Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Happy Friday

Well hello there. It’s been a while since I had time to do put together a Happy Friday post (and yes, it’s Saturday). Hope your holidays have been full of love and laughter. Here are some fun links to take you into the new year.



We still haven’t seen any significant snow (c’mon Chicago, what gives?) but the snow lantern above is at the top of my try it out list when we do. Maybe some of you with snow already can let me know how it works.

The Leap Year Project. I love this.

As a dancer, I highly recommend you all learn this one immediately. via

Ipad wallpapers. I like the mumbly one.

I’m feeling a bit like this after the holidays. You? I've Got No Brain! by Simone Lia

Bored kids? Here are some fun projects to keep them busy.

And if that’s not enough, how about making this fun garland?

I kind of want this. What is happening to me?

This new book prototype looks amazing!

And just in case you’ve burned through your new book stash already, a site that suggests new books based on your favorites.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake


This cake, which I pinned several weeks ago, has been begging to be made here for the holidays. And then last week Nicole made a gingerbread cake on a sweet little pink cake stand. I’ve been looking for a little something pink for the dining room (and I’m always up for copying great ideas) to play off the Warhol print and decided that would be just the thing. I grabbed the cake stand at a local shop (no website, sorry, but you can find similar here) and was then forced to attempt the cake. Forced I say. For what is a decorative cake stand that has never held a cake? Just sad.

Mine is not as pretty. It is not hideous but I’m not a professional baker. However it was delicious. I recommend small pieces, it is very rich.
cake collage

The recipe is in Norwegian. Google translate took care of most issues. You’ll need a scale, as the measurements are in grams. Roan and I did a little home school experiment while we baked, testing our hypothesis that 250 grams of flour would be lighter than 250 grams of brown sugar, learning a little about volume in the process. Then we engaged in some serious sensory therapy. The dry ingredients for this cake smell amazing.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

As the recipe is in Norwegian, I’ve listed it here for you. I made some minor adjustments. I cooked the cake in two 9″ layer pans, rather than a spring form. Adjust the baking time down slightly if you do this. I also choose to do a whipped cream based frosting rather than the one she’s calling marshmallow. I just prefer gingerbread cake with whipped cream. I’m listing directions for both. I don’t have step by step pictures though. I can bake a cake with a child or take photos and keep the kitchen reasonably clean. I can’t do both.


  • 250g plain flour
  • 90g cocoa
  • 1 1/4ts baking soda
  • 1/4ts cloves
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1/4ts allspice
  • 125ml sour cream
  • 125ml natural yoghurt
  • 80ml water
  • 110g soft butter
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 50g sugar
  • 180ml corn oil (I used the canola I had on hand)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi-sweet chips I had on hand, chopped)

Mix together dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix sour cream, yoghurt and water in another bowl. In your mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add oil slowly, then eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. When combined, add flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately, in three batches each. Fold in chopped chocolate. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Whipped Cream Frosting

Beat a small container of whipping cream on high till it forms soft peaks. Add in 1/2 to 1 cup powdered sugar (adjust to your taste) and 1 tsp vanilla and mix till soft peaks form again. Lay one layer on stand, mound several tablespoons of frosting in the center, enough that it will drip over the sides as you place the next layer on. Pour the rest of the frosting on top and spread gently. This will not create a formally frosted cake, but rather a loose covering.

Marshmallow Frosting

4 large egg whites, 400g powdered sugar, 1/2ts vanilla extract
Beat egg whites in a bowl that can be heated until stiff. Set the bowl over a bain marie (water to boil) and continue beating while adding powdered sugar a spoonful at a time. Beat until mixture becomes very stiff (about 10 minutes). Take off the heat and stir lightly around with large spoon. Stir in the vanilla extract. After the cake is iced, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar for a little snow effect. The glaze will harden gradually but remain soft inside, however the cake must be consumed fairly quickly or it will become too hard. I didn’t make this kind so I have no idea what her time frame is for “quickly”.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

I highly recommend this addition to your holiday baking.




Yesterday we replaced a window in our kitchen. Nothing special, we didn’t choose some amazingly gorgeous window that’s going to change all our lives. The old one was one of only two windows that hadn’t been replaced by the previous owners and it was hideous. It didn’t fit properly in the opening, had an old wooden frame that leaked cold air into the kitchen like mad and to top it off it had a bullet hole in it. Ok, fine, a bb-hole. But bullet hole is so much more dramatic. At any rate, we should have replaced it years ago. But we didn’t. We held off replacing that window, not because of the cost, but because replacing represented the next step in our vision for the kitchen. To actually finish the renovation we began 10 years ago and place a wall of doors and a deck along that wall, changing the awkward entry and making the kitchen and dining room spaces filled with light and function.

But 10 years later, about the time we thought we’d be embarking on the larger home renovations, we just can’t do that. And I’m ok with that, mostly. We’ve chosen to invest in our children and their education and that’s far more important than renovating a home that works just fine. A home that we have managed to force, sometimes by sheer willpower, into being reasonably attractive. You have to ignore some random holes and construction errors, but mostly, our house is functional and even pretty.  And I should remember it’s far more than others have. Mostly I do and am thankful for what we have.

The new window is pretty, comparatively. I don’t feel like I have to cover it up. And it’s so clean (I really should clean the rest of my windows). And yet. It’s still wrong, it’s a weird size for the space. And it’s not a door and a deck. I kind of hate it. Acceptance. I’m working on it.


I didn’t take many pictures of the ugly window. Here’s the only one I can find, with the new one underneath. And yes, it’s still dark out. At freaking 7 am.


new window 001

Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies

We made Christmas cookies this weekend, a tradition that gets more interesting each year as the children get more capable of rolling, cutting and decorating independently. It was gray and rainy here Saturday, a perfect day for baking. Everyone was a bit grumpy all day, I think this activity was one of the only times no one was complaining or fighting.  After this I gave up completely and we watched a movie. It was that or sell them to the gypsies.

Christmas cookies are one of the few recipes and cooking memories I have from my childhood. My mother is good at many, many things (seriously, she is fantastic!), but has never been much interested in cooking. Leftover issues from her own mother (funny how these things stick with us). And my father, like many of his generation, just stays away. My children have such a different experience of gender roles. I digress.

My family’s recipe for these cookies yields a very different type of cookie than I’ve encountered elsewhere as “Christmas Cookies”. I don’t know if it’s a British recipe (my mother is British and this recipe is from her family) but in my mind it is far superior. We all prefer what we grew up with, yes?

At any rate, this creates a far more cake-y and substantial cookie then the usual thin, crispy, buttery ones you find everywhere. I hope you like them as much as we do. Do let me know if you try them and what you think.

To begin, gather your ingredients. There are not too many for these, measure them out into pretty bowls for fun. And for ease of kids helping.

Measure Ingredients

My children have a very strict policy on taking turns dumping things into the mixer. And of sticking their tongues out while doing so.

One of my strongest memories from making these with my mother is waiting for the sugar and butter to cream together. For some reason I remember it taking forever. Now it takes no time at all. Although this picture tells a different story.

Scrape down the bowl and add your dry ingredients. When all is mixed remove the beaters and eat all the dough. Seriously. These cookies also have the best dough. Eat plenty. I’ve never gotten the collywobbles, despite many, many promises that I would. Whatever collywobbles are*.

bowl scraping

Now, the fun part. Ok, the other fun part.


Last year, we spent ages decorating the cookies. They were both into making them very detailed. This year saw a reversion and they both just dumped sugars on each cookie. I blame the grumps for the lack of interest in detail. I, as in past years, surreptitiously removed some of the excess sugar before baking.

cutting cookies

Christmas cookies

We’ll make gingerbread cookies next weekend, but that’s about it for our holiday baking. Well, probably a pie or two for Christmas dinner. What are some of your holiday baking traditions?

Christmas Cookies

These are cake-y, with a hint of almond.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Cream together butter and sugar till fluffy and light. Add eggs, vanilla and almond till combined. Add dry ingredients slowly.
  2. Turn out dough onto floured surface and roll out. I like to roll out fairly thick, 1/3 – 1/2 of an inch depending on my mood (or how many cookies I want to make). The dough should not be rolled too thin or they will not bake properly.
  3. Cut out cookies and decorate with sprinkle sugars. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes depending on thickness. Or you can frost after you bake.


*Collywobbles.  A nonsense phrase for comic intent. You’re welcome.  I will now be using the word pandenoodle as often as possible.


A state of intestinal disorder, usually accompanied by a rumbling stomach; for example, ‘butterflies in the stomach’.


The origin isn’t known for certain.

Colly is an English dialect word meaning coal dust. Blackbirds were hence known as colly birds. The songTwelve days of Christmas is usually sung as ‘my true love sent to me, four calling birds’… but the actual line is ‘four colly birds’. Colly-wobbles could have derived from indisposition caused by breathing coal dust.

It is more likely that this is a nonsense word formed from colic and wobble. The earliest citation of it is from Pierce Egan’s edition of Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823:

“Collywobbles, the gripes.”

The nonsense origin is supported by two other early references, clearly used with comic intent.

– Punch October 1841: “To keep him from getting the collywobbles in his pandenoodles.”

– Cuthbert Bede The Adventures of Mister Verdant Green, 1853: “A touch of the mulligrubs in your collywobbles?”

Gift Guide for Tweens

Tweens are tricky. Still interested in toys, but wanting to feel grown-up. Drawn to items more suited to older teens, they are not really ready for the responsibility, content and/or materials those items are made from. And all the stuff marketed for them is just so bleh. Icky, stupid junk. Vampire dolls? Really? Is that the best we have to offer kids? (I know, three questions in a row, sorry). I tend to default to art supplies, but we’re getting a bit overrun with those. The kits never seem to get used here and I feel that basic materials should be available year round, so they don’t make good presents. I figure if I’m struggling to figure out good gifts, you might be as well, so here are the things we’re considering for our tween this year. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

We have a very artsy girl, she loves knitting, sewing, sculpting and all that. So I need to find gifts that speak to that love of hers, without defaulting to items I know she won’t use or that don’t feel like presents. I do like to restock some supplies at Christmas, like the clay, which goes quickly and isn’t something I keep on hand consistently. She also loves to make movies with her friends and it might be time for a camera of her own, along with some directorial advice.  Some hair chalk would add a new dimension to the costume fun.

gifts for tweens


10-year-olds still like to play with dolls sometimes and this 10-year-old is particularly obsessed with fairies. Both of these need to look more “grown-up” now though, so a new outfit that mimics what she wears all the time and a porcelain fairy might fit the bill. And of course books. She’s getting more than just these two, there will be several from the book list a few weeks ago as well.

gifts for tweens

What do you like to get for tweens? Any suggestions?
1. Daring Book  2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales 3. clay   tools 4. fairy 5. screenprinting kit 6. origami paper 7. sony bloggie  8. film making book  9. american girl clothes  10. hair chalk 

The Cranky Crafter Makes Stitched Ornaments

Something interesting has developed in cranky crafting land. While I myself have little patience for crafting, I really enjoy setting up projects for my children these days. An unexpected gift from this year’s personal challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not really crafting myself. I’m more like a cruise director, arranging for the fun to be had and showing up with a camara to document things.

This weekend’s project was Stitched Ornaments, which of course came from Pinterest. It seemed a fitting way to break in the new sewing nook and simple enough for both children to accomplish. Emmeth originally dismissed the idea as too simple for her skills, but once she saw how Roan’s turned out she changed her mind. So without further ado …

For reference, that’s Roan’s ornament pictured. Yep. The six-year-old made that. As he has about as much patience for crafts as I do, I submit this as proof that these are super easy while looking impressive. The kids had tons of fun exploring stitch options on the machine. And even if yours just does zig-zags and straight lines these would still look great.


I choose cream-colored felt and let each child pick a thread color from my stash. Roan choose pink and Emmeth teal. Then they each picked different stitch patterns and sewed them in lines all the way across the felt.

We cut out different size circles with our fancy circle cutter. This was the hardest part, as the felt tends to catch. You could, of course, use scissors. I can’t cut circles well to save my life and I needed to justify my fancy die purchase, so we used this.

Cut out a second plain circle and hot glue to the back. Punch a hole and add a ribbon or pipe cleaner.  And viola. Ornament fun.

If crafting with the children continues to go this well, I might just have to remove the cranky from my descriptions. I know, I’m as surprised by this as you are.


The Sewing Nook

Well, look at that. It’s a sewing nook. All ready for chaos and mayhem. That is what sewing nooks are for in your house, right? Cause it sure is here.

We finished creating Emmeth’s sewing nook this weekend. Much of the organization and clearing was done over Thanksgiving, but the final touch took a bit longer. Here’s the before.

We didn’t paint and looked to repurpose furniture we already had to create the space. I’m under no illusions at this point that my children will take care of furnishings placed anywhere near a craft area. They will find a way to leave marks and gouges, stopping just short of complete destruction.

To prep the space I pulled two large garbage bags worth of old art projects, broken toys and other ephemera out of the space, as well as selling a number of outgrown toys and books. We were able to get rid of the large storage unit by the time I was done. Whew.

The nook is, like everything in the basement, oddly shaped. It’s tiny, about 10 feet by 3 feet, with a low ceiling. There’s a large opening, but there’s also space on either side. It’s got good light though and an electrical outlet in easy reach. I focused on creating plenty of storage for projects, keeping tools and materials in easy reach and easy for her to keep tidy. We’ll see how well that works.

When clearing things out, I found an old banner kit so Emmeth created a Sewing Corner banner to define the space. I covered our craft table with oil cloth. The finish on top had been destroyed by art projects over the years, this looks good and will be easy to clean. Finn built the peg board, the final project that took a bit longer. I had just thought we’d hang peg board on the wall, but he made a great frame for it as well.

There’s really not much to keep on there now, but I’m sure she’ll find use for all the pegs soon enough. The sewing machine sits atop my grandmother’s dresser, last seen in the office. There are narrow shelves above to display projects. The dresser holds the cutting mat, thread, rotary cutter, yarn and felting supplies. Large bins under the desk store fabric and scraps.

She’s already busy working on projects.

Gingerbread Houses

We had the best time making gingerbread houses this year. I used a kit, of course, but having planned ahead with the countdown calendar so that I had extra candy on hand and, most importantly, so I had Finn home, made it so much better. Finn’s job requires a fair amount of evening and weekend work, so when we put together the calendar this year we made sure that he’d be home for the activities that were better with two parents, as well as those that he wanted to be part of for the holiday (like cookie baking. or rather, cookie eating).

I skipped this activity last year, as it was such a disaster when I did it two years ago. At four Roan just wasn’t interested in anything but eating ALL the candy and then climbing on the table in sugar craziness. Which panicked Emmeth. This year was such a different process. Roan was interested in eating the candy, yes, but he was also interested in making the house. And I divided up the candy evenly between them, set clear eating ground rules and had a 1:1 adult:child ratio. I don’t know how you people with more than two children manage, I really don’t.

I used these kits from Trader Joe’s.

They were the perfect size and I didn’t mind the kids eating the candy that came with them. I purchased some icing snowflakes, holly leaves and colored sprinkles to supplement, as well as spray cans of icing, as those are easier for small fingers to use. I placed everything in bowls and put the pieces on large square plates on top of dish towels to contain the mess. Worked pretty well this year, clean up was minimal.

I might actually have succeeded in my make holiday memories goal with this one. Whew.

The Textile Challenged

There are many things I am good at. Ending sentences in prepositions for one. But I have a really hard time with one of the basic components of room design – drapes. Floor plans make sense to me, I can choose rugs and most of the time even paint. But curtains elude me. I like the ones I choose for the office, but that’s the only time I feel like I’ve made a successful choice.

I usually just give up and get white.
Exhibit A.

Or ignore them completely and just have blinds. Like so.

I claim its to keep it from looking cluttered, but really? It’s because I can’t figure out what to put there and everything I’ve tried has stunk. So, I’m enlisting help. I think our front windows need something. That, unfortunately, is as specific as my vision gets. Luckily, I have friends who are good at this sort of thing. Jessica’s going to help me out. Perhaps you are too? Help a girl out, any suggestions for how I should dress my front windows?

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