Real McCoy Felted Mittens

Last week we had a little fun with the MacGuyver mittens.  This week I bring you the real deal.

Trace your hand (or someone else’s hand, it’s up to you, of course) with the thumb sticking out a bit.  Cut out your tracing, leaving about half an inch on the outside edges.  Use that tracing as a template and cut it out of both sides of your felted sweater, using the ribbing on the bottom of the sweater as the opening of the mitten.

Flip your cut out pieces so they are right-side in and pin them.Sew them up using a blanket stitch and turn them right-side out again.  It’s as easy as that.

 

If you want to be really clever, you can sew a loop of thread onto one mitten at the cuff, and a button onto the other mitten in the same place.  Then you can slip the loop over the button and keep your mittens together!

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Felted Wool Chicken

Next on the DIY Christmas to-do list is the stuffed chicken.

Again, I borrowed a template from Martha Stewart, and she has some very good instructions on making a stuffed chicken.  And some other things. I will probably make the pig, too.

I photocopied the template to double its size and cut the chicken out of those two lovely orange sweaters I recently felted.I followed the instructions pretty carefully, save that I only cut out two wings and sewed them directly onto the chicken first.  I didn’t want them flapping around and possibly getting torn off.So first of course I turned everything inside out and sewed the bottom part onto the sides, as according to instructions.Before I got too carried away sewing up the rest of it, I filled a small wool pouch (scrap from another sweater) with dried beans and sewed it up before basting it to the bottom of the inside of the chicken.  This will keep the chicken from falling over.Then I carefully sewed on the wattle and comb of the chicken while doing up its head (be careful when you go around the beak, it’s tricky), and, with some small difficulty, sewed it the rest of the way up.It worked out surprisingly well, and was really easy to do.  I’m working on another, in opposite colours.Just don’t eat it.  This isn’t a recipe post.

Felted Wool Slippers

First order of business in our mad scheme to have an entirely DIY Christmas: the felted wool slipper.  You may remember this blue sweater that I felted recently.

I borrowed a template from Martha Stewart.  These were originally supposed to be felt slippers, not made out of old sweaters, but when do I ever follow instructions?

Anyway, I printed out the template and had it photocopied in the sizes I wanted.

To save myself time and to ensure my pieces were exactly the same, I cut through two layers of wool in cutting out my pieces.  I used two pieces for each sole to make them extra squishy and more durable.

I also took advantage of the shoulder seam in the sweater I was using to serve as the heel of the upper. 

It’s Ralph Lauren.  That’s what the pink blotch is.

I pinned all the pieces together and found that the upper actually was a little longer than the sole, so I did some trimming.

In the end it turns out my trimming job made them look a little funny, but I will fix that next time.

I used a blanket stitch with a contrasting colour of thread and went all around, making sure to get all the layers of wool sewn tightly together.

I also went around the open edge of the slipper for consistency.

Then I embellished them a little with some buttons.

Not the prettiest of things, but they’re warm and light and soft.

And they fit, which is always a bonus.

Vanilla and Nectarine Preserves

I told you I was going to attempt Vicious Sweet Tooth’s Vanilla and Nectarine preserves, and so here we go. 

She has some good tips on canning, and of course my mother and I recently made some grape jam with a canner, so just follow those instructions and you should be fine.

Pit and chop up about 4 1/2 lbs nectarines.  Leave the skins on, because that’s where you get the pectin from.  We used about 4L nectarines, so it probably is slightly more than we needed but what the hey.

Plop them in a pot with 2 cups granulated sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  We chucked in one of our old vanilla beans (you can re-use vanilla beans, did you know?) for good measure.

Bring the fruit mixture to a boil.  The pectin in the skins will help your preserves to gel. 

The mixture should thicken and darken a bit.

To see if it’s ready to can, put a plate (or in our case, a ramekin, which can handle the temperature change without cracking) in the freezer for a little while, then remove it and drop some of your hot jam mixture onto the plate.  Put it back in the freezer to cool for a few minutes.  If you give the drop a push and it wrinkles up, it’s ready for canning and will gel nicely in the jar.

Pour your mixture carefully into your hot, sterilized jars. 

Seal to finger-tip tightness before returning to the canner for another five minutes.

Tada, you have preserves!

This yielded us 7 half-pint jars (250mL each).

Felting Old Wool Sweaters

As you may know, I’m doing a DIY Christmas this year.

Many of the projects that have come to my attention recently have involved re-using and re-purposing old things you don’t want anymore.

Some of those particular projects involve making items like mittens and hats out of felted wool, which is easy to make and fun.  When natural fibres such as wool are washed and rubbed against each other, the fibres shrink and separate, tangling with other fibres, creating the thick, durable material we know as felt.

Take yourself some old sweaters.  Sweaters that are 100% wool (or merino, angora, cashmere, etc., all the natural animal fibre ones) work the best, but I experimented with two orange sweaters which were 90% wool and 10% nylon.  I picked up most of these at Value Village.Chuck them into your washing machine and wash them in HOT water.  Just make sure you turn all the knobs back when you’re done so the next person doesn’t accidentally shrink all their clothes in the next load!

I managed to produce a large ball of wet sweater babies when I cleaned out the washing machine.Pop them in the dryer when you’re done and when they’re dry they should be felted.  You may have to do this more than once if your sweaters are loosely knit, just to get all the fibres tangled up with each other. If you can cut into the sweater without it unraveling or fraying then you have successfully felted your wool.

You can see how much smaller the sweaters are now.  This used to be a medium-sized adult man’s sweater, and now it would maybe fit a two-year-old.

I removed all the stuck-on sweater babies with a fuzz comb.

Stay tuned for all the fun things I plan to make out of these!