Cherries, Chickadees, and Ms. Billingsley

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We're already halfway through August, which means that I've already got holiday crafting on the brain (not that I'll start on it for months yet, but I'm thinking about it...). For those of you who are a bit more forward-planning, my 2018 holiday design, Chickadee and Pine is now available, along with all my other wintery-woodland designs, to get a kick-start on that crafting. 

I've also got something else new that I'm super excited to share with you - my first sewing pattern! The Ms. Billingsley Apron (named for June Cleaver herself, Barbara Billingsley) is the answer to the question "but what do I do with the embroidery after I've finished it?"

Designed to fit any of my 6" hoop designs, the easy-to-sew, but elegantly finished Ms. Billingsley apron can also be used to show off a single quilt block or panel of a favorite fabric. You can find the pattern as a downloadable PDF (complete with Bowl of Cherries template), or I've assembled some kits featuring the sample fabrics shown above paired with a Bowl of Cherries complete embroidery kit


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No Chill, No Spread, Cut Out Cookies

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A confession. I've never liked sugar cookies.

I don't know what recipe my mom used, I seem to recall it had lemon extract in it, but while I found the decorating fun, I never actually wanted to eat the cookies we made around holiday time. It was all too sweet, too artificial tasting. 

Now, as a mom myself, I wanted to share the fun of Christmas Cookie decorating with Little Miss Cleaver, but I wanted a cookie base that actually tasted good. 

This is third year these cookies have been in holiday rotation and in my book, this recipe is a winner. It's almost halfway between a sugar cookie and shortbread in taste, no weird lemon falvor and I'm happy to eat them plain if the kid poops out on decorating (not likely this year).

The biggest hassle of them is that it makes a TON of cookies - 4-5 dozen depending on your cutter (we fill five 13"x 18" half-sheets), so I've included a half batch recipe below as well.

As for frosting, I whisk up a batch of the world's easiest frosting, which once you've made it once, you'll never have to look at the recipe again. 

To print, select button at bottom of post.

Cut Out Cookies - Full Batch (makes 48-60 cookies)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch

Cut Out Cookies - Half Batch (makes 24-30 cookies)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • slightly less than 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 Tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a stand mixer or wooden spoon, cream together cold butter and sugar until it reaches an even consistency (Tip: if using a spoon, use the spoon end to pound the butter into the sugar until it starts to look like coarse sand before attempting to stir). 

Add eggs one by one, until mixed in completely. Stir in vanilla. 

Add flour and cornstarch and mix until dough starts to form a ball. (Tip: If working by hand, it may help to kind of knead the dough together with your hands).  

Working with about 1/4 to 1/2 of the dough at a time, roll out the dough to an even thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut out shapes and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, placing shapes with narrow parts in the center of the sheet .

Bake for approximately 11 minutes or until edges turn slightly brown. 

Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting. 

Easy Frosting

  • 2-3 Cups powdered sugar
  • About 5 tablespoons water
  • Food coloring

In a large bowl, add water to sugar a little bit at a time and whisk together until frosting reaches desired consistency. For ease of frosting, you'll want it to start to pull off the whisk in a slow thick line, rather than sticking completely or dripping off.

If desired, section out some of the frosting into a separate bowls and add food coloring drop by drop until desired color is achieved. 

Using a spatula, transfer frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorating tip. Twist pastry bag shut or tie with a twisty-tie to seal and decorate away! 

(And before anyone asks, the sweater cookie cutter came from this kit that I got at Christmas Tree Shops, the other cutters are from Le Roux Kitchen)

Cookie recipe adapted from https://bakingamoment.com/how-to-bake-easy-and-delicious-cutout-cookies-with-neat-edges/ 

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Getting in the Holiday Spirit

This weekend I had a little fun with some sheep ornaments I was making. I hope it brings a little holiday joy to you too.

You can also pick up one of these little guys in the shop for your own tree!


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Introducing WOODLAND - A Ms. Cleaver Collection

I'm pleased to announce the launch of my first seasonal collection: WOODLAND.

Consisting of four new embroidery designs, three new knit designs and one old favorite, WOODLAND takes you through fall, to the holidays and beyond into winter. Projects range from beginner-friendly to the more complex and each design is available as a stand-alone pattern or as part of a complete kit of high quality materials like 100% wool felt and 100% wool American yarns, making your making all the more attainable.  

The four knitting patterns can be purchased as an e-book for $18.00 USD or individually ($5-$6 USD). Likewise, the embroidery hoop designs (Cabin, Ice Skater and Moose) can be purchased as a set for 20% off the individual price.  

Flip through the lookbook below, or check out the shop

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December is for Dabbling

For Christmas, I gave Mr. Cleaver a skein of sock yarn. 

"I am supposed to learn to knit?" He asked, eyebrow raised.

"No," I replied, "This gift is two-fold. 1) Sometime this year you'll get a new pair of socks and 2) I didn't try to knit them before Christmas."

As creatives and makers, it's easy to get overwhelmed with a desire to try to make our holidays as handmade as possible. I've definitely stayed up far too late many a December trying to finish a gift or two before that deadline on the 24th. 

In 2016, my creative life was ruled by deadlines more than ever before, and it was incredibly stressful. So when I had a month of no deadlines and over two weeks of vacation from my day job planned, I decided that I wasn't going to give myself any new deadlines. 

So I gave my husband a skein of yarn for Christmas and I didn't make my daughter a thing. And I'm okay with that. 

Instead, I decided to play. 

I spun yarn for the first time since LMC was born. I baked my way through a 5 pound bag of flour with whatever inspiration struck my fancy. I needle-felted, and needle-felted some more. I wet-felted a pair of slippers for the first time. I was able to sew for the first time in months. I crocheted snowflakes and learned how to steek. I picked out yarn for a sweater, for me, from someone else's pattern and have knit most of it. I made snowmen and ice skated and took naps with my daughter. 

It was like summer camp in the winter and it was glorious. 

I want to make this a new holiday tradition for myself. December is for dabbling. It's the best gift I could receive. 


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Gingerbread Cake and Glühwein

I love baking for the Holidays.  There's just something about the flavors of winter I find so appealing , the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon and citrus. The depth of molasses and wine. That's why this pairing is perfect combination for any winter gathering, and since there's a lot of overlap in ingredients, they're easy to make together. 

Gingerbread Cake with Orange Glaze

Serves 8-12

Gingerbread is an obvious choice for the holidays, but this take on the classic has a soft and light crumb, and isn't overly dense or spicy, as I find some gingerbread to be. The cake is best when the spices are allowed to meld for a bit, so make the day ahead, if possible. For a spicier cake, increase the amount of ginger, or replace powdered with fresh. You may also increase the amount of molasses, as desired.

For the Cake:

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brewed coffee, at room temperature
  • 1½ sticks ( 1¼ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs + 2 egg yolks, at room temperature

For the Glaze:

  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbl milk
  • 2 Tbl orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • pinch of salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour or spray a 10-cup Bundt pan (I find Pam with Flour works the best for those tricky Bundt pans). 

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth using a wooden spoon or mixer. Add brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy, making sure butter is fully integrated and there are no visible chunks. Add eggs to butter mixture one at a time, mixing in completely before adding the next egg.

In a separate bowl, shift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

In a small bowl or cup, mix together room temperature coffee with the molasses.

Add the 1/3 of the flour to the egg/butter mix, then 1/2 the molasses, 1/3 of the flour, the remaining molasses, then the remaining flour. Mix until just combined. 

Pour batter into prepared pan and snap against the counter to remove any large bubbles. Smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.  Place in center of oven an bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 

Let cake cool in pan for about 7 minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack. Let cake cool completely, transfer to serving plate, and then glaze.

To make glaze: mix all ingredients, adding liquid slowly until desired consistency is achieved. Pour over cooled Bundt cake, making sure to allow glaze to drip down both sides. Scoop extra glaze out of cake center and re-drizzle as desired.

Glühwein, or German Mulled Wine, is perhaps less familiar, but a wonderful addition to winter gatherings. I discovered Glühwein when searching for mulled wine recipes, and then immediately emailed a German friend for her take on the tradition. I've merged her recipe with some I found online, but mulled wine is something that is easy to vary to meet your own tastes. Throughout my wine-mulling process, I kept running to Mr. Cleaver with a hot mug and saying "taste this." We quickly ran through the batch at my knitting group's annual Christmas fête, so I think my test-taster served me well.

Glühwein - German Mulled Wine

  • 1.5 L dry red wine
  • 2 1/3 cup orange juice (juiced oranges + pre-made orange jucie)
  • 2/3 cup brandy
  • 4-5 oranges, peeled (see instructions below) and juiced
  • 1 lemon, peeled and juiced
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 20 cloves
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • up to 1/3 cup sugar, to taste

Using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, peel all citrus into wide strips, avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Juice all fruit, making up the difference with pre-made orange juice as needed.  Reserve some peels for garnish.

Combine wine, juice, remaining peels, and spices in a heavy covered stockpot. Bring pot to a low simmer. Add Brandy and continue to simmer. Add sugar to taste. 

Serve hot, not warm.

What are your favorite holiday recipes? Share links below!!


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December

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If I had to describe December in a word, it'd be full.

Full calendar, full bellies, full hearts. 

Some highlights for me were decorating cookies for Santa and taking LMC to see Portland Ballet's Nutcracker, where she was totally engrossed in Act I and conked out and slept her way through Act II (though not for lack of interest).

In the midst of a hectic baking schedule (2 types of cookies, gingerbread cake and peanut brittle), I managed to make several gifts too, including my bi-annual cross-stitch family portrait (inspired by this year's Halloween costumes), a knit hat for LMC in the hopes of seeing something other than the doggie hat on her head, an ornament for my knitting group's annual swap and  two tutus, because you can never have too much tutu. But the gift that I'm most proud of making is my little Children's book, which I wrote and illustrated for LMC.

As I said, it was a full month, and while I wouldn't call January "empty" I am looking forward to getting back into a quieter rhythm. 

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Indie Design Gift Along 2015

Indie Design Gift Along 2015
Indie Design GAL Stats

Knitters!

This year I'm participating in the Indie Design Gift-Along.

What is that you ask?

It's a massive pattern sale + knit-along featuring the work of 335 designer from 30 countries, with over 5,500 knitters from around the world participating! It's all hosted over on Ravelry, and here's the official description.:

What is Gift-A-Long? It’s a multi-designer promotion to help you kick your holiday gift-making into high gear!

The Indie Design Gift-A-Long is a 6 week long KAL/CAL of holiday gifts made from patterns designed by a rather extensive list of independent designers. From Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm US EST - Friday, November 27, 2015 at 11:59 pm US EST tons of indie designers will be discounting between 5 - 20 of their patterns 25% for this event. Use coupon code: giftalong2015. 

Once you’ve got your Gift-A-Long patterns, we encourage you to join a relevant KAL/CAL! (For instance, if it is a cowl, please join the cowl KAL/CAL.) To join, simply write a post in the KAL/CAL thread you want to join, including the pattern name you will be knitting and a link to your project page. KAL/CAL participants are eligible for lots of lovely prizes but you gotta post to win!

KAL/CALs will run from Thursday, November 19th at 8pm (US-EST) through our New Years Eve party, Thursday, December 31 at midnight (US-EST), plenty of time to knock out all your holiday knitting and crocheting. We have games, tons of prizes, great conversation, and a lot of fun, so pull up a chair and join us! Please use #giftalong2015 to tag your social media-ing!

On your mark…get set…. GIFT!!

I've got 13 patterns for sale as part of the Gift-A-Long, all specially selected as quicker knits, perfect for gift giving. You can get them for 25% off in my Ravelry shop from Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm US EST - Friday, November 27, 2015 at 11:59 pm US EST - just use the code giftalong2015

The Gift-A-Long is a great way to kick your holiday knitting into high gear (and you can win tons of awesome prizes) so head on over to Ravelry and sign up!

(Stats infographic courtesy of 80skeins)

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A Holiday Review

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I finished the stocking with 2 days to spare. The last backstitch was completed the evening of the 22nd and the stocking assembled and sewn on the 23rd.

The kit came with some poly-felt for the backing, but no instructions for assembly, so I took a good look at the ones my Grandmother made and worked from there, using some pre-made piping and leftover linen for the exterior and some muslin for the lining. After nearly 21 months of work, it was proudly filled with goodies by Santa on the 24th, and somewhat anti-climatically put into storage on January 1.

I also managed to complete a toddler sweater and an apron, a large batch of cookies, several pounds of peanut brittle, the assembly of a wooden play kitchen and, with some finishing help from Bristol Ivy, a knit hat for Mr. Cleaver.

With a list like that it's no wonder I took the week after Christmas to relax and watch old movies (Charade and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - both highly recommended!) and Doctor Who on Netflix. I also managed to clear up some of my sewing project backlog, but more on that for another day.

Though last year was LMC's first Christmas, this was her first year with some understanding about the holiday and we really wanted it to be magical and mindful of both sharing in the traditions we grew up with (Handmade stockings! Toutiere on Christmas Eve!) and building new traditions of our own.

Christmas music was played, the Nutcracker was danced to, stop-motion animated films were watched, and food was shared with family. We took her to see Santa, who she was rather uncertain about until he gave her a little teddy bear, and then he was a great guy. We drove to see the lights and decorated together. It was enjoyed by all of us and I gained a great deal of respect for all that my parents did when I was child to make Christmas something special for my brother and me. 

Usually, when the decorations are packed up and put away on the First of the year, it always felt a little barren to me, but as we shift to this new year, life just feels so full - in the very best way possible, that it couldn't possibly feel barren at all.

__

PS -

New year - new site!

I've built a shiny new MsCleaver.com and the blog now resides at http://www.mscleaver.com/chronicles/ or you can find the rss feed at http://www.mscleaver.com/chronicles?format=rss or Follow my blog with Bloglovin

So please update your bookmarks, feed readers, etc.!

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Ornament Fail (and Redemption!) and Giveaway Day Winners

Painting Ornaments
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Painting ornaments

Every year my knitting group gets together for a handmade ornament swap and this year I though I'd combine my swap-ornament making with kid-crafting and make some cornstarch dough ornaments inspired by these.

The dough was easy enough to make (though the cornstarch gives it a sickly sweet smell) and it was easy enough to roll out, but my attempts at yarn embossing were awful and LMC's insistence at playing with all the dough (not just her half) meant I had to keep rolling it out over and over again, which I just don't think it was designed to do. So in the end, I had some brittle dough, a lot of ornaments missing a limb and a few with a rather prickly texture. Nothing suitable for gifting.

But, because they were no longer "precious" it meant that LMC and her dad could go to town painting them all and now I think they're the most beautiful smudgy mud-colored things I've ever seen - missing legs and all.

All of this is to say, it was a valuable lesson in managing my expectations. Of course she's going to want to the play with the salt dough like her play dough. Of course things are going to break. But you know what? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter a jot because LMC had a great time poking and painting and hanging them up on the bottom of the tree.

So while I did have to come up with another plan for my swap ornament, I'd say all in all, it was a success.

Speaking of success - thanks to the 136 (!) of you who entered the giveaway and a very warm welcome to any of you who are staying around as new readers!

The winners chosen via random number generator are commenters Liz (#129) for the subtle kit, Rachel (#10) for the spicy kit, and Magda (#109) for the gift certificate. Congrats -I've sent you all an email about claiming your prize.

I'm down to the wire on my holiday crafting, with one toddler sweater on the blocking board and three more handmade projects in various stages, but the good news is come Friday, I've got two weeks off - one to finish everything and one to recooperate!

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