Saturday, April 25, 2015

cinnamon roll bread attempt #1

Partial fail, but totally tasty results. My kids and I just gobbled up half a loaf before Daddy even knows the loaves exist! He's out running in the rain. I'm at home baking gooey, sugary baked goods. Yup, sounds about right.
Doesn't look so good, but tastes great
So I had this idea that I really like cinnamon rolls, and the results of the effort, but what if I could get the same (or similar results) with a little less effort? Meaning: I feel too lazy to make the frosting sometimes while the actual cinnamon rolls are baking, so what if I came up with a bread that had the cinnamon and the cream cheese frosting inside? No need to cut the dough into individual rolls, no need to frost afterwards....just cut into a loaf and get the same taste and texture. I'm weird, but that sounds appealing to me. You know, 'cause after you go through all the trouble making dough from scratch and letting it rise twice, who can be bothered to go those extra finishing steps of cutting the dough into rolls, and then frosting them? Ha ha. Probably most people who go through that effort have no problem finishing it to get the yummy rolls...but I'm not most people. Sometimes the excitement of making cinnamon rolls wears off before they're actually completed.

I didn't watch this bread as it baked (mistake number one). While I was checking up on Pinterest, the tops burned. I was only alerted when I smelled the distinct scent of burnt sugar coming from the kitchen (some filling had risen with the bread in the oven and spilled onto the floor of my oven). I had set a timer, but....I was also guessing on time and temperature, so it might have been a good idea to watch it. Also, there was a large hole (which you can see in the picture) once I got to the middle of the loaf, so some ingredients, baking time/temperature will need to be adjusted. But, when you eat it (and you have to eat it with a fork), it tastes exactly like a cream-cheese frosted cinnamon roll, except the bread consistency is a little better. Sometimes I don't like how the bread in the traditional cinnamon roll is not the highlight, but the cinnamon goo. While that goo is delicious, I want a more dense crumb to the bread that can hold up to the sugary-cinnamony goo. That probably only makes sense in my own head. But, you'll see...

Anyway: as an idea, I liked the results. I type this with a full and satisfied tummy. In the spirit of perserverence (most call it stubborness), I declare I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL THIS RECIPE IS PERFECTED!! I will attack this with the same fervor I attacked mastering sponge cake (which meant that my family members got full cakes delivered to them out of the blue). I even left one in the freezer of my parent's basement that they found six months later: it was still delicious. I also might have gone through dozens of eggs and a lot of sugar during that sponge cake phase. But, I was left knowing that I can make a technically perfect sponge cake if I want. I also was left with the knowledge that I don't particularly like sponge cake, and I might not ever make another one. But if I want to, I can. And that's what matters: the freedom to bake what I want. 

So, something to look forward to, folks: yummy ooey-gooey (but not too gooey) cinnamon roll bread. Mmmmm. I have a feeling I need to go stock up on sugar. Maybe my hubby can stop at the store and pick some up on his run. I'll text him.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ta-da! doll pattern doll

After yesterday's post about how to make your own pattern, I got really curious as to what the finished doll from the pattern we made would look like (if it would be as hideous as the first doll I showed you yesterday). Here's the verdict:
Well hello there big-headed, small footed cutie!
I added some felt hair in addition to the pattern yesterday, and changed the face just a little (the nose and mouth). For a doll from a first pattern, she's not too bad!

So when making your own pattern, now would be the time to make adjustments if you wanted to change some things. Like maybe you want a smaller head, or wider neck, or bigger feet, or maybe move the face down on the head, and/or make the face bigger. But no matter what, when you make something from your own pattern, it's definitely going to be one-of-a-kind. And I kinda like this big-headed, pixie-legged, chubby cheeked girl. I think I'll call her Lola.


Monday, April 20, 2015

making your own pattern for a soft toy (softie)

Making your own soft toys is not too difficult, and it is fun to see something that you created come to life. Not literally come to life (unless you’re a Toy Story believer of course), but something that came totally out of your own head coming to fruition can feel rewarding. Or….in the early stages, sometimes it can feel defeating. Drawing pattern pieces for your own softies is a trial and error, sometimes hit and miss experience. But with each new pattern, or tweak of a pattern, you learn something new.

I am going to show you the first pattern I ever made for a soft toy (a rag doll)……all so that you don’t feel too deflated if your toy doesn’t turn out how you imagine. I drew what I thought would be cute: a head, a face, a body shape and arms and legs. Here is the pattern I first drew on paper, and then glued to poster board and cut-out. I mistakenly thought that my first pattern would work out just as I imagined in my mind. Boy, was I wrong.
Finished doll can't be that bad, right? Or  maybe you can tell better than I can how horrible this is going to be...

And here is the finished doll:

I know!!!!!!! Hideous!! I didn’t even bother to finish sewing her up. In fact, I thought I had thrown her away, but she showed up a little while back. Apparently my toddler found some redeeming qualities in this doll, because she still will carry her around and hug her at times. So currently this poor creature lives in the toy-box, and is pulled out pretty much daily: a constant reminder of where this process started.

For your own pattern making, all you need, basically, is a head pattern piece, a body piece, and limbs. If you’re drawing an animal, sometimes you might need ears, tail, or other body part. Look at images online (of animals if you’re making an animal), or doll faces that you might like. Or you can rummage through the recesses of your own creative mind. There are lots of ideas in there, I’m sure. The important part is that all of the pieces need to fit together. So the head piece needs to fit exactly to the top of the body piece, as they will be sewn together. So if the bottom of your head piece is 5 inches, the top of your body piece needs to be 5 inches.

You also want to draw in seam allowances. I have used mostly quarter inch seam allowances in making my soft toys. So in drawing a pattern piece, sometimes I will draw the shape that I like, and then draw ¼ inch line around that to account for the seam allowance, which will change the shape of your pattern some. Keep in mind that once a pattern is sewed and stuffed, it will be a different shape and size than the drawing on your paper. For example, I’ve found that if you want a round head on a doll, the pattern piece needs to be more of an oval shape, with the long part of the oval spanning across the cheeks (meaning an oval on it’s side horizontally, rather than a tall, narrow oval).
You can see that the finished product doesn't look exactly like the pattern, but pretty close

I have also found that having extreme angles or sharp curves in a pattern doesn’t work with rag dolls. You want to mostly stick with gentle curves. Sharp curves can create puckering on the finished doll, and can make it look funny. There are methods that can help with avoiding some puckering, however, and we will discuss this when sewing our dolls.

In first drawing the pattern, I free-hand draw on a piece of white paper. I start with the head piece; all other pattern pieces I will draw to fit this head piece. This is not going to be perfect at first. It’s important to initially get your idea down on paper. Then you might get a ruler out to make straight edges straight (such as where head and body meet), or a plate or something else round to make your curved edges less bumpy.

I draw the face right on the pattern piece to see where I want to place things. How big do I want the eyes? Do I want them close together, or far apart? Do I want to make them round, almond shaped, or some other shape? Do I want to add eyelashes, eye brows, freckles or other facial features? I am partial to embroidering the features of the face, but there are of course other options: buttons for eyes or noses, or even hand drawn faces on the fabric using colored permanent marker or other marker. It all depends on the style you are going for.
the giraffe on left is from my first pattern (almond eyes), and the one on right is my current pattern (round eyes). The last giraffe is my sixth variation of the original pattern

Once I have a face and head that I like, I will cut it out with scissors. Then I fold it in half from cheek to cheek. I do this because I want my pattern to be symmetrical. This is important in making pattern pieces line up. I guess you could technically make an asymmetrical head if you wanted: if you’re purposefully going for that type of look for a zombie or monster doll or something. Anyway, once the piece is folded in half, I can see where edges might need to be trimmed to make both sides the same/symmetrical. An alternative to this is to originally draw only half your face on a folded piece of paper, so that when you cut it out, your head/face is automatically symmetrical.
Here I am drawing the head on a fold by using a plate

I have added a neck and seam allowance
I cut out the head pattern and with it still folded, held it up against a window to trace the eye, nose, and mouth on other side

Now I place this cut-out head piece on another piece of paper to draw a body piece. If you’ll notice on the pattern above, I have added ¼ inch on the bottom of the neck, and ¼ inch on top of the body piece so that those can sew together nicely (i.e. I accounted for the seam allowance in drawing my pattern). I use the same process for the body piece: draw a shape I like, and make it symmetrical, remembering that the finished piece will be at least ¼ inch smaller on all sides (even smaller when stuffed).
I drew the body here on the fold as well

Now I draw arms and legs in shapes I like. 
drawing arm using the body as a guide (paper under the body piece)

Drawing leg with body piece as guide. I also mark placement guides on the body piece as to where I want the leg to be attached

Technically you only need one arm and one leg pattern piece each since you want them symmetrical. Now here you have a decision: do you want to sew your doll together with the legs and arms already stuffed (in which you will leave the end of your arm and leg piece open where they join with the body), or do you want to stuff the arms and legs after the doll is sewn together (i.e. you’ll have to leave a section on length of each arm and leg open—when you sew it—to stuff after and then hand sew shut). There are pros and cons to each:

Pre-stuffing Arms/Legs:
  •  Pros: has a more finished look when done (because of less hand sewing), and there is less for you to hand sew.
  • Cons: It is harder to sew  around stuffed arms and legs when you are sewing the front and back together of the doll; making it more likely that you will sew over folded/distorted fabric.

Stuffing Arms/Legs After Doll is fully assembled:
  • Pros: it is much easier to sew the doll together when you do not have the added bulk of stuffed arms and legs inside.
  • Cons: it can take more time to hand sew each limb, and you can often tell where the hand sewn stitches are, making the toy look less polished. 
    hand stitched leg after stuffing: granted, I could have used a better stictch to hide it, like the ladder stitch

    I also hand stitched the opening between legs closed, and the legs are a little farther apart to leave space to pull doll right-side out and stuff

The pattern that I have been making in this tutorial is made with the intention of pre-stuffing the arms and legs. When first making rag dolls, I was partial to stuffing the arms and legs after the doll was assembled, but have moved to pre-stuffing the arms and legs. I also leave an opening in the back body piece of the doll where I stuff (this means my back pattern piece—you can see it pictured in the giraffe pattern—is two pieces that I sew together with a ¼ inch seam allowance, and leave 3 inches un-sewn in which to pull the doll right side out and stuff from the back). When I made my dolls in the method of not stuffing arms and legs first, I left an opening on the seam in between the legs of the doll in which to turn the doll right side out, and to stuff (see the rag doll picture). That meant that the legs had to be far enough apart to leave a space to turn the doll and stuff it, which affects your design of your doll. By placing the opening in which to turn and stuff on the back body pattern piece, I can make the opening to stuff the doll larger and I can place the legs of the doll close together if I want (like I did with the giraffe).  So this affects whether or not you mark a place to leave open on your pattern pieces for the arm and leg.
Here I am using the body piece we already made, folding it back in half, and placing it on a paper adding 1/4 inch to the inside for the seam allowance. This makes the back of the body pattern

back of body pattern with seam allowance. This pattern piece will make two sides of the back if placed on a folded piece (or on top of two pieces) of fabric. I wrote on the pattern the section that I do NOT want to sew so to leave an opening

Also, I draw my arm and leg pieces without a seam allowance. What?! Why would I do such a thing? I guess technically you still could (i.e. draw the shape you want and then add ¼ inch all the way around it), but when I trace the pattern on my fabric (using pencil or disappearing ink), I sew directly onto the line I have drawn (because the fabric is folded over on itself so I am sewing two layers together to create one arm or leg). After I sew directly on the lines, I cut the sewn piece out around the sewn line usually with pinking shears. But you can do it either way. I just like seeing the line I am sewing on directly because it helps me sew more accurately, making the arms and legs look better.

Here is an example of sewing right on the lines I drew: this is the giraffe arms and legs

So there are the basics of making your pattern. Make other pattern pieces as appropriate (i.e. ears). Here is the finished simple doll pattern we made today: 

Yay! Now we can make this little cutie
Of course, there is a time and place for making your own pattern and adjusting it, and sometimes you want a pattern that has already been tested and the problems have already been solved. If that’s the case, you can always find cute patterns online for purchase, or some are free. If you like the giraffe in this post, I will post a link to the pattern here (in my etsy shop) when the pattern is available.

I hope this has been helpful! We didn't address the issue of adding hair to a doll here, but if anyone wants that, I can post a tutorial later on putting yarn hair on a rag doll (like in the rag doll pictured above).

Upcoming post: a tutorial on putting the giraffe/rag doll together! (with lots of pics)

Friday, April 17, 2015

sneakity peak of giraffe softie

Hello again! It's been a busy week. I have been working on a new project! Lately I have been into making stuffed toys. I love the cute little expressions I can give the toys, and I truly get happy and have a feeling of love of (I know, weird) when I see the toy come together. I might even talk to it...."hello there, cutie!"

My toddler has claimed all five that I have made this week as her own. She shrieks if you try to take them away from her, and on the car-ride to the bus stop the other morning (for the older kids), she insisted on having all of them plus her lovies (two smelly bunnies that she can't sleep without) in the car with her. She looked like she was buried in an avalanche of giraffes. But she wasn't screaming, so we went with it.

Why have I made five so far? Well, it's all part of the process of making a pattern and then perfecting it. And sometimes I can be a bit of a perfectionist about certain things. Although I am proud to say that I have made great strides since my younger years in overcoming prefectionism.....yes, I misspelled that on purpose.

Friday, April 10, 2015

well hello there! wanna cookie?

...Except your parents probably told you not to take cookies from strangers. So how about a recipe for some cookies instead?

I did it: I'm blogging. At least I think that is what I'm currently doing... I am reminded of how Ryan created a basic Word document for Creed (on "The Office") to shield the world from Creed's thoughts, and what I'm typing now looks pretty much like a Word document... Anyway: Here I am, World! There is no Ryan to protect you. He was kind of a slime-ball anyway. You can do better.

So what do I have to say? Well, I hope to post mainly on food (baking is an addiction for me...seriously) and crafts (a fun new venture for me), with maybe a sprinkle of nutrition every once in a while. I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) by education and profession, you see. But that might mostly be to self-validate that there is some nutrition in all the goodies I like to make and eat. That's why I went to school: to tell the world it's okay to eat cookies. Not really, but that's what kinda came out of it.

In the spirit of the name of this blog, I decided to share a recipe of my mom's that I was too afraid of to try as a young child, but when I finally did, WOW! I realized that I had been missing out.

Orange-Carrot Cookies.

Yum. See? There's some nutrition in there. Carrots, people! and oranges (at least the zest). And don't forget walnuts. You've got your beta-carotene, some vitamin C, and omega-3's. Alright, I see that this will get annoying quickly. I promise I won't do that too often.

As a side note, you will notice that this cookie recipe uses shortening instead of butter. I am a self-proclaimed butter snob. And proud of it. 99.9% of my cookie recipes use butter. Butter just makes things taste sooooo much better. I also promise not to get too into food chemistry here, but I like the baking effects of butter as well. With that being said, this particular recipe actually works better with shortening. You can still use butter if you want, but the cookies will be a little more flat, and they won't look quite right. You can always mix part butter, part shortening too if you like. Hey, it's your cookie recipe now.

If you want to use rinsed canned diced carrots in this recipe (instead of cooking and mashing fresh carrots), they'll work just as well and save you some trouble. They're easy to mash because they're already cooked. Or you can cook them yourself; it's not too hard. It's up to you!

On how to cook carrots in the microwave, look here. You may want to add another minute or two in the microwave because you want these carrots to be easily mash-able.  The cool thing about cooking them in the microwave is that they also retain more nutrients in them than if you had cooked them on the stove. But I digress...

You can see from the photo that the carrots don't need to be pureed; just mashed. Some carrot bits in there are good.

After the dough is mixed, I drop it on the cookie sheets (using two spoons) in about 1 1/2 Tbsp.-sized mounds. Although I have multiple cookie scoops (and LOVE them), for this recipe I like the look that the cookies have when they are dropped on the cookie sheet. They look a little too round and perfect if I use a cookie scoop, and I want them to be a little more rustic. There's carrots in them cookies: rustic is good.
Look at all those yummy bits sticking out!

While the cookies are cooling on the rack, I make the orange glaze. This stuff is good. Have you ever had those pre-packaged orange rolls that you pop out of the can and put in the oven? (I admit that those are a favorite of mine). Well, the orange glaze is like the glaze that comes with those rolls, except better. You'll notice the recipe for the glaze includes "strong orange juice." That was how it was written for me by my sister (who copied the recipe for me years ago as part of a wedding gift). I use frozen orange juice concentrate (thawed of course). That seems to give it a nice orange flavor, as does the fresh orange zest you use in the glaze.

And now without further ado:

(Printable Recipe)

Orange-Carrot Cookies

(makes 3 dozen)

3/4 c. shortening (don't use butter or margarine)
1 c. mashed cooked carrots (about 2-3 cups raw)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c.all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. While oven is pre-heating, cream the shortening and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the egg and beat until light yellow in color (about a minute using a hand mixer). Add the cooked carrots and vanilla and mix well. 
  3. In separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add these dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Mix in the walnuts (if using them).
  4. Using two small spoons, drop little mounds of dough (about the size of 1 1/2 Tbsp) a couple of inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes (time will depend on oven and size of cookie). You do not want these to get overbaked; they should just be turning golden on the edges, and should  be puffy when done.
  5. Allow to set on the cookie sheet for one minute before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. 
  6. Glaze the cookies with the orange glaze while still warm (but not piping hot); you can place paper towels, foil, or parchment underneath your cooling rack to spare your counters. I dollop a little spoonful of glaze with a spoon and let it drizzle down the sides.  

Orange Glaze

1 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. strong orange juice (i.e. use some thawed frozen concentrate if possible)
1 pinch of salt
the zest of an orange (you can add more or less to suit your taste)
  1. Combine all ingredients together and mix. The consistency should be somewhat runny, but should still coat the back of a spoon. This is a glaze, not a frosting. Add more juice if necessary.

And that's it! You're all done! Now enjoy the delicious fruits...and vegetables... of your labor!

Yummy in my tummy!