2009-2014 Sewing: The Project That Just Refused to End

Back in 2004, I decided to sew the names of all my nieces and nephews (plus my honorary niece and nephew) in cross-stitch.  As of 2008, I had finished three of them, finally got them framed, and gave them as Christmas presents at the end of that year.  At that time, I had to face the fact that I was never going to finish.  I started out planning to make five and it took me four years to do four.  In the meantime, however, everyone just kept having kids (which is a good thing, of course!) and now, 11 years later, I would need to sew a total of 22 of these things to get all my nieces and nephews plus my friend’s kids (as seen in this post).

I don’t even really like to cross-stitch any more and it’s so slow that I knew I would never get them all done.  However, I had made three of the five for my one brother’s family and I know what it’s like to be part of a family in which the older kids get stuff and the younger ones don’t.  (Actually, I don’t personally know what it’s like because I’m the oldest so I always got everything. :) But I have heard my younger siblings complain about it.) So I forced myself to slog through and seven years later, here are two more! (The pictures are terrible and taken pre-framing, but you get the idea.)

IMG_0483 (640x177) IMG_0487 (640x218)(see the letter A in this post)

I do love this pattern.  The individual letters are so fun.  (Cross-stitch just isn’t my thing any more.)

IMG_0489 (640x426)Z for zebra, R for rainbow and rabbit (the R first seen in this post)

IMG_0490 (640x349)V for Valentine and violet (also Violet!), I for ice cream cone, O for Octopus,

IMG_0491 (640x286)L for ladybug and lamp, E for egg and elephant, T for top and turtle

So to Kaitlyn, Maria, Andrew, Adella, Alex, Annika, Gracie, Clara, Gabe, Ellie, Mark, Alex, Luke, Caleb, Abby, Ian, and Toby – your Auntie Laura/Aunt Laura/Mama loves you very much but she just doesn’t have it in her to sew any more of these.  I’ll sew you something else, OK? Just not cross-stitch!  It’s not you, it’s me! :)

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Possums and Fashion Advice (because those two things are totally related)

Today, Ellie and Mark would like you to see their clips (in case you need some ideas for how to get dressed up for your Memorial Day weekend festivities). Ellie put in her own (her new skill, remember?) and Mark chose his for me to put in.  I’ve include plenty of pictures, just to make sure you get the full effect (in case you want to copy it).

005 (640x427) (3) 004 (640x427) (3) 003 (640x427) (2) 002 (640x426) 001 (640x427)

And in other news, Mark has a new favorite friend.  He refuses to accept that it’s a racoon and insists on calling it his “possum”.  Our friend the possum was actually a childhood friend of one of my brothers. My mother was getting rid of some stuffed animals last year and we came home with the racoon, ahem, possum.

007 (640x427)Does it look like a possum to you?

006 (640x427) (2)

We hope you have a lovely weekend, however you are dressed and whoever you are with!


Posted in Ellie, just for fun, Mark | 2 Comments

Mushroom Magic

Last week, the kids and I were walking to our park and I spotted this lovely thing on our neighbor’s corner.

011 (640x427) (2)

Over the past few years, Nik and I have loved being a part of a group called the Baltimore Foodmakers.  There are a lot of foragers/mushroom hunters in the group and from them, I’ve learned a bit about the art of searching for mushrooms.  One thing I’ve learned is that big edible mushrooms often grow on trees, or dead logs.  I also knew that underneath that dirt, there was a huge stump left behind by the tragic loss of a tulip poplar back in 2012.  So I took a picture of it and emailed it to the group, mostly out of curiosity to find out what it was. A couple different people replied, guessing that it might be an oyster mushroom.  One exceeding kind friend, who has a lifetime of foraging experience to share (including TONS of mushroom knowledge), very kindly came over a couple days later and conclusively identified it as an oyster for us.  (Make sure you read clear to the end for some important mushroom safety information.)

This particular presentation of an oyster is evidently atypical. The fungus must have been desperate to flower and so forced its way through the dirt! Here’s a few more shots of it for the curious, wanna-be mushroom hunters out there.

012 (640x427) (2)bottom

019 (640x427) (3)side

020 (640x427) (2)top (after picking, in the shade)

021 (640x427) (2)cross-section

By the time I picked this one, it weighed just over two pounds and was definitely past its prime.  The edges were dried out and tough and the inner section was pretty tough too. My friend also identified an almost fishy smell to it, which meant it was old.  (It just smelled like mushroom to me.)  Even after cutting off the tough parts, I was able to slice up a good amount of it and we ate it sauteed with asparagus in a creamy garlic thyme sauce over pasta (as inspired by this recipe).  The mushrooms were delicious but definitely on the rubbery side (because it had grown too big by the time I picked it).

I still have a lot more to cut up because, beside the original mushroom, I found another one yesterday! This one was growing on the other side of the stump (which is still exposed).  It only weighed 7 ounces and is noticeably more supple.  We’re definitely going to eat all of this little one! (I likely will use most of the other huge one to make mushroom stock for soup.)

002 (640x427) (2) 004 (640x427) (2)Not that I know much at all about mushrooms, but judging from pictures I’ve seen on the internet, I think this particular oyster growth is much more typical of the way that oysters usually grow. 

My amazingly knowledgeable friend also asked me if I’d seen a particular kind of black beetle on them and I said, “Yes! Tons of them and so weird, I’ve never seen that kind before!” As it turns out, they only like to live on oyster mushrooms!  (Read more about them in this article. Those beetles are another way to positively identify it as an oyster.)

I’m not sure if we’ll get any more off of that stump.  There’s no shade there, which makes it non-ideal for mushroom growing.  We count ourselves really lucky to have found two of them and also to have a friend who could help us positively identify them so we could feel safe eating them.  I’m going to keep watching that stump like a hawk though!


A bit about foraging etiquette: I did ask my neighbor’s permission to pick the mushroom before I picked it.  I asked my foraging friend what I should do and she said that it’s common courtesy to ask permission if it’s clear that what you want to pick is on someone’s private property.  This evening I’m planning to take some of the good one over to him, to see if he’d like to eat some of it.  His tree did house it after all.


We would NOT have eaten the mushroom with only a visual identification from one picture.  Mushrooms can kill you or make you extremely sick.  The best way to learn about foraging for wild mushrooms safely is to find a super knowledgeable friend who can teach you.  My friend also taught us how to look for morels on a foraging walk several Aprils ago. I now feel fairly confident that I can safely identify oysters and morels.  Any other mushrooms?  I’ll be asking for help again!  In sum, (to quote my friend) please do not EVER eat a mushroom that you are not 100% certain of in terms of identity and edibility, either because you yourself have experience with that mushroom, or because you’ve had an experienced mycologist identify it for you.

Posted in cooking, gardening, house/neighborhood | Tagged , | 2 Comments

May Sewing: Inside-Out Bag of Consolation

I made a tote bag for my friend Katie for her birthday five years ago.  Recently, she had a disastrous occurrence with her apartment and I decided that the least (and really only) thing that I could do to help her was to make her another tote bag, with a different pattern but the same fabric combination!

So here it is, modified from the Inside Out Bag from Purl Bee.

This side has a big pocket.

001 (426x640)The other side has two smaller pockets.

002 (427x640)

I added a pocket to the inside.

003 (640x427)I also made pieced straps (rather than using the webbing called for in the tutorial.)

004 (640x427)

Finally, I also made my own bias tape and cut it on the bias so the dots would run across the edges.

005 (640x427) (2)

This was a fun, fairly quick, and relatively easy bag to sew.  Bias tape can be a bit fiddly so it probably would be a bit frustrating for a beginning bias tape use.  Other than that, it was easy and quick because it doesn’t have a lining.  I’m scheming about making one for myself now!  It might be my treat to myself for finishing up those dining room shades! :)

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Filling Up Your Cute Kid Cup for Today

Since the blog has been lacking in cute kids pictures for awhile (close to a month), here’s an assortment to brighten up your day!

Ellie is very proud of her new skill (just discovered yesterday)!

002 (640x427)Putting in her own clips! (usually there’s close to 9-10 of them.)

What are Mark’s new skills?

006 (640x427)Cutting with scissors! I blame the state of our dining room floor on him. (It has absolutely nothing to do with my total lack of desire to sweep every day.)

017 (640x427)Making bread!  Roll it, tuck in the ends, …

018 (640x427) (2)place it gently…

019 (640x427) (2)pat it down…

020 (640x427)and make your own bread!

My beloved son with his new big boy hair cut (as done by Nik):

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At a late April “It’s spring! There’s tulips!” play date in Sherwood Gardens:

IMG_0894 (640x480)

Here we are at a Tiny Tots Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert, three days after the riots swept through Baltimore.  Although the Meyerhoff was nearly empty (because so many field trips had been canceled), we were grateful to be part of the audience as the BSO claimed Leonard Bernstein’s words (written just after JFK’s assassination):

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

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Finally, this picture was taken the day after Christmas so I know, I’m posting it a little late.  I just found it on Nik’s phone and it’s the only picture (I think) that we’ve managed to get of the matching hats that Yiayia knitted them for Christmas!

nikphone 017 (640x480)out for a brisk, post-Christmas wagon ride

Posted in baking, Ellie, Mark | 1 Comment

May 2014/April-May 2015 Sewing: A [really imperfect] Table Runner

Last May, I decided that our table runner needed some help. I had brought it home as a souvenir of our amazing trip to Greece in 2008. I loved the ribbon embroidery on it and using it brought back all those great memories from that trip, particularly of Thassos, the island where we bought it.  Unfortunately, it also really annoyed me because it would never lie flat.  The outer layer of fabric had been sewn on incorrectly and it didn’t matter what I did, it always looks a bit messy.

007 (640x427)(Now I look at it and think, “I’m crazy, it was fine.”)

So, last May (as in 2014), I chopped off the outer edge, sewed on another linen border, turned it into a quilt sandwich, quilted it, and bound it.  (Basically, I turned it into a mini-quilt.) Then I realized three things:

  1. Linen is even more finicky than flannel.  Talk about impossible to keep straight!
  2. Even though I pinned it within an inch of its life, it still doesn’t lie flat after the quilting. AARGH! (Talk about not accomplishing my number one goal in doing this project.)
  3. The quilting I had done on the border was not enough to keep the batting in the middle from falling apart in the wash.  So I needed to hand quilt it.  NOT MY FAVORITE. (Plus I don’t really know how to do it.  Plus I was so de-motivated by the lack of flatness that I didn’t want to look at it ever again.)

It sat for almost a year until I picked it up sometime in April (purely because it was on my list), and started hand quilting on some flowers.  I have NO idea what I’m doing with hand quilting.  I have no idea how you make the back look as good as the front.  Luckily, the back of mine will never see the light of day. So here it is, in its unwashed, wrinkled, and way imperfect glory.

002 - Copy (640x301)The two left corners don’t even lie flat – boo hoo.

003 (640x427)center flower

004 (640x427)That section is my favorite of the ribbon embroidery!

005 - Copy (640x273)There’s the imperfect back, where you can at least see what I sewed.

I’m going to wash and dry it and hopefully it will shrink up some and look less wonky.  And then I’ll probably put it away and never use it.  Or maybe I will.  We’ll see.  Anyway, it’s done and off my list of projects hanging over my head!


This is my entry for Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.  I only have one more item on my list and I”m happy to report we’ve seen some progress on that front.  Hopefully, I’ll have something to show in the next couple weeks!

Posted in Greece, sewing | Tagged | 6 Comments

Delicious Pizza Crust Dough (soaked whole wheat)

This is the dough that we use when making homemade pizza.  It’s also delicious as pita on its own.  We bake it in the oven on our baking steel as well as grill it outside in the summer.  We use it for thin crust pizza and it has a really nice bite to it.  I haven’t tried it as a thicker crust although it does taste good as a thicker pita so it should be fine as a thicker crust as well. You’ll notice that this is only about 50% whole wheat.  I probably will experiment with upping the whole wheat flour in this but it’s so good this way, we don’t really want to change it!

We made pizza last Friday and I took some notes and pictures.  Look for an upcoming post about how to use this to make really delicious pizza at home!

033 (800x533)pizza dough in action! :)

Soaked Whole Wheat Pizza Crust dough

As adapted by Laura from a recipe in the Simply in Season cookbook
Yield: depends on how big you like to make your pizzas and how thick/thin you like your crust.  You should get approximate three to four 8-10-inch thin-crust pizzas from this.

Day 1

80 g yogurt (replace with raw apple cider vinegar if you want this to be dairy free)
215 g water
425-460 g whole wheat flour (see this post for more about how much ww to use)

Mix the water and yogurt together thoroughly.

001 (800x533) 002 (800x533)A whisk works best for this.

Add the flour and stir until fully combined.

003 (800x533)I usually get about this far with a spoon and then do the rest of the combining by hand.

004 (800x533)After mixing

Cover with a  damp cloth and let it rest for at least 12 hours up to 24.

Day 2

6 g active dry yeast
300 g warm water
Stir the yeast into the water until combined.

440 g bread flour
60 g extra virgin olive oil
12 g salt

Stir into the yeast/water mixture until mostly combined.

007 (800x533)It will look rough like this – that’s fine.

Get out your whole wheat dough that has been soaking.  You might notice that the outside layer of flour is signifcantly dark than the inside.  This is normal and just fine.

006 (800x533)hard to tell in this picture but the outer layer is darker.

Into your stand mixer bowl, layer clumps of both kinds of dough until you’ve put in all of both doughs.  This process isn’t totally necessary but really eases the combination of the two different doughs.

008 (800x533) 009 (800x533)full of dough

Start your dough kneading on low.  Fairly quickly, the two doughs will incorporate into one cohesive and uniformly colored dough.

010 (800x533)just at the beginning of kneading

Knead for approximately ten minutes or until smoothy and stretchy.  You will probably need to add more bread flour to get to the right consistency.  This dough shouldn’t be very sticky because we’ll be rolling it out for crust or pita.  It should clear the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.

011 (800x533)See how it’s sticking at the bottom?  I had to add a bit more flour.

012 (800x533)Now it’s clearing the bottom of the bowl.

014 (800x533)not really sticky at all

Place into a large floured bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and allow to rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

015 (800x533)This is a double batch and I let it rise a bit too long.  Luckily, it’s a very forgiving dough!

At this point, you can either bake it for pizzas or pita or you can freeze it to use later.  We freeze ours in 300 g balls.  300 g is about right for one pizza for us.  You’ll probably have to experiment to see how much dough you want in each dough ball.  To freeze, sprinkle a baking sheet with flour and place the balls of dough on it so that they aren’t touching.  Freeze until solid and then place in a freezer bag for storage in the freezer.

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To use from the freezer, allow for ample thawing time.  It does NOT work to defrost it in the microwave (big disaster, don’t ask me how I know).  I usually get it out in the morning and by early afternoon, it’s ready to use.  As soon as the dough has warmed to room temperature, you can use it.  It doesn’t have to rise again.

Happy pizza making!

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Posted in baking, recipe | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments