Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sew, don’t knit, a yarn scarf for fall

I love fall. After such long, hot, oppressive summers, I love the cool breezes and the pretty colors. One of the best parts about fall is pulling my sweaters and blue jeans out of storage. While I love my jeans, my favorite piece of clothing this time of year is a scarf.

I’m not really an accessories person. After several broken necklaces and earrings yanked out by children, I pretty much stopped wearing jewelry. Scarves, on the other hand, are fairly kid-friendly. Well, other than choking you when the young’uns pull on them.

I usually make or receive a handmade scarf every year. And while I do know how to knit and crochet, they aren’t my favorite crafts. I am a sewist, after all.

I can make a nice scarf out of fabric, but this fall I really wanted a soft, snuggly yarn one in autumn colors.

I had a moment of pure serendipity in the aisles of Walmart. While checking out the craft clearance section, I found all sorts of pretty yarns for just a couple of bucks each, including some beautiful pinks, browns and dark reds — my autumn colors.

I grabbed three or four skeins, not quite knowing yet how I was going to make my scarf, and headed for the checkout line.

As I stood there with my arms full of yarn, trying to keep my daughter out of a bin of jack o’ lantern buckets, I noticed something thrown over one of the bars. It was a pretty scarf made from many pieces of yarn, but sewn together so that the pieces intertwined, creating a cool effect.

It also had a price tag more than all the yarn I had in my arms combined. But I knew it was something I could recreate at home.

To make the scarf, I cut 5-foot long pieces of yarn from about six different skeins of varying thicknesses — some worsted weight, some heavy weight, a ribbon and a feathery novelty yarn (I used the new ones I bought, as well as some from my stash).

I used six strands from each yarn — so about 36 5-foot strands total — to make a scarf about 4 inches wide.

I used a dark purple thread in my bobbin and a gold thread on the top to create a different effect on each side.

I read online that some people make scarves like this using a water-soluble stabilizer; iron the stabilizer to the yarn strands so that when you sew, it’s like sewing a solid piece of fabric. Then wash the stabilizer off, leaving just the yarn and stitching.

That sounded nice, but I didn’t have water-soluble stabilizer, so I just free-handed it. That left some irregularities throughout the scarf, in width and yarn placement, but I like the look. It adds character — like folk art.

I left a couple inches for fringe. I then gathered the yarn in a bunch in front of the foot of the sewing machine and guided the strands through, letting them overlap some and making sure the gaps between them weren’t too big. When I got to the end of the width, I backstitched a couple times, raised the foot, turned the whole thing around and sewed back down in a v-shape.

I combed out the unsewn strands after every couple of passes through the machine to make sure they didn’t get too tangled.

Just zigzag your sewing down the length of the scarf, stopping when you reach the desired length, leaving room for fringe. Trim up the fringe ends and the scarf is ready to wear.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Smile and say CHEESE!

After I successfully made two batches of cheese this week, I felt like a superhero. The power to make cheese lay in my hands. Just call me … The Cheesemaker.

But great power comes with great responsibility. So it’s my duty to take this knowledge and pass it along to the unlearned, so we can all bask in the glory that is cheese. Yummy, custom-flavored, homemade cheese.

Soft cheeses are deceivingly simple to make. The cheeses I made — fromage blanc (creamy goat cheese) and ricotta — used only three ingredients: milk, citric acid and salt. You’ll also need a thermometer (candy should work fine) and a cheese cloth. If you don’t have all these on hand — and I don’t know many people who keep citric acid in their pantry — don’t worry. You can make ricotta using a different acid, like lemon juice or vinegar. Or you can do what I did and order a DIY goat cheese kit from Belle Chevre in Elkmont

This Alabama fromagerie has produced a variety of internationally acclaimed chevres (goat cheeses), and its cheeses have won numerous awards. The kit includes everything you need to get started, except the milk: bags of citric acid and cheese salt, a cheese cloth and a thermometer. Goat milk is available in the dairy section at many grocers, including Walmart. The kit costs $27.95 and is available at here.

One note: the instructions from Belle Chevre specifically say to use pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, milk. Ultra-pasteurized milk was the only kind available to me, and it still made cheese.

Fromage Blanc

1 quart goat milk
1⁄2 teaspoon citric acid
1/4 cup water
1⁄2 teaspoon cheese salt (or to taste)

Mix the citric acid in about 1⁄4 cup water. In a non-reactive pot (non-stick, clay, enamel, glass or stainless steel), combine the milk and citric acid to 185 degrees over medium heat, stirring continuously (this can take awhile — up to 30 minutes).

Once it reaches 185 degrees, remove from heat and allow to sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. When the time is up, it'll be a thick gelatiny-type mixture. 

Lay the cheese cloth over a bowl and pour in the milk mixture. The whey will strain through and the curds will catch in the towel.

Tie the ends of the towel together into a bag and hang somewhere it can strain for at least two hours (the kitchen faucet works well for this, but I used my knife rack).

Letting the cheese hang for a longer time makes a denser cheese, which can be rolled into a log. I left mine for about two hours and got a nice creamy cheese.

Before taking the cheese out of the cloth, squeeze it to extract more liquid.

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and season with the cheese salt to taste. Here's my finished cheese with no add-ins. A quart of milk made 7.6 ounces of cheese — almost half a pound. 

You can flavor the cheese any way you wish. Try chopped chives, salt and pepper. Spread that on slice of toasted baguette, top it with sauteed spring onions and, yep, you’ve suddenly become a superhero.

Or mix a cup of goat cheese with two tablespoons of honey for a delectable breakfast cheese.

Even more recipes are in the new Belle Chevre cookbook, “Tasia’s Table: Cooking with the Artisan Cheesemaker at Belle Chevre.”

Don’t throw it a-whey!

When you add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to milk, you change the shape of the casein, a protein. In its changed state, casein coagulates to form solid curds. Heat helps separate the curds from the liquid whey.

Curds contain most of the fat, casein protein and vitamin A of the original milk. But whey has important nutrients, too. Whey is 93 percent water, but it also contains whey proteins, some minerals and vitamins, and most of the sugar of the original milk.

Use your leftover whey in soups and stews; as the liquid in any baking recipe that calls for water or milk; or add it to shakes and smoothies.

If you don’t have a use for it now, freeze the whey in an ice cube tray and keep it in a freezer bag for future use.

 Homemade Ricotta

8 cups milk (I used whole, but others will work as well)
1⁄2 teaspoon citric acid (or 1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or 3 tablespoons white vinegar)
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

A note: Technically, this isn’t really ricotta. Ricotta means “re-cooked” and is traditionally made from the leftover whey from making another cheese, such as mozzarella. But it takes a whole lot of whey to make a small batch of ricotta, and this method yields similar results. If left to drain for a long time and pressed, it becomes an Indian cheese known as paneer.

The process is similar to making the goat cheese.

In a non-reactive pot, combine milk, acid (dissolve citric acid in some water first) and salt. Curds will quickly begin to appear.

Heat the mixture to 195 degrees over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom. It does not need to be stirred continuously, like the goat milk does. Once the temperature reaches 195, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes.

Strain the cheese through a cheese cloth using the same method as with the goat cheese.

Let it drain for about 20 minutes to get a spreadable ricotta, similar to the consistency you’d get at the grocery store. Use in lasagnas, stuffed shells or as a spread, seasoned however you wish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Make Christmas memories with original keepsake ornaments

Decorating the Christmas tree is such a memorable time in my life. Growing up, the five of us kids were forced to hang out with each other while our parents watched. Half of us would get bored halfway through and wander off to play video games or read books.

It really was a fun time, though, and seemed to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.

My parents’ tree wasn’t one of the stylized ones that seem so popular now. There was no color coordination — the ornaments were all old, except for one or two new ones we’d occasionally get as gifts. Many of them were homemade. Very few of them were glass — there was a toddler in my parents’ house for more than 10 years straight, so glass just didn’t cut it.

We strung popcorn for many years, too. I loved the mish-mash look of that tree.

Now, with two toddlers of my own, I’ve come to know the beauty of the handmade ornament.

While the salt dough and felt mouse ornaments that every kindergartener brings home are cute, handmade ornaments don’t have to look so childish. I found a ton of beautiful ones on Pinterest that can be made in just a few minutes.

A digression: If you don’t know what Pinterest is, you should definitely check it out. lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the Web. So you’re surfing along the Web, and you come across this recipe that you have to try. You “pin” an image from the Web page to one of your boards, say, your recipe board. Next time you’re looking for something to make for dinner, you open the recipe board and that recipe (and any others you’ve pinned) are there in photos, with a link back to the original site. Pinterest is a DIYers best friend, and worst enemy — you’ll spend so much time on there finding ideas for new projects.

Now, peel yourself away from Pinterest and start your Christmas season by making some of these handmade ornaments.

You can find all these and more on my Keepsake Ornament Pinterest board (

Mini Christmas tree paper ornaments

Cut layers of paper in the shape of a Christmas tree, staple in the middle and fluff. I used a folded sports section of The Star for the paper and colored the edges of mine with green marker, then dabbed the edges with glue and added glitter. From (A tree template is available on the website.)

Christmas list ornament

This is my favorite of all my handmade ornaments. Take a wooden thread spool (Hobby Lobby should carry them), and paint it red, green or whatever color you wish.

My spools came from a sewing cabinet that belonged to my grandmother, which makes these ornaments even more special.

Measure the width of the inside of the spool. Cut a piece of cardstock the same width, about 10 inches long. Tape one end of the cardstock to the spool and wrap the remainder around, securing with a rubber band for a while to help the paper shape to the spool.

Unwrap the paper and write your kids’ Christmas list for that year on it. Label with their names and the year. String a ribbon through the spool to hang. From

Personalized glass ornaments

1. Clear glass ornaments can be made into the prettiest handmade gifts. They can typically be purchased at crafting stores. You can partially fill them with glitter, then paint the date and a name or monogram on the outside in a matching color. From

2. You can also make glitter ornaments by pouring a little bit of Pledge Floor Finish with Future (found in the cleaning section) into the ornament. Pour the excess liquid back into the container. Then funnel in some extra fine glitter and swirl it around until all the glass is coated. Let dry and the ornament is ready to hang. From

3. For the ultimate personalized ornament, print a photo on some transparency paper, sized a bit larger than the diameter of the ornament. Cut the photo out in a circle, roll it up and put it inside the ornament.

It will unroll, and you then have a beautiful photo ornament. This is a great gift idea for grandparents! From

Monday, October 29, 2012

I’ve been framed

For a variety of reasons — oppressive heat, mosquito attacks and, yes, laziness — I completely neglected my garden over the summer. Didn’t plant a thing, didn’t even add in the four bags of manure I bought in May.

But once the weather cooled down a bit, I got the itch to get things growing again. The good thing about Alabama’s heat is that we have a very long growing season, so while I may have missed out on homegrown tomatoes, I wasn’t going to miss out on fall crops — cabbage, radishes, carrots, spinach. 

But around the time I started turning over my soil, my garden’s enemies started to appear. They are pests, but not of the six-legged variety. My garden is plagued by cats, squirrels and acorns. 

You see, I live in east Anniston, so my options for garden placement were pretty limited when I built it last year. My backyard was ruled out completely, because of our wonderful 100-foot oak tree. It does a great job of shading our yard, too good in fact. Even after trimming away some major branches, there’s not a sunny spot to be found. 

That leaves the front yard, specifically the 6-foot plot between my driveway and the retaining wall into the neighbors’ yard. It gets about six hours of daylight during the summer, but towering over it to the side is … another huge oak tree. 

Therein lies the acorn/squirrel problem. The critters don’t seem to even be eating my sprouts, but they were digging huge holes to bury their acorns. I don’t know why they even needed to bury them — there were hundreds falling into the garden every day.

You would think the neighborhood cats would keep the squirrels away, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And there’s nothing a cat likes better than to dig a hole in freshly-turned soil and do its dirty business. Ew. 

I needed some garden covers to keep these pests away. After doing a little research on the Web, I had a plan: hardware cloth, PVC pipe and zip ties. Seemed simple enough, right? 

I went into Lowe’s with those general ideas and the measurements for my covers: 3-foot by 5-foot.
What I didn’t have was any real idea on how to actually build the frame. I wandered the plumbing aisle for a good while, trying to not be the frazzled mom who needed help. That’s as one child was taking her shoes off and the other was trying to eat one of the 10-foot PVC pipes. 

Then James came to the rescue. I failed to get James’ last name, but he is the nicest and most awesome Lowe’s employee I have ever met. I explained what I wanted to make and James immediately knew what to do — he said he had built several frames for his garden the same way. Not only did he gather everything I needed to build three frames, he even built the first one for me in the aisle, so I could just copy it when I got home. He didn’t mind letting my little girl “help” him build the frame either, and then he gave both my children wood model cars to build when we got home — after he helped me haul everything I needed to the front of the store. Yeah, he’s that awesome. 

I used hardware cloth — sheets of plastic with 1/2 inch squares cut in it — to cover my frames, because I needed holes small enough to catch most acorns, but still let in enough light. If critters are your only problem, chicken wire or some other thin wiring would work just as well. If you use bendable wire, you won’t need zip ties. 

This week I pulled the first radishes from the soil, and some of my spinach should be ready by next week. My carrots, swiss chard and peas are starting to make an appearance, and with all this warm weather, they should probably make it to harvest. Now all I have to do is get the critters that live in my house to eat them.

Items used:
½ inch PVC piping
Slip-on T fittings
Slip-on side outlet elbow fittings
6-inch zip ties
hardware cloth
PVC cutters

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Gonzo/How I bribed my children to behave

Happy birthday, Gonzo!

OK, I'm not the kind of person that celebrates my pet's birthday ... and it's not really his birthday, anyway.

Mondays are pure chaos and craziness most of the time. The kids only go to day care part-time — a Mom's Day Out program four days a week (two days for Seamus) at a local church — so they are both at home with me on Mondays. And for me, like most people, Monday is the beginning of the work week. Hence the chaos and craziness.

OK, it's not too bad. Mondays are usually a slower day for me at work, since the Life & Arts section of the paper comes out on Sundays. A lot of my Monday work is emails, arranging stories, compiling copy into readable formats and general preparation for the week ahead. Not the worst things to try and do with children, unlike interviews and actual writing, which are best done while children are away or sleeping.

Yesterday was no different, except I even had a little more work to do as the deadline for Longleaf Style magazine approaches. So about mid-morning, while I was in the middle of editing a massive calendar, Ruby starts getting antsy. I can't blame her — cartoons will only do so much for the attention span of a 2-year-old.

She was getting so antsy that she didn't want to eat lunch or take a nap. I'm was getting pretty frustrated, when I suddenly get an idea.


OK, maybe "motivation" is a better word. Ruby needed something to look forward to, something that would convince her to be a good, quiet girl for the remainder of the day. So it became the dog's birthday. A note: Seamus is pretty demanding too, but since he's just 16 months old, he pretty much does whatever his sister does, but is much quieter.

Gonzo's birthday isn't really in October. As far as I know, it's sometime in mid-April. He's a pound puppy, so there's no way of telling for sure. But Ruby is obsessed with birthdays, and I happened to have four cupcakes stashed in the freezer, so we decided to have a party for Gonzo.

But first, conditions had to be met. Ruby had to take a nap, or there would be no party. She fought it for awhile, but did finally give in ... three hours past the original nap time.

In the meantime, I was still working, doing laundry, making muffins and taking care of Seamus. Oh yeah, and I whipped up the world's smallest batch of frosting. Yeah, that's my "quiet" time.

So when she awoke, I used the party to distract the kids even more, with art: we made birthday cards and a crown. I also convinced her that she needed to pick up all her toys before we could have a party. Not tripping on legos is the best!

And it all worked like a charm. After dinner we sang "Happy Birthday" and had cupcakes while Gonzo munched on a handful of biscuits. Everyone went to sleep full and satisfied. And at the end of the day, that's all I can do, right?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sweet dreams dress

It only took a year and a half, but I finally got up the guts to cut apart one of my grandmother's vintage hand-embroidered pillowcases.

I've found a dress pattern that I'm quite fond of, and so it's making appearances in various incarnations in my Etsy shop.

This pattern, which I modified from a pattern I purchased here, has a shirred bodice and sleeves. Shirring means that I've used elastic thread, which causes the cool smocking/pucker effect.

It also means that this dress is super stretchy. It's a little big on Ruby, but it should fit most kids up to size 5 or 6 — becoming a knee-length dress, tunic and then shirt. I love it! It's like four outfits in one. And you know I'm all about multi-tasking.

This was one of the single pillowcases — I still have 20 or so to play with, most of them pairs. I also have a couple different patterns that I'm hoping will look just as cute as this one.

Poor little Ruby was none too happy with me about this photo shoot ... she's getting tired of being my model. It's a shame, since she's so adorable!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lots of art to entertain the young 'uns

This past week was fall break for students in our county — wonderful for the kids to get Monday and Tuesday off, stressful for working moms like me. My two toddlers aren’t even old enough to be in actual school, but their daycare did close for the entire week. That meant five days of 24/7 childcare, and although I do work from home, this is is quite a bit more than I’ve become accustomed to deal with during my work week.

Working from home with kids means two things: late nights in front of the computer and lots of art projects. Nothing keeps a toddler occupied like art. Except “Yo Gabba Gabba” — that crazy show can mesmerize a kid.

Luckily, fall lends itself to crafting galore.

The first thing I did was pick up two pie pumpkins from the grocery store. Pie pumpkins are much smaller than carving pumpkins, which makes them easier for a child to handle. For decoration, I just let the kids color all over them with washable marker. Not only did they have a ball coloring, but if they last until Halloween, I’ll wash them and make my first pumpkin pie from scratch. 

Our next project was one I remember doing when I was a kid: tissue ghosts. The easiest project ever. Ball up one piece of tissue, cover it with another and tie the “neck” with a piece of yarn. Color on a face and you have a ghost. We added googly eyes to ours because, yes, I’m the type of mom that has a bag of googly eyes on hand. This also taught me that my 2 1/2-year-old is much better with glue then I had thought, which opened up a whole new world of projects, like marshmallow art.

Another day was filled with art projects decorated with stuff from the stash: yarn, glitter, markers, crayons, foam stickers and marshmallows. I actually had two half bags of stale marshmallows in my kitchen. No, I’m not that much of a hoarder. But what else do you put in those unreachable cabinets above the refrigerator?

Marshmallow art is such a kid-friendly project. All you need is glue, mini marshmallows and paper. Draw the shape of your ghost, skeleton, etc. on the paper with glue and let your kid outline the shape with the marshmallows Just prepare yourself for the impending sugar crash if they sneak too many. 

Then we colored monsters on squares of colored paper and used yarn and glitter to decorate. After everything dried, we strung it all up on some pretty ribbon yarn and made a garland for the bookcase.

There were some other tried-and-true methods of distracting the kids. Play-Doh is always within arm’s reach, a fort was built, and destroyed, and built again. There are more fall crafts down the line too, but for now, I’m just happy the kids are back to school so I can get a  break — working in relative peace.