Skirting the issue

{ Friday, December 24, 2010 }
I had one more christmas craft due before the big day and I was able to sneak this one in right under the wire.

Our first christmas living together, the boy and I acquired a big bunch of new christmas decorations. The following year, I was just coming out of my first trimester of pregnancy and was not feeling up to digging all the decorations out of storage, so we didn't decorate that year and that's why, when we unpacked our decorations last year, it was like we were seeing everything for the first time. We didn't unpack a tree skirt and were sort of surprised since we vaguely remembered owning one, but neither of us could really picture what it looked like and we certainly couldn't find it.

Last year, we did without a skirt, but this year I decided to rectify the situation. I loved this skirt the moment I saw it (I'm a sucker for polka dots), but wasn't feeling the $60 price tag.

I figured I could whip up something similar, so I started out with a couple yards of white muslin and used the string-tied-to-two-pens technique to make two perfect-ish circles roughly 4 ft in diameter. I then cut slits through one side and made smaller circles in the center for the tree opening. I sewed those two circles together, leaving an opening for turning and turned the whole business right side out.

I then stitched one round of red ric rac at the outer edge of the skirt.

The polka dot part was the most time consuming. I found three household items of varying size to serve as my templates and traced and cut many, many circles from wool felt.

I pinned a piece of scrap muslin over the hole to make finding the center easier and, using the string-and-pen technique, I marked three concentric circles on the skirt using a disappearing fabric marker. I then spent hours agonizing over the correct "random" dot placement.

Finally, I sewed all the little dots down with coordinating thread. I'm sure fabric glue would have also worked, but we're a little suspicious of glues around here and I thought the stitching would wear a little better.

The last step was to stitch more ric rac round and round the circles and throw that baby under the tree!
The only regret I have (that I plan to rectify before packing it away until next year) is that I didn't add fabric ties to hold it closed. It works fine as is, but the ties will definitely make it more bean-proof.

The bean says merry christmas to those celebrating tomorrow!

Where, oh where has December gone?

{ Monday, December 20, 2010 }
December somehow got away from me this year. I took on some extra work this month and that, along with household chores and chasing after the bean, has kept me away from my usual christmas preparations. Finally, this last weekend, I found the time (in between holiday parties) to bake batches and batches of christmas cookies while listening to carols and finishing up some last minute crafts. NOW it feels like christmas is coming!

Do you remember this stocking that I started for the bean last year? I stitched like crazy on it all of last December, but I knew there was no chance of getting it done in time. You might think it has been finished for months, given the fact that I had all year to work on it, but I needed to give the thing a little rest at the beginning of last year and only worked on it here and there for several months. This fall, I kicked it into high gear and finally finished up all the stitching.

Last weekend I found the time to do the finish work (ugh, the finishing seems to take longer that the actual stitching). I'm very happy with how my first attempt at embroidery turned out. We hung it up alongside my handmade stocking from my childhood and a place holder stocking for the boy. It took a full year to complete the bean's stocking, so perhaps in two years I'll complete the other two kits I have hiding in my sewing table for us?

{ Monday, December 13, 2010 }
Its been way too long since I posted a bean update, so let's see what she's up to, shall we?

At just a couple weeks shy of 18 months, the bean is busier than ever. She now runs and jumps and dances when she hears music and has that very short attention span that toddlers are known for. Watching her play with her toys can make one dizzy as she moves from one thing to the other.

Of course, the bean is also showing those other traits that toddlers are known for--irrationality, impatience, and tantrums. We try to remember that this is a time in her life when she very much wants to be independent and, to be sure, most of the tantrums are over her not wanting any motherly assistance. Its actually a little funny to see our bean's face slowly change (a warning that the storm is coming), then to see her carefully and slowly lie down face first on the floor (no sense getting hurt just to prove a point). She cries for a few moments, then looks up to see if she still has an audience.

Beyond that, 18 months is all about communicating. The bean's vocabulary has really taken off and she's using new words almost every day. She definitely has a desire to learn and will spend up to 5 minutes (the toddler equivalent of hours) pointing at various objects and listening to us name them. Most interesting to me are the words the bean comes up with that we haven't taught her, in fact, she has some words that we don't really use so we wonder how she learned them. She is also starting to put words together into sentences and they provide a peek into our days lately: That's mine! More cake please! No Mama!

These days the bean loves dolls and babies more than anything else. She doesn't actually have a proper baby doll, but she makes due with whatever is on hand. Mostly, its this stuffed dog which she has named "baby puppy" and which gets puts to bed with a little washcloth for a blanket and whose "spit up" gets cleaned with lots and lots of tissues. When we're out and the bean sees a stroller go by, she's off like a shot to go investigate. I remember being a nervous new mother and absolutely freaking out when, during flu season, a curious young toddler tried to hold baby bean's hand, so I imagine the bean is not a welcome sight running full tilt at these little babies. We're working on admiring them from a distance, but the bean gets lots of hands on time with babies at her twice weekly daycare visits. The teachers tell us that she loves helping feed the babies their bottles and will run over to rock a bouncy seat the moment she hears any crying. The bean is getting ready to move into a toddler room at daycare which will mean many new friends and fun activities, but we're sure she'll miss all the babies in the baby room.

Another favorite activity is helping mama and mommy cook. If she sees one of us even walk into the kitchen, the bean is off to start pushing a chair from the dining table into the kitchen while yelling, "I cook! I cook!" and "Help!" once the chair gets stuck. She stands on her chair next to the counter and "helps" by measuring out water and pouring it from one measuring cup to the other.

Helping mama roll out bagel dough

This is an age where we are really getting a lot back from the bean, when she'll initiate hugs and kisses, wave and say "bye bye" when one of us leaves and come running to greet us when we return. Those teen years will be here before we know it, so for now we're soaking as much of this up as we can!

Thanksgiving menu

{ Wednesday, December 01, 2010 }
I cooked thanksgiving dinner this year for our little family. The problem with a vegetarian thanksgiving is the matter of a main dish. We can (and do) enjoy the side dishes, but for our dinner at home I really wanted a main protein dish to replace the turkey. A few months ago, I got it in my head to somehow stuff seitan, roast it and serve it with gravy so we wouldn't miss out on those traditional flavors. Honestly, my first two practice versions of this dish left a lot to be desired. I originally made the mistake of using the seitan recipe on the back of the gluten container. My final version used the recipe from Veganomicon and it was excellent!

Seitan Stuffed with Mushrooms
Double batch of simple seitan recipe from Veganomicon
4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
4 tbls high smoke point oil, such as canola, corn, or safflower
1/2 cup gruyere
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed spinach leaves
dash of white wine

Make the seitan according to the recipe, but when shaping dough, shape into two thin rectangles. (Seitan can be made up to one week ahead and stored in its cooking liquid.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on high heat add about 1 1/2 cups mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and saute until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove mushrooms from pan and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Continue cooking the rest of the mushrooms and oil in small batches. The trick to this step is to work with a hot pan and small batches of mushrooms so that the 'shroom juices are boiled off as they are released and you end up with nicely browned mushrooms. Getting the pan too hot, however, will cause your oil to burn, so watch the pan closely and adjust the temperature as needed.

Once all the mushrooms are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and adjust the temperature to low. Return all of the mushrooms to the pan and add the cream, cheese, and wine. Stir to combine and melt the cheese. Add the spinach leaves and cook until wilted. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat. (Don't clean that pan! Deglaze it with a bit of white wine and vegetable stock and and save that liquid to make gravy with.)

Lay seitan pieces flat and cover with a thin layer of the stuffing. Tightly roll each piece starting at one narrow end and tie with cooking twine in two or three places. Cook in a 350 degree oven until heated through, approximately 40 mins.

To serve: remove twine and slice. Top with mushroom gravy.

The rest of the menu? I'm glad you asked.

Parmesan pastry pinwheels

vegetables and hummus

Butternut squash gratin

Brussels sprouts hash

Mashed parsnips, russet and sweet potatoes

Homemade crescent rolls