry.
And the finished ensemble! I ended up putting the stitch ripper in the bottom where it fits perfectly. The measuring tape alas did not fit.
The pages pull out to reveal the needles you want.
And at the bottom are all the big huge ones.
I’m trying to consolidate a lot of the crafty/sewy/knitty stuff that I have as I go through our basement (post on THAT to follow), so this is a good start. Convenient to use and definitely un-stabby.