Parrot House Rooftop (aka Toddler Bed Tent)

What kid doesn't like a little hide-away?

What kid doesn’t like a little hide-away?

For close to two years now, my son has loved to pretend to be a baby parrot. I have no clue why a parrot in particular was chosen, but I made him (and his little sister, of course) a Halloween costume of wings & a parrot-head hat. I have a feeling he’ll be wearing it again this year. He may be a little obsessed! Both of them like to turn their bedroom into a parrot house (or houses) by re-arranging the furniture, hanging up blankets, etc. So I decided to make roofs for their little nests.

These are basically fitted sheets for the top of four-post beds. (I tried using a regular crib-size fitted sheet, but alas, too small. Darn, an opportunity to sew. *wink*) Dad built these cribs for his grandkids before each was born. The crib phase has 4 mattress heights, then the front piece can be removed and replaced with this short piece you see here, for use as a toddler bed. The final phase uses the back of the crib as the headboard and the front as the footboard of a full-size bed. Ingenious, really. 

Lovely cherry wood

Lovely cherry wood

Step one: Get some fabric. You could make sure it passes muster with the parrots before beginning, but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t mind whatever I used. I did want it to be something that would let a little light in.

Step two: Get some elastic. I had some old fitted sheets that were done in, so I cut the elastic off of them. I had enough to do the entire circumference of both roofs, with some left over, but I’m sure I could have gotten away with only doing the short ends of the roofs if I didn’t have as much.

 

Step three: Measure the bed & cut the fabric. See how deep you’ll need the roof to be by pinning it in place, then spread it all out & snip, snip! Mine didn’t need to be very deep, but if there’s more trim on your parrot’s nest, you may need to make some adjustments. I also didn’t make any allowance for the difference in height between the front edge & the back (the back has a curved trim piece whereas the front is, well, non-existant), but it didn’t matter. Thank goodness.

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Step four: Sew the corners. I sewed french seams to hide the raw edges, and then thought: what am I doing this much work for?? I guess I’ll count it as practice!

Step five: Sew on the elastic. If you are using old fitted sheets, leave about an inch or so of fabric attached to the elastic, then you’ll have an easy time of it, as you can just sew the two different fabrics together (see pic below). If you’re using new elastic, you could make a casing for it, or just stretch it out and sew it directly to the edge of the roof. I’d hem the raw edge first, though, or just make sure you’re well away from it so the stitches don’t pull out.

Hard to pull elastic tight with one hand, and take a pic with the other!

Hard to pull elastic tight with one hand, and take a pic with the other!

Perhaps this is self-explanatory, but it was such a fun, easy project, I thought I’d share!

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August

A recipe soon (a quite kick-ass one too, IIDSSM), but first, a tale based upon actual events:

August is when my list-writing gets out of hand. All summer, lists have been written—grocery lists, yard ideas, small plans for future dates, general to-do’s. These are well-behaved lists: written legibly, categorized in neat columns on a sheet of paper. Optimistic, energetic words that inspire organized action and accomplishment. Neat bullet points that are crossed off and then tossed in the recycling:
* yoga
* groceries
* call dentist
* grill PM
* paint

But as summer progresses and nears completion, the lists turn, and take on a panicked and accusatory quality. These are no longer to-do lists, but guilty lists of things not done; things that should have been done. Summer things whose viable time is rapidly diminishing:
“paint house, stain deck, beach soon”.

The structure of the August lists mirror the state of my brain. No longer are words written out in-full on neat note-pads. Gone are the prim bullet points. These are words scrawled on anything that is handy at the time, on scraps of paper that clutter every surface and get lost easily under things, including new lists.
The words are abbreviated to the point of incomprehension when unearthed days later:
“fab”,
“ging/pep ic”,
“tri mob”.

These lists are more plentiful, yet shorter, and document every aspect of my converging lives without attention to genre or scale:
“util bill, wrench, job ideas” share a shred of paper near the coffee maker;

“mulch, blog” under a stack of library books;

on the nightstand: “memories, IC recipes, coffee”.

Occasional words are boldly visible; judgmental:
“dentist!!!”, “FURNACE”,
while others with question marks are lost quickly, embarrassed, knowing they will not receive further consideration:
“fix laptop?”, “gym memb?”

Most of the August lists have been written out of compulsion or desperation–scribbled hastily to free up mental real-estate and then abandoned.
But at some point, these lists reach a critical mass and begin a gravitational pull toward consolidation.
For companionship, maybe.
Small paper fragments containing single words slip out from under magazines and bills and fall to the floor. They flutter down from countertops and shelves and begin inching toward each other. They origami-fold into little mobile creatures:
airplanes, paper cranes, butterflies, jumping frogs, and they begin to assemble in the living room.

When they’ve all extracted themselves from their nooks and crannies, I can see their immense volume and I back away uneasily. I unwittingly continue to add to their numbers with mental to-do’s that flow out of my head and collect with the paper lists.

In short time my living space is too uncomfortable to share with them and I’m forced outside. They creep toward the door, following, determined little reminders, so I start walking.
The direction doesn’t seem to matter, so I choose uphill, perhaps so the still-spilling words from my head will have a harder time following me once they hit the ground.
My pace is uneven at first and the lists tumble out of my brain in a chaotic flood, soaking the pavement behind me. But as my feet find their rhythm, the flood becomes a neater, two-dimensional sheet, and then thin further still to mere strands of connected ideas.

I climb further uphill and the traffic and asphalt give way to tall grasses and dirt. The words are not even a trickle now and I’m sweaty in the late-day sun, so with the drill of cicadas fatiguing me, I stop on the narrow path and rest. I sit down and look up, my brain still stubbornly trying to list, but there’s not a word, idea, plan, or thought left undocumented.
I lean back, relieved, and watch the sky. Tree branches have formed a catcher’s mitt for the setting sun and the tall grasses bend in over me. Wispy clouds are tinted orange and pink and, unable to help myself, I start forming a word with them—the only yet-unlisted word I can find.
I pull and shape the clouds to make letters:
S-L-E-E-P.
And now, finally, everything listed and my head peacefully empty, I lay down and close my eyes.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Pretty well, given the spring we had! Cold, cold, cold. I’m a Minnesotan to the bone, but it was getting pretty ridiculous.

Gonna get some tomatoes and everything, I think! I finally wised up and planted them in the flowerbed on the south side of the house. Why I didn’t do that years ago is beyond me! These lovely flowers are in there with them. 

Close-up of the aster-family flowers.

What is this??

What is this??

The plant on the right self-seeded itself a couple years back, but I have no idea what it is. The flowers are lovely little pink, sweet-smelling things, and its growth habit is kind of an open bush. Someday I’ll look it up… 

I also have some lovely rainbow carrots. Yellow, white, orange, red, and two shades of purple. 

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See the wee little zucchini hiding in the foliage? These guys are just starting, and the yellow summer squash are finishing up.

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Mmm, zucchini. Another hard one to get right in Duluth. Our horticultural zone is on the high side for our latitude, but the summer temps just don’t get that high. Which is fine with me, but the tomatoes, squash, & peppers don’t care for it!

Got some swiss chard, green beans, butternut squash, edamame soybeans, cilantro/coriander, and I’m trying quinoa for the first time! Nothing has that large a harvest, since I only have small beds, but that’s fine. It means I don’t get overrun too badly when things are all ripening at the same time!

Bright Lights mix.

Bright Lights mix.

So cute! Hope we have a late frost this year!

So cute! Hope we have a late frost this year!

Soon, very soon...

Soon, very soon…

Quinoa, before it's bloomed.

Quinoa, before it’s bloomed.

All right, one more picture: The most optimistic watermelon blossom ever.

Don't you understand there will probably be a frost in about 6 weeks??

Don’t you understand there will probably be a frost in about 6 weeks??

No watermelon this year. Maybe someday!

The White Canadian

Big Lebowski fan here. It had been a few years since I’d watched it and so I snapped it up when I saw it on the shelf at the library a couple of weeks ago. (Seemed like an odd match for the library, but who am I to question these things?). And to stay thematic and all of that, I love to sip a White Russian (or two) while I watch. However. I was out of coffee liqueur. What’s a duder to do?

Now, before I get to the bev recipe here, let me pause to share the sub-recipe for coffee maple syrup as well as the story behind it.

So, my fridge often looks like a mad scientist’s lab—jars full of iced teas, cold coffee, leftover miscellaneous, various liquids steeping and awaiting a culinary experiment–all often lacking labels, because I’ll remember, right? And, in the springtime, often a mason jar of maple syrup. Such was the case one fateful day when I made The Best Mistake Ever and I poured some leftover coffee in a jar containing not more coffee, but pure maple syrup, about a cupful.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook after the incident:

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“This is the single greatest culinary mistake I’ve ever made and you should try it:
1. Accidentally combine 1 part maple syrup with about 2-3 parts brewed coffee.
2. Curse the loss of maple syrup!!
3. Stop and think….
4. Simmer the stuff for a couple hours until reduced by half or a little more.
5. Super yummy coffee maple syrup to pour over everything. ”

It’s seriously awesome stuff. Really, I can’t think of much of anything that wouldn’t be better with the addition of this amazing concoction. Make it.

I have made it a couple of times since the accidental batch and I would recommend condensing down the coffee a bit before adding the syrup. This gets rid of some of the water and intensifies the coffee flavor.

What I do is boil the coffee till reduced by about a third (this is a great use for that old nasty coffee that’s been sitting on the hotplate for 2 hours) and then add about half the volume of maple syrup (so, that’s about a 2:1 coffee:syrup ratio, but definitely adjust to your tastes).
Heat the mix through till it thickens very slightly, but not too much or it will be sludgy when it cools. Cool it down, store it in the fridge, and pour it over and in everything.

Ok, to the cocktail!

Since I was lacking coffee liqueur but had a plentiful supply of coffee maple syrup, so was born the White Canadian:

Whole milk (or half-and-half or cream)
Coffee maple syrup
Vodka
Ice

I didn’t measure anything out because it’s all what you’re in the mood for regarding sweetness, creaminess, booziness… Just stir it up–no frills here.

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Abide, eh?

Make Your Own Tote Based On A Plastic Shopping Bag

Plastic shopping bags are sure handy. If only I didn’t feel that twinge of guilt whenever I don’t stop the bagger and say, “Paper, if you don’t mind…” Or better yet, if I had the brains to remember to bring my own dang bags! But I do reuse mine as garbage bags, or to pack a lunch, or, or, or. But they rip pretty easily, and really, they aren’t the most attractive packaging on the planet. So why not make a cloth version? After all, I do have a huge stash of fabric spilling out everywhere a little fabric somewhere in my house. Flattened bag, cut in half and trimmed.

Cut the “welds” off the top of the handle and the bottom of the bag. Cut the whole bag in half down the middle, as shown, and trim the sides of the handle part. (In retrospect, I should have made the handles narrower by trimming that right-hand curve in a little. Sewing that narrow curve was kind of a pain.) This is your pattern. The cut will go on a fold, and you’ll make 2 pieces. Put the pattern on the wrong side of the fabric so you can use a pen to mark your cutting lines. image Once you have your 2 pieces, align them wrong sides together and sew a narrow (1/8″) seam.

Wrong sides together...

Wrong sides together…

...and right sides together, to hide the raw edges inside the seam.

…and right sides together, to hide the raw edges inside the seam.

Then flip things inside out, and sew a 1/4″ seam, to hide your raw edges.

Now fold the handles at the top, the way they are on your original plastic bag. Follow this alignment down to the bottom, and pin & stitch that puppy shut. Then bind it with some non-bias tape made from matching scraps, because it’s too early in the morning to realize I could have just turned the bottom up once, then folded it, and stitched it shut with no raw edges showing. Next time.

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All lined up.

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If you look close, to the left of the handle, you can see my learning curve with the cutting mat. I should have used scissors on the tight curves, because I gouged out little chunks with my rotary cutter. Oops. Good thing it’s reversible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, anyway, here’s how I did the binding on the bottom. Cut some strips, about 1.5 to 2″ wide. I had some selvedges to use, so I made them go on the ends, and joined a little middle section to make it long enough. When you’re joining binding like this, always do it on the diagonal, that way the chunkiness of the seam is spread out. I would have used bias tape, but I don’t want this to stretch, and there are no curves to make bias tape necessary.

image image image Stitch the binding tape to one side, close to the edge. (You can also see how I tried to tuck in the raw edges at the corner.) Next, wrap the tape around to the other side, and pin in place. Then tuck in the raw edge of the tape, starting at one end, and re-positioning the pins as you get to them. The 2 edges are off-set; this is on purpose. Then flip the bag over, and stitch along the line between the binding and the bag. imageThis is the finished seam from the other side.

On to the handles! Zigzag the raw edges, turn them under, and straight-stitch them down. image image image You can see in the third picture how the narrow curve is kind of wonky. That’s what I was talking about in the pattern-cutting pictures above. I was lazy, and didn’t use bias tape to finish the raw edges at the top. I justify it by believing it’s less bulky this way… but really I think tape would have made the bag look more finished. I would probably have had to make the curves more gradual, though.

image image Final stretch! Now sew the handles together at the top, right sides together, like the pic on the left. Then fold the seam allowance to one side and fold the handles in half, as they are on a plastic bag. Stitch across below the seam allowance, pivot, stitch up to the first seam line, and stitch back to the start. Now the handles are joined, and the seam allowance is nicely contained.

Here’s the finished product!

PS: Holly, recognize the cloth?? :^)

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Toddler Pajamas from an XL Long Sleeve T: Part the Second: Pants

Here we go with the bottom half of a set of PJ’s. In my opinion, these are even easier than the shirt; certainly they’re less fiddly.

Sleeves, aligned.

Sleeves, aligned. And blurry.

Line up the sleeves of the shirt you hacked up earlier. The seams are on the top of this pic.

Find a pair of pants that fit your kid loosely through the bottom & upper legs. The length doesn’t matter as much, as it is easily changed. Line up the pants on the shirtsleeves, thusly:

Smooth them out where you can.

Smooth them out where you can.

Make sure the pants are folded neatly in half (back-side out), with the seams of the pants lined up with the seams of the sleeves. Pull the crotchular region out into a nice point; just generally try to get the shape of the pants to be as smooth & even as you can. The elastic will bunch the top up, but you should be able to visualize where the fabric would land if that weren’t happening.

The black band at the top is the elastic I used. I wanted to get all the length out of the sleeves as I could, so I put the elastic up at the top to see just how small a seam allowance I could get away with.

Now draw a line, or just cut if you’re braver than I am.

Cut through all 4 layers of fabric, maintaining a quarter-inch seam allowance. These pants will be reversible as-is, if you want a definite front & back just cut out a dip in one side of each leg.

If you have a rotary cutter & mat, just go through everything all at once. (I just got one the other day, and WOW!)

If you have a rotary cutter & mat, just go through everything all at once. (I just got one the other day, and WOW!)

Pin the crotch seam, right sides together, and sew.

Pins are your friends!

Pins are your friends!

Zig-zag wil show, but it beats having to mend ripped seams later.

Zig-zag wil show, but it beats having to mend ripped seams later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Measure out some elastic. If your kiddo is handy, wrap it around their waist, otherwise just use the pants as a gauge. Remember to leave some length to sew it together.

Use the elastic to measure the width of your waistband/elastic casing.

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Pin & sew, remembering to leave a gap to thread the elastic into. Grab a large safety pin, and do that, sew the elastic together, and tuck into the waistband. Sew the opening shut.

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The cloth itself will likely not have to stretch to get over your kiddo’s hips, so you can use a straight stitch to sew the waistband, but if you think it might get stretched, use a zig-zag to be on the safe side.

I also like to sew vertically through the finished waistband in 3 or 4 places, to keep the elastic from twisting inside the casing. It doesn’t show much; the gathers hide it.

And they’re done!

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Apparently I forgot a pic of the finished shirt from my last post, so here it is as well.

 

 

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What you don’t see here, is the actual finished shirt. As a pattern, I used a shirt whose fabric was far stretchier than regular cotton t-shirt fabric, so this shirt here was impossible to get on my dear daughter’s little bod. Cursing (under my breath, ha) ensued, and I cut two 2-inch-wide strips of fabric the length of the underarm/side seam, sewed them in, hemmed them, and then put the shirt on her. Muuuch better. Uff da.

Ginger Black Pepper Cherry Cobbler

I ended up with a case (18 pounds!) of organic sweet cherries a couple of weeks ago because the Co-op had an Extreme Produce Sale and who could say no to $1.50/lb organic cherries?! Not I.
So, I pitted those suckers (it looked like a crime scene on my countertop ..) and now I’ve got a freezer-full of cherries to make into things!
I was going to make a pie using this recipe (adjusting slightly because I don’t have sour cherries) for a potluck, but then changed my mind because pies are difficult and messy at a potluck. So, cobbler!
I sort of {ahem} cobbled {knee-slap} this recipe together using some of the black pepper ginger syrup I had in the fridge for the cherry base and the shortcake recipe I’ve been refining and using this summer for the topping (a mash-up of the crust from the pie recipe linked above and shortcake recipe from Williams-Sonoma).
The ginger and black pepper add a subtle zing to the not-too-sweet cherries. The biscuit topping is scone-like and all the better with the bit of almond meal.
And paired with almond whipped cream, it was a hit!

Recipe:

Cherry Base
Approx 3.25 lbs sweet cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup black pepper ginger syrup *
4 tbsp corn starch

Biscuit Topping
3 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/2″ pieces and kept chilled
2 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream**, plus more as needed

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 9 x 13 pan.

2. Mix the cherries and sugar in a large pot and heat over medium heat. Cook until the cherries release their juices and the sugar dissolves.

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3. Whisk together the ginger syrup and corn starch in a small bowl. Once the cherries are hot, add the syrup-corn starch mix and increase heat a little to med-hi. Stir regularly as everything heats and thickens. Once the mix is thick and jam-like, remove from the heat and set aside while you make the topping.

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4. Whisk the flours, sugar, BP, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the diced butter and, working quickly to keep everything cold, combine the butter and dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingers till the butter is incorporated, but there are still slightly larger chunks of it remaining—that somewhat uneven texture they usually call “coarse meal”.

5. Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl and then pour into the flour-butter mix. Stir everything together gently with a spoon till it forms a dough, but not past the point where the flour is moistened. If it looks too dry, add more cream by the tablespoonful till it all comes together. Don’t over-mix!
The dough can chill at this point, but it’s not essential.

6. Spoon the cherries into the 9 x 13 pan. Take spoonfuls of the dough (about golf ball-sized) and drop on top of the cherries, covering the top.
(I ended up using only about three-quarters of the dough, so I froze the rest for a later use.
…And by later use, I might mean sneaking off hunks of it with a paring knife to snack on when my daughter’s not looking…)

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Pop it all into the 375 oven for between 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the cherries have bubbled up through the topping and the topping itself is nice and golden.

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Yum.
Now for the whipped cream. For a crowd, I used a pint of heavy whipping cream, a scant quarter cup of sugar, and about 2 tsp of almond extract.
Ideally, whip the cream in a cold metal bowl because it goes faster.
You can, of course, use an electric handheld mixer or standing mixer with ballon whip, but I really like to whip cream by hand with my trusty old whisk.

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Why?
I’m not sure and I could certainly philosophize on the subject (really, why does one do anything a harder way when an easier way to do it exists …?), but I think it’s because of the connection to the process and being able to really feel the cream change states.

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Whatever the reason, I do really recommend doing it once in your life just to say you have. It will hurt your arm a little, but it doesn’t take any longer than with a handheld mixer, so pop on your Devo cassette and get whipping!

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Chow down, or get this all to your gathering quickly! This dessert is at its finest when the cobbler is warm and the cream is cold.

* If you don’t want to (trust me, you WANT TO) or don’t have the time to make the ginger syrup, here are two things to consider:
1. I made this recipe much quicker by making a few changes:
a) I scrubbed, but didn’t peel the ginger–you’re straining it out after all.
b) I coarsely ground the pepper.
c) I heated the syrup and let it simmer for about an hour on low heat. It infuses much faster with heat.
2. Instead of the syrup, you could just add about a half cup more sugar and a little ground ginger and ground black pepper to the mix. Then whisk the corn starch in a quarter to half cup of cold water before adding to the hot cherries.

** I’ve used whole milk instead of cream and it still makes a yummy biscuit.