Archive | January, 2011

The Dough Never Rises: (Mis)Adventures in Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

30 Jan

Last Friday, having assumed possession of a wide-mouth pickle jar before it was sent away to be recycled, I set about making some sourdough starter. Making sourdough bread is supposed to be a relatively simple process – something that our predecessors did hundreds and even thousands of years ago, long before we relied on recipe books, measuring cups, and internets to make a simple loaf of bread. And simple it was: mix a cup of warm water and a cup of all-purpose flour, set somewhere warm and inviting, wait 24 hours. Then, dump out half of the mixture and replace it with half a cup of warm water and half a cup of flour. Wait 24 hours. Repeat. By the end of the week, my sourdough starter was, as promised, frothy and, well, sour-smelling – ready to go, just in time for Sunday breakfast. I found a sourdough cinnamon roll recipe that required beginning on Friday evening and got to work in the nick of time. By Saturday afternoon, my dough was to have doubled in size. Instead, it looked pretty much as it had on Saturday morning:

There are no before-and-after comparison photos. That’s because there was no difference in dough volume. None. But, I wasn’t too worried. The same thing happened the other week with a pizza crust that rose admirably once it was in the oven. So, I went to make the rolls. The dough was nowhere near stiff enough, and the rolls didn’t hold their shape, instead choosing to resemble a distant relative of Jabba the Hutt.

I thought maybe they’d rise overnight, like the recipe suggested. They did not. I baked them anyway, thinking of the pizza dough’s last-minute, Hail Mary rising. They still did not rise, and after twice the recommended baking time, the dough was as cooked through as it was going to get. Mr. Right bravely suggested that they might still be edible; he also kindly made scrambled eggs. And, Sunday breakfast turned out well in spite of the sluggish dough. The rolls were in fact okay, although they were nowhere near the light fluffy goodness promised in the recipe. Oh, well –  there were already plenty of picture-perfect sourdough cinnamon roll blog entries available, anyway.


Original Inspiration For My Sleep Sack Sewing Binge

28 Jan

Friday is for finishing, and indeed, I finished another sleep sack for Vivian.

Lining and Label

The pink and green paisley patterned flannel is actually what got me started on the idea to sew sleep sacks in the first place – I found it at Joann Fabrics a while ago and was so smitten with the delicate yet bold design that I had to make something with it, and the only something I could think of that called for any sort of flannel was Anna Maria Horner’s sleep sack design.

An early Valentine's Day present...

Now that I’ve used the pattern a few times, the sewing goes along pretty quickly. In an effort to be even speedier I used my machine to sew the bias tape down – and, while it’s not terrible, I think the stitching looks too obvious. Next time I’ll stick to hand-sewing it for a nice, professional look. While this is the last sleep sack I’m planning on making for Vivian, I have two friends who are expecting, so I’m looking forward to making more of them in the future.

Sweet flower detail

Notice the tomato plant in the middle photo? It’s been growing in our breakfast nook for well over a year now – and, it’s finally starting to flower, too!

Big Plans For Little Baby: Refinishing a High Chair

27 Jan

Early Tuesday morning I discovered a darling wooden high chair on Craigslist. By Tuesday afternoon it was all mine:

It was difficult to stay focused on school work all Wednesday as I dreamed of what I could do with it. So many possibilities!

I had a few more, er, vivid fabric prints in mind, but Mr. Right gets veto power, and his design taste tends toward the more sensible. With a little bit of laminated Amy Butler fabric (“Passion Lily Fern” from “Soul Blossoms” collection via, a borrowed sander, and a can or two of high gloss spray paint, I’m hoping to turn my retro cool high chair into something fun, funky, and modern.

I have yet to finish stitching the border on Vivian’s quilt. Oh, and there’s another sleep sack on the way. And the Clara dress. At the rate I’m going with planned projects, it’ll be a miracle if I finish everything before she arrives.

Sunday Breakfast: Creme Brulee Overnight French Toast

24 Jan

While we almost always eat dinner together, we’re usually pretty casual about it – we’ll sit on the couch and chat with our plates in our laps or park in front of the computer to watch an episode of Antiques Roadshow on PBS. But sometimes, if we’re feeling especially formal, we actually bring our plates to the dinner table, where pleasant conversation is paired with whatever happens to be on NPR. It feels special to set aside whatever we’re doing and focus on having a meal together, and it’s a tradition that I definitely want to continue with Vivian. One of my goals this year is to start having a “fancy” weekend breakfast, a time to look forward to spending together at the end of every week.

This Sunday’s breakfast included a favorite from the most delightful Bed and Breakfast ever imagined – the A.G. Thomson House in Duluth, Minnesota. We’ve had the good fortune to stay there twice now, and if the incredible hospitality, immaculate decoration, and perfect location weren’t enough, the innkeepers also make the. best. breakfasts. ever. We’re talking three-course meals here. And, the recipes are available should you want to attempt to recreate the wonder at home. Sunday’s Creme Brulee French Toast, while not as amazing as the original (I used maple extract instead of Grand Marnier) made for a great start to the day. And a wonderful day it was – with Green Bay going to the Superbowl! It’s been difficult today to come down from the excitement of the weekend and go back to the daily housework/homework routine – but with another family breakfast and lots of down time to look forward to, I think we’ll manage.

Sleep Sack Success!

17 Jan

I finished up the first of the sleep sacks on Tuesday afternoon. Sewing up the final seam caused considerably more effort and frustration than it should have, as I was stubborn in my desire to use my serger. For the record, my serger (and possibly yours, too) does not like multiple layers of fabric: Two bent needles and an inch shorter than specified in pattern later, I gave up, went back to my Elna, and was done within a matter of minutes. And, I’m pretty pleased with the results. The pattern is insanely easy once you get the hang of it – I think that if you machine sew the entire thing, cutting out the pieces may actually take longer than the sewing itself. (Then again, cutting fabric is easily my least favorite part of sewing and takes me ages.)

I have one more sleep sack planned for Vivian, and will probably make a few more for friends who are due right after I am. I also need to get back to the quilting. I’ve had a difficult time deciding on a border pattern that I like, and this little dilemma has made it easy for set the quilt aside in favor of the sleep sacks, which offer near-instant gratification. I have classes again beginning tomorrow and probably won’t get a chance to work on anything else until Friday, which is good – plenty of time for day-dreaming and planning in between lectures. Plenty of time for calculus, too. Sigh.

Trying New Things: Anna Maria Horner’s Sleep Sack Pattern

10 Jan

Viv’s quilt is well under way. I was a little bit anxious about hand quilting it, but chose to do so because I really wanted to put some time into it. And, it turns out that quilting is actually pretty meditative. I’ve finished the center and just have to choose a border and trace it onto the fabric, then quilt and sew on the binding.

I’m also working on some sleep sacks. The quilt is really rather large for a baby (I chose to make it toddler-sized, 42″x60″) and will probably serve more as a decoration than actual baby bedding, which makes me a little bit anxious. Besides, we live in Texas, and by the time Viv arrives the temperature will likely be in the 70s, if not higher.

The sleep sack pattern is from Anna Maria Horner’s Handmade Beginnings. Originally, I was planning on using a plain fabric instead of the patchwork, but I’ve had a couple of 5″ fabric charm collections sitting around for several years now, and this is a perfect use for them. With a 1/4″ seam allowance I managed to get a piece of patchwork fabric 19.25″ wide by 24″ long – but cutting out the pattern is much easier if you do it like this:

I’m loving all of this sewing, and am sort of sad that I’ll be returning to school tomorrow. My Tuesday/Thursday schedule should still allow me plenty of time for crafting, but I’m anticipating spending a good chunk of the week hunched over calculus homework. Guess we’ll see!

The Beginnings of a Wardrobe

4 Jan

One of my best friends, who has an eight-month-old son, recently advised me not to bother buying any clothing for Vivian, as she maintains that excited family members and loved ones will likely give Viv all that she needs for the first several months. She’s probably right (we’ve already had several generous packages arrive on the porch as mounting proof) and as a sort of compromise I’ve decided to focus mainly on sewing for Viv and thrifting vintage baby clothing. Taking full advantage of the last week of winter break, I went out on the hunt yesterday. While our city is sorely lacking the kind of cheap yet overflowing-with-goodness antique and thrift stores that I swear exist out there somewhere, I did come home with a few neat things:


Exhibit A: Sewing patterns, found for $0.50 each. Not a bad deal, although I haven’t had a chance to look through and make sure that all of the pattern pieces are present. I’m looking forward to trying a few of these out. And learning how to sew a French Seam, which is, according to one set of directions, absolutely essential for baby sewing. I might have a sewing machine foot that does something like it, but I don’t know. My machine dates back to at least the 70s, and some well-meaning sewing technician (after thoughtfully comparing it to a “Model T that’s nice to have around but not an everyday driver”) recently sold me a magical converter shank for snap-on feet (since it’s unlikely that feet for my machine have been produced since sometime around the year I was born) and a bunch of new-fangled Brother parts that are nice and shiny and completely foreign to me. I’m pretty sure they do stuff. Like seams.


Exhibit B: Two little dresses, purchased together for $6.00. The blue dress had some black stains. I had some bleach. I won. I’m making it my mission to find more cute little dresses like these. They were nearly as inexpensive as the well-worn and obviously stained Old Navy onesies that are so common in our local second-hand shops. And so much cuter. We’ll save the discussion about practicality for another day.


After driving around aimlessly for a while hoping that I’d magically stumble upon more cute stuff, I realized that I could easily score another dress if only I went home and got to work. And so I did. The fabric came from my meager stash, the lace was another thrift store find, and the pattern is the charming Itty Bitty Baby Dress from Made By Rae. I think it came out pretty well. I made a rookie mistake and basted the lace just a little bit too close to the edge of the bodice, which made attaching the gathered skirt (by serger) a little bit more difficult, but overall, I’m pleased. And excited to sew even more!