Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Train Table

I made this train table for my Thomas-obsessed boys for Christmas. We didn't have that much space, but I wanted something that was big enough that they could both play with it without fighting. After pricing some tables, I decided to make my own. I built a removable table that fit over our oval-shaped coffee table in the den/play room. I glued and screwed 1 x 4's to the back of a piece of masonite. I cut the sheet so that the 1 x 4's formed a frame to fit over the coffee table, keeping the train table from sliding around. I then cut and screwed molding around the sides into the 1 x 4's allowing for about a 1 inch raised edge to keep the trains from running off. I then painted a landscape scene on the smooth-sided top. I'm hoping to also use it as a work surface for coloring, puzzles, etc. I'm pretty pleased with the result.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Ornaments

Well, I had a bunch of little preschoolers over to make ornaments. We made two different types: light bulb and foam sheet ornaments. Foam sheets are my new favorite thing. You can color it, glue it and even sew on it. And it's inexpensive - about $1 a sheet.

We made Christmas trees, gingerbread men, snowmen and candy canes out of the foam sheets. I used cookie cutters to trace and then cut out the shapes - this would be a good task for older kids, 6th grade and up. We used ribbon, pom-poms, foam shapes and markers to embellish the ornaments, then punched a hole in the top of each and laced it with ribbon. If you find yourself with a whole slew of them, consider creating a garland or adorning wrapped gifts with them.

The light bulb ornaments require a little more time and effort, but they are fun. Using burned out incandescents, we created penguins, but with a little imagination, you could come up with a host of holiday characters. You can also use this project as a reminder about recycling and using energy efficient compact florescent bulbs instead of the incandescent kind, which are cheaper, but don't last as long.

The principles of the foam and bulb ornaments could apply to other holidays as well, like Easter or Halloween crafting.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jumpers for Joy

I bought a sewing machine about 5 years ago for about $100. I used it to make curtains, pillows, nursing covers and baby slings- nothing complicated or from a pattern. I'm bad at following directions. However, I became inspired to sew some coveralls for my youngest son after having gotten so frustrated with buying infant boy clothes for his older brother. Comparatively speaking, there is not nearly as many dressy clothes for little boys, as for little girls. In my opinion, the boy clothes are either very feminine looking or just big boy clothes that are sized for babies. I really love overalls, but #2 is long in the torso, but short in the legs, so he's difficult to buy for. I came across a sale at Jo-Ann's on patterns and picked up 2 for 99 cents each! Since each outfit only requires about a yard of fabric, I got several fabrics for under $20 total. Thankfully, neither pattern includes a lining - just interfacing, so it takes no time - about 5 hours, but that rarely happens in one sitting. Thus far, I've made three outfits. He just turned 1, but I cut it at 2t with a larger seam allowance and took it in where needed. I'm hoping to get another year out of them, buy adding buttons to the straps and leaving enough leg length to let out the hem. I didn't feel like adding snaps at the inside leg seams, since it's just as easy to change a diaper by unbuttoning the straps.

This is one of his "Christmas" coveralls, but he can wear it through the winter.

I love cords and the robin egg blue dots add whimsy.

This is often-worn jumper I made for fall. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rag Quilt

My DAR chapter makes lap quilts for patients at the Baltimore VA. So, I decided to try my hand at a rag lap quilt. As you can see, the rectangles aren't perfect, but it was my first attempt - each measures roughly 8 x 9". I found directions online, but chose to just use two layers of flannel. I decided to try a more masculine palette for the blanket as the recipient will most likely be male.  However, "masculine flannel" is apparently an oxymoron. There are loads of baby/pastel patterns, but I went with a sage and rust scheme and found patterns I liked. There were the obvious camo/hunter fabrics, but that seemed too pedestrian. I hope to make more, but think I would do best with a rotary cutter than sewing shears. Anyhow, here are the instructions if you'd like to try it. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turkish Coffee Pear Bread

This is a nice alternative to more tradition quick breads. Though I still have a preference for old-fashioned banana bread, this is a close second. Make for breakfast or dessert. Give as a gift for the holidays or for that wonderful hostess who put up with you all weekend.

Turkish Coffee Pear Bread
Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf
(about 16 servings)
A subtle, moist quick bread with a surprisingly rich and creamy texture. Apart from the sifting of dry ingredients, all the mixing steps can be done in the food processor. Cut in thin slices to serve. Wrapped well, it can be frozen for up to 1 month. Adapted from "The Joy of Coffee" by Corby Kummer (Houghton Mifflin, revised 1997).

3 ripe pears
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain yogurt (may use low-fat)
4 teaspoons ground coffee (regular grind)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Peel and core the pears and cut them into quarters; puree the quarters in a food processor to yield 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups. Reserve any remaining puree for another use.
Center a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a small bowl; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, or in a food processor, combine the butter and sugars for about 2 minutes, until well blended. Reduce the speed to low (or stop to add each ingredient, if using the food processor) and add the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing for about 1 minute. Add the pear puree and yogurt, and mix until combined. Stop mixing long enough to sprinkle the ground coffee and cardamom over the batter, then scatter the flour mixture over the top. Resume at low speed or pulse a few times, and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour 5 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack and turn right side up on the rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tissue Paper Sunflowers

My example to the left, Tater's project on the right

A fun project for pre-schoolers and up.


Paper plates
Wood dowels
Yellow tissue paper
Brown tissue paper
School glue

Tear/cut pieces tissue paper and glue to paper plate. For the center, you can wrap brown tissue around pencil eraser and glue down. Or, crumple up tissue and glue on.
Tape a dowel on the back. Make a bouquet of sunflowers. I did this craft in late summer/early autumn, since sunflowers bloom that time of year around here. I also introduced a visual art element by showing the sunflower paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Don't forget to talk about color, texture, scale, etc. You can bring a science component by using actual sunflower seeds for the center, instead of brown paper. Discuss how flowers grow from seeds and that birds feed on the seeds. Have the kids count out strips of paper as a math element to the project.

Tater in the flower garden with the sunflowers

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing says autumn like some yummy Butternut Squash Soup.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

With its sweet, earthy taste, butternut squash soup is a favorite for Thanksgiving. You can also prepare the soup in a slow cooker, which helps to deepen and meld the flavors.

1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cups butternut squash puree*
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and
thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
2 small bay leaves
1 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/4 tsp. ground coriander (optional)
1/4 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger (optional)
8 baguette slices, each 1/2 inch thick,
 lightly brushed with olive oil and toasted
 until golden brown
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Peel and cube one large or two medium sized squash. Combine squash and 1 cup broth in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 20 minutes. Puree squash in a blender.
In a dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the squash puree, apple, remaining broth, bay leaves and the 1 tsp. salt to the and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Add the cream/milk. Using a stick blender/mixer, puree the soup directly until smooth. Stir in the coriander and ginger. Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls, garnish each with a toasted baguette slice, and season the slices with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Ramadan fell in September of this year. Though I'm a Christian, I still like to cook a dishes associated with cultures or religions. Like art, the way a group of people prepare and eat food reveals their humanity, their preferences and pleasures. You could say that I'm eating my toward tolerance. According to the Washington Post, this is a popular meal for breaking the fast.

4 to 6 servings

8 pieces chicken legs and thighs
black pepper
2 Tbls. + 2 tsp. butter
1 small onion, peeled and left whoe
3 cardamon seeds
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
½ tsp. allspice
1 cup white basmati rice
2 Tbls. Raisins
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup slivered almonds

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium heat, heat 1 Tbls. Butter. Brown chicken, 4 minutes per side. Add the onion, cardamon seeds and enough chicken broth to cover. Cover tightly and simmer for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish and cover loosely to keep warm. Reserve the broth.

Strain 1 cup of broth through a sieve and place it in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add ¾ cup of water, 1 Tbl. Butter, allspice and salt and bring it to a boil. Rinse the rice in cold water and add to the pan. When the broth and water return to a boil reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small bowl, add warm water to cover and let sit. In a small sauté pan over low heat, melt 2 tsp. of butter. Add the pine nuts and the almonds and stir until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a small bowl. Drain the plumped raisins and add them to the bowl with nuts.

When the rice is cooked, transfer it to a serving platter. Arrange the chicken pieces on top and garnish with nuts and raisins. Serve immediately.