Put a Bird on it

One of the things that I love about homeschooling is how organic it can be.  You start reading a topic in history that leads you to geography, that leads you to science and eventually leads to a muddy sort of experiment all over the front porch.   And any book the boys might be reading can lead who knows where, and I like to go with the flow and learn some new things myself!

My oldest has been reading one of my favorite books, the Hobbit lately.

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Towards the end, he asked me what a thrush bird was.  I remembered the little bird being an important, although small, part of the plot in the Hobbit, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of a bird a thrush was either.

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So we looked it up. Turns out, there are a lot of different thrushes in the world, in all different colors.

The google search also revealed a BBC video series called “The Life of Birds”, so we started in watching that.  At the end of an episode, one of my boys asked me what my favorite bird was, to which I promptly replied- “a robin redbreast.”    When asked why, I had to stop and think about it.  Then it popped into my mind.  Because of the Secret Garden of course!  Another of my favorite books from childhood.

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It was the robin who showed the way into the garden!

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If I hadn’t been thinking about birds so much lately, I might never have taken notice of a cute little book at the library on how to make stuffed birds, by a woman named Abigail Glassenberg.   I thought I would try and make a little thrush, just for fun and for the Hobbit’s sake.  I went a little overboard on the colors however, since no thrush in any picture I had seen was quite as flamboyant as the one I ended up making.  But I couldn’t help myself- I had a whole stack of vibrant velvet pants I was itching to repurpose.

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Accenting the wings was fun.  There are really endless possibilities with these.

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I love the little birdy feet, but they are made of wrapped wire, so I am not sure how well these little guys would do as a snuggly stuffed animal.  They seem more like something you would just keep on a shelf, but my boys are always asking to play with them, so who knows!

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After the thrush, I thought I would try something a little more true to nature, and naturally, a robin redbreast was my next choice.  I veered away from the pattern in the book just to see if I could make one work, and it came out all right, I think.

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Not quite as eye catching perhaps, but it makes his red breast stand out all the more.  And I finished him just in time for the real robins to herald the spring.  These will go on my shop, just to see what happens.  And they were so much fun, I might be trying some more.  Any requests?

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Now that it’s Spring

I know I am speaking too soon, even in the South, but on a day like today, I can’t help but feel that Spring has arrived for good.  Sunshine, 70 degrees and blooming daffodils will do that to you.

As soon as it starts getting warmer around here, I immediately start craving lighter foods.  I pulled out the vitamix and made a smoothie for the boys today after months of using it to make hot soups.  And I wanted a salad for dinner in place of our usual wintertime roasted veggies.

I thought I would share this recipe with you all.  It was the first salad I ever learned to make.  Sure, I already knew how to chop up a bunch of lettuce, throw some diced carrots on the top and serve it with a bottle of ranch dressing, but a specific salad recipe?  That was new to me at age 18, and what makes this salad special was that I learned to make it in France, from a genuine French woman.

There are lots of golden memories floating around the making of this salad.  When my friends and I lived in southern France, we often visited our missionary friends on Sunday afternoons for dinner.  It always seemed to be a glorious sunny day with the French doors opening onto the terrace, letting in a light breeze that carried with it the scent of wild thyme and rosemary.   Madame B would be in the kitchen with a huge olive-wood salad bowl in front of her.  As I watched, she would cut open a big clove of garlic and rub the whole interior of the bowl with it.  Then in the bottom, she would mix her dressing, asking one of her children to run find some fresh thyme in the yard outside to sprinkle on top.

She would toss all the ingredients together and serve it with roasted lamb, or whatever else was sizzling in the oven that day, and of course, fresh baguette.   All of her food was good, but this salad- it was fresh and bright and garlicky and almost rich, as far as salads go.  I fell in love and insisted she give me the recipe.  And now I give it to you.

Here’s what you need for the salad.

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And this is for the dressing.  So easy!

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(that’s balsamic vinegar- sorry it’s so blurry.  And any dijon style mustard will do.)

Begin by either rubbing a garlic clove around your bowl, or smashing a couple cloves and throwing them in the bottom.  We like things garlicky around here.

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Then the dressing is very simple.  Depending on how big your salad is going to be, use the following ratio-

3 parts olive oil

`1 part balsamic vinegar

1 part mustard

This is enough for a moderate amount of lettuce- say- two hearts of romaine.  I use a Tablespoon as a “part”.

Mix this in the bottom of your bowl with a good pinch of salt, pepper and thyme if you have it.

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That’s it for the dressing.

Now dice up an avocado.

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And a couple of tomatoes.  Throw those in the bottom of the bowl as well.

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Then just chop up your lettuce (again, I used a couple of hearts of romaine).

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Toss it up, and voila!

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It’s great as a side, but sometimes I add some diced chicken and or bacon, for a full meal.

Enjoy, and here’s hoping spring is here to stay.  And for those still buried in snow, remember- spring will come again!

The Fox and the Hog

Time to introduce some new friends for my shop, folks.  I’m still plugging away at developing my own patterns, or at least altering patterns that I find. And I continue to experience more frustration than success.  What, between adjusting patterns and trying out different fabrics, I am never sure just what I am going to end up with.

These next two projects are definitely rough drafts- especially the fox.  I have been on a velvet kick lately, since I like stuffed animals to be nice and soft to the touch.  But velvet has it’s own set of challenges, when it comes to sewing.

There are several things I would like to change about this fellow- the legs and nose for a start, but I like to use my blog as a place for constructive criticism, so have at it!

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And then there is my little hedgehog, who didn’t cause me nearly as much trouble.  I made him from some soft, purply velvets and stitched little ‘spines’ all up and down his back.  He is super soft and cuddly.

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I must say that I love his little face.

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Anyways, I am going to keep experimenting with animals, but I found a new book on sewing beautiful birds that I am just itching to try out. So we will see what comes of that!

The Great Cake Competition

So it’s almost Valentine’s day, and I thought I would change things up a bit in my cooking section, by posting a blow by blow account of the contest my hubby and I had against each other last weekend.  We were having a Valentine’s dinner/fundraiser at our church under the guise of a cake auction.  The hubby and I both decided to donate a cake, and the contest was just between the two of us to see who could get the highest bid- merely to make things a little more interesting for us, and of course, to increase marital harmony at home.

We hunted high and low for good recipes, but in the end, we both chose a cake from the same web-site-  http://www.annies-eats.com/.  I know from experience that her cakes not only look amazing, but taste fabulous as well.  The challenge, of course, would be to imitate them.  I was fairly confident that this contest would be a cake walk (pun intended) since, well, my hubby had never made a layer cake.  But a few minutes into the process, I could see that he meant business.

I mean- look at that towel over his shoulder, and the perfectly greased and floured cake pans.

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I had a few chances to snigger, like when I told him to be careful measuring cocoa powder because it can be very messy-DSCF1190

but once his cakes were in the oven and he started in like a pro on the salted caramel Swiss butter cream, I was starting to sweat.

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I mean, how was I supposed to compete with that much butter?

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I quickly checked my own recipe and was relieved to see that my recipe used just as much butter, if not more.

There were a few more hopeful moments, like when his caramel started to harden too quickly.  But he pulled off a spectacular buttercream and slathered it generously between the layers, ready to set in the fridge all night.
(notice his forethought as well.  He made himself a mini cake for sampling.)
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And ladies, here is an indicator of true marital bliss.  He did all his own dishes.

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The next morning, I was up bright and early.  It was my turn, and this was no longer a light-hearted affair.

I had decided on a chocolate cake as well.

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But I had a secret weapon.

Raspberries baby.

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I melted and mixed and pureed.

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I mean, how can you beat that color?

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And there is just something about the word ganache.

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It was touch and go for a while as I assembled the three layers.  But I remembered what my mother -a cake maker extraordinaire- had taught me at her knee, and I persevered.

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At last, mine was ready to set in the fridge for a bit as well.

Then it was the two of us together, as we neared the end, smoothing and scraping and adding the finishing touches.

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The tension in the room was palpable as I willed my glaze to gloop down the sides just so.

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And then with a final flourish of raspberries on mine and a sprinkling of sea salt on his, we surveyed our handiwork.

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Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera to the auction, and so I was unable to document the thrilling show down between our two cakes.  I have to admit the thing was rigged, since my cake went up last, and who was going to outbid a pink cake made by a lady who had just announced she was having a girl after four boys?  But it was a close thing, and made for a very memorable Valentine’s.  Now maybe this weekend we can go somewhere for cake and actually eat it too.

Inquiring minds want to know

Ultrasounds always make me nervous. I have had some very bad experiences with the ultrasound machine, as
I have noted on this blog a few times before.

The first ultrasound I ever had was after the loss of our first baby at ten weeks. It was not a pleasant experience.

With my first boy, they were really worried that his head was way too big, so they sent me to all kinds of specialists, just to scare me. Turned out to be nothing.

My next series of ultrasounds were a little bit of hell on earth, ending with the loss of our little girl.

It took all of my courage to ever go near an ultrasound machine again with our next boy. He was fine.

With boy number three, everything was good until the end. And then those ominous words, “Oh dear, this baby is breach. You are going to need a C-section.”

The ultrasound for boy number four was a complete shock, seeing as I wasn’t even sure I was pregnant, and found out I was really five months along. I was numb with disbelief for a while after that one.

All that to say, I was not looking forward to this morning’s ultrasound. A little bit of nerves, a little bit of dread, a little bit of guilt for hoping it wasn’t another boy. But after my appointment, I may have to change my view of that little piece of technology, the ultrasound machine.

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It’s a girl.

Valentine Girl

Just a quick post to introduce my next 18 inch doll.  These bigger dolls do take more work, but they are so worth it! I love the bigger size since it enables me to work  in greater detail on face and clothing.

I found a lovely piece of fabric to up cycle- a sheet really. It’s 800 thread count Egyptian cotton, and such a nice shade of brown, I had to get it.  I wanted to try some more African American dolls, but I think this one turned out looking more Native American.

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The dress is another original design, in a cheery red color, since Valentine’s is just around the corner.  The white details are done in couching, which is a method using yarn, or in this case, thin strips of cotton jersey. You trace a pattern and tack down the ‘yarn’ at regular intervals.  It’s really easy and fun!

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I also wove some buttons into her hair, just for something a little different than braids with bows on the end.

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What do you think?