Thursday, June 30, 2011

A dress for N

Way back in April, I blogged about a skirt I shortened.  I used the leftover fabric to make a dress for Natasha, and today I finally got some action shots.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A parliament of owls

These guys are about to fly off to become baby gifts for T, A and L.  I don't think any of the recipients read this blog, so I'm safe to show them now.  Two of the ladies are having surprises, and one is having a boy.  The purple owl is for A's daughter S, who is going to be a big sister!  The pattern is here.  I left out the strip of fabric that should separate the front and the back pieces, making it deeper.  I prefer this shape.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Step into my craft room

Actually, don't.  It's such a mess that Irina is itching to get in there and clean it, but I have a bunch of gifts yet to finish before the craft room becomes the guest room for our visitors next month!  Here is what I finished this week.

First, a birthday present for M, who is turning one year.  I made some play food out of fleece and a little drawstring bag to keep it in.  I guess people usually use felt, but fleece is what I had on hand.  This was really fun and easy, which is good because I'm planning to make a whole grocery store full of food for the girls for Christmas this year.

This is another fitted cloth diaper.  This time I used a bought pattern, and it was definitely worth the money.  It fits the girls much better than my previous attempts.

And finally, a skirted wool soaker.  I don't know that is was worth the effort.   It's super-cute, but takes twice as much yarn as a plain soaker.  Also, we spend a lot of time outdoors these days and hand-wash-only-wool is not practical for outdoor play.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

This morning I let Jeremy sleep in, and when he made his way downstairs (after a leisurely shower), there was cinnamon French toast with sliced peaches and a Magic Bullet frappe waiting for him.  We had planned to go out to eat after church, but Natasha has been sick and was getting kind of cranky.  So instead, we made burgers and fries after the kids went down for a nap.  That way we could eat all the ketchup we wanted (N is allergic to tomatoes - boo).  For dessert, we had devil's food cupcakes (recipe in Rose's Heavenly Cakes) with peanut butter frosting.  This is not really my cup of tea, but Jeremy loves peanut butter and chocolate together.

I was trying to take one of those mouth-watering photos you see on baking blogs, but I'm pretty sure I failed.  Do these look tasty to you?  I am not sure they do.  I don't have much in the way of fancy photography skills. 

Also, I know a lot of people like to pipe frosting onto their cupcakes, but I prefer to just pile it on.  It's supposed to look decadent, not frilly.  I am not stingy with the frosting, either.  I like my cupcakes to be about half cake and half frosting.  Though this frosting recipe was not my favorite, it's a good one for those who don't like overpoweringly sweet icings.  The peanut butter gives it more body than your standard butter/shortening frosting, so you don't need as much powdered sugar.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why is sewing poop catchers so much fun?

I wonder what kind of weirdo hits I'm going to get on this post title.

Anyway, the last week has been very busy.  I have been sewing a few things, but wanted to wait until I was finished to post a group shot.  We spent Saturday prepping for a barbecue we threw on Sunday, and then used Monday (a local holiday) to recover.  On Tuesday, Jeremy began his year-long stint in the political section.  I admit, I have been spoiled by the predictable hours he worked in the consular section.  On Tuesday he didn't get home until close to midnight, and on Wednesday it was 7 p.m.  Tonight it will be later.  I know I will have to get used to it.

This week we have also had two sick kids - one still down for the count, actually.  So I haven't finished all the sewing I had planned to.  But I did sew these four fitted diapers.  I used a pattern I made myself, which is predictably lacking.  They fit the girls (who both wear mediums) adequately and do the job for which they were intended, but I know I can do better.  So last night I actually bought a pattern and will try that one out for future diapers.

I've now used up all of my absorbent diaper fabric.  I had snagged some hemp jersey and bamboo fleece very cheaply from a WAHM (work-at-home-mom for you not in the know) diaper maker who was going out of business.  So I've ordered more and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.  Sadly, it was not near as cheap, but still better than buying disposables for the next two year.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fun with Frappes

So, if you keep up with the all the mundane happenings here at Where to Next?, you'll know that Jeremy and I had a difference of opinion about the Magic Bullet on garage sale day.  I won, and we kept it.  I think Jeremy was pretty happy about that this morning when I sent him off to work with a mocha frappe in a lidded plastic cup.

Gotta say, this thing is so convenient.  I have been making frappes every morning this week, something I would never do if all we had was a plain old blender (I've since given that thing away).  With the Magic Bullet, the part that contains the blade is easily removable, and you can even put it in the dishwasher.  I usually just wash by hand because it's so easy to clean.  You can screw on individual plastic mugs, so there's no pouring and just one container to clean.  I'm not a shill for the company, but for making morning frappes or smoothies, this is a great product.

I start by putting sugar (or Splenda) in the mug.  About 1.5 tsps.  If I'm doing a mocha, I'll add cocoa powder here.  You can also just use chocolate syrup and skip the sugar, but this works too.

Then I add very strong coffee.  I broke the French press the other day so this is blech-y instant (though it's not as evident when I frappify it).

Then some ice and milk.

I screw the blade on.

Fit it into the Bullet.

Press down to activate the motor.

And about 20 seconds later, I have frothy, milky, caffeinated goodness.  What a way to start a morning!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Whistling Teakettle of Doom

Last week, I ruined our teakettle by failing to take it off the stove before all the water had evaporated. So I picked up a new one on Saturday morning during my grocery run. The box promised that it was a whistling kettle (this is important to avoid any future over-boiling incidents). I was a bit upset, then, when it failed to whistle on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings.

And then, today, while I was upstairs tending to Zoia, I heard this:

I guess I can no longer complain that it doesn't whistle. But I'm also not anxious to start each morning to a horror movie soundtrack - especially when it's the part just before someone's head gets chainsawed off.

Monday, June 6, 2011

All set for summer

After a long, cold winter, and snow in April (and nightmares of snow in June - like the one I had last night), I think you really, REALLY appreciate summer.  I am not sure I've ever been as excited about summer as I am this year.

So we are making the most of it.

We're running around outside in our swimsuits and playing with water.

We're picnicking.

We even just got a huge load of wood delivered ...

... so that we can enjoy our new fire pit all summer (and fall).

That the wood isn't quite dry is a problem, but we will power through.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trash to treasure

I was raised in a frugal household.  With five kids and one salary, you learn the value of a dollar pretty quick.  We packed our lunches, picked out our clothes from the clearance racks at TJ Maxx, went to the mall to walk around rather than to shop, and were taught to finish the food on our plates.  Though, so far, money isn't as tight around these parts as it was when I was in school, I plan to raise my children the same way.

One thing Jeremy learned pretty quickly when we got married is that I only throw away food when it has gone bad.  In my house, leftovers are meant to be eaten, not squirreled away in the back of the fridge, only to be tossed after sprouting a thick coat of fur.  If I put food on my plate, I'm going to finish it, and by golly, he had better do the same.  In the last 3.5 years, he's gotten pretty good at estimating how much he will eat, and only putting that much on his plate.  Adaptable fellow, he is.

It was the duck combined with memories of my beloved Little House on the Prairie books that got me thinking about how to make better use of the stuff I buy at the store.  After using every ounce of that duck to make a meal, rendered duck fat, cracklings and stock, I started thinking about all the vegetable scraps that get tossed every day in my household.  Onion skins.  Cucumber peels.  The little bits of bell peppers that you don't salvage when you cut off the stems.  Etc.  And I started throwing all those little bits into a bag in the freezer. 

Last weekend that bag became full.  So I dumped its contents into a stock pot along with a few quarts of water and a couple of bay leaves.

I simmered for about an hour (I read that cooking vegetables stock longer than that actually hurts the flavor of the stock), then strained and jarred.  I was surprised at how tasty it was.

Voila!  Free, a good use of stuff I would have thrown away, and better for you than MSG-laden bouillion cubes. 

Now I have a gallon of vegetable stock in my freezer.  I think next time I will leave the stock simmering in the pot after I remove the vegetable scraps in order to reduce it down.  Even so, I can fill a freezer bag full of vegetable scraps every couple weeks.  I don't need quite that much stock.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Prize-winning cake

I can't believe that I didn't take a picture of the cake I made today.  I always take pictures of my cakes.  Today I didn't.

And today, my cake won 1st prize in the Embassy bake-off.

For real.

I can't believe I didn't take a picture.

However, I will give you the recipe.  It is Lemon Yogurt Cake with Lemon-Mint Syrup, adapted from several different recipes.

You need:


1 stick of butter
3 eggs
1 c plain yogurt
2 tbs lemon juice
zest of one lemon
100g of sugar (I weigh most of my dry ingredients; this is equivalent to about 1 cup)
250g flour (2.5c)
2 tsp baking powder


3/4 c water
juice of two large lemons
1 c sugar
1 c mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour an 8-inch springform pan (a regular cake pan will do, too).

Cream butter and sugar together until light in color.  Add beaten eggs, yogurt, lemon juice and zest. Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl, then add to the mixture in batches, beating until smooth.  Pour into the pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.  Do not overbake!

While cake is baking, make the syrup.  Combine water, lemon juice and sugar in a pot.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Then add mint leaves; crush down with the back of a spoon to release the oils.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until it thickens enough to coat a spoon.  Remove and discard mint leaves.

Once both cake and syrup have cooled a bit, pour 1/3 of the syrup over the cake while still in the pan.  Let sit 10 minutes.  Then invert cake into a large plate or bowl and pour 1/3 of the syrup over it.  Wait 10 minutes, then pour the remaining syrup and let it soak for a few hours.  Most of the syrup should be absorbed.  Reinvert the cake onto your serving plate.  Garnish with mint sprigs or pieces of lemon if desired.  Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Weekend in St. Petersburg

Sunday morning, we got the kids up at 5:15 a.m. (ugh) to catch the high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Neither kid slept on the train (ugh).  Natasha passed the time on the train by playing with the automatic doors separating the cars.

We arrived after four hours on the train and checked into our hotel, the Pushka Inn, around the corner from the Hermitage.

Then we took the Metro to Smolensky Cemetery on Vasilievsky Island, where St. Blessed Xenia is buried.  There was a huge line to visit the chapel built above her grave.

Natasha made friends with one of the babushki working in the garden, and she escorted us to the front of the line.  Kid knows how to make connections!

Outside the cemetery, we saw the manliest Hummer ever.

Then we returned to the hotel, which had the smallest elevator ever.

... and tried to put the girls down for naps.  Total failure.  So we went to dinner.  The restaurant had a kids' room with an attendant right next to our table.  Natasha loved playing with her and we got to eat in relative peace.

The next morning, we headed over to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.  It was apparently built solely as a monument to commemorate the assassination of Alexander II, and has never seen a service.  Like a very ornate pyramid, I guess.

Everyone says St. Petersburg isn't like Russia.  They're right - in many ways it really doesn't feel like Russia at all.  I was reminded at different turns of Venice and Prague.  With lots and lots of mosquitoes, since the city was built on a swamp.

Then we headed to a nearby park to chase some pigeons and hang out.

We also decided to take some Russian-style photos among the flowers.  They really pose like this.

That afternoon after successful naps (yay!), we walked across the bridge to the Peter and Paul Fortree to check out the cathedral.

By some accounts, the (again, very un-Russian) cathedral contains the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and the rest of his family, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1917.  Others believe that the remains are still unaccounted for.  In any case, this is the room where they are allegedly buried.

On Tuesday morning, we had two hours at the Hermitage before catching our train.  We managed to see just one level - the second floor - in that time.  Even if we'd had more time, I don't think the kids could have taken any more.  I would have loved to see the rest, though.

Then we got back on the train to head home.

Overall, a successful trip.  Now that we know we can travel with the babies without wanting to wring each other's necks, we are starting to think about where to go for the next three-day weekend!