Llama Pillow

He-l–l–o–!?  No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth.  But, I did get a new job, which has taken some getting used to.  I’ve worked out of my house for the last 12 years, and while the new job is absolutely awesome, it’s in an office and I’ve been trying to get used to not being home all day.  I used to be able to take breaks by throwing in a load of laundry, etc.  It’s made the nights and weekends a bit more busy, as I’m sure everyone perfectly understands!

I picked up the cutest pillow panel from Laurie Wisbrun’s Etsy shop a few months ago (there’s still some left in stock!).  My friend loves alpacas and llamas, and I knew I wanted to make her a pillow with it.  So, here it is!  The backing is some fabric from my stash, which I think looks great with it.

Llama Pillow

Back of llama pillow

The back is a simple envelope closure.  I’ve never sewn with the pom pom trim, and it’s not easy!  I also put it on backwards, but my friend doesn’t care.  I did read a tip (after having made the pillow of course) that it is easier to deal with the pom poms if you first sew it onto the front in position (using a smaller seam allowance that will end up being hidden), and then sewing the pillow together.  In essence, basting it into place.  I’ll do that next time.


Small Embroidery Hoops

I made these little embroidery hoops for my swap partner.  I just love them, so cute.

They are pretty simple to make.  The background is a cream colored linen that I had in my stash, and the wooden embroidery hoops were purchased at Michael’s.  They are about 4″ in diameter.  I cut pieces big enough for the hoops, and used a pencil to lightly draw where the circle of the inside of the hoop would be on the fabric.  Then, I cut a bunch of tiny triangles from scrap fabric, and used my free motion quilting foot on my machine (it’s called a darning foot) to sew the little bunting flags onto the linen.  I used a chocolate brown thread which I think looks nicer than using black thread.

Then I put the linen into the hoop, and wrote a little phrase in cursive with a disappearing ink pen.  The embroidery is just a simple back-stitch.  I think the darker magenta embroidery floss turned out nicer than the lighter green color.  I’ll use darker colors in the future.  “Bailar mas” mean “Dance More” in Spanish.  The dot on the “i” is a french knot.

The Back


For the back, I first made the little labels to sign the piece.  It’s a scrap piece of linen, and I used a fabric pen to write my name and the date.  Then, I used a running stitch to attach the name tag to a piece of felt for the backing that I had trimmed to fit the back of the hoop.  Trim the linen from the back of the hoop so there’s about 3/4″ of linen going all the way around.  Put a bead of glue (I use Aleene’s Tacky Glue in the gold bottle) around the lip of the hoop and press the linen down to the hoop.  Then, run another bead of glue around the lip of the hoop (this time on top of the folded over linen), and place the felt circle down on top.  Press it down, straighten it up, etc., and let dry for an hour or so.

Simple, and super sweet!

Souper Sunday – Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup is one of my favorite soups to make.  I usually couple the soup on my weekly menu plan with a roasted whole chicken.  So, make a roasted whole chicken one day, then make stock from the chicken and use it (as well as any leftover meat) to make the soup a few days later.  Great, low-cost dinners!

The corn tortillas cook into the soup and give it a nice, creamy texture.  The soup ends up somewhat halfway between a soup and a stew.  While you can make the soup using canned chicken broth and thighs/breasts that you roast (or pick the meat from a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store), the most cost-effective way to make the soup is to make a roasted whole chicken one night.  Then, pick through the meat to get a cup or two for the soup (assuming your family doesn’t eat the entire chicken), and turn the bones into stock.  You can use fresh jalapenos in the soup, but I find it easier to just buy a small can of fire roasted chiles (I buy Old El Paso brand).  I’ll admit it….I don’t like cutting up jalapenos ever since I didn’t wash my hands well enough after cutting one (I thought I did!), and got jalapeno juice in my eye.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About one hour
Serves: 4-6

2 Tb. Olive oil
1 chopped medium onion
1 chopped red bell pepper
6 cloves of garlic, minced
8 corn tortillas, cut into one inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Small can of fire roasted chilies (1/2 to the whole can depending on your preference)
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
3 bay leaves
14.5 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne powder (depending on your preference)
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups shredded chicken (good use for leftovers)

Serve with:
Sour Cream
Shredded cheese
Tortilla strips
Chopped fresh avocado

1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven on medium. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, corn tortillas, cilantro, and can of chilies. Saute 3-4 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and drained black beans. Mix in and bring to a boil.

3. Add cumin, chili powder and bay leaves. Mix in.

4. Add chicken stock, and season with salt and cayenne.

5. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes.

6. Remove bay leaves.

7. Add shredded chicken and corn. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.

8. Serve with toppings of your choice.


Souper Sunday: Smoked Fish Chowder

The other day 7.5yo J made dinner and chose to make barbecued ribs.  Well, this necessitated pulling out the smoker (actually we keep it out all winter on our covered back porch because you never know when you need to smoke some meat!) for the ribs.  And since the hubby was going to be heating up the smoker, he couldn’t waste all that smoker space with just one rack of ribs.  Therefore, he came home on Friday with 3 pounds of fish too.  2 pounds of pollock that was locally caught and inexpensive, as well as some salmon.  The salmon, he smoked for bagels and lox.  The pollock, he smoked for fish cakes, and we decided to make soup with the leftovers.

We have a Weber smoker, and to be honest, I’ve never used it.  But, here is the recipe that Hubby wrote out for the fish.

Smoked Whitefish

Generously sprinkle rub on fish (we used pollock).  Rub it in to cover the fish, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.  Rinse off the rub, pat fish dry, and let sit open to the air in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  This should create a tacky film on top of the fish.  Smoke the fish at 225 degrees for 90 minutes, looking for an internal temperature of 165F.  If it’s not done after 90 minutes, you can bake it in your oven for an additional 10 minutes at 350F.

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 Tbsp. dried dill
1 tsp. fresh black pepper

We smoked 2 pounds of fish, and there was plenty of rub leftover.  It will probably make about 4-5 pounds of smoked fish.

Hubby used most of the fish to make fish cakes.  I took one fillet and made this super-yummy fish chowder.  Nothing fancy in the ingredient list (except the smoked fish, I suppose), I had all of it in my cupboard.

Smoked Fish Chowder

I started with a recipe that I got off Allrecipes for a Smoked Salmon Chowder.  Did a bit of tweaking to it although not too much.  I didn’t have any of the half-and-half called for in the original recipe.  So, I did a bit of Google research, and decided to use 2% evaporated milk that was already in my cupboard.  It was perfect for the soup!  And much less fat.  I think I’m going to only use evaporated milk from now on.  Not sure how I’ve gone on this long without knowing about this little substitution tidbit.

2 Tb. butter
1 Tb. olive oil
1 onion, diced medium-fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound red potatoes, diced medium (about 3/4 inch dice)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
(1/2 tsp. dill and 1/2 tsp. tarragon – Optional *Note)
8-10 oz. smoked fish, cut into chunks
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
A few dashes of Tabasco
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup evaporated milk (I used 2%)

*Note – I used the herbs stated in the original recipe, which included the dill and tarragon.  Next time, I would omit them because they were a bit too strong for the  pollock in our opinion.  Play around with it!

1. Heat Dutch oven/soup pot, melt butter and oil.  Throw in onions, garlic and celery, and cook on medium-low until transparent, about 10 minutes.

2. Add flour, and stir for about 1 minute to toast the flour.

Dry roux

3. Gradually add the chicken broth, and stir until slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Stir in thyme and paprika (and other herbs you may choose to use), throw in the potatoes, cover and simmer for 15 minutes on medium-low.

4. Stir in the fish, lemon juice, white wine, Tabasco and pepper.  (Pour a glass of white wine for yourself.)  I scraped away that brown part of the fish because I find that it’s pretty “fishy” tasting.  Use your judgment.  Simmer on Low, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

5. Stir in the evaporated milk, and continue to simmer on Low for 30 minutes.

It was so, so good.  And awesome the next day, of course.  I’m sad that it’s gone to be honest.  As an aside, I need to work on my food photography skills.  Especially when taking photos at the stove.  The lighting is terrible!  Anyway, there has been lots of cooking being done on this crafty blog, but not so much craftiness.  Don’t worry!  I have been extremely crafty recently, I just can’t share it because I’m participating in a swap with the ladies who were my roomies at the Squam Art Workshop last year.  It is going out in the mail very soon, and I’ll be sharing some of the fun things in the package in the next few weeks.

I want to add that I made this soup a second time yesterday with some of the leftover smoked salmon.  We didn’t have all the ingredients, so I had to do a few substitutions.  I didn’t have any chicken broth and used all vegetable broth.  And I used a mixture of evaporated milk and regular 1% milk.  It was just not as good at all.  Very disappointing.  What I took away from the experience was that you need to use chicken broth.  I think the vegetable broth made it thin tasting.  Also, I didn’t care for the salmon and preferred the whitefish.   That might just be a personal preference of course, as I know a lot of people love salmon.  While using a bit of regular milk mixed with the evaporated milk made it a little less creamy, it wasn’t a big deal.  I’m enjoying everything I’m learning from these cooking-soup adventures!

Kids Cook

We are on school vacation this week, so I suggested to my boys (who are now 9.5 and 7.5) that perhaps they would like to each make dinner one night this week.  We have a Children’s Quick and Easy Cookbook that they paged through and then picked something to make.  While I don’t quite agree with all the recipes as they are written, there are great pictures, and the book was useful for the kids to pick something and be excited about what they were preparing.

J picked the barbeque spare ribs.  Now, the recipe calls for grilling the ribs for 15 minutes on each side.  That is NOT how we make ribs around here!  Low and slow!  This gave the hubby an excuse to pull out the smoker, of course!  We prefer baby back ribs, so I picked up some of those.  J helped Daddy rub the spice rub all over the meat (“gross!”) in the morning.  Normally, we would do it the night before, but we forgot until after J had gone to bed.  We use a homemade spice rub that we make in larger sized quantities and store in the cupboard.  He then helped Daddy put the meat in the smoker, check it, take off the aluminum foil, take it off the smoker, baste with sauce, etc.  For the sauce, we just use Bullseye Original if we aren’t making our own.  J is not fond of vegetables (we keep trying!), so he and Daddy made an apple slaw for a side dish.  They julienned three apples (different varieties) using a mandoline (carefully monitored as it’s super sharp), and tossed with an awesome little sauce that Hubby made up.  Stellar!  And then we also roasted up some Brussels sprouts.  J was so excited about making dinner and licked his plate clean.  The ribs were worthy of plate-licking.

Apple Slaw

3 apples, unpeeled and julienned (we used granny smith, honey crisp and fuji)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
Salt to taste

Stir up dressing.  Mix into apples.

K made dinner tonight.  He chose a sausage/pasta baked dish.  It required quite a bit of assistance from Mama, but he helped cook the entire thing.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it “Quick and Easy” but maybe it would have been quicker and easier if a 9yo wasn’t doing every step.  He tried cutting up the onion, but that was a bit difficult for him, so we did it together.  (Sharp knives!)  He enjoyed using the garlic press, and the can opener, and especially the mini prep food chopper (we made fresh bread crumbs to sprinkle on top).  He was also able to cut up the sausage links (it had sweet Italian sausage in it) with a paring knife by himself.  We have these kids knives and while fun to use, not up to the task of dicing an onion.

I cook a lot, and always encourage the boys to help me, but they are usually too busy with their own activities to be interested…unless it involves licking the cookie dough bowl.  This little project really engaged them from start to finish.  I think the many photos in the book helped them pick something more readily.  And then having chosen the meal, they were more invested in its preparation.  We will definitely have to do this again!  Keeping in mind that the 30 minutes of prep + 25 minutes of baking really equals 60 minutes of prep +25 minutes of baking when cooking with a 9yo.

Souper Sunday – Roasted cabbage soup, Take 2

Yes, it’s Monday, not Sunday.  Does it count that it’s a holiday weekend?  In any case, this isn’t a new recipe as it is the only soup recipe that I had posted prior to this, when I decided to do a weekly soup feature.  However, I made it a bit differently and used some leftover ingredients, and thought I would talk about that.

The original recipe for Roasted Cabbage Soup calls for caramelizing onions and leeks before adding them to the soup along with the roasted cabbage + other veggies.  I hadn’t thought to make this soup when I went to the grocery store and leeks are not something that I normally buy.  So instead of the 1 onion + 3 leeks in the original recipe, I just used 2 onions.  It turned out great.  Yes, the leeks are excellent, but onions are a lot cheaper and more likely to be already in your pantry.

The other thing that I did differently is that I used leftover roasted cabbage.  We had roasted cabbage (purple which is why the soup is an odd color) for dinner one night.  We didn’t eat the whole head that we had roasted, and about half of it was put in the refrigerator.  Perfect for adding to the soup!  So, this was a relatively quick and easy soup since the “roasting the cabbage” step was taken out of the equation.

(adapted from the book, Love Soup – which is awesome and I highly recommend)

2 onions, diced  medium
1/2 head of cabbage (depends on the size of the head)
2 carrots, diced medium-fine (about 1/2 inch squares)
2 stalks celery, diced medium-fine
1 russet potato, diced medium-fine
4 cups vegetable broth (box/canned)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 tsp. dried dill (fresh is better if you have it, about 2 Tb.)

I served with fresh bread, sour cream, and some freshly grated Parmesan.

1. Having roasted cabbage for dinner one night and using the leftovers for this is perfect.  If you want to roast the cabbage specifically for this, just thinly slice the cabbage.  Toss on a baking sheet with about 1 Tb. of olive oil and salt/pepper.  Roast at 425 degrees for about 30-45 minutes.  Tossing occasionally, until it’s getting brown all over.  We used purple, but I’d recommend green cabbage as it looks more appetizing in the finished soup.

2. Heat your skillet on medium, melt 1 Tb. butter with 1 Tb. olive oil.  Add diced onions and a little bit of salt, and saute for about 4-5 minutes.  Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to cook for about 20-30 minutes until nicely caramelized.  Cut up all the other veggies while the onion is cooking.

3. Dice the carrots, celery and potato.  Add to the pot with the vegetable broth and water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.  Add in the caramelized onion and roasted cabbage, and simmer covered for another 20 minutes.

4. Add the cup of milk, the dill, and salt and pepper to taste.  I used 1% as that is what we have in the refrigerator.  Whole would be great, but better to use what you have instead of buying special items, in my opinion.  Continue to cook on medium heat until heated through.  Serve with bread, sour cream, grated cheese, etc.

Next time I make it, I’m going to try blending a bit of it with my immersion blender.  I think it might give it a nice consistency.  I’ll report back!


Montessori: Felt mat for the moveable alphabet

I was playing on Pinterest the other day and I came across a sweet flannel mat that someone had made to use with the Montessori Moveable Alphabet.  (MontessoriMom has a good explanation of the lesson and purpose of  the materials.  Simply Montessori also has a good post about alternatives to the more expensive Nienhuis sets for home use.)  It reminded me of the mats that I had made for my son’s primary class way back when…pre-blog!  I thought I’d post some pictures in case you would like to make your own mat.  They turned out beautifully.  They are made with wool felt.  Since felt doesn’t fray you can just sew the two pieces together without any of that sewing right sides together, turning, top-stitching, etc.

Measure your letters, and pin your ribbons to match the height of your letters (see photo).  Sew the ribbons in place along both the top and bottom edges of the ribbon.  Let the ribbons overhand the edges a bit.  Hand sew the dotted lines in place with either embroidery floss or pearl cotton (which is thicker).  Tuck the ends of the ribbons between the front and back of the mat (you might use an iron to get a nice crease), and topstitch around the entire mat.  That’s it!  So easy.  And as I’ve said before, while wool felt is expensive, it’s durable and beautiful to work with.  An alternative would be a wool blend felt (Wool Felt Central is a good source), which is still nice but significantly cheaper.

The green mat above was my first mat in a tabletop size.  Then, I made a larger, floor-size mat using cream wool (I’m not positive since it was 4 years ago, but I remember it wasn’t “felt”, it was more like wool coating, purchased at my local fabric store.)  Made using the same technique however.  The ribbon is just a standard, satin type ribbon.

Look at little J, at 3 years old, rolling up his mat to put it away!

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!