Sunday, August 30, 2009


One night this week after everyone had been tucked in, prayed for, kissed, hugged, helped in the bathroom, tucked in again, had a drink, reminded to be quiet, made to lay down and stop jumping, reminded to be quiet, and kissed one more time, a strange thing happened. Everything was peaceful and quiet. Strange huh? No, just kidding. I heard a funny sound coming from the general bedroom area, with a scowl on my face I heaved my exhausted self up out of the chair and went to investigate. Creeping down the hall to the two closed doors so as not to give myself away, I paused to listen for the suspect sound. There it was, coming from the nursery where the baby and the sisters sleep. Whipping the door open, ready to enforce my maternal authority I see two bright eyes peeking up at me from the baby's bed. His mouth is screwed up into a little wad and a copious amount of bubbles are hanging suspended from his lips. He has learned to sputter and blow bubbles! Needless to say, my maternal authority turned to mush and his accomplishment was rewarded with getting out of bed to be hugged and kissed. Also, his list of recent accomplishments has grown to include army crawling and learning to glean for food under his sister's chair after meals! Hello vacuum cleaner, my new best friend. I mean the real vacuum cleaner not the baby!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Sad Case of the Itchy Dress...

Monday I made this smocked dress from an pillowcase. It was perfect, the extra fabric from the end of the pillowcase made the straps and there was no hem or side seams to fiddle with. Unfortunately, big sister says it is itchy and she is loathe to allow any itchy dress to touch her skin. Really can't blame her on that count but, it's cute, by george and she needs to wear it! I opted for elastic straps instead of tie straps as directed in Weekend Sewing and have since adjusted them hoping to alleviate the itch factor. The problem may be that it's slightly loose and I think that taking in the side seams a bit, at least on the top, may fix little miss's problem. I love the patterns and feel of old pillowcases so I am on the lookout for more. As of now, the dress is in the reject pile but not for long if I have my way!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Apron Strings

This is a project I did before I started blogging so you will have to imagine a before picture. Imagine the whole thing turned upside down with the chalk rail on the bottom (the top used to be the bottom) The rectangles were for photos but only one side had glass. Got it? When I spied it at a yard sale, my rusty brain cogs started to turn and I realized I had found the piece I needed for my apron rack.
You see, I had inherited two red and white gingham aprons, then one day when the stars aligned I came across a whole rack of vintage aprons at a thrift store. I almost knocked this lady down to get to them but she moved on before I had to resort to desperate measures. Four beautiful aprons came home with me and then I had the problem of how to display them. Enter the chalkboard/photo frame thingy.
I took the chalk rail off with a hammer and after sanding it glued it to the middle. Then I spray painted it "Heirloom White", the best color around! Using the glass as a guide I cut out cardboard to fit the photo opening and modge podged some pretty paper on them. Several years ago our Nana gave me all her old clothes pins and in the mix were there antique ones with spiraled wire instead of the usual spring thing. I've saved them all this time in an old mason jar for just the right project and for me they really make the whole thing sing. I hung it in my laundry room where I can see it often and easily reach which ever apron I need to feel Cleaverish that day! Be sure to check out Trash to Treasure day at Reinvented. I am very sorry there is no link, I'm unable to figure that out just yet

Monday, August 24, 2009

1-2-3-4 Cake

Grandma Helen introduced me to this fabulous pound cake called a 1-2-3-4 cake. Her mother Rowena made it for her when she was growing up. Interestingly, Grandpa's mother Laily also made a 1-2-3-4 cake that was almost identical. This is Laily's recipe, it uses buttermilk instead of the sweet milk that Rowena's recipe uses, I think Rowena's called for beaten egg whites too which is why I use Laily's. Why beat egg whites if you don't have to?
I have been baking this cake for about 6 years now and when I can I save a couple of slices to send Grandma and Grandpa. Several weeks ago, I baked the cake featured above and thought to myself that it was quite good so I sent some to Grandma when my mother-in-law went to see them. Two days later, Grandma called to talk about the cake. It seems that I did something right. She informed me that she had sampled my 1-2-3-4 cake several times in the past and it just wasn't quite right, she didn't know what I did differently but this cake tasted just like it should, just the way Laily's did. She thinks it had something to do with my pan but she wasn't sure. In fact it tasted so right that she ate her piece and Grandpa's piece, she did give him a bite though.
Now, it may sound a bit harsh to call someone and tell them that their cake was perfect unlike the other cakes they had made which were not perfect but let me tell you, it was a high compliment coming from Grandma! She is the reigning authority on the family recipes and she has no problem setting you straight about how things should be. Her commentary has made me smile over and over ever since I talked to her. Also, everyone in the family knows about the perfect cake and feels that they must now produce one of their own. Good luck to them, I have the magic pan!

Grandma Laily's 1-2-3-4 Cake

1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Actually, the original recipe calls for half butter and shortening but I am a butter girl. Hmmm, that sounds kind of weird.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding the next egg. Sift the dry ingredients and add alternately with the buttermilk and vanilla. When you use this method, you want to begin and end with dry ingredients. So I do the dry ingredients in three parts and the buttermilk in two parts. Mix each addition in quickly and fairly gently, you don't want to really beat it. On the last addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for about a minute to get the batter really smooth.
Pour the batter into a well greased and floured bundt pan or tube pan. Grandma uses a tube pan but I will always use this pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, hold your breath and turn it out onto a plate. A word about the batter. My mother instilled the fear of salmonella deep into my soul and I can't even bring myself to eat cookie batter but I could eat this batter with a spoon. It's so creamy and wonderful that I lick the spatula when my kids aren't looking. (I have to wait until they aren't looking because they know you will die if you eat anything with raw eggs in it. I'm teaching them well.) You can serve this any way you like, I made some lemon curd and served it with the cake and sliced strawberries. It's also divine toasted for breakfast. Make yourself one today and send me a slice, I'll tell you if you did it right!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kitchen curtains

I love my kitchen curtains. Whenever I feel bored with the way a room looks or if it just feels dingy to me, changing the curtains is the first thing I do. Sometimes all it takes is washing and ironing them. My kitchen curtain, pictured above, is actually an extra long table runner. I picked it up at a thrift store and then it was too long for my table. After languishing in my linen closet for a month or so I had a lightbulb moment and made it into a curtain. It's kind of a stretch to say "made", all I had to do was open an inch of the hem on one side of the runner and slip the curtain rod into the hem using that as the casing. Several times a year I run it through the laundry and starch it really good, then hang them up again. You wouldn't believe the difference it make in the room.
Today we have a wonderful cool breeze so all our windows are open. It's 69 degrees at 10:00 in the morning! I am working on canning a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes from our neighbor's garden and feeling pretty cute in a vintage gingham apron from Hubby's grandma. The kids are playing relatively peacefully in the back yard so I going to seize the day! Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trash to Treasure

I love a little Trash to Treasure demonstration and remaking things is my new hobby. There are tons of blogs that feature the amazing ideas women have when they see a beat up dresser or really ugly thing and remake it into a beautiful piece for their home. is one of my favorite sites for inspiration. Decorating is one of my goals for this year and since I love a challenge, reinventing is the decor method du jour. It's exciting to decorate with something you made, at least made part of and some projects are as simple as a coat or two of spray paint.
Above you will notice a lovely gilt picture frame with one of my favorite paintings in it. I've loved this painting since I saw it in a book as a young girl so when I found this at a yard sale I picked it up. As much as I love it, I don't love the gold frame or the weird double mat action. Why would anyone choose that mat for that image? Maybe I'm just not artsy enough to get it but oh well.
For this I took out the image and the weird mat. After painting the frame black, I rubbed over the detail with a paper towel while the paint was wet to show some of the gold. I had to redo the painting and rubbing several times to get it to the point of not looking like a mistake. Then I chose a photo of me and my husband from the olden days (that's what our 6 year old calls it.), trimmed it a bit to fit the mat opening. In my scrap box I found this brown fabric with a hint of gold that I attached to the backing then put it all together. Not earth shattering but it hangs in my laundry room over the washing machine and everyday I can look at it as I joyfully launder our clothes and think about the olden days when four loads was our laundry for a week not 2 days. Then I think about how much more we laugh and smile because of the five reasons I have a jillion times more laundry than in those not so olden days. Boy is it worth it!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Cabinet

This evening, if you walked into my kitchen and stood at my stove, on your right, just at eye level, you would see this cabinet. Open the door and you would see this. A jar of coffee beans, a well used coffee grinder, a mason jar of straws (the bendy kind), a vintage glass citrus juicer, umm... you wouldn't see the bag of chocolate toffee covered pistachios but we don't need to go into that. On the bottom shelf you would see a jar full of tea bags, a basket of herbal tea boxes, an inherited tin jello mold holding individual tea bags (I kind of like tea) and a pretty card file holding part of my 3x5 card recipe collection. Isn't that nice? What a nice cabinet.
Well, what you wouldn't see, besides the pistachios, is the bar of baking chocolate stashed in-between the card file and the wall. I am not at all ashamed to tell you that almost every time I go to the grocery store I buy a bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet baking chocolate and hide it in my cabinet and eat it all myself. Women need the serotonin in that dark chocolate! You need that serotonin! Serotonin in dark chocolate has to be one of my all time favorite scientific discoveries. It isn't hidden because I am ashamed that I eat several packages of baking chocolate every month. Oh no! It's hidden so I won't have to share. I'm not even ashamed of that! The serotonin is working for me! My husband has always been able to ferret out my chocolate stash and devour it within a single day. I know, it's shocking. So now I have found the perfect spot, he doesn't even suspect it's there. (Insert wicked laugh.)
There are those days when you wake up and your kid has a fever and then proceeds to be sick on you 4 times throughout the day, when your baby is teething and has a fever again, when your other kids has a fever and her tummy hurts, when you 2 year old decides she wants to wear panties but not necessarily go to the toilet, when you have 4 loads of laundry to wash and 2 others still waiting to be folded and put away, when you have to run over and see if you think your neighbors kid needs to go get stitches or not, when not even cartoons can keep them quiet and occupied. And then, my friend you to will be glad you took the time to find the perfect hiding place for your bar of baking chocolate. You will be praising God for creating serotonin. When you too think of getting the word Ghirardelli tattooed somewhere on your body. When that day comes you'll be thanking me!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Lueberry!

Little sister turned two yesterday and we celebrated with a homemade cake, balloons and ballet princess plates. She had a blast! Several years ago, when there was only one "helper" around here, I came up with the brilliant idea that the birthday kid would get to decorate the cake with me. They get to choose their own theme and we pull out all the cake decorating paraphernalia and let them at it. Well, now that there are four "helpers" it's not a piece of cake. Excuse the pun. A couple of years ago we had the unfortunate rocket cake. The proud creator assured his grandma it wouldn't actually take off, it was only a cake. He must have mistaken her shocked expression for amazement that we had made a real rocket out of cake, frosting and ice cream cones. At least the cake was edible, bless it's heart. We have made a monster truck cake, a castle cake, a beach cake and two race track cakes. Big sister is just now getting old enough to imagine her cakes so I'm excited about the girly cakes we can start making.
Little sister seemed quite pleased with her chocolate, pink and white cake. She is finally able to blow forward instead of straight up so she could blow out her candles this year.
The cake itself is the Best Birthday Cake from Smitten Kitchen and I must say, it's all it was cracked up to be. If you haven't found her site yet, get your hinny over there! Her photography and writing are beautiful, not to mention her recipes being fabulous. Years ago I gave up on butter cakes because they always tasted like sweet cornbread with frosting. This tastes like real cake and the texture was perfect. All in all, even with the kids help I am pleased with how it turned out. And by the way, the advantage of letting your kids help decorate the cakes is than when they look a bit strange or even hideous, you can smile and say, "he decorated the cake himself!"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekend Sewing

For the most part I am a patient person but this almost got me. Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross came out in the spring and as soon as our local library added it, I was on the request list. Then the waiting began. Two and a half months later it was finally available. Now I had two weeks to sew from it before passing on to the next eager person on the list. After reading through and enjoying all the beautiful photographs, this is what I decided to make:
Oh my goodness!!! Were they ever cute! Little one has a pair of matching Ruby's Bloomers underneath her dress. They are called Flower Girl Dresses which makes them even more darling. This was the first time I had trimmed something with rick-rack and it was a bit tricky but worth it.
Next were these Smocked Sundresses. I was waiting for white elastic thread from our one fabric store but finally broke down and made them with black elastic thread. You can't see it from the outside of the dress so it ended up being just fine. The great thing about them is that you can make one in about an hour, the smocking is just sewing back and forth with the elastic thread in your bobbin.
Big sister needed flowered sheets for her little bed and I made this one out of a fitted twin sheet. Then of course she needed a pink pillowcase. I made this by adapting Heather Ross's pillowcase instructions to use a thrifted white pillowcase. The pink trim makes it so cute and she hasn't mentioned the fact that the whole thing isn't pink!
One of my favorite things to give is a warm loaf of bread but there never is a good thing to give it in. I have lost quite a few cloth napkins and dish towels this way. Now in 30 minutes or so I can whip up one of these drawstring bags and give that with the bread. It could be used for anything when the bread is gone. The bag in this photo is made using some leftover fabric from another project but my own bread bag is made from a vintage sheet. I have my radar out for some cute vintage tea towels to make bread bags from. Besides, I love the name tea towels, Don't you?
So those are the projects I have made from this wonderful book so far. I don't think I have the patience to wait for the book again, I guess I'll have to get my own copy! If you have any sewing experience or want to learn, this book is perfect for you. The range of projects and experience levels would suit anyone. Also, Heather included some wonderful weekend recipes that sound wonderful. Check it out!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Better Biscuits

Now, as far as I can tell everyone likes hot biscuits, some of us might even say we love them. For a southerner it would not be a stretch to claim passionate love for hot buttermilk biscuits. Passionate love and opinions. In most cases the favored biscuit is whichever style your grandmother or mom made. My mamaw, of sweet tea fame, was really famous for her biscuits. She mixed them in a huge metal bowl with only three ingredients, patted each one out by hand and then pressed the backs of her fingers on top of each perfectly sized ball of pure white dough. They were tender, moist and had the unmistakable tang of buttermilk. Oh yeah, we can't forget the bacon grease she spooned on top before putting them into a hot oven. Girl, it don't get better than that!
All that said, I make completely different biscuits from what Mamaw made. I like to use wheat flour, pure butter and buttermilk or sweet milk depending on what I have. In case you're wondering, sweet milk is any milk that isn't buttermilk. Mamaw would just as soon not have biscuits than to have made them with regular milk. Wheat flour adds flavor and nutrition and I just can't hack shortening anymore. So here is my favorite recipe for baking powder biscuits. I've been making them since I was about 11 years old, no kidding!

Better Biscuits
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup buttermilk
If you don't have buttermilk, use a scant 2/3 cup of sweet milk and omit the baking soda.

Sift together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or by rubbing between your fingers (This is what I do. Use those hands!) until everything is crumbly looking. Quickly mix in the buttermilk with a fork until dough comes together in a rough ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead 5 or 6 times to smooth out the dough. The key to tender biscuits is to not overwork the dough, you don't want to start the gluten to working. Pat the dough out to about 1/2 inch think and cut with a biscuit cutter, or cut with a knife into squares. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. When they are golden brown take them out of the oven and put them in a napkin lined basket and serve to all the people who are drooling in your kitchen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Beginnings

Bursting out of the pottery pitcher, the lilacs commanded the attention of anyone who entered the sunny kitchen. For almost a month sprays of the delicate lavender flowers overflowed from the tall jug. The fragrance of the early spring blossoms was almost too much, you could smell them from two rooms away. To me, lilacs signal a new season, almost a new year for me. Not until this year did I realize that Spring is my private New Year. January is too old feeling to be the beginning. And that first tentative lilac bloom means Spring for me.
Now, in the ripe summer of the year, Mr. Inspired and I are having our own beginning. Six and a half years ago he started work at a new job in a new state. Everything that year was new, most significantly, the new journey of parenting. In he jumped with both feet, as he tends to do with everything, and he was immersed in the work, the people, the unique culture of the place and he loved it. We knew that God had led us through to the next chapter of our lives. Tomorrow, he is leaving that all behind and as he puts it, "stepping off into the Royal Gorge". Tomorrow we are going in to full-time missions work. I can't quite convey my feelings about this step he has made to leave what is secure and known to him and to us as a family and go into this uncharted territory. All I know is that, I love him deeper still and admire him all the more for this courage of his. Part of the excitement comes from knowing that on the other side of this transition we can stand together and look at what we have walked through and praise our Father for writing such a beautiful new chapter for us. What a great beginner our God is!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Southern Iced Tea

One of the things my "Mamaw" June was famous for was her iced tea. The tall Wexford glass, beaded with condensation, looked innocent enough but the elixir it held would put hair on your chest, as my dad would say. I know, a lovely image. She made it by the gallon in a pottery pitcher that had belonged to her mother-in-law and now belongs to me. In my minds eye I can see her measuring the loose tea leaves into her Corning Ware carafe to boil and steep for 20 minutes, then straining it into the pitcher to await the copious amounts of pure white sugar.
Anytime of day you could enjoy a glass of her tea whether you were her granddaughter there for the week or a neighbor dropping in for a visit on a steamy summer afternoon. No other drink signals summer for me like sweet tea. At my house we drink tea a few times a week and until this summer the secret of "real" tea eluded me. Unfortunately I can't remember the source but the secret is baking soda. I am pretty sure that Mamaw didn't use any baking soda because I watched her like a hawk whenever she cooked and nary a baking soda box was in sight. But considering that I don't have the magic touch, baking soda has come to the rescue.
In a kettle bring 3 cups of water to a good boil. Meanwhile place 3 quart size tea bags in a quart jar with a generous pinch of baking soda. Pour in the water and cover the jar. Steep for at least 15 minutes. Squeeze the tea bags really well and stir in sugar to taste. I have forsaken my southern heritage on the issue of sweet tea. A scant quarter of a cup is as sweet as I like it and I am sure Mamaw used at least a cup and a half in a pitcher of tea. It had a thickness to it, that is a bit much for me but I'm sure my kids would love it, especially the one who was drinking sugar from a glass. Anyway, stir in your sugar and add the tea to a pitcher, preferably a glass one and pour in 3 cups of cold water. Serve over lots of ice in a tall glass. By the way, I am loving chilling my tea in the vintage carafe shown above. A thrift store find, it makes me happy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Week in Review

Sorry if that scared you, but with this particular child this photo sums up my week, all my weeks actually. It's not an overstatement to say that life with him is somewhat akin to living in a cartoon. Despite his general craziness he is also my sensitive and tender one. First to ask how you are feeling or snuggle up if you are a bit blue.
So this week I did some sewing, lots of cooking, laundry (my washer is finally and momentarily empty. Don't ask about the dryer or the hampers, I am feeling triumphant about the washer.) and dishes, found a child spraying Dermoplast out of the window (he thought it was bug spray), baked some bread and cookies, acquired a new nephew, fixed my neighbor's daughter's silky so she could sleep at night, finished a book, started reading By the Shores of Silver Lake to the kids, talked myself down from several freak-outs, had several freak-outs, found a child drinking granulated sugar from a glass, wiped a cute little nose a thousand times, bought the ugliest little shadow box at a thrift store (reinvented post coming up!), got lots of kisses, gave lots of kisses, saw a one of my favorite people (thanks for the clothes K.), met another friend's miracle baby, and had a picnic with the kids. That about sums it up. Intersperse that with lots of laughing, glaring, desperate prayers, relieved thanksgivings, and a fair amount of sleep and there you have it. Hope you had a busy and fun week!