Monday, July 12, 2010

From the Kitchen: Blonde Brownies

"Blonde brownies". What does that mean? Do they have more fun than regular brownies? Why do they seem like chocolate chip bar cookies, but have a different name? Who knows, my friends. But they are called blonde brownies and they are delicious, so perhaps we had better stop asking questions and get baking...


1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9x9 pan (or triple the recipe and use a roasting pan... 11x17?). Mix together butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients, then add to butter mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until center is set. Alternatively, you may bake these as cookies by dropping 1/4 cupfuls onto a pan and baking for 15-17 minutes at 325. But seriously, they're called "brownies"... let's just go with it this time :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Get Crafty: Make-Your-Own Pajama Pants

Inspired by recent success making kids pajamas, I decided to make my very own self some real pajama pants before we headed out for an extended-family vacation. Our local Salvation Army was having a half-off sale on all clothing, so I found a couple pairs of pajama pants in promising sizes for $2 a pop. Add in one previously-thrifted, very soft, pale-green-and-white polka-dot bedsheet, and here we go...

Here are the pants I used as my pattern. They were a pretty standard shaped pair that were just a wee bit tighter than I would have liked to wear, so I didn't feel bad cutting them up. I figure the fabric may (one day) go towards making some little girl shorts. In the background you see one of those folding cardboard sewing aids that you can use to cover your cutting surface (in my case, the floor). I bought it for $1.00 at a garage sale and would have bought 10 more if they had had that many. They are literally worth their weight in gold, and if you come across one for cheap BUY IT and run away giggling to yourself at what a savvy shopper you are. They can be used for ANYTHING. My favorite uses are as a cutting surface (obviously), but they also make a nice backdrop for photos (like these) when your floor isn't feeling photogenic, and they can be a safe place for spray painting things without killing your lawn. But I digress...

I cut off the rib knit waistband, then cut just next to the crotch seam to separate each leg, then opened up one leg down the inseam.

To make these into basic one-seam pants (continuous front and back of the leg), I cut down the outer leg seam so I could flatten the leg to make a single flat pattern piece. I left 1" attached at the top and left the cuff together (for now) in order to be able to more easily move it to the paper for tracing.

On the paper, I pinned the fabric through the paper and into the cutting cardboard to keep it in place while I traced and measured. I cut the cuff at this point to spread it out a little to increase the size of the leg. My paper of choice is a generous roll of kindergarten-style recycled paper purchased for $2 a roll at our local Scrap Box.

At this point I drew a line outside the edge of the fabric to make the pattern piece for the new pants. I added 1" on the side of either leg to make them larger than the original pair and to leave enough for trimming a little when serging. At the waist, I added an extra 3" for a fold-down casing for a drawstring (next time I'll add maybe 5" to give it a slightly higher waist... these ended up just above the hips). For the hem at the bottom I added 2".

After you cut out the pattern in paper, its always a good idea to check how it will line up in real life. I folded the paper and trimmed off a little from the front of the leg (shown), as well as a little from the waist to even up that area. If I hadn't done this, the leg would have looked a little twisty when completed. Make sure all your corners are 90 degree angles, and check the pattern measurements (waist, thigh and rise) to your own at this point to make sure it will fit as expected. Adjust if necessary.

Here is my material. It was a very soft 100% cotton... almost like thin flannel. Cute and cheap... just how I like it. I didn't bother ironing it for you either... that's how diligent and thorough I am :)

I laid out a double layer of the sheet (it was just folded in half and smoothed out by hand), then pinned the pattern piece down through the fabric and into the cardboard, several inches in from the edge. I then cut out the fabric and it resulted in two mirror image pieces. I serged the raw edges of the waist on each piece. I then sewed down each leg from the crotch to the ankle on my serger. Finally, I turned one leg right side out and inserted it into the other leg, lined up the seam, and serged them together.

I then made two machine-stitched button holes about 2" down on either side of the front crotch seam (to allow for the drawstring). I folded down 1 1/4" on the waist, wrong sides together, and stitched around the serged edge and then again 1/4" from the fold. This completed the casing for the drawstring, for which I used thick cotton cording. After inserting the cording, I knotted each end to prevent it from going back through the button holes.

I folded 1/2" up, wrong-sides together, for the hem of each leg, pressed it, then folded and pressed another 1 1/4" up to make a nice clean edge. I stitched around 1" from the bottom. And here they are in all their glory. I didn't have time to iron them or model them (lucky you) since I was also simultaneously packing for our trip, but I can assure you they are both comfy and current, as well as modest and well-fitting. I will be using my handy pattern to make more when I'm next near my fabric stash.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Off the Shelf: Design-It-Yourself Clothes

I recently purchased Design-It-Yourself Clothes for a little light vacation reading. And I must say, it was very informative! I have drafted very simple patterns before, but this was enlightening in a very simple, very straightforward way. It was geared for someone like me... someone who can sew well but who has not been to school to attain that expertise. My eyes have been opened to the crucial design concepts of pattern blocks, making muslins, and the "slash and spread" method of altering patterns. I can't wait to get back to my machine and try a few things! It offers plans for some basic garments, then variations and how they were made from the basic garment pattern, and tells you how to get proper measurements before diving in.

As you can see, I also just added the Amazon Associates function to my blog to more conveniently link to books for reviewing. Please ignore the link unless you want to see it... Amazon is very clever in their ways of getting sales, but I will readily admit to using them for purchasing most of my pre-planned reading material, so maybe you'll find it helpful too. At any rate, I enjoy finding out what inspires, educates and motivates the writers of the many blogs I browse, so maybe you will too.

Friday, July 9, 2010

From the Kitchen: Chicken and Broccoli with Rice Noodles in Peanut Sauce

I am mainly writing this post for my own selfish purposes. You see, I can never find this recipe when I want it, for any number of valid reasons, and then I have to search high and low for several days before I can get around to making it. By posting it here, I will save myself that trouble and, just maybe, you'll enjoy it too.

The beauty of this recipe is truly in the sweet peanut sauce. So flavorful and not something we eat everyday in this combination. I love it fresh and I love the leftovers. I regularly leave out the chicken since I don't enjoy that as much reheated (though my husband prefers everything with meat, and sometimes I just have to let him win!). You could play around with the vegetable content, add bean sprouts to make it more like pad thai, or alter it any way you like. This is a personal favorite, no matter what I throw in.


1 pkg thin rice noodles
2 tbsp butter
1 lb chicken, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cups broccoli florets (fresh or frozen+thawed)
4 eggs
Peanut Sauce (recipe below)


Cook noodles according to package directions and drain; set aside. Heat butter in skillet and add chicken; cook fully, stirring often. Remove from pan. Add oil and saute onion and broccoli for several minutes, until soft. Add eggs, scrambling and cooking them thoroughly. Add rice noodles and peanut sauce, mixing thoroughly and heating through. Serve hot!

Peanut Sauce (simply mix all ingredients well to make sauce):

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tbsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Life in a Nutshell: Family Fun Day

What a glorious day! Some rain, some shine... we all had lots of fun!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From the Kitchen: Flourless Chocolate Mini Cakes with Ganache

Yum. Yum. Yum. Rich, decadent, ganache-topped flourless chocolate cake. Single serve portions! This is a nice way to make something special and have it ready to serve ahead of time, or to keep you (me) from eating more that you (I) should. Despite their small size, these are packed with flavor and (oh so unfortunately) with calories, so no need to go back for seconds. Make sure to invite a lot of friends over when you plan to make these...

Cake Ingredients:

8 1-oz squares semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla


Preheat oven to 300. Place a foil muffin liner in each of the 12 wells of a regular muffin pan; spray each with cooking spray. Melt chocolate and butter on low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Split evenly into 12 muffin liners and bake for 30 minutes, until cakes are set and do not deflate dramtically when removed from oven (see mine below... the cracked ones were fine). Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to cool completely on a rack or continue on to serve immediately. Carefully remove each cake from the liner, turn upside down and place on serving dish. Top each with chocolate ganache (recipe below) and whipped cream, if desired. Enjoy!

Chocolate Ganache:

To make an easy and satisfying chocolate ganache, just heat equal amounts of chocolate chips and heavy cream, and mix until smooth. In those proportions it will not harden as it cools, so make sure to add more chocolate chips if you want a sturdier end result.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

From the Kitchen: Sloppy Joes

When I got married, my husband made it clear that I'd need to get a bunch of recipes from his mother's collection. I enjoy her cooking too, so this didn't cause any marital problems. However, I managed to make it about 6 years in without obtaining this easy and satisfying sloppy joe recipe. As a kid, I didn't enjoy the texture of sloppy joes... something about the way it went down your throat just didn't appeal. But this recipe solves that, and the flavor in combination with a buttery toasted bun makes a very good dinner in about 15 minutes flat. Definitely a summer standby.


1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
3/4 cup ketchup


Cook beef and onion together, crumbling the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Drain the fat and mix in the ketchup; heat through. Serve on buttered, toasted hamburger buns. Enjoy immediately :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Get Crafty: A Heap O' Munchkin Pajamas

My husband pointed out to me the other day that our little guy had no short pajamas, and our vacation was sneaking up on us pretty fast. This was just what I needed to hear, because it got me moving in the direction of progress. On my next foray into the thrift world, for under $20, I picked up a veritable mountain of large designer cotton polos in solids and stripes, and a set of size 4 short pajamas (short raglan sleeve top and separate shorts) from the kids department.

When I got home, I cut up the pajamas along the seams to make cutting templates for each piece, then cut up the polos using the template (adding in seam allowances by eyeballing it). I cut them on the original garment hems to avoid any hemming. It was a beautiful process for the shorts... I serged the front and back seams, then the crotch, then serged in the elastic, folded it down and zigzagged on the conventional machine. For the shirts, I serged the sleeves to the front, then serged the back to one of the sleeves. I cut a 1 1/2 inch strip of sleeve-color fabric for the neck binding, then folded it in half and serged it on while stretching slightly. Then I serged the last sleeve-back seam, and finished by serging the front and back together and completing the sleeves. Brilliant!

It probably took me 30-40 minutes per set of shorts and shirt, and I made 9 pairs total for my 3 kids. The ones for the size 6 kid, I used the same template and just cut larger, especially adding in length on top and bottom. For the size 4 kids, I was able to get a full set of top and bottom out of a single large shirt, but I paired two together and made two sets... a solid top with stripey sleeves and stripey shorts plus a stripey top with solid sleeves and solid shorts.

Here's my little helper (we were making bread dough) in a green and black set. The black was so soft... really a nice for pajamas. I'm so pleased with the tightness of them as well. Pajamas should be snug fitting (so they don't catch fire should your precious bundle need to be whisked out of a burning building). In theory they should also be made of flame retardant material, but I don't want to throw away comfort either. The high end cotton polos from the thrift store clearance racks are perfectly soft, you can always find nice bright stripes, and they are so cheap its impossible to rationalize trying to purchase that sort of quality new. I love it... now go make some for your wee ones!

Aww... doesn't he look cozy? Or at least ready for mom to stop trying to take pictures :)