Apr 302014
 
My Easter isn't complete without a little knitting.  Here: a rabbit from Debbie Bliss' Toy Knits.

My Easter isn’t complete without a little knitting. Here: a rabbit from Debbie Bliss’ Toy Knits made from a remnant of beige yarn.

Making Easter outfits for my children has been one of my traditions in the last few years.

This year, my Easter outfits were inspired by a treasure trove of yarn samples. I ordered some wonderful hand-dyed yarn from Cheryl Potter this past fall during a terrific sale she was holding and was surprised to find that I was one of the lucky recipients of a free goodie bag for the first 200 orders.

Woohoo!  This was quite the goodie bag!

Woohoo! This was quite the goodie bag!

The exploded bag, full of wonderful yarns, buttons, patterns, stitch holders and crochet hooks and even a free sweater in my size!  I was blown away.  Cheryl Potter has set a new standard for goodie bags.

The exploded bag, full of wonderful yarns, buttons, patterns, stitch holders and crochet hooks and even a free sweater in my size! I was blown away. Cheryl Potter has set a new standard for goodie bags.

The free sweater!  A perfect fit!

The free sweater! A perfect fit!

So, I had all of this really cool yarn. Most of it was much nicer than the stuff I usually knit with. But the only problem was that I had just a random ball here and there to work with. Most knitting patterns need at least 4-5 balls of yarn in the same color. What to do?

Well, I decided that this yarn was just too awesome not to knit with so I decided for the girls that I would make a sort of tunic with knitted accents. Wherever the knitting ran out, I would sew the rest with scraps from my fabric stash.

Scooters

My girls are infatuated with scooter skirts (skirts with shorts attached) lately. They love to wear them alone or with leggings underneath. They add a fun, feminine touch to just about any outfit.

I considered making my own scooter skirts for the Easter outfits but then I saw these for $5 and decided to take the easy route and just buy this part of the outfit. I wanted pink for both but had to settle for one bright peach and one pink in the sizes that were available.

Nothing better than a scooter skirt on sale!

Nothing better than a scooter skirt on sale!

Floral and Lace

The first yarn to inspire me was the purple cotton yarn. It screamed Easter. I looked around for a pattern to work with and I found a free pattern on the Rowan Yarns website from Zoe Mellor that was just perfect.

Of course, I didn’t have enough to make the entire sweater but all I really wanted was the flower motif in the center.

The knitted flower detail.

The knitted flower detail.

For the finished tunic, I created an apron-style tunic, added some lace accents and a tulle hem (inspired by the H&M catalog).  I loved how feminine it came out.

For the finished tunic, I created an apron-style tunic, added some lace accents and a tulle hem (inspired by the H&M catalog). I loved how feminine it came out.

The finished look.

The finished look.

The back full of gathered lace and tied at the neck.

The back full of gathered lace and tied at the neck.

Ruffles

Working with the peach color was a bit trickier than I was expecting. I decided on the yellow cotton yarn to pair with it and was pleased to discover that the yarn had flecks of orange, purple and green in it that worked quite well with the peach.

Generally I don’t do much patterning with variegated color yarns because it doesn’t show up very well. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with this yarn until I came across this pattern.

I loved the ruffle detail and thought I had just enough yarn to make the ruffle top. I had to alter the pattern slightly for my purposes. I changed how much it ruffled and added rows of crochet on the backside to keep the yarn edges from curling the wrong way. I also made the straps cross for more stability.

The finished ruffle dress with white body, gold sequin hem and gold satin accent.

The finished ruffle dress with white body, gold sequin hem and gold satin accent.

This outfit came out a little quirky/Coachella style unintentionally but I just decided to go with it. When paired with bohemian braids, it just seemed to work.

2014-04-29-ruffle-front

2014-04-29-ruffle-rearview

The tied-back braids pulled this look together.

The tied-back braids pulled this look together.

2014-04-29-girls-outfits

2014-04-29-girls-dresses

The Vest

I was ready to call it all done at this point when it suddenly dawned on me that I have another child to think about . . . my son!

I am so used to making frilly creations for my daughters that I wasn’t sure where to even start for my son. I only had two choices from the yarn stash that weren’t pink: gray with green flecks and beige. I also didn’t think it would work to make him a combination knitted and sewn outfit like the girls.

It took a lot of creative thinking but eventually I stumbled across this pattern

I matched up the gray and green yarn with a few other balls of remnant yarn from my grandmother’s collection: a green cotton, navy wool and another ball of similarly shaded gray yarn. I had to alter the pattern to fit my random yarns and to resize it for a toddler. Knitting like this requires a leap of faith. I didn’t know exactly how far I was going to get with the yarn I had and had to make several impropmtu adjustments to the pattern as I went. Amazingly, it all seemed to work!

The bottom ribbing and the extent of the gray-green yarn.

The bottom ribbing and the extent of the gray-green yarn.

The coordinating gray yarn I found from my grandmother's collection.  It wasn't an exact match but in most lights it was close enough.  I though the effect was kind of like the way the stone on the Washington Monument doesn't match exactly but it coordinates.

The coordinating gray yarn I found from my grandmother’s collection. It wasn’t an exact match but in most lights it was close enough. I though the effect was kind of like the way the stone on the Washington Monument doesn’t match exactly but it coordinates.

The finished vest.

The finished vest.

Ideally, I would have made the vest a few inches longer but I just didn’t have enough yarn.

The finished vest on my son.

The finished vest on my son.

My husband I thought that the vest was perfectly cute on my son. It took some convincing to get my son to put the vest on for pictures but after he had it on for a while he stopped tugging at it to get it off. Next year with a little more planning I hope to make him another that fits better.

So, now we were all dressed up with noplace to go . . . except we did have someplace to go . . . and I’ll tell you about it in the next post!

 Posted by on April 30, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 282014
 
Time to celebrate!

Time to celebrate!

Thank you for all the great comments and questions on my last post about the end of my Lenten healthy eating experiment! I will be getting to your questions soon. First, I need to take a short mental break from dieting to catch up on all the other things we have been doing.

First, I think it is only necessary to comment on all the wonderful foods we enjoyed on Easter. Just as “work hard, play hard” is a maxim many people aspire to, “diet hard, feast hard” is probably the corollary.

I spent almost all day on Saturday in the kitchen preparing for Easter.

Easter Egg Dyeing

Earlier in the week, my children decorated hard boiled eggs.  I found these egg painting kits at the dollar store and bought one for each of them.  It was a little hard to get the eggs in and out but other than that, they were easy to use and the paints washed off of skin easily with soap and water.

Earlier in the week, my children decorated hard boiled eggs. I found these egg painting kits at the dollar store and bought one for each of them. It was a little hard to get the eggs in and out but other than that, they were easy to use and the paints washed off of skin easily with soap and water.

Each child had a unique egg painting technique: here fingerpainting,

Each child had a unique egg painting technique: here fingerpainting,

My son prefers to mix all the paints together into mud-like colors and paint the eggs with that.  His brown eggs were actually quite beautiful.  My daughter said they looked like dinosaur eggs.

My son prefers to mix all the paints together into mud-like colors and paint the eggs with that. His brown eggs were actually quite beautiful. My daughter said they looked like dinosaur eggs.

This daughter preferred to paint in bold stripes.

This daughter preferred to paint in bold stripes.

The gorgeous finished eggs!

The gorgeous finished eggs!

Menu

My menu of Easter foods was eclectic. The children had some sweets picked out that they wanted. I wanted to make a traditional Greek Easter bread as a reminder of my heritage. For the main courses, however, I tried to choose clean eating recipes so that we would have at least a few healthy things among all the treats. Some of the recipes I had been eyeing during my diet.

Greek Easter Bread

I used this recipe from Chow for my Greek Easter bread:

Two spices used in Greek Easter bread are mahlepi (mahlab in Arabic), an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a cherry and mastic, the sap of the mastic tree, known as the "tears of Chios."  I found them at our local Mediterranean foods shop called "Nile Market."

Two spices used in Greek Easter bread are mahlepi (mahlab in Arabic), an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a cherry and mastic, the sap of the mastic tree, known as the “tears of Chios.” I found them at our local Mediterranean foods shop called “Nile Market.”

Zesting an orange for the Easter bread.

Zesting an orange for the Easter bread.

Kneading the dough with my daughter.

Kneading the dough with my daughter.

The braided dough awaiting final rising.

The braided dough awaiting final rising.

Meatballs

I was trying to think of a healthy family-friendly dish that we could all eat. Meatballs were an easy choice. I used this recipe for turkey meatballs from actress Jessica Alba that was posted on Martha Stewart’s website. I liked that they had some vegetables snuck inside of them.

I used a bit more vegetables than the recipe called for.  My children saw me making these and vowed that they would not eat them.  Fortunately, once they tasted the finished product they changed their minds.

I used a bit more vegetables than the recipe called for. My children saw me making these and vowed that they would not eat them. Fortunately, once they tasted the finished product they changed their minds.

Bunny Cupcakes

I saw an adorable picture for cupcakes decorated like rabbits on a recipe website. It seemed that it was just a piece of clip art and there were no specific instructions how to make them. I used a store-bought package of carrot cake and made it into mini-cupcakes. We decorated them with store bought cream cheese frosting, marshmallows, colored sugar and mini Reeses pieces. The children helped and loved this project!

The girls worked hard on the decorating while their brother worked hard on tasting all of the candy toppings.

The girls worked hard on the decorating while their brother worked hard on tasting all of the candy toppings.

The bunny cupcakes in progress.

The bunny cupcakes in progress.

The Cake

Just after I started my healthy eating diet, my daughter requested that we make a rainbow layered cake. I looked up some ideas online and found that we would have to make 7 layers of cake all tinted the colors of the rainbow. I was not thrilled with this idea. Soon after, we were shopping at the grocery store and my daughter found a “spring” cake with two different colored layers: one pink and one yellow. This seemed to satisfy her rainbow cake notions so we bought the cake mix to make for Easter. It sat on the counter for weeks and my daughter continually reminded me that we needed to make it. When finally the day came, she was so excited!

The cake mix!

The cake mix!

Frosting the layers.  We didn't go to the trouble of properly leveling the cake so the layers were even.  We just did our best to frost it and put it together the best we could.

Frosting the layers. We didn’t go to the trouble of properly leveling the cake so the layers were even. We just did our best to frost it and put it together the best we could.

My daughter's decoration for the top of the cake.

My daughter’s decoration for the top of the cake.

This caked ended up being quite a source of hilarity (and stress) for me. This cake went through several iterations before it was eaten.

What happens when you leave a 2-year old alone with a cake.  He put his fingers all over the top!

What happens when you leave a 2-year old alone with a cake. He put his fingers all over the top!

My attempt to repair the cake before my daughter saw her brother's damage.

My attempt to repair the cake before my daughter saw her brother’s damage.

The Meals

Breakfast: preparing for the sugar infusion to follow with a mango smoothie and grain-free granola.

Breakfast: preparing for the sugar infusion to follow with a mango smoothie and grain-free granola.

For breakfast, I used two recipes from Dr. Sandra Cabot’s website:

The mango smoothie is delicious and the granola smells awesome but tastes a bit bland. Still, if you are doing clean eating, you just crave the fats in the nuts and it has a nice crunch.

Then, it was time to indulge!  We had so much candy it looked like a candy factory exploded in our house!  Here, an Easter bunny Kit Kat for my Kit Kat loving daughter.

Then, it was time to indulge! We had so much candy it looked like a candy factory exploded in our house! Here, an Easter bunny Kit Kat for my Kit Kat loving daughter.

Easter isn't complete without Peeps!  Here: party cake Peeps for my marshmallow loving daughter.

Easter isn’t complete without Peeps! Here: party cake Peeps for my marshmallow loving daughter.

We sliced into the finished Greek Easter bread.  It has the same dense crumb I remember from my grandmother's recipe but a totally different flavor.  This bread was more citrus-inspired with the orange zest.  It was very delicious, though!  My grandmother used anise (a licorice flavor) which I will have to try next time.

We sliced into the finished Greek Easter bread. It has the same dense crumb I remember from my grandmother’s recipe but a totally different flavor. This bread was more citrus-inspired with the orange zest. It was very delicious, though! My grandmother used anise (a licorice flavor) which I will have to try next time.

The bunny cupcakes were delightful treats.  They were small and it was shockingly easy to devour handfuls of them.

The bunny cupcakes were delightful treats. They were small and it was shockingly easy to devour handfuls of them.

For lunch, my husband and I were both ready for a break from sugar.  All of these are clean eating recipes.  We had lamb chops with two types of salad.

For lunch, my husband and I were both ready for a break from sugar. All of these are clean eating recipes. We had lamb chops with two types of salad.

For lunch, I chose all clean eating recipes. For me, it was important psychologically to associate clean eating with celebration and not just as a sort of dieting punishment. Clean food can be extraordinarily delicious.

All of these lunch recipes were winners. We enjoyed them all!

For dinner, we had Jessica Alba's meatballs along with a simple salad of kale, cabbage and carrots with the leftover balsamic lime vinaigrette.  Everyone devoured the meatballs, including the children!

For dinner, we had Jessica Alba’s meatballs along with a simple salad of kale, cabbage and carrots with the leftover balsamic lime vinaigrette. Everyone devoured the meatballs, including the children!

After asking me about it all day, it was finally time to cut into the Easter cake.  By this time, the cake had gone through another decorating iteration.  My daughter (the chef) decided that it should be covered in Peeps and chocolate eggs.

After asking me about it all day, it was finally time to cut into the Easter cake. By this time, the cake had gone through another decorating iteration. My daughter (the chef) decided that it should be covered in Peeps and chocolate eggs.

As I was cutting the cake, my daughter kept saying, "Please let it come out right!  Please!"  When she saw the slice had the layers just like the picture on the box, she was elated!  The Peeps made it even better too!

As I was cutting the cake, my daughter kept saying, “Please let it come out right! Please!” When she saw the slice had the layers just like the picture on the box, she was elated! The Peeps made it even better too!

As you can see, our Easter was thoroughly delicious!

Did you make anything special for your Easter celebration? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 28, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 092013
 
My enthusiastic models!

My enthusiastic models!

This year’s Easter outfit designs for my daughters were inspired by a yarn sale. We were in Michael’s checking out a sale, when I saw some bright cotton Lily Sugar and Cream yarn on sale! The colors were perfect shades of pastels and pinks for Easter and just looked so cheerful. This kind of yarn is not typically used for garments but I had successfully used cotton yarn before so I thought I would give it a try. The sale was 4 skeins for $5 so I decided to pick up 4 skeins of each color and make something that used just that much yarn.

For both sweaters, I did not use any formal pattern and just started knitting, inventing the pattern as I went.

The first sweater started bottom-up, from the lower ribbing. I knit it in a circular tube until I guessed I would have just enough left to finish the neck and sleeves.

Bottom-up start.  I added the length first and then the neckline and sleeves.

Bottom-up start. I added the length first and then the neckline and sleeves.

All was going well until I had my daughter try on the garment in progress and realized that I had severely miscalculated the shaping for the neckline and sleeves. The whole sweater was really big and puffy and the armholes and neckline gaped in an all-too-revealing fashion.

Oops!  Not the fit I was looking for!

Oops! Not the fit I was looking for!

I was tempted to unpick the stitches and start again but decided to see what I could do first to remedy the problem with a little crochet.

For the neckline, I gathered it in with a decorative ruffled crochet.

I gathered in the huge neckline with an improvised crochet ruffle.

I gathered in the huge neckline with an improvised crochet ruffle.

For the sleeves, I did a simple gather in chain stitch.

Gathered armhole.

Gathered armhole.

In the end, the garment came out a little more shapeless, bubble-like and shorter than I originally planned but I ended up liking the design.

2013-04-09-bubblesweater1

2013-04-09-bubblesweater2

2013-04-09-bubblesweater3

2013-04-09-bubblesweater-close

For the second sweater, I decided to see if I could stretch the yarn out a little further to make a dress if I started at the neckline and knit downward. To make the design work, I had three skeins connected at one time for a while.

Knitting from the top down, starting at the neckline.

Knitting from the top down, starting at the neckline.

I knit it down and was thrilled to see that it seemed to be hitting my daughter just above the knee. But then she tried it on and the fit was entirely too body conscious for a 7 year old and not very flattering.

I wasn't quite going for a body-con Easter dress.

I wasn’t quite going for a body-con Easter dress.

So, I sadly had to unpick hours of stitching and start again, changing the pattern and adding more of a flare to the skirt portion. The extra stitching wasn’t too painful since I needed a distraction at that time to keep me focused on my diet and exercise routine.

Starting over -- painful but necessary!

Starting over — painful but necessary!

The new design was far more flattering but also ended up being too short for a dress. It was more like a tunic.
After some thought, I paired the sweaters with some white leggings and they made quite a statement! The girls enjoyed wearing them and didn’t ask to take them off as soon as photos were done….a first!

2013-04-09-eastertunic1

2013-04-09-eastertunic2

2013-04-09-eastertunic3

So, it wasn’t a perfect knitting experience but one thing I have realized is that age brings wisdom — not necessarily the wisdom to avoid the mistakes in the first place but the wisdom to know how to change a “mistake” into a design choice!

Do you select special Easter outfits for your children? Did you have any memorable fashion choices this year? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 9, 2013 General Tagged with: ,
Apr 052013
 
This year's "Touch of Gold" easter egg dye kit came from The Dollar Store.

This year’s “Touch of Gold” easter egg dye kit came from Dollar Tree.

We hard boiled a mixture of brown and white eggs--probably the healthiest foods we eat at Easter.

We hard boiled a mixture of brown and white eggs.

2013-04-05-eggcoloringsupplies

2013-04-05-greenegg

Sometimes silly....

Sometimes silly….

The finishing touch . . . "14 carrot gold egg glaze"

The finishing touch . . . “14 carrot gold egg glaze”

The gilding process.

The gilding process.

The finished masterpieces.

The finished masterpieces.

After Easter, I loved having extra dyed eggs in the fridge.  They made for such a happy breakfast.

After Easter, I loved having extra dyed eggs in the fridge. They made for such a happy breakfast.



*I have no affiliation with Dollar Tree.

 Posted by on April 5, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,
Apr 042013
 
My daughter's edible masterpiece.

My daughter’s edible masterpiece.

For my daughter’s preschool Easter party this year, the teacher needed a volunteer to bring sugar cookies and frosting so the kids could try their hand at decorating. Although this is not my area of expertise, I offered to try to pull something together.

First, it was difficult to find any undecorated sugar cookies at the grocery store so I wasn’t able to purchase them. I looked up a recipe for soft sugar cookies online and came up with this one.

I used this recipe for the cookie base because I had some margarine I needed to use. If I were doing this again, I would look for another recipe (or at least another brand of margarine) because the margarine I used had trans fat in it, which we all should not be eating. Everyone thought the cookies were delicious though! (Since I was dieting, I didn’t actually taste them myself.)

Once I had the recipe, I needed a way to make cookies in the shape of eggs. Based on a tip here, I designed a template on the computer and cut them out of the dough. I grossly underestimated how much this dough would expand when baked so my cookies came out enormous! I would probably reduce the shapes by at least 25% if I were doing this again. One recipe made about 16 smaller egg cookies and 2 large ones (for teacher gifts).

It was at that point that I realized the little tubes of icing I thought I bought for the cookie decorating were not actually tubes of icing at all but food coloring gels! So then I needed to make homemade icing too!
I ended up making a hard sugar cookie glaze for each cookie. I attempted this recipe but had to modify it since there didn’t seem to be enough liquid in it. I ended up using about 2/3 cup sugar to 2 tsp milk and 2 tsp corn syrup. I also used vanilla extract instead of almond. The glaze dried fairly solidly in about an hour.

The iced cookies.

The iced cookies.

We experimented with trying to color this sticky glaze to decorate the tops of the cookies. This frosting is very thick and you can kind of splatter it on Jackson Pollack style.

Jackson Pollack inspired sugar cookie icing.

Jackson Pollack inspired sugar cookie icing.

This seemed a bit too difficult and messy for a preschool class to handle though so we looked for another option.
To make it easier for the kids to decorate the cookies, I read this tip (from the wonderfully named Chef Messy blog) about making a paintable frosting that you put on with a brush. (She also gives a recipe for Lion House sugar cookies that she recommends.)

I mixed up some colors. My colors could probably have been a little darker for better effect but I sort of liked the subtle pastel look. I tested out the frosting paints on some sample eggs for the teachers. They worked quite well! The hard sugar cookie glaze made a great “canvas” for the paints. It did not get punctured by the brushing.

The fun part is painting the cookies.

The fun part is painting the cookies.

I left the frosting colors in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, overnight. The next morning, I was worried the frosting might have dried but it was still just fine.

We wrapped up the teacher cookies in some plastic and my daughter wrote an Easter message on each one. The teachers really loved these.

A sweet Easter gift for the hardworking teachers.

A sweet Easter gift for the hardworking teachers.

The teachers were really pleased with how easy this craft was to execute with the children and asked that I share the recipes so they could do it again.

The kids seemed really proud of their edible masterpieces. The teachers packaged them for transporting home by putting each cookie on a paper plate and then inside a large zippered plastic bag, which worked really well.

*I know we all probably don’t want to know this information but each huge decorated Easter egg cookie has about 325 calories. Not too bad considering.

 Posted by on April 4, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,