Monthly Archives: December 2009

Christmas Pancakes

Well I’ve been a busy bee for the past month or so, but on this lovely Christmas Eve, this is all I can show for it:

Yes, I decided that I would make little fabric bags for all my gifts. They’ve looked so beautiful sitting under my tree for the past couple of weeks, and lugging them from my apartment to my family’s house really made me feel like Santa Claus.

But here’s what I can share. First of all, my Christmas Nine-Patch:

Secondly, Christmas pancakes. Kyle and I celebrated our own mini-Christmas a couple days earlier and decided to do so with “breakfast for dinner”—pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I’m on a bit of a gingerbread roll these days, so I was delighted to discover that there are a lot of gingerbread pancake recipes floating around out there. Yet none of them took full advantage of my favorite components of the wonder that is gingerbread (they were especially stingy on molasses) so I did some tweaking to come up with my own.

Now, these dark brown beauties looked beautiful covered in cranberry syrup (see my pseudo-recipe for this below)…but we had ploughed through most of them before it occurred to me to take a picture so this is all I’ve got. If you’re looking for a breakfast (or dinner) to serve or Christmas, or at any point during the cold months ahead, give these a try.

Whole Wheat Gingerbread Pancakes (Serves 3)

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cups molasses
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg

Mix together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the molasses, milk, butter, and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix.

Brush oil over a griddle or skillet and place over medium heat. Spoon ¼ cupfuls of batter onto the griddle/skillet and cook until brown, about 2 to 4 minutes on each side (keep a close eye on these pancakes, they burn quickly!)

I topped them with cranberry maple syrup but I eyeballed this concoction so I don’t have a real recipe. It’s not hard to figure out for yourself but here’s a rough estimate; a couple handfuls of cranberries + approximately ¼ cup orange juice + ¾ cups maple syrup over medium heat until the cranberries are soft. These tart berries go beautifully with the sweet gingerbread—then again, I ate a couple of the leftovers the next day without any topping and they were divine!

I hope you’re all having a relaxing holiday season, that you’re cooking, sewing, knitting, or engaging in whatever kind of homemade pleasure you love the best—and, most importantly, enjoying yourself.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Keeping My Christmas Time Cool

Even though I’m a total Christmas junkie, I’m not entirely immune to the fact that the holiday season can mean a somewhat overwhelmingly busy schedule (some of it self-imposed)—especially if you love evenings that consist of nothing more than PJs, pizza, and a good movie, which I most definitely do. Still, at this time of year, I manage to embrace the hectic lifestyle and roll with it. Naturally, I have to tone down the sewing and quilting since I can’t exactly park myself in my studio for hours on end—but I did manage to make two nine-patches:

The first is in honor of my two Christmas tree shopping trips: one for me and Kyle, and one for the Eccles family. The second is in honor of this rather crazy past week which involved six Christmas celebrations in the span of seven days. Exhausting, yes, but incredibly fun.

Squeezing in some quality bread baking time is also a struggle, but I have found another delightful way to get my carb fix—savory bread pudding. Funny thing is, I’m not the biggest fan of sweet bread pudding, but this dish really does it for me. It’s a bit like stuffing, but makes for a more satisfying meal, especially if you throw in plenty of veggies and even some meat. I found this recipe at “A Veggie Venture” but tweaked it just a bit. First of all, I’m not a vegetarian so I threw in some sausage. Secondly, I like a very custardy pudding so I took my Mom’s advice and doubled the custard the second time, making for a much moister and tastier dish. Here’s my version, along with a few other adjustments.

Savory Squash Bread Pudding

Pudding

  • 2 tbps butter
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 12 cups spinach, washed
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 larte butternut squash, washed, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ pieces
  • 1 lb. whole wheat bread (I used my favorite whole wheat sourdough), cut into 1/3″ cubes
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or other cheese of your choice)
  • 9 oz. sausage (I used three of Aidells chicken apple sausages)

Custard

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tbps mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 4 tsps ground sage
  • 2 tsps nutmeg
  • 3 tsps sea salt

Preheat the heaven to 375 F (or as the clever Veggie Venture blog points out, you can prepare the pudding beforehand and bake later on).

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-low heat and add the onions, cooking until they are soft. Remove half of the onions and set them aside. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring so that it is coated with the butter and decreases in volume. Add the 1 1/2 tsps of sea salt, stir, and set aside.

To prepare the custard, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the other custard ingredients and mix them together.

In  a (very) large bowl, combine the squash, bread, sausage, and set aside cooked onions. Transfer half of this mixture to a greased baking dish, either 8″ x 11″ or 9″ x 13″. Sprinkle half of the cheese over this layer, than distribute the cooked spinach evenly on top. Add the remaining squash/bread mixture, and sprinkle the remaining cheese. Pour the custard across the pudding, covering it evenly and being sure to moisten all the top bits of bread.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Pierce a piece of squash with a fork; it should be fairly soft. If not, continue baking, covering with foil so that the bread doesn’t burn. Let the pudding rest for about ten minutes before serving.

Somehow, amidst all the frantic to-and-fro, I have managed to complete another sweater (I literally knit in every spare—or sometimes occupied—moment: carrides, lines at the grocery store, before and after meals; you’d be amazed by how this time adds up). I am calling it the Bubblegum Sweater because of this pastel pink color—but I really hope no one Googles this term hoping to see something a whole lot cooler than what I’ve created:

On second thought, it also looks like a sweater that one of Dr. Seuss’s Whos would wear. Yes, it’s probably familiar. Yes, I used the same sweater pattern twice in a row—and yes, I’m considering making a third one with the stash of bright yellow yarn that I procured from the tragic Woolcott-going-out-of-business sale. I’m just a fool for the shaping around the arms, the cowl neck… everything. But I had a little fun at the end, knitting an extra couple of inches at the neck while creating a buttonhole-like space so that I could insert an icord drawstring and pompoms. Every time I make pompoms, I’m reminded that these seemingly simple embellishments are actually quite finicky, but I think they turned out alright in the end.

It’s a wonderfully cheerful sweater for this cold time of year, but it will transition into the Spring months quite nicely—and if you are a fellow New Englander, you know that having to fend off the cold in a cowl neck sweater during the third week of May is a very likely possibility.

Maybe it’s just me, but making the time for a bit of sewing, cooking, and knitting, no matter how hectic my schedule becomes, keeps me grounded and sane. I resent having too much going on when it takes away from those calmer moments of me-time—but a few rows of stockinette here and there remind me that there’s always time to pause, breath, and enjoy.

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Dressing like an Elf and Sewing in the Snow

Very often, people look at my outfits and say something along the lines of “I could never pull that off,” which is usually followed up by a quick, “but you definitely do.” Truth is, pulling something off is 95% about just wearing it. The other 5% is in enjoying the fact that you’re wearing it, embracing the bemused, surprised, admiring, or even bewildered looks that you may get. One of my most recent projects, velveteen patchwork pants, are good practice for this:

It’s probably worth noting that I’m fairly tall (5′ 11″) and long-legged, so these equally long pants stand out quite a bit, even more so than my usual colorful attire. But—and I know I say this about nearly everything I make but that’s the beauty of the homemade—I love them. They’re perfect for the holiday season, and wonderfully warm. This is the third pair of pants that I’ve made using very rudimentary self-made patterns (that consisted of one shape cut four ways) that looks roughly like this:

I realize it’s not a very sophisticated approach, but it works. One of these days, when I have more time to spare, I’ll probably try to figure out some slightly more subtle shaping—at the same time, I rather enjoy this straightforward approach. As if these weren’t eye-catching enough, I wound up with quite a bit of leftover fabric (discount fabric stores are deadly; I buy yards and yards when it only costs $1.99 a yard to begin with) so I decided to make a matching hat:

You should never be too cool or grown up to wear a Santa hat around the holidays, but naturally I couldn’t let mine be just any run-of-the-mill red-and-white version. I wouldn’t normally get too matchy and wear both the pants and hat at the same time, but sometimes the Christmas spirit is strong, and when you’re spending time with friends and family who know you well and love you unconditionally, why not?!? So yes, I wore them both together this past Sunday when Kyle and I went to pick out our Christmas tree at Wilson’s Farm and I think I was mistaken as a Christmas elf by one or two little children.

It also snowed this weekend, and it probably goes without saying that there are few things I love waking up to more on a December morning than a beautiful layer of the white stuff outside my window. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that a chilly, snow-covered day is the perfect excuse to stay inside and sew (not that I need excuses), which I did quite a bit of this past weekend as well. I was in the middle for something small but different, a new technique that would expand my sewing repertoire. Fortunately, I work for a quilting magazine (Quilting Arts Magazine, in case you’re a bit behind) and the newest publication to come out of our office, International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene, is loaded with contemporary sewing techniques (I realize this is a bit of a shameless plug, but really, check out this magazine—I promise you won’t be disappointed!) One of them is a “Mini Hexagon Quilt,” by Malka Dubrawsky.

Remember that lovely antique beauty I bought at in Concord Center last year?

Well it planted the yearning to do some hexagon piecing of my own long ago, but I hadn’t found an appealing approach until I read (well, edited) Dubrawsky’s article which describes a machine piecing technique. Anyway, I made a mini hexagon quilt of my own:

It’s roughtly 12 by 18 inches. Most of my quilts thus far are large, functional bed quilts, so I was surprised and delighted by how much I loved doing this. Completing a quilt top in an afternoon? Fabulous. And I have more free wall space than bed/sofa space these days anyway. I can’t wait to quilt it, bind it, and hang it up.

This week’s nine-patch? Snow-inspired, but of course:

I’ve also come up with a quick-and-easy holiday fool that I thought I’d share. To me, white chocolate and cranberry is a distinctly Christmas flavor combination. It’s also delicious: super-sweet white chocolate and bitter cranberries balance each other out nicely. A mild whipped cream backdrop is just right.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Fool

1/4 cup milk

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups cranberries

16 oz. whipping cream


Warm the milk in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the white chocolate and stir until melted. Add the cranberries and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the cranberries have softened, about 5-8 minutes, stirring continuously. Immediately remove from heat and let cool completely but not too far past this point or the mixture will begin to firm up a bit. About one hour should do the trick.

Whip the cream (using a KitchenAid unless you are very patient/strong-armed) until it is thick and holds its shape as the whisk passes through. Fold the cranberry and white-chocolate mixture into the whipped cream and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or longer; I find overnight is best) before serving.

Truth be told, I most often eat my fool out of oversized mugs, but for a slightly classier affair, serving it in cocktail glasses is far more elegant.

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Hardcore Holiday Crafting

For someone who gets excited  about Christmas as soon as Halloween is over, Thanksgiving marks the ultimate threshold to 100% Holiday Happiness. That’s not to say that Thanksgiving isn’t a wonderful holiday in its own right. Of course, I honored it with a little nine patch:

And my contribution to our Thanksgiving feast was, naturally, homemade maple wheat bread. I’d made this recipe the weekend before, and was happy to do it again since the results were so lovely (even without La Cloche, which we don’t have at my family’s home). It’s another one of those slightly sweet savory breads, and though fairly dense, it’s still soft and fluffy.

(I forgot to take a good picture both times that I made this so you’ll have to trust me: the bread is in the long thing basket in the middle o four lovely Thanksgiving spread)

Maple Wheat Bread

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-2 cups bread flour

Pour the yeast into the warm water, stir slightly, and allow to proof until slightly bubbly (about 10 minutes). Add the maple syrup, milk, and butter and mix well. Stir in the whole wheat flour. Gradually add the bread flour until you have a dough that is just firm enough to knead by hand. Knead on a floured surface for 8-10 minutes, adding more flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking.

Grease a medium bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn it over so it is greased on the top. Cover the dough with a clean cloth. Preheat your oven at 350 degrees F for one minute, turn it off, and let the dough rise in the warm oven for about 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and knead it again for about 5 minutes (you shouldn’t need to add any more flour at this point). Shape the dough into a loaf and place it on a greased pan, cover it again, and allow it to rise in oven for about 30 minutes. (You might want to preheat the oven again for one minute. If you’re pressed for time, remove the bread after 20 minutes so you can preheat your oven for the final baking as soon as possible.)

Bake the bread at 350 degrees F for about 30-35 minutes. Allow it to cool on a rack before slicing.

But now that Thanksgiving has passed, I’ve been going a little Christmas crazy and filling up my tiny apartment with festive cheer. First of all, it just seems wrong to not have stockings (even though we don’t have a fireplace to hang them at) so I made one for myself, Kyle, and—of course—Shuffle.

I’m not sure why Shuffle is the only one with his name embroidered on there (especially since that stocking could obviously belong to no one else) but I liked a more unadorned look for the others. For now, they’re hanging on old curtain hooks that were already stuck on the wall when we moved in. Personally, I think they give the place some much-needed Christmasy vibes.

I also can’t imagine not having a wreath—but was surprised at how expensive they can be, and was rather drawn to the idea of one that could be used over and over for many years to come.

Basically, I used a compass to trace out a cardboard template of a 1/8 circle segment. I used this template to cut out four pieces from each of two different fabrics which I stitched together into a circle. I stitched through the tie when adding the baking, turned it right-side out, added stuffing, slip stitched it closed, and voila. No one will mistake my door for anyone else’s.

That’s all for now; back to my secretive holiday stitching. Isn’t Christmas the best?!?

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