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  • Curry in a hurry

    One of the hardest things about having little kids and working in retail is that I don't get to cook as much as I used to. Since we got the CSA delivery, we have a wider variety of produce and so I've been trying some new recipes again. But mostly we rotate through easy-to-make dinners that the kids like, so it's a lot of mac 'n cheese and pizza. 

    I do have a few reliable recipes, though, that are ridiculously easy to make. And this curry is one of them. You only need one pot and four things:

    • Whatever veggies you have on hand, maybe 6 cups total

    • A can of coconut milk (half and half works great, too)

    • Concentrated curry paste - Indian, Thai, whatever you like! I use about half a jar per batch. 

    • 90-second rice pouch

    Basically all you have to do is saute the veggies, add the curry paste and coconut milk and let it simmer until all the veggies are cooked through. If you wanted to add some cubed chicken or other meat, that works too. While it's cooking you microwave the rice and you're good to go. 

    I'm not a believer in cooking one type of veggie for a few minutes, then taking it out and cooking another and so on. Just dump it all in. (The only exception would be if you are trying to render fat from meat and use that to cook with). I really like broccoli and potatoes, but carrots, peas, bell peppers, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, greens and all kinds of other veggies will work. 

    This recipe checks a lot of boxes, too. If you use coconut milk, it's vegan. Put it on cauliflower rice and it's Paleo. Use more meat and fewer veggies if you want more protein. Use basmati instead of brown rice. You do do! 

    The curry paste has all kinds of flavorful spices, so you don't have to add anything. Maybe a little salt and pepper, if you like. Try it! You will love it. 

  • DIY Brobee cake

    I'm excited to share the cake I made for Harper's 2nd birthday because it was one of those rare DIY projects that turned out exactly like I hoped it would. But it also took a last-minute change of plans to get there, and that's worth sharing, too.

    If you haven't yet discovered the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba, I highly recommend it! It's one of those kids shows that is very much for parents, too. Lots of quirky actors guest star with their "dancey dances" and indie bands play songs. (We record old episodes on Nick Jr. so we always have some to watch.) It's kind of like if Barney was on an acid trip or something. Strange, but lots of fun. And Harper's favorite character is Brobee, the little green guy.

    I figured I could fashion a Brobee cake by making one rectangular cake the body and another cake the arms, which did work. I decided to make one 9x13-inch chocolate cake and one 9x13-inch vanilla cake so people would have more than one flavor option. I used boxed mixes to save time, but I can also recommend the recipes we used for our wedding cakes, which I blogged about on Goodsmiths (RIP...).

    The body and legs were easy. I just removed a long skinny triangle to create legs. For the arms, I cut the chocolate cake into thirds lengthwise, and used two of them for arms. I rounded the corners where the hands would be and cut the bottom of the arms at an angle so they would fit next to the body. The other third I cut in half and made one part the head and used the rest to cut triangles to go on top of the head.

    That left a lot of delicious cake to snack on.

    I had to add a little piece of vanilla cake right next to where the head attached because there was a height difference. Then I smoothed it all over with one layer of buttercream frosting. It took every last bit of a half batch of buttercream to cover the cake.

    I did this part the night before so that I wouldn't be overwhelmed with cake decorating right before the party and I'm so glad I did. Here's what he looked like before the final decorating.

    By the way, I used a piece of foam core board covered with parchment paper to hold the cake. It worked really well. I certainly didn't have a plate big enough to hold a cake like that.

    This is where I had to stray from my original plan. Inspired by this Pinterest post, I had gone out and bought some piping bags and a grass tip at JoAnn (who has an amazing selection of cake decorating tools, if you need any). But when I started piping on the buttercream it very quickly started going wrong. The "fur" was coming out all squiggly and then eventually the tip kept getting clogged and it would squirt out way too much. So I kind of stopped for a minute and decided it was not worth the effort it was going to take to keep using that tip. So I abandoned it and just spread on the frosting with my favorite little offset spatula. And though it took some precision, it was much faster and it looked great.

    I've had mixed results with gel paste food coloring so I ended up buying a bottle of liquid green food coloring to dye the frosting. Basically I added enough food coloring (combined with a little bit of yellow I already had) to get a light green color. I frosted on all the light green stripes. Then I mixed in more green to make the remaining frosting darker and used that to fill in the dark green stripes. This is where it really helped to have a Pinterest photo and a stuffed doll to look at for inspiration.

    For the details on the face, I used these Wilton decorating icing bags that come with tips on them. I bought one white, one black and one red (about $3 each). I just freehanded the eyes, mouth and unibrow and then iced over the triangles on the head.

    I feel like it was just luck that the icing came out the perfect thickness for the details I needed. The mouth was especially easy.

    It's one of those things where you have to take a deep breath and accept that you have one shot at getting it right. I suppose you could scrape off the frosting if you messed it up and try again, but I was really hoping not to have to do that.

    In the end, Brobee looked like this. (I wiped off the excess crumbs with a wet cloth before serving the cake.)

    The cake was a huge hit, and I think people really appreciated the two-flavor option. I also made some gluten-free cupcakes with green frosting. I'm finding that option to be more important now (plus some people just like cupcakes!).

    The most important part, though, was that Harper liked the cake. She was so excited when everyone sang to her, and she definitely ate a piece of cake.

    It was even better with the homemade coconut ice cream our friend Joanna brought. You know you have good friends when they bring you something like that!

    I don't know how much it would have cost to buy a cake like this from a bakery, but I'm guessing several hundred dollars. I think with everything, including the frosting supplies, I spent about $30 to make this cake. Plus, I love being able to do something like this for her. Sometimes — often — I feel like I don't know what the heck I'm doing as a mom. But damn it, I can make a cake. 

    The next day, this was all that was left of Brobee, so I think it was a success.

    Next year, Daniel Tiger?

  • Homemade pastry pups

    We made these for New Years and the Superbowl and they were SO GOOD. They're basically just a homemade version of Trader Joe's Pastry Pups. Which are like a fancied up version of a pig in a blanket.

    I always liked the way they used puff pastry instead of plain bread. So I thought, why not just roll up some 'lil smokies in a puff pastry sheet and call it good?

    So basically all you do is thaw 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough and then unfold them (one at a time) on a cookie sheet. At this point you have the dough kind of naturally divided into thirds. So just cut along those folds so you have 3 pieces. then cut those in half to get six. Then cut diagonally across each piece to get 12 triangles.

    No need to spring for any kind of fancy dog. These store-brand ones were great.

    Then roll up a dog in each piece of dough and place them a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet. (You could sprinkle them with a little parmesan cheese here, although I didn't and I don't think they need it.)

    I think I baked them at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. But just check on them periodically and take them out when the dough is puffed up and starting to brown. 

    They are so yummy dipped in a little mustard.

    Make both sheets because 12 will not last very long at all. Trust me.

  • Arm knit cowl pattern

    I'm happy to say that my first knitting class went very well. We had a huge turnout — 16 people. Which is a challenge as far as helping each person goes, but it was fun to see that many cowls come together in all different colors.

    I put together a tutorial for the class and I thought I would make it available here in case anyone wants to give arm knitting a try. It's certainly helpful to have the in-person instruction of a class. But there are a lot of helpful YouTube videos that are great if you are trying to teach yourself.

    Download the PDF here.

    The pattern shows you how to make either a single loop or longer double loop cowl.

    I'm thinking that teaching more classes could be a really great next step for me in my business. So I'm trying to come up with more ideas for quick and easy projects. After churning out so many of the same design it's fun to put on your super creative hat sometimes!

  • Toddler team pom poms

    A while back I tried making Harper some pom poms in Packers colors, and they turned out as adorably as I'd hoped. Unfortunately, though, they did not hold up to being flung around by a toddler. The strings started falling out pretty much immediately. I had made them with a traditional pom pom technique (wrap the yarn around and around something, tie it off, then snip through both ends). And as with pretty much every other pom pom I've ever made that way, it didn't last. So, back to the drawing board.

    I figured that the problem was that the strings needed to be reinforced so that you couldn't just pull one out. They had to be strung together. So I gathered up all the loose pieces and very carefully wove a string through the middle of all of them. It took a while, but it totally worked! Harper has been playing with her pom poms ever since. We occasionally lose a string, but it's rare.

    We cheer for a lot of teams in this house, so I've been making her more in some other colors. I found that this Hometown USA yarn in team colors actually works for quite a few teams with the same color combinations. But you could also just buy a skein of each of your team's colors and mix them together.

    This pattern is for teeny toddler-sized pom poms and only takes one skein of yarn. If you want them bigger, use a full skein for each pom pom.

    Toddler team pom poms

    Materials:
    • 1 skein Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn in your team's colors (or 2 skeins, one of each color)
    • ruler
    • sturdy string or embroidery floss
    • needle big enough to thread the string
    • scissors

    Instructions:

    Start by cutting your whole skein of yarn into 12-inch pieces. You can just stretch the yarn out next to a ruler to get the size right. Then once you have a few cut you can use one of the pieces as your guide.

    Divide the pieces into 2 even piles. Start with the first pile.

    Thread the string through your needle and start piercing it though the middle of each piece of string. One way to make sure you get it through the exact middle is to fold the string in half first.

    As you work, the pieces will start forming a line. Every now and then you might need to cinch them up a little bit so you have room to add more.

    When you're finished, it should look like this.

    Now bring both ends of the string together and pull to cinch up the pom pom. Keep pulling until it's really tight, then tie a knot.

    Just to get the pom pom nice and secure, wrap the string around the outside of the bundle of yarn one or two times and tie another knot. Now you can snip off the remaining string.

    If you need to you can also snip off any pieces of yarn that are sticking out too much. Repeat this process with the second pom pom.

    All done! It takes a while to thread all those strings, but trust me, it's worth it to have the pom pom hold up over time. Harper loves hers. Go Royals!