Loveable Elephant

Did you know there are apparently two ways to spell loveable? Lovable and loveable. Who knew.

Loveable Elephant

Loveable Elephant

I made this guy once before for my friend Alice’s little boy, her first child. I’ve wanted to make him again ever since, so this time I made him for my baby. The pattern is Lovable Toys from the book Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson, and it’s a regular go-to for me in making baby gifts.

I used some really nice Brier Run Alpacas yarn from a little place called Oil Springs, Ontario, that my Mom bought for me for my birthday one year at a local tractor show with my Dad. I’ve been saving it for something special and this seemed really appropriate.

I had to bump up the needle size because this yearn is heavier in weight than the Blue Sky alpaca yarn that’s recommended in the pattern. This created a few false starts as I realized as I tried to get started that doing the double-strand as called for was too much on 4mm needles. I then tried doing it single stranded but I started to feel like the toy was going to be too small, and the fabric potentially too leaky once stuffed with fibre fill. So last weekend while I was at the cottage I opted to start over on 4.5mm needles double-stranded, which was perfect. But of course I didn’t have all the right tools, so I made it work with the magic loop method (see video below). I was able to make all the toy parts except the trunk, which I finished last night.

 

Loveable Elephant

Loveable Elephant behind

Going with the magic loop method made for some tension issues moving from knitting the legs to knitting the body of the elephant. This pattern is made in a bunch of parts so it’s easy for this to happen. Despite this, I’m happy with how he turned out.

One more week of work left and then I hope to enjoy a couple weeks off before our bambino arrives! Can you believe the time has already come?! Whoa.

 

Baby Drool Bandanas

Before Christmas I had a whole day visit with my pal Angie and her baby Nathan wherein Angie downloaded virtually every bit of new-mommy info she possibly could — and I gratefully ate it all up. One of her words of advice was to make a whole bunch of baby drool bandanas. You can buy these things through Amazon or Etsy, but they’re pricey. And apparently they aren’t that easily available at your usual baby shops. She said do it now, because you sure as heck won’t have time later. Advice heeded.

Drool Bandanas

Baby Drool Bandanas

I roughly followed the tutorial offered up by Vivian at See Kate Sew, making most of mine as triangles with 11″ sides. It’s really hard to know if these are going to fit properly. They aren’t needed right away; the drooling really kicks into high gear when baby starts teething around the 4 month mark. I made a couple at the 13″ size as well but they seem rather huge. I suppose toddlers still do their fair share of drooling so I’m guessing we can make use of them all.

 

Drool Bandanas

Baby Drool Bandanas, reversible, with a velcro closure.

The first bunch I made were just two layers of complimentary coloured fabrics, but then I realized that they might be more absorbent if I used some flannel, so I made a bunch backed with flannel. These are ridiculously easy to whip up, and since I was reading that some people are changing them a half dozen or more times a day, having plenty on hand is a good thing, and saves having to change whole soaked outfits as often.

 

Drool Bandanas

Baby Drool Bandanas, backed with flannel.

Here’s to the drool days of summer… only 4 months away!

 

Leafy Baby Blanket Redux

I don’t usually repeat a knitting pattern too soon after having done it once, but I really liked this one and wanted one for myself (or rather my baby) after gifting the last one to a coworker.

Leafy Baby Blanket

Leafy Baby Blanket #2

The pattern is Leafy Baby Blanket by Leyla Alieva, only this time I cast on 145 stitches, which is 9x the width of the leaf lace chart, instead of the 6x repeat the pattern calls for. I also knitted 9x the repeat of the chart for length.

It’s a really great pattern that’s not to difficult to do, and this mercerized cotton (Paton’s Grace) is luxurious but easy to wash and hard wearing.

For the bind off I wanted something that looked more integrated into the pattern, so I tried out Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind off. I think this is my new favourite bind off. It makes the bound off edge look much more like the cast on edge, while still being really nice and stretchy (not so essential for a blanket but it can be very useful for lots of other bound off edges). Tutorial below.

Leafy Baby Blanket

Leafy Baby Blanket #2

This blanket will be good for travelling around in the stroller or lounging about on the floor. Unfortunately I was reading recently that blankets with lacy holes can be a problem for small babies to get their little fingers or toes caught in, so that was kind of a bummer. But you don’t leave a baby with any kind of blanket on unsupervised anyway so I’m not too concerned. I’m sure we’ll have many uses for it for years to come.

 

34 weeks!

I can hardly believe it myself but here I am marking the 8 and a half months mark! How did that happen??

34 Weeks (8.5 months)

34 Weeks (8.5 months)

I’ve been feeling pretty good although I have to admit the work weeks are starting to feel awful long. I’m kind of bushed by Wednesdays, especially if I happen to have had a night or two of poor sleep. Four more weeks of work left and then (hopefully) two weeks off before baby arrives.

People have been bugging me for belly shots so here are a few. I’m not exactly the selfie type so I have to keep reminding myself to take a photo now and then.

 

28 weeks (7 months)

28 weeks (7 months)

I’m chipping away at various knitting, sewing and home decor projects before baby arrives. I’m trying to finish getting artwork hung around the house — a task that has waited until now because there was a perpetual bunch of painting touch ups happening over the last year, but I’m close to being done all that — very close. Baby’s room is coming along; I’m rather pleased with how frugal we’ve been able to be, getting lots of the needed items as either freebie mom-to-mom things or hand me downs, and a few other items on deep discounts. I’ll post photos once all the elements are in.

Stay tuned for knitting and sewing posts! Oh… and I yeah, I got my hair did. What do you think? I probably won’t bother straightening it like the salon did but I wanted to get a good chop in before baby arrives. My hair grows so incredibly fast that it won’t be long before laziness kicks in and I’ve got it up in a pony tail again (enjoy it downwhile it lasts!).

 

Baby Quilt for Us

Quilt for my Baby

Triangles quilt for baby Kebbel

Having the plague over the holidays — once I had the energy to do more than move between bed to sofa — provided the time I’d been craving to get some sewing projects under my belt. I’d been meaning to get a quilt started for myself (or rather my baby) for months. Once I decided on a pattern and fabrics, it took a little over a day to complete.

 

Quilt for my Baby

Detail shot

I don’t have all the fabric designer names for this but the main feature is Zoology and Dumb Dots by Michael Miller. The solids are mostly Kona. The back is done in Dumb Dots flannel.

It was a really quick quilt mainly because the triangles are quite large at 10 inches tall and about 7.5 inches wide at the base (if I’m remembering correctly).

 

Quilt for my Baby

Dumb Dots flannel backing.

I did the stitching in a grey thread that complements the overall colour scheme, and a black binding to set off the contrast.

I’m totally in love with this quilt. I’d been saving the Zoology fabric for myself… and I still have some left. I’d like to get another quilt or two done for us, but I’ll have to see how everything works out with timing. I’m thinking of doing a quilted pillow, or maybe a pair, for the baby’s room, to help tie the colours together. Stay tuned!

 

Nesting

Pressure Canning

Pressure canned chicken stock for the pantry.

Now that the holidays are over (which I mostly missed due to the cold from hell) I’m chipping away at my maternity prep to-do list. One of the biggies was to devote a weekend to cooking a whole bunch of meals for the freezer, to help ensure we have lots of food easily ready to go when little baby chaos arrives on the scene.

Among the items to be prepared was a new batch of pressure canned chicken stock, using the carcasses of roasted chickens past that I’d kept in the freezer. It’s the first time I’ve used my pressure canner at the new house, and let me tell you once again I appreciate the design decisions we made in my new kitchen.

I’ve posted about pressure canning stock before, so I won’t repeat myself. It just takes a bit of planning and the right equipment. While some people think it’s a lot of work, the only real extra work is the time pressure canning takes. It takes much longer to process pressure canned goods, but the benefits are so worth it. I love that my stock doesn’t need to take up space in my freezer, and that I don’t need to thaw it before I use it. It’s just there and ready to go. If my energy levels keep up with my ambitions, I’ll try doing some full on soups, perhaps in some 500ml jars (meals just for mama). So far I’ve only pressure canned stock and tomato sauce.

In addition to the stock, I cranked out four large lasagnes, four cabbage roll casseroles, seven chicken pot pies, and a half dozen calzones.

Lasagnes for the Freezer

Lasagnes for the Freezer

 

Chicken Pot Pies

Chicken Pot Pies (pre-pastry lids), including one for dinner this week.

All of these meals lend themselves really well to doing in large batches. Make a giant pot of  meat sauce and turn it into lasagnes. Make a giant pot of chicken pot pie filling, divvy it up and let it cool before adding pastry lids and then freezing. I almost got worried that I wasn’t going to have enough room for all these in my freezers!

Planning my time was key here — I started the chicken stock as soon as I got home on Friday night, and by the time I went to bed it was ready to go into the fridge to cool. I also washed my jars and got all my equipment ready. First thing Saturday I strained the stock and got it heating again on the stovetop, along with my jars sterilizing in another pot. Since I can only get 5 1-L jars into the pressure canner at a time, I did two batches, which admittedly took the better half of the day. I got some pizza dough going in my bread maker for the calzones, and filled and then baked those in between canning duties.

By late afternoon I was prepping for the next day: chopping veggies for the pot pies, shredding cabbage for the casseroles, and I even had time to cook the meat sauce. This meant that Sunday was basically just assembly and baking (or in the case of the pot pies, cooking the filling). I was pooped by the end of the day but it felt great to stock up on all these meals.

My friend Angie, expert new mom that she is, suggested a couple of burrito recipes that look like they’d make for great breakfasts and lunches for a busy new mom. I’m planning to stock up on these a little closer to my due date.

 

Besieged by the plague

Lasting colour

Winter Rose Hips

Christmas? What Christmas? Has it been Christmas?

Because I missed ALL of it. I’ve been at home with the plague.

It started the week before my holiday vacation started — I missed two days of work but was able to get back on the Friday to see my colleagues off for the break. I thought I was on the mend. But round two started around December 22, and by 5:30 a.m. on December 24 I was no longer able to stand the swelling pain in my my throat. I swore I had strep throat. A trip to the doctor that morning said no (thank goodness) but I was sent home with instructions to use both of my asthma puffers in conjunction with each other and do frequent deep breathing exercises to stave off pneumonia. PNEUMONIA.

So I spent Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day at home, and didn’t get to do any of the family gatherings. Which I was looking forward to especially because I’m 7 months pregnant and would be seeing many family that we really generally see only once a year. But it wasn’t to be.

I’m coming out the other side, but I’m still hacking up a lung and unable to sleep very well. My sinuses are a wreck. And I’m still avoiding the public. But at least I have some energy to do stuff around the house now, which is better than before. Crossing my fingers that I will be able to salvage our New Year’s plans to visit friends in Ottawa.

Wishing you, dear reader, a very healthy 2015.

The 70% rule

Stary night

I’ve been going more or less full tilt for months. I do take breathers now and then, but it tends to be on the weekends when I’m master of my own clock. And then I start to feel guilty because I’m not making time to do the things I want to do for myself — and weekends are often my only time to get ‘er done. I’m surviving, but I’m pretty pooped most days.

I came across this story in the Globe and Mail about giving only 70% of yourself to most areas of your life as a way to maintain balance. This idea intrigues me. I like to think I do manage to keep some gas in the tank for myself most of the time, but it’s often a struggle, especially in the last year. Maybe thinking more conscientiously about the 70% rule will become my New Year’s Resolution. It’s ambitious without being ambitious! It’s a framework for thinking about how much of myself to commit to any given thing. I’m certain that some areas of my life such as, oh, housework and cooking will drop to somewhere in the 50-60% range once our little bambino arrives. I’ll probably be reevaluating and reordering my priorities come March, when our lives will change forever. 70% is a good way to conscientiously turn down the self-pressure.

Do you live by a 70% rule? How do you manage self-pressure?

Rediscovering yoga

A number of years ago I started up my sporadic yoga practice once again — and this time it was the most committed I had ever been. There was a studio literally across the street from my office and they had a 5pm class that made it really easy to go and still get home in time to make dinner. The teacher I had for that class was amazing — she was the kind of instructor who constantly reinforced the principles of listening to your body and not judging yourself. Even though there were some very advanced practitioners in my class and I was terribly inflexible, weightier than everyone else there, and out of shape, she was incredibly encouraging, made me feel confident and that I was progressing. I had her for about a year before she moved on to a new adventure in another country.

Right around the time she departed I was at the peak of symptoms which were later confirmed to be rheumatoid arthritis. At the time I hurt randomly all over, but especially in my hands, wrists and feet, and sometimes also my shoulders. I pushed on with yoga even though it was becoming more difficult. I eventually took a break, but went back after I started treatment and was feeling better. I wasn’t as into the new instructor’s style of teaching but eventually she won me over. However, she was pregnant and her teaching days were limited because of some dance injuries.

From that point on I practiced in fits and starts, for a few months here and there. The third teacher I had there was someone who had a very specific idea of what yoga is, and she practiced the same poses over and over, with a lot of focus on the sun salutations, back bends and especially chaturanga (aka plank). I started having very angry shoulders during chaturanga, and I could tell I was beginning to develop a repetitive strain complication. I tried some modifications of my own but I didn’t feel like the instructor was supportive of anything but the most perfect and the most challenging of the options, and despite my variations, the unrelenting focus on the pose became too much. I kept hoping the studio would alternate the instructor out of my perfect 5pm class window, but they didn’t. Eventually I stopped going altogether. My perfect class was no longer perfect.

At one point I took part in a yoga fundraising event in support of arthritis called the Power of Movement in which Jason Crandell was the instructor. I’m sure it was a 2 hour class which would have normally been very difficult for me, but it was so restorative, positive and encouraging I could have kept going for hours more. It reminded me all over again why yoga is for me possibly one of the most perfect forms of physical activity.

That said, it’s been hard to get back into the practice without having my perfect 5pm class across the street from work. Now that I’m 6 months pregnant (WOAH I KNOW) I’ve finally made time for myself to go to a class specifically designed for pregnant woman, and it was wonderful. Despite my pregnancy having been great so far, I’ve been feeling especially creaky and inflexible lately. I’ve also started having some discomfort across my hip flexors while sleeping.

I have many minor achy sore bits or back problems that flare every once in a while, but lately I’ve enjoyed a long stint without any flare ups, so I haven’t been seeing my chiropractor or massage therapist, and I’ve avoided a date with my yoga mat. But the other day, because of my sore hips, I broke out the mat and my foam roller and gave myself a teeny bit of love — really just a few minutes of self-myofascial release on my hips (if you don’t know what this is — you have a whole world of discovery and feeling better ahead of you… just remember that the actual rolling is not so awesome — it hurts, but it works). Just that tiny bit of rolling made my night much better.

So it’s time for some more regular body love. I’m going to try to go to Baby and Me Yoga every Sunday that I’m in town, and I’m going to try to spend a few minutes at least on my mat a couple times a week. I feel so much better today after just giving myself that hour.

Butter Tarts

Butter Tarts

Butter Tarts

I don’t know about you but it’s bake sale season in my world, with both our employers running United Way workplace fundraisers. Somewhere along the line I got pegged for butter tarts, and now I’m a bit of a November workplace baking celebrity.

What is it about butter tarts and the Canadian identity? They aren’t really a thing in the US apparently, although the southern pecan pie is very similar — we just leave out the pecans. According to Wikipedia, butter tarts are a quintessentially Eastern Canadian dessert, and have their origins in pioneer Canadian cooking. There are festivals dedicated to them, and they’ve become a must-have cottage country staple. People are obsessed.

For me, butter tarts really started with my Mom, although I have to say she has her own recipe and I have mine. My Mom’s also been pegged as the butter tart queen in her circles, being threatened to be barred entry to gatherings unless she arrives bearing a few dozen. For my part, I get people trying to reserve them for the bake sale the night before, and others emailing me to confirm I’m making them. I’ve even been offered bribes.

And then there’s the raisins or no raisins divide. My husband, who does not have a sweet tooth at all (damn him), makes an exception for butter tarts, and he is firmly in the “with raisins” camp. I have to ensure I make several extra for him or the bake sale supply will never get out of the house in tact. I make both kinds for the bake sales.

My recipe is based on the Canadian Living magazine version with a couple tweaks. First, I don’t use their pastry recipe. I’ve got my own no fail pie crust that I use for everything, and I like it better. I thought I got it from Smitten Kitchen but I can’t find the recipe on her site now, so maybe I modified it and made it all my own at some point in my pie crust love affair. The important thing is I’m whole hog on the butter baby. No shortening for me. Secondly, I discovered by using an extra egg in the butter tart filling it becomes more stable during baking and less prone to boiling over into a sticky impossible caramelized mess that make the tarts difficult to remove from the tins. Adding the extra egg does not take away from the sweet, gooey awesomeness that is the heart of the tart.

Butter Tart Pastry

Butter Tart Pastry

Let me tell you from experience that if you are indeed making these babies for a bake sale, borrow or buy some extra tart tins. Butter tart baking is messy business, and if you need to make at least 4 dozen like I do, washing the tins between baking is a serious drag. The filling that does manage to escape the pastry is literally caramel, and it hardens to the tin just like a hard candy — no stick coating or not. Save the washing up headache for the end and have a fresh tin for each dozen you’re going to pull off. I just bought a couple extra tins for this very reason; and there is really no other justification for me to own 4 sets of muffin/tart tins other than butter tart baking.

And now for the much anticipated recipe sharing. Enjoy!

Butter Tarts
Servings: 12 regular sized tarts

Ingredients:

Pastry:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • cold water, usually about 3 tablespoons but use what you need (see directions)

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp butter, very softened but not fully melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup raisins or dried black currants (optional)

Directions:

  1. In large bowl, whisk flour with salt and baking powder. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces. Some people advocate using a food processor for this. I do not; I recommend using a hand-powered pastry cutter for the best results.
  2. Starting with a tablespoon at a time, sprinkle cold water over flour mixture, stirring until pastry holds together. DO NOT over hydrate the dough and DO NOT over mix. You can use your hands instead of a spoon as the dough gets harder to mix to help press the dough together but resist the urge to knead — this is not bread. You should be able to see bits of butter that are not blended into the dough; this is what makes the pastry flaky during baking.
  3. Once your dough is more or less holding together, press into disc shape (like the photo above) and wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Make-ahead and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  4. Preheat your oven to 450 ºF (230 ºC) and move the rack to the lower third of the oven.
  5. For the filling, in a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended; set aside.
  6. On lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness. Using 4-inch (10 cm) round cookie cutter (or empty 28 oz/796 mL can), cut out 12 circles, re-rolling scraps once or twice if necessary. Note that overworked dough will turn out poorly. Fit into muffin cups. Divide raisins among shells if using. Spoon in filling until three-quarters full.
  7. Bake tarts in your pre-heated oven until the filling is puffed and bubbly and pastry is golden, about 12 minutes. Different metals of pans can affect cooking time so monitor your tarts closely to avoid scorching. Let the tin stand and cool on a rack for 1 minute. Run a metal spatula or thin knife around tarts to loosen; carefully lift the tarts and transfer to rack to cool. Note that timing is crucial here — if you leave the tarts in the tin cooling for too long, any filling that has boiled over will harden considerably and make extricating the tarts very difficult.

Variations: 

  • Try using maple syrup instead of corn syrup. The tart filling will be a bit runnier but the flavour is lovely.
  • Drizzle cooled tarts with melted chocolate, or add a few chocolate chips to the filling instead of raisins.
  • Substitute walnuts or pecans for raisins in the filling.