Sea Creature Floor Pillows 1 of 2 (with Cheater Box Cushions)

Whale Floor Cushion 44

Let it be known here that I hate sewing and I’m really, REALLY bad at it. One hundred percent of my sewing projects here at Ali Does It could be done one hundred percent better than they are. But I don’t have the patience or desire to do a better job, nor do I have the money to purchase these sorts of finished projects instead of doing them myself. I’m hoping that rather than being a direct how-to for all y’all out there in the hinternets, these sorts of half-assed half-assery will be more inspiration than instruction.

Whale Floor Cushion 43
That said, I can still do pretty awesome stuff sometimes.

I’ve been moving these old pillows from place to place. They’re not useful to us and they have a weird shape. But I thought they’d make nice little floor pillows, and now that LongJohn is spending more time on the floor it’s a good way for those of us with less flexible knees and older backs to join him. And because everything we make for him tends to be marine-related, I thought I’d make the cushions into sea creatures.

Whale Floor Cushion 1

What inspired that idea was this dress. This is a bridesmaid dress I wore to a wedding over a decade ago. I hated it then. I hate it now. It was really expensive to purchase the fabric and I had to have it professionally made because the pattern was too complicated and the fabric too finicky for my mother and I to deal with. And after it was done I felt like a WHALE in it. So let’s make a whale.

Whale Floor Cushion 2

This first cushion turned out wayyyy better than I expected, especially since I totally half-assed everything, didn’t measure a thing, and considering that this stupid stretchy velour crap is THE worst material in the world to work with. It didn’t even PHOTOGRAPH well. Every picture turned out BLURRY. GAH.

Whale Floor Cushion 3

With LongJohn looking on, I “measured” the pillow to the dress to gauge how much I was going to need to cut off.

Whale Floor Cushion 4

Cut made! Time to unpick all the stitches.

Whale Floor Cushion 5

Now I needed to kind of square off the pieces I had removed.

Whale Floor Cushion 6

See? KIND OF square. If I wasn’t catering to the patience of a seven-month-old, I would have used my rotary cutter and mat and done a better job. But meh. Cutting this stuff left little flecks of gray velour everywhere. Ick.

Whale Floor Cushion 7

I had some bits here from what I cut off that I thought could make a decent little tail for my whale. This is not going to be an anatomically correct whale – more the cartoonish sort.

Whale Floor Cushion 8

I took a Sharpie and drew a basic shape on the back.

Whale Floor Cushion 9

Then tried my best to cut it out of two pieces at the same time. This material is so slidey and stretchy though … The other piece there is for the bottom of the tail, to make it more substantial.

Whale Floor Cushion 10

And here is my poor approximation of a cartoon whale’s fin. I’m only doing the one fin because this whale is more like a flounder or sunfish and is entirely one-sided.

Whale Floor Cushion 11

Even pinning these pieces is next to impossible ….

Whale Floor Cushion 12

Sewing them together and getting the bottom panel in involved much swearing. Good thing LongJohn wasn’t listening.

Whale Floor Cushion 14

Then I grabbed some polyfill loft (actually I used twice what you see in the picture) and gave the tail and fin a thorough stuffing.

Whale Floor Cushion 15

They ended up looking way better than I expected them to.

Whale Floor Cushion 20

Then I hemmed the two back pieces of the cushion so that I could overlap them and have an opening without having any raw edges. I like to make my cushions so that I don’t have to add snaps or a zipper – just a little overlapping envelope of fabric. I’m lazy.

Whale Floor Cushion 21

But there’s still the front of the cushion to do, and that cushion needs a face.

Whale Floor Cushion 22

Here’s my attempt at a face. It’s really hard to sew non-stretchy materials to stretchy materials.

Whale Floor Cushion 25

So it ended up being all wrinkly like this. But it looks like a happy whale, right?

Whale Floor Cushion 23

Now to put the square pieces together. Again, nothing lines up, but it doesn’t matter because everything is so stretchy and impossible.

Whale Floor Cushion 26

Whale Floor Cushion 29

I had to seal in the edges of the tail in order to sew it on without a disaster.

Whale Floor Cushion 27

And even that was tricky.

Whale Floor Cushion 30

Here it is all sewn together finally.

Whale Floor Cushion 31

With the cushion in place I put a pin where I wanted the fin to go. I ended up hand-sewing the fin on because it was impossible any other way.

Whale Floor Cushion 32

And I also attacked my super pointy corners. The pillow has rounded edges so I didn’t want those corners to stick out too far – whales are roundish after all. If you were doing this for real you’d be taking the corner of the cushion here (inside out) and flattening it at an angle that the seams you’ve sewn match up, one on top of the other. Then you iron it to make a pleat, and you pin it. I did none of those things, save more or less lining up the seams.

Whale Floor Cushion 33

Then you measure the height of your pillow or box (because in the assembly of your pillow you’ve left enough room to account for this) and you sew across the pillow corner to match that height. Again, I eyeballed this. I’m a terrible person.

Whale Floor Cushion 34

But then when you flip it inside out again, all those pointy corners have disappeared! If you have stretchy material and a round cushion, you now have rounded edges. If you have non-stretchy material and a square cushion you now have box edges. Congratulations!

Whale Floor Cushion 36

Everything turned out with a few gathers and wrinkles but I blame the fabric for that.

Whale Floor Cushion 41

LongJohn doesn’t care. He just likes to punch it a bunch while yelling. And that’s really all I was going for.

Whale Floor Cushion 39

The next cushion will be a box fish – wish me luck!

Moveable Memories

Moveable Memories 1

For Christmas, I gave the Pie a stick. This stick, to be specific. It’s actually a piece of moulding too knotty for my dad to use, and I scavenged it out of his garage. Trust me though, I have a plan.

Moveable Memories 2

I’m sure all of you have a relative with a cottage or grandparents’ home where, be it a door jamb or a piece of wall panelling, they have accumulated the heights of all the family members as they’ve grown over the years. At the cottage my great-grandfather built (now owned by my mother’s cousin), these height markings go back several generations. And it’s always sad when the time comes to leave that house behind, together with those memories that are so firmly a part of the house. Sometimes you can get away with removing the fixture they’re on, but sometimes not.

We plan to stay in this house for a long time, but you never know what will happen, so I wanted to make sure that when we leave we can take our memories with us.

First order of business is cutting down the wood to fit. I made sure it was cut so it sits above the moulding on the floor, runs parallel to the doorjamb in our guest bedroom, and ends at the top of the lintel, so it’s low profile. Then I drilled three holes (one at either end and one in the middle), and sanded it down.

Moveable Memories 3

During one of LongJohn’s naps I popped just outside the backdoor and spray painted the whole stick white. Then I had to kick around my newly white leaves so the Pie wouldn’t see them. Fortunately it snowed soon thereafter so I was safe.

Moveable Memories 4

Once the paint was dry I started marking distances with craft paint. We use mostly Metric in Canada but because we’re so close to the United States we are pretty fluent in Imperial as well, so I decided to go with both. For the centimetres I made a bigger mark every 10 and for the inches I made a bigger one every 6. I also made sure to start my measurements on the stick at the distance it sits from the floor, which when you take into account the moulding at the bottom of the wall, was about 10cm. In retrospect I wish I’d used a finer paint brush but what’s done is done.

Moveable Memories 6

I added in the numbers in a different colour (again, wish I’d used a finer brush). Then I sprayed the whole thing with a clear lacquer to keep the markings fresh.

Moveable Memories 10

Then I wrapped it and hid it behind a bookcase. Now when we take our measurements, we mark them in permanent marker and I dab a little clear nail polish over them to keep them from rubbing off. And when we’re ready to leave, we can take it with us!

Moveable Memories 12

Tread Carefully!

Tread Carefully 1

We moved into a split level house specifically to cater to the needs of tiny children and aging dogs. Grenadier, believe it or not, is now six years old! He’s still spry and sprightly but next year will mark the beginning of his senior life and he’s slowing down in little increments. I see him hesitating at the bottom of our 5-step jump between “upstairs” and “downstairs” and it makes me sad. Slippery hardwood is hard on old joints. Not to mention that in a few months I’m likely to be watching LongJohn make his first forays up and down that mountain of stairs.

Tread Carefully 2

So I thought I’d make the stairs a little safer for all of us. You may remember that I put some adhesive grips on our deathtrap stairs in Elizabeth, but I didn’t do a very good job there. It’s amazing how home ownership will prompt you to make sure you do something right the first time.

At first, I thought I was going to be stuck buying black or gray adhesive grip tape and that I was going to have to get creative with how I laid it down so that it wouldn’t look like I’d just slapped safety tape on my stairs. I was going to have to MEASURE for crying out loud. Pah. Then I discovered that 3M makes CLEAR safety tape, so I picked up a roll of that. I also needed a rubber roller to properly apply this stuff, and 3M sells that too. Handily, my mother, who has done some printmaking in the past, had a stock of them so I nicked one from their basement for free.

Tread Carefully 4

First things first: measure (or eyeball) and cut strips. Now that I didn’t have to worry about laying things down in fancy patterns, I cut one piece to fit the stairs (according to the package instructions), and then measured each subsequent piece to the first one.

Tread Carefully 5

Then I had to sit there with LongJohn in the Jolly Jumper while I painstakingly rounded all the edges.

Tread Carefully 6

Because one of the travelers in our house has four legs with small feet, I put a few extra strips in place to ensure that Gren could find grip no matter where he stepped.

Tread Carefully 7

Next, I had to clean and de-grease the steps to ensure that the tape stuck. I used a Magic Eraser to gently abrade the finish of the stairs and make it more welcoming to the adhesive. The instructions recommend stripping the varnish off completely but there is no way I’m doing that!

Tread Carefully 3

Then you just stick the stuff down! Peel off the edge, line it up, and away you go.

Tread Carefully 8

Once it’s down, take the roller and go from the middle outwards, pressing quite hard (my hands were sore the next day).

Tread Carefully 9

Done! You can see bubbles in mine because the floor isn’t perfectly smooth.

Tread Carefully 10

It’s funny, you know – the tape shows up here quite clearly on my camera, but when you’re looking at it with the naked eye it’s barely visible at all. You can only see the bubbles on the top step when you come upstairs and the sun is shining brightly through the bathroom window. So it’s pretty much invisible. And everyone feels a lot safer!

Tread Carefully 11

Tread Carefully 12

Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 24

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 8

In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 9

Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 12

Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 7

While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 4

And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 5

When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 13
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 14

Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 15

Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 17

Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 19

Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 21

Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

Salted Peanut Pretzel Toffee 22

Apple-Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 15

Oh hey, do you have a recipe for cranberry sauce for this weekend yet? I’ve been resting on the laurels of my chipotle cranberry mix but this year I wanted something a bit different and now this is my new favourite. This one is easier, too, which makes life better around the holidays.

Start with 2 12oz packages fresh cranberries, 2 large apples, and 2 large oranges. If you’d like a bit of extra zip, replace the oranges with grapefruit and go from there.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 1

Wash the cranberries and set them aside to drain.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 8

Peel the apples and cut them into small pieces (whatever size you would like to find dropped across your turkey).

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 5

Zest and juice the oranges into a medium saucepan.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 3

Tip in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and give it a good stir.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 9

Tip in the apples and cranberries and heat over medium, stirring often.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 11

The liquid will simmer up and the cranberries will make very satisfying soft pops as they break open.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 13

Once you’re happy with your ratio of broken cranberries, remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to chill.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 14

This makes about 2 quarts, so plenty of sauce for dealing with leftovers!

Citrus Cranberry Sauce 16

Fakin’ It

I’ve been to some of those houses where the whole place gets decorated for the season. You know, the ones where the hand towels get replaced with ones that have snowflakes on them, the soaps and candles waft peppermint everywhere and you can’t avoid the reindeer cushions. If I’m describing your house, then what are you doing reading my crap blog? Go be awesome somewhere else.

I DO decorate for the holidays, but I don’t have the storage space or the money (or the inclination, really) to have separate household accents for each season.

But the other day I was staring at two paper snowflakes I had cut out for a project that didn’t end up happening. I had tossed them on the tray on our coffee table and they’d gotten tangled in the leaves of my jade plant terrarium. I was staring at them while I absent-mindedly picked part of a label off my water glass. The label piece had gotten stuck to the glass when I put an empty jar in the dishwasher.

EUREKA? Paper. Water. Glass. Adhesion.

So I wet the snowflakes and applied them directly to the glass itself, making myself a little snowy vase. It’s not a permanent thing. Once it’s dry you can nudge it off. But it sticks if you don’t disturb it. Tissue paper works even better.

I can see myself wetting tissue paper with LongJohn in future years and creating a winter snowscape on our front window …

Easy Chocolate Fudge Cake

Fudge Cake 26

I made this (from Recipe Tin Eats) for Nana Nice’s birthday a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately I had the plague and couldn’t partake but I can assure you that it’s equally good the next day …

Fudge Cake 28

Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and butter a 9″ springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter that too. You can never have enough butter.

Fudge Cake 10

In a smallish pot on the stove, combine 8.5 ounces dark chocolate with 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 sticks unsalted butter, and 1/2 cup milk. Stir on medium low until the butter and chocolate have melted. Don’t let it come to a simmer.

Fudge Cake 7

Tip in into a bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 3/4 cup milk.

Fudge Cake 12

Then mix in 2 eggs – WAIT, I ONLY HAVE ONE EGG!

Fudge Cake 2

Not to worry. You can substitute an egg with 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons milk, cream, butter, or yogurt.

Fudge Cake 3

Whisk in those “eggs.”

Fudge Cake 13

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 3/4 cups plain flour, and 2 tablespoons instant coffee.

Fudge Cake 8

Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.

Fudge Cake 14

Pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake for 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean (a little residue means your cake will be extra fudgey!).

Fudge Cake 15

Remove the sides of the pan and let it cool completely on a rack.

Fudge Cake 17

You can frost this with whatever you want but a nice ganache is never a bad thing. Heat 1 cup whipping cream on the stove until it’s about to start simmering, then pour it over 8 ounces dark chocolate of your choosing.

Fudge Cake 16

Stir until smooth and all the chocolate has melted, and then leave it to cool until it spreads like peanut butter.

Fudge Cake 19

Frost your cake, and have fun with whatever swirls and squiggles you’d like!

Fudge Cake 22

I went a step further and added some dragees

Fudge Cake 25

… and some sprinkles

Fudge Cake 24

It was a birthday cake after all!

Fudge Cake 27