Friday, March 31, 2017

Another town crier announcement

In an echo to the first town crier announcement, I want to let you know that the latest addition to the family arrived on March 10th, 2017. He weighed in at 8 pounds even, for 20.5 inches long – much more reasonable proportions than his older brother! And he is an absolute delight.

I haven’t yet found a blog nickname for him. The only ones that I’ve come up with seemed either great in one language but not both, or I just know he’ll have outgrown them by the time he’s old enough to know about the blog. So… I guess I’m open to suggestions?

In the meantime, I’ll keep posting a few recipes, because I did have a backlog already by the time he was born. I’ve also filled the freezer with food again, and some of those dishes are new recipes, so there should be new content to update this post eventually.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Chocolate Dream Cake

This cake recipe is from Gluten-Free Girl. Obviously, she uses a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix, and she includes teff in it because it goes well with chocolate, but I used white whole wheat flour. You could also replace the water with coffee (decaf if necessary). It’s an easy recipe that makes for a moist and delicious cake, thanks to mayonnaise. Honestly though, next time I would omit the cinnamon. I’m also adding the instruction to dust the pan with cocoa because I felt like the cake stuck to it a bit too much otherwise. This is a great “every day” chocolate cake (by which I mean not that it should be had every day, but that it is not made for special occasions like birthdays, for example). Bon appétit!

2 cups (280 g.) all-purpose flour (see note above)
2 cups cane sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional, see note above)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup shortening (ideally non-hydrogenated)
1 cup hot water
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup lactose-free milk or buttermilk (vegan milk works too)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Grease a 9”x13” baking pan and dust it with cocoa.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using). Set aside.

Set a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mayonnaise, shortening, hot water, and cocoa powder. Whisk them together until everything has broken down to a thick liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil. Turn off the heat and pour the hot liquid into the flour and sugar bowl. Stir together with a wooden spoon.

Add the milk, eggs, and vanilla to the batter (I mixed them together in the measuring cup first). Stir everything together until the batter is thick and glossy, with no visible flour remaining. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake until the edges have started to slightly pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool at least 1 hour before cutting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Ginger Ale Crêpes with Chocolate Chips, and a new technique

I made crêpes for Candlemas again, and one of these days the Engineer will get on board. (Maybe it will be the year I make the extra effort to have both savory and sweet ones, because right now ham and cheese and béchamel on buckwheat just seemed like more than I could handle.) At least the Little Prince liked the idea this year! I made two recipes. One was from America’s Test Kitchen and, while the recipe itself was a bit of a dud (the flour clumped, the batter didn’t get a rest, and the taste didn’t impress me that much), the technique was stellar. It’s all about heating the pan properly, and it’s more effort than I normally put in, but I have to say that it paid off – even the first crêpe was perfect!

The technique is this: place ½ tsp. of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and set it over low heat for at least 10 minutes. Then, wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, leaving only a thin film of oil on the bottom and sides. Increase the heat to medium and let the skillet heat for 1 minute. Test the skillet by placing 1 tsp. of batter inside and turning it over after 20 seconds. If the bottom is golden brown, you’re good to go; if the mini-crêpe is too light or too dark, adjust the heat accordingly and test again. They then recommend using ¼ cup of batter for each crêpe, tilting the pan back and forth and shaking it gently so that the batter covers it evenly.

The other recipe was for ginger ale crêpes with chocolate chips. They also contained orange zest and coconut milk, and while the first was a great addition, the latter made the batter too thick for my liking – I think coconut milk beverage would be a better option, or perhaps half coconut milk and half lactose-free milk.

1 cup flour
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
¾ cup lactose-free whole milk (see note above)
2 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine (plus more to coat the pan)
1 cup ginger ale
zest from 1 orange
1 handful of miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a food processor or blender, mix flour, salt, eggs, milk, and butter until totally blended into a thin batter.

Pour into a bowl with ginger ale and orange zest and mix (I did this in the blender too). Cover and let sit in fridge for at least an hour.

Heat crêpe pan (see technique above), adding more butter. Pour a circle of batter into the pan. When the crêpe has browned slightly on the bottom, carefully work a spatula underneath it and flip. Cook the second side briefly, just to set the batter. Continue with remaining batter. Serve crêpes as they come off the heat, sprinkled with about a tablespoon of chocolate chips.

Product reviews

- First off, I tried Daiya’s “cheesecake” in chocolate flavor. I initially liked that it was readily available and easy on the wallet, especially compared to Sirabella cheesecakes, but as it turns out, it’s also much smaller. And it’s good, but not as good or as creamy as Sirabella… So I think it’s nice to have as dessert once in a while, but I didn’t like it as much as Sirabella. That being said, isn’t awesome that we actually have a choice in which vegan cheesecake we want to buy?

- I tried Veruca’s Gelt for grown-ups, in dark chocolate and sea salt, because I’d been hearing good things about it for a long time. It is in fact pretty good, though not remarkable. It’s a nice novelty item, though, and I think it would make a good hostess gift for Hanukkah (it’s dairy kosher, though no actual ingredients are dairy). Keep in mind that it’s produced in a facility that also handles tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. But it’s a not cheap, and having it shipped from Chicago can be expensive, so I don’t think I’d get it again.

- I have (and love) The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, and while I haven’t jumped into jam-making just yet, it is something that I intend to do eventually. In the meantime, I decided to treat myself and buy some marmalades from Blue Chair Fruit. I tried and liked the bergamot one, but the grapefruit-orange-meyer lemon marmalade is seriously one of the best I’ve had! It’s not as bright orange-yellow as most citrus marmalades out there, but what I love is that the citrus peels are so soft that they dissolve easily in one’s mouth and are much more pleasant to bite into than in other kinds of marmalades. I really recommend this one! Keep in mind that the selection is seasonal.

- I tried Cawston Press’s sparkling rhubarb drink. It is good, though the rhubarb taste still isn’t as pronounced as I would like. It also loses its fizz quickly out of the can, and the taste goes along with it. So I much preferred La Rhubarbelle’s Pétillant de rhubarbe, but obviously that’s not an option in Texas.

- I also fell in love with Whole Foods’ Maple Gingerbread Sandwich Cremes, which were absolutely delicious! Like maple sandwich cookies, but the filling had some spices (and no molasses), and they were divine. Unfortunately, they were seasonal, so I’ll have to wait until next fall before I can have them again. Considering how fast they sold out, though, I’d hope Whole Foods will consider making them a permanent addition!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sewing for kids

It occurs to me that I mentioned upcycling clothing to make children’s garments, but I never posted any patterns or finished pieces, so let me address this!

A few years ago, I think shortly after the Little Prince turned one, I made him some tops with envelope necklines by using the excellent 90-minute shirt tutorial, along with this pattern. I needed an actual pattern to make a nice t-shirt, because tutorials alone have never worked out to my liking! This is a relatively easy shirt to make, and it allowed me to upcycle some t-shirts that I and the Engineer were discarding. Attaching the binding for the neck also gave me the chance to flatlock with my serger – I tried with the ladder side of the stitch both on the outside and on the inside, and I think I prefer the former. (In case anyone is interested: here is an Amy Alan video demonstrating four types of stitches with a serger, as well as a quick guide to sergers on Make It Handmade, a tutorial for flatlock stitching, and another one if you want to understand which thread goes where).

I also made a pair of shorts from the sleeves of a man’s t-shirt (tutorial here). I had to do some adjusting for the size, but I’m not crazy about how they came out (so no pictures). I do plan on making more, though, and use them as pajama bottoms for Baby 2.

More recently (last spring, actually), I made some crew-neck t-shirts for the Little Prince, and I am really pleased with how they turned out! I used this tutorial and pattern because I find the author reliable. This time, I used the regular serger stitch on the neck ribbing, not flatlock. I started by using two of my old t-shirts, and I liked the result so much that I bought two more at the Salvation Army for the purpose of converting them (and at $3 and $4 respectively, plus thread, they were still cheaper than brand-new t-shirts). With a serger, these are surprisingly fast to make, especially since you can use existing hems. Note that these shirts fit my son very well at 3 years old, so I’ve adjusted the pattern by printing it at 115% to make a few more now that he’s grown a bit, and I made a pattern piece for a long sleeve to make a few more in a different style.

Another piece I’m really proud of is a cardigan I made from a beloved old sweater of mine (which I couldn’t wear because of bleach stains on the front). I was inspired by this and used the pattern for the Darling Cardigan on Etsy, and in addition to said sweater, threw in some scrap jersey knit from another t-shirt, along with thread and buttons. I just love how it turned out!

I also made a few pieces for my goddaughter. First, a few years ago, I used McCall’s M7007 pattern to make a tunic from a shirt I no longer wore. I threw in a pair of legwarmers made from an old pair of socks that I had really liked (and the colors complemented each other so well!).

For Christmas, I made her this comfy knit dress (with pockets!). I used scraps from the pink shirt above along with some grey jersey knit from another garment.

And just last month, I used an old garment I had made and only worn a few times (and would no longer wear because it really didn’t suit me that well) to sew a Polly Peasant dress for next summer. I added a small ribbon loop to mark the back neckline. Then I decided to add a ribbon at the waist and use one of the fancy stitch settings on my machine, which I never get to do otherwise – I love the result!

My most recent projects included a child’s apron and Oxford shirts. The apron was a Christmas gift for the Little Prince; I came across the pattern on, and following the link for where she found the Darling Fox print fabric led me to this awesome, Canadian-looking Burly Beaver print. This apron was very fast to make (seriously, you can do it during your toddler’s afternoon nap). The only thing I would change is that I would make the neckband longer, since my son has a big head and this is borderline comfortable to put on or off. About that, since the neckband is elastic and the strap ties on with Velcro, your toddler can in theory put it on and remove it by himself, which is a definite plus! The Little Prince enjoys wearing it when he’s standing in his learning tower watching us cook.

Then I made a classic button-down Oxford shirt. This pattern comes in sizes from 3 months to 12 years, so it’s very versatile! I started by using yellow scrap fabric from another project (which never came out to my liking and which I was never going to wear) along with the cool variegated thread I had bought for it, plus buttons from a shirt discarded by the Engineer, so even though I had to pay for the materials at some point, I feel like by now it was free and just helping me make some space in my stash. I made size 4T, but it turned out to just barely fit the Little Prince now (he’s 3 ½), so the next ones I made were size 6T. I ran into a problem with the collar, which the pattern seems to size too large for the shirt, so I had to do some fudging with the pattern to get it to come out right. Then I made three more using old shirts of the Engineer’s, so the upcycling is keeping me happy AND it’s faster than making a shirt from scratch entirely. (The sleeve plackets can be reused easily, as can the bottom hems, but I recommend making a collar from scratch.)

Finally, I made two sweaters using this pattern and two sweaters I had in my discard pile (one was mine, one was the Engineer’s).

As for toys, I made two ragdolls (one for my son and one for my niece, on their first birthdays) using the tutorial and pattern found here. I used this fabric for the body, and fabric scraps to make clothes, along with embroidery floss for the facial features and yarn for the hair. For the boy doll, I sewed the hair in several strips from right to left (I’d use fewer strips next time, as he has a bit too much hair!), and from front to back for the girl (see tutorial here). Honestly, front to back would work for the boy doll too, but when I tried it, I wasn’t sure, and ended up preferring the other way – you can compare the first picture with the ones where he is dressed. And for the girl, I used a few yards of scrap yarn to knit her some undies and a scarf, since I was sending her to Canada in the winter and felt like the summer dress wasn’t enough (and I said I wasn’t into animism – lies!).