90

I wish I was better at saving the things that really matter, or at least really matter to me.  During my senior year of high school, I was asked to write a paper on one person, other than a parent, who had shaped me as a person.  Even at 18, as unformed as I was, there was a clear winner, my Grandma S.  I can still remember the comments of my teacher, who knew my grandma, on how well I had captured Grandma’s and my similarities.  I wish I could read the words I wrote then, but it was back in the early days of floppy discs and I could very well have typed it on a word processor (boy that ages me) and the hard copy got tossed with all the other papers at graduation.  That Grandma S. shaped who I am is truer today than ever and today is her 90th birthday.

My grandma’s influence on my life began early, from giving me my first baby doll to taking me to mass.  My parents moved us to a home just one mile from my Grandma’s when I was 2 years old and from then on a weekend rarely passed that we didn’t do something together.  Up to the 4th grade, I passed her daily at school.  Our weekends often included some shopping, catching a show (movie or live theater), and 5 o’clock mass before heading home.  To this day I can’t go shopping without her in my head, reminding me to pick the one with the cutest face or noticing that there is just nothing new under the sun.

I don’t remember Grandma being much of a cook.  She was more likely to assemble food, like pancake faces, than make a big meal.  After she retired and moved back to the city to live with my Aunt when I was 12, we would often get together for lunch and shopping.  I’m not sure what prompted it but after one such trip, she hauled out her cookbook.  It was funny to hear her refer to many of the recipes as “funeral food” which meant that someone brought that item, with the recipe, to my grandpa’s funeral so long ago.  That day I discovered a little known recipe in her stack that has become a holiday staple in our house, English Toffee.  My edits are in parenthesis.

English Toffee

Stage 1: butter, sugar and water are all blended smooth and warm

Stage 1: butter, sugar and water are all blended smooth and warm

½ pound oleo (I use butter)
1 cup white sugar
3 Tbsp water

I start by slowly melting the butter & water until all the butter is liquid.  Add the sugar and stir until it no longer feels grainy.  Turn up the heat and cook together, stirring constantly until light brown. (please use a candy thermometer to reach 300° or you could miss the color and end up with a buttery mess of sugar when it gets too hot and separates again, trust me, I’ve done it.)

Almost to 300!  Get ready to pull it off the heat.

Almost to 300! Get ready to pull it off the heat.

Pour into large, buttered tin. (I spread parchment paper on my counter and spread directly on there)  Place 4 or 5 Hershey’s bars on top while hot and spread as it melts. (I use chocolate chips because they melt faster and spread easier).  Sprinkle with nuts. (or not, or try sea salt, yum)  Allow to cool then break apart. I almost always double this recipe when I make it.  I also add a splash of vanilla when I remove it from the heat, stir it in quickly and then pour it onto the parchment. Be careful when pouring and spreading, this is hot hot hot!  I’ve had Christmas blisters to show for it.

All spread out.  Don't forget it's hot!

All spread out. Don’t forget it’s hot!

Beginning that year and every year since, I have made multiple batches of this toffee to gift all the people in our life, from teachers to bus drivers, aides to mail carriers, including a little bag for Grandma on her birthday.  Even those without a sweet tooth will enjoy a little and share the rest with others.

Our packaging one year. Thank you Martha Stewart.

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Matchy Matchy

I have a confession to make… I have an insane doll collection.  I haven’t added to it in years but I can’t seem to part with any of the dolls.  I’ve thought about selling them but in the end I just couldn’t do it.  It all began at my birth and my first baby doll, Victoria.  My Grandma S. was a lover of all things Madame Alexander and so not just any baby doll would do for me.  Victoria was the first in a long line of Madame Alexander dolls and other dolls that I would collect through the years.  Christmas time marks the return of one of my favorite Madame dolls, my tree angel.  Not your typical white angel, my angel is dressed in shades of burgundy, rose and gold and I spent years collecting ornaments and ribbons that would perfectly compliment her on our Christmas tree.  But then the unthinkable happened, I had a daughter who wanted to help decorate the tree and not with my beautiful gold, burgundy and rose ornaments.

She's had a little work done around the neck and lost her halo along the way but at her age it's not surprising

She’s had a little work done around the neck and lost her halo along the way but at her age it’s not surprising

Since the first time I began showing an interest in art and design, Mom and I had created theme trees.  By the time Daphne came around, Mom had settled on her favorite, a beautiful collection of icicles, snowflakes and white snowmen.  This meant that she pawned all of her other ornaments off on me.  This included everything from the orange 70’s bulbs to the hundreds of Hallmark ornaments my Grandpa would buy at his work.  Daphne, of course, thought this was wonderful and began turning our Christmas tree into her own wonderful holiday creation.  The first year she helped with the tree there was no ornament above 3 feet off the ground.

Random popcorn strand, beaded star and every ornament that we could cram on.

Random popcorn strand, beaded star and every ornament that we could cram on.

Unlike Mom, I resisted the urge to move ornaments around when she was done.  Instead, I stepped back and let her have fun.  My angel has been replaced by a beaded gold star that Daphne insisted was a perfect topper when she gave it to me as a birthday gift (I’m a December baby).  I’ve embraced the fun of our eclectic tree and found ways to bring that into our overall holiday décor by creating custom holiday pillow covers with Daphne’s help.

 

Hand painted pillow covers

snowman

Daphne’s first snowman pillow cover. Grandma received the best one as a special Christmas gift last year.

Supplies you’ll need:
Cotton duck or lightweight canvas fabric
Fabric paint & brushes (I love Martha Stewart craft paint from Michael’s for this)
Backing fabric (l used Richloom velveteen from JoAnn Fabric in red and green)
Zippers (your choice of regular or invisible depending on your installation preference)
Pillow inserts
Printed design to trace or sketch to copy

IMG_2726

My addition: Naughty, Nice & HO HO HO. The snowmen are Hallmark. Ignore the funky gold couch, that’s a project waiting to happen.

Measure and cut front and back fabric to desired size.  I prefer my pillow covers to be about 1”-2” smaller than the insert size so they look nice and stuffed.  I had Daphne plan out her design ahead of time and then set her up with a small brush, paint and her piece of canvas.  For the Naughty, Nice & HO HO HO pillows, I printed them out on paper and then traced them onto the canvas.  Hang them up to dry.  Martha’s paint is great because you don’t have to do anything to set it like some paints that require you to iron them.  Once they’re dry, sew your pillows.  There are so many great pillow tutorials out there that I’ll just link to for those of you who don’t already know how to insert invisible zippers and make pillow covers.  Why reinvent the wheel?

This year marked the first year that Sully could join Daphne in decorating the tree and it was hilarious to watch my mini Mom (we call her mini-Mary, she’s so much like her grandma) trying to direct her brother where each ornament should go.  I even got to help this year. It was great to put our crazy mix of ornaments up and remember where each came from.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to a matched tree unless I have more than one.

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The Last One

It’s December and I’m gonna be honest… I love Christmas cookies for breakfast with my coffee.  I keep a secret (ok, not so secret) stash of cookies for my personal enjoyment during the month of December.  The other morning I awoke to find that my cookie of choice was GONE!  You may be saying but it’s only the first week of December, how do you have a Christmas cookie stash already.  It all began 10 years ago….

Christmas day for all of my young life included a trip to Grandma & Grandpa O’s house.  I don’t remember the specific foods we had from year to year but I do remember the cookies.  Every year included platters of Christmas cookies.  I knew what I liked but I didn’t care much where they came from until 10 years ago.  My grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my grandparents had decided to leave their home of 30 years for a facility that could care for Grandpa.  It also marked the year that we prematurely lost my Aunt Jan.  So that December we all gathered at Grandma & Grandpa’s to make the Christmas cookies together that had previously magically appeared on Christmas day.  We were short one member and slowly losing another but we gathered all together to learn the secrets of Grandma’s Christmas cookies before it was too late.

My mom documented our cookie adventure in a cookbook for everyone to enjoy as the years passed.  But for me, making the cookies alone didn’t hold the same joy as making them with my family.  I’m not sure if it was my facebook whining or just happenstance but last year my Aunt Sue scheduled cookie day for Thanksgiving weekend when my mom, the kids and I always visit my Grandparents’ new home town.  It worked out so well that we decided to make it an annual tradition.

Mom, the kitchen aid and I making cookies.

Mom, the kitchen aid and I making cookies.

Not everyone is able to make it to cookie day, the cousins are spread out from Chicago to Connecticut but anyone who can come is welcome.  We break out my mom’s cookbook and the tried and true O family cookie recipes.  This year I lugged my kitchen aid 160 plus miles because nothing else can hold up to 6 hours of cookie dough making.  The 3rd generation (mine and my cousins kids) are in charge of frosting the sugar cookies and rolling anything that needs rolling.  It’s exhausting but awesome to spend that time with 3 generations of our family making the cookies that we’ve enjoyed for years.

Let’s get back to my missing cookie.  It’s not only my favorite but my husband’s.  I tried to make it alone last year but fail terribly, but this year, with the help of my family, I got it right.  It was also my Grandpa’s favorite.  We lost Grandpa to a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s this spring and I’ll never eat this cookie without thinking of him.

 Molasses Spice Cookies

¾ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cloves (I’d cut this in half, it got left our completely this year and replaced with pumpkin pie spice and they were still delicious)
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.  Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy, add egg and molasses.  Slow mixer down and add dry ingredients.  Chill batter for at least 20 minutes.  Roll into small balls then roll in sugar.  Place on greased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

They will look slightly uncooked but that is good.  If you bake them longer you can’t eat them without dunking in coffee because they’ll be rock hard.  I speak from experience here.  I took them to a cookie exchange last year without sampling them after they cooled and had to watch my friends politely choke them down.  Not cool.

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All Rolled Up

The Fall/Winter Holidays are some of my favorite times of year.  As the years have gone by they have slowly changed but certain things are always constant.  We all have them, the traditional foods that our families serve for certain holidays.  Thanksgiving has to be the most traditional for my family.  For as long as I can remember, my extended family on my father’s side has gathered at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.  There was always turkey, my dad’s specialty which has been completely enhanced by a love of the Food Network, brining & his infa-red fryer.  My mom prepares the stuffing, corn and mashed potatoes.  The rest of the family supplies everything else: spinach salad, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies & deviled eggs.  But I had a special task for the last few years… the roll-ups.

In our family the roll-ups are sacred.  There have been times when there weren’t enough or they were made with the wrong ingredients.  My task was important every year and my husband, a roll-up convert, was in 100%.  I don’t know your family tradition (would love to hear it though) but I have had “other” roll-ups with anything from pickles to ham but nothing compares with Sullivan roll-ups.  I once asked my Grandma S. where they came from but she was vague, maybe someone on my Grandpa’s family started it or carried it on.  We’ll probably never know.  They are super basic but absolutely perfect.

Sullivan Roll-ups
Thin sliced Dried Beef (read that, Dried Beef.  Good luck finding it.)
Whipped cream cheese (buy it whipped or whip it yourself)
Green onions

Trim the roots off the green onions.  Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the dried beef.  Roll beef & cream cheese around the green onion.  Enjoy!

I still remember the first year that I was tasked with the roll-ups.  It followed an unfortunate year of only a dozen roll-ups to be enjoyed by more than thirty people.  Or maybe it was the year they showed up made out of ham (ewwww).  I searched high and low for dried beef.  A store clerk even steered me to canned (yeah, canned) dried beef!  Eventually (5 stores later), I found a small local grocer who carried it in their meat department.  They were a hit and I became the default roll-up maker from then on.  Each year has been more challenging to find dried beef.  The small grocer would be sold out, ditto the Westside Polish market, until my dear hubby found the gold mine.  A small Dutch, but still Westside, butcher who smokes his own dried beef.  Here is where I will share a little known dried beef fact; smoked dried beef holds up to cream cheese spread much better than a traditional dried beef which tends to shred and fall apart, but it still maintains the great flavor.

This year, for the first time in many years, I didn’t make roll-ups for a crowd.  It was bitter-sweet to roll just enough for myself, my husband and my parents to enjoy.  But they reminded me of the long history I have with my family and the special food memories we can all share.  I laid mine out on Grandma’s turkey plates and remembered; the mad dash for the first one, the uncle who knew he’d pay for eating an onion but did it anyway, the single roll-up Grandma would savor, the ones my dad would stash away for the next day, and my daughter who, like a few of my cousins, enjoys hers without the onion.

What unique food does your family enjoy only for holidays?

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The Long and Shorts of It

While going through the photo albums my mom lent me to find the evidence for my Halloween posts, I was reminded of how much my mother sewed for me.  A page didn’t turn without another image of me in a jumper, dress or shirt made by Mom.  Don’t get me wrong, the lay person may not realize that these items had been created in the sewing room, but I know.  I remember the trips to the mall where the litany of “I can make that” was pronounced repeatedly, the hours spent at JoAnn’s or Fields scouring the patterns and fabrics, and the fittings to get it just right.  So, after all of this exposure to sewing, why didn’t I sew?

It all began with middle school and Girl Scouts.  My mom was one of our troop leaders, and we were working tirelessly towards our badges.  I’ll admit I was a little competitive when it came to wanting the most.  A few badges we would work on as a troop and the sewing badge was one of those. We all had to work on the same project and so what do a dozen tween girls agree on… jams.  So, who’s with me in remembering jams?  Surfer type short, baggy, bold fabrics and elastic waistbands, anyone?  They were the perfect simple project to earn a sewing badge.

There we are, troop 49, modeling our jam creating genius.

We all completed our jams and received our badges but at some point I discovered something was wrong.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I really hope you won’t share lest the Girl Scouts of America revoke my sewing badge, but my mom secretly took my jams apart and redid them so they’d be perfect.  Did I mention Mom is a bit of a perfectionist?  I don’t remember if I knew then or found out at a later date but this was a game changer.

One of my best friends at this point was a girl we’ll call Muffy.  Now Muffy’s mom and mine were like twins separated at birth, crafty, creative perfectionists.  But there was one big difference.  Muffy’s mom taught her to sew very young and then proceeded to act in only an advisory capacity.  Muffy made all her own clothes, her Barbies’ clothes and any other thing that struck her fancy.  Is that what I wanted?

I was faced with a dilemma.  I could learn to sew up to my Mom’s standards and then be the sole person responsible for my clothes or I could be morally outraged at her subterfuge in redoing my work and have my own personal seamstress indefinitely.  Yeah, I chose the latter.  I’d gotten used to seeing something I liked in a catalog or store and having it recreated in my choice of fabric without having to do much more than stand for measurements and the occasional pinprick.

This worked for years filled with custom tailored clothes, formal dresses, pajama, dorm room curtains, duvet covers, and all the alterations I could demand.  Then the unthinkable happened. I still can’t believe it.  Her sewing machine died and couldn’t be saved!  So, do you think she ran out and got a new?  She sure did, and she gave it to me for my 30th birthday.  Well played Mom, well played.

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Round ‘n Round We Go

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m going to let you in on a little secret… I’m currently obsessed with hats. I’m not sure if it’s just that fall has arrived in Michigan and hat wearing season has arrived or if I just like knitting in the round.  There is something so soothing about going round and round and never having to flip the knitting over.  It doesn’t hurt that most hat projects are completed in a few sittings as well.

Mary Mary scarf and matching hat

I recently completed the Mary Mary scarf for my mother and then had more than enough yarn to make a matching hat.  I took a basic cable hat pattern that used the same size yarn and needle as the scarf and substituted the lace portion for the purl stitches.  Other than getting distracted during the decrease and making the hat a little extra long, it turned out pretty cute.  Mom claims she gets lots of compliments but she may just be trying to make me feel good about myself.

My daughter is my biggest fan and often claims my creations before I can gift them to anyone else or wear them myself.  She would have tried to claim Mom’s hat too but she didn’t like the color.  We sent Mom back to the New Ewe to pick up the same yarn in a different color.  But then DD decided she wanted a unique pattern all her own with a pom pom.  While hoarding on pinterest, I found this pattern but for some reason the Finnish to English translation lost something.  I used the pictures as a starting point and created this hat for my girl:

Daphne’s Braided Cable Hat

Daphne in her braided cable hat with pom pom

*note: this is a child size hat and fits really snug on my 9 year old.  Definitely make adjustments in gauge depending on the finished size you want.

Yarn: James C. Brett Marble Chunky
200g/341 yards
Suggested needle size 6 mm or US size 10, 16” circular

Cast on 65 stitches using long tail cast on or your choice of stretchy cast on
Row 1-4: *Knit 9 purl 4 *
Row 5: *move 3 to cable needle hold to front, knit 3, knit 3 off cable needle, knit 3, purl 4 *
Row 6-9: as row 1-4
Row 10: knit 3, move 3 stitches to cable needle hold to back, knit 3, knit 3 off cable needle, purl 4 *

Repeat rows 1-10 two more times or until your work measures about 5 ½ inches (you may need to adjust the placement of your cable row in your decrease depending on where you are in your cabling when you begin decreasing)
Decrease row 1: *knit 9, purl 1, p2tog, purl 1*
D Row 2: *knit 9, purl 1, p2tog*
D row 3: *knit 9, p2tog*
D row 4: *knit 8, ssk*
D row 5: *move 3 to cable needle hold to front, k3, k3 off cable needle, knit 1, ssk*
D row 6: *knit 6, ssk*
D row 7: *knit 5, ssk*
D row 8: *knit 4, ssk*
D row 9: *knit 3, ssk*
D row 10: *knit 2, ssk*
D row 11: *knit 1, ssk*
Run yarn tail through remaining stitches and tie off.  Attach pom pom.
*repeat to end of round*

You could substitute k2tog for ssk in the decrease depending on your preference.

Notes on my Decrease:  Ok, here is where my lack of experience really shows.  I have only altered other patterns or followed hat patterns exactly so trying to figure out how to best decrease this design was a bit frustrating and pretty unsuccessful.  All the instructional websites I found were very math heavy and focused on working a decrease on a stockinet stitch.  Because I was working a fat cable, I wanted a decrease that would look good with the cable. I ended up decreasing too slowly which resulted in a pointy top.  Luckily, this hat gets a pom pom which effectively disguised my error. I’ve reworked the decrease for the purpose of this pattern.  I might make some other changes if I did this pattern again.  If you make this pattern, let me know how you decrease it and what you think of the results.

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Lost & Found

Mom has come through for all you costume lovers out there!  I haven’t mentioned yet that our family has a long history of hoarding  compulsive saving of everything that may some day become useful.  Lucky for me that includes the book that inspired my vegetable costumes: “how to make costumes for school plays and pageants” by Agnes Lilley ©1946.

I love that this book is geared towards teachers and building their collection of costumes for school plays and pageants.  How great would it be if kids could still perform in their elementary pageant?

As promised, here is the page that inspired my mom to dress me as corn on the cob and a pea pod.

 

As you can see from the instructions, Mom went above and beyond these basic instructions by adding quilting and padding to the costumes but this would be a great starting point for any would be costumer.

This book also includes instructions to create a variety of animals, fictional characters and ethnic costumes.  The center spread looks like you could create a live action “It’s a small world”.  There are also some basic stagecraft instructions and instructions on dying fabrics.  I’d be happy to scan and share any that you’re interested in.

 

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