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Have you seen My Neighbor Totoro? I hope so. If not, please do. It’s the cutest movie EVER. Our daughter loves it, which pleases me greatly… because I’ve dreamed of throwing a Totoro themed birthday party since the time she was just a twinkle in our eyes.

Here are a few pictures of the simple Totoro-themed party that we threw for Cleo’s 2nd birthday party. Everything came together in the end very nicely, with a lot of help from grandparents and friends. We planned a late morning party, so we just had cake and coffee. It was really nice to have coffee talk with friends in the park before the day got too warm.

Look at the great cake that my friend Vince helped me make! Actually, this one I did by myself, but he came over and helped me make a trial run cake. The vegan “buttercream” frosting recipe (see below) that he came up with looked better than this one did, but it was so very tasty. I used a Dr. Oetker’s lemon cake mix, and instead of using eggs, I substituted 1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water for each egg, which is turning out to be my favorite egg substitute. It came out really well! There’s also a layer of organic blueberry jam in there between the cake layers serving as the filling. One of our guests wondered why I decided to make a cake that wasn’t vegan. He looked pretty surprised that it actually was. And there was barely enough for all of the guests. Oops.

Vegan Buttercream Frosting
1 c Earth Balance margarine, at room temperature
3 c vegan confectioner’s sugar
1-3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp vanilla (Vince suggested flavoring it with fresh grated ginger! It was really good, but didn’t play well with the cake flavors we had planned here)
food color

Using a hand mixer, beat the margarine until fluffy. Slowly add the sugar; it’ll be crumbly. Add a tablespoon of soy milk and mix, adding more if necessary. Add vanilla, mix more. If you need more liquid, by all means, add more, but slowly. If desired, add food color. Now get to decorating! Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Soot Sprites are abundant in Totoro’s neighborhood.

I made about 40 of them, with fuzzy faux fur, felt for eyes affixed with embroidery thread. Very simple, too (see my instructions, below, to make your very own). Making them was a lot of fun, but seeing the looks on people’s faces when presented with one was even better.

To make the Soot Sprites, trace 5″ circles (coasters work really well as a pattern here), and cut out 2 pieces for each sprite. The eyes are patterned by a quarter, and then use embroidery thread to affix them in a star pattern to one of the faux fur pieces (if you’re into that. Dots would work too). After attaching the eyes, place the faux fur pieces right sides together, and tuck the furry ends in toward the middle of the sprite so that you don’t see any fur sticking out. Pin the pieces together. Stitch around the edges (if you use a sewing machine for this, you will want a bigger needle and a longer stitch length. And you’ll also want to dust it out really well after this project. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Soot Sprites can be messy!), leaving about a half inch seam allowance. Be sure to leave a 2-inch opening! Turn the sprite right-side-out, and stuff with the stuffing of your choice. They would make really great bean bags, but I opted for stuffing. Light and fluffy! Hand stitch them up. Voila! A Soot Sprite is born!

Acorns!

Acorns and seeds play a part in Totoro too. Cleo’s grandmother was so generous with her time and made a bunch of these! They’re about 2 inches from end to end, and made with such care. She is a crafty lady, and I think she really enjoyed the challenge of working on something so small, using a new pattern, and making them just right. She made almost 30 of them, and they’re amazing. They still sit up on our bookshelf to be admired. Here is the pattern she ended up using. There are a LOT of cute things going on on that site. I might have to learn to knit. Again.

It wouldn’t be a party without treat bags…

And our young guests seemed to enjoy them greatly. They’re just basic paper gift bags, filled with bubbles, Soot Sprites, the fabulous knitted acorns, and some stickers. The Totoros are made from heavy duty scrap booking paper. I sketched my basic  Totoro shape on one, cut it out, and then traced it to make some clones. I kept it very basic. Less is more, and when you try to do details on a reproduction, it looks so much more… reproduced. I did the same with the Totoro tummy, and then used a hole punch to do the eyes. After gluing them all together, I just used a felt pen to put on the finishing touches and customize them with the guest’s name. Finally, tape the Totoro to the full treat bag, and you’re done!
Our adult guests didn’t go home empty handed though. The night before, I cut down some flowers I got in bunches at the grocery store and grouped them in half-pint mason jars. So cute! I chose jars that would fit into a car’s cup holder. I’d hate for our party favors be remembered for the mess they made and not for the cuteness of the event!

Thanks to all of the help that we had, I was able to arrive at the party site just half an hour before the party started to unload everything. I enlisted a few friends to help with the tablecloths on the picnic table, and to arrange the decorations on top of them. My parents brought a huge party pot of organic coffee from a local roaster and coffee house, and I set up a little coffee station with a selection of vegan creamers and sweeteners. This party was a true lesson in keeping things simple so as to truly enjoy the day.
Here’s one of my favorite moments from the party- Cleo walking with my dad. At first she was really wobbly while maneuvering the perimeter of the now-unused wading pool at the park. By the time she got halfway around, she was feeling pretty confident; by the time she’d lapped it, she wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. She’s growing up so fast!

Happy Birthday Cleo. Next year you can pick out your party theme. xoxo Mommy

Oh my. Would you look at all that vegan sushi?

We had a party a little while back. I have always wanted to learn to make sushi, and found a friend who was willing to teach me, and a few friends who were willing to eat my homework.

We started with a big pot of cooked brown rice (because it’s healthier than brown rice, of course, and gave it a really hearty flavor), as well as some tofu strips fried in a little bit of canola oil:

My teacher brought a fabulous selection of roasted veggies. Those eggplants were the best!

We also had radish sprouts and avocado, as well as some roasted broccoli and sauteed portabella mushrooms to roll with. I would have taken pictures of the rolling procedure so as to teach you too, but after making my first roll, I was absolutely smitten. I loved the challenge of making neat and tidy little concoctions. I love how well contained the sushi roll is. I felt I had a gift for it, and wouldn’t stop to give anybody else a turn. Luckily we had two little rolling stations set up, so others were able to make a few rolls beside me.

Here are a few of my favorites (basically anything with a radish sprout or avocado gets that title): Broccoli with red pepper, tofu, and radish sprouts. WIN!

One of our guests made miso soup! She thought she might have gone overboard with the nori, but I don’t think so. Seaweed is really good for you! And look at those little baby mushrooms.

This was one of the best nights of my life. Learning something new (that I felt I was actually pretty good at right off the bat), eating A TON of food made from scratch that’s really good for you, and making something beautiful; all things I really enjoy. And, with people that I love! It was a pretty small party, but there were no leftovers. That’s just how we roll. AH-HAHAHA!

You might remember that I’ve got an ongoing organization project going on in my house. One thing that had really been getting to me was my flour collection. It was contained in a smaller cupboard (we have no pantry, sigh), and was basically a pile of flours that look like this, but much bigger:

It’s not that I have a flour hoarding problem, (ok, maybe I do, but it’s nothing like my toiletry issue!), but I need a variety of them because I’m always making goodies to share with my sister, who can’t tolerate gluten. I would reach for fava/garbanzo flour and find that the bag has been punctured. I’d pull out my spelt flour and find that the clip had popped off in the shuffle, and now it was stale. Ugh! Finally, we inherited a mid-century buffet, and were granted some more space. I have a little pantry! Time to act. I went out to the local home and garden store, Down to Earth, where I buy adorable little dishes, and found some canning jars. I bought a pack of 12, and they gave me a bulk discount! I also bought some labels, so that I wouldn’t get my flours mixed up. I dumped each flour into a jar, which was a bit messy, and discovered that Cleo has a taste for buckwheat flour. By itself. Anyway, here are my labeled jars:

This project was really easy, but it made such a huge difference in how I approach baking. No longer do I have to gingerly sift through a pile of bags, hoping that I won’t make a huge mess when I rip it accidentally, and now it’s so much easier to see what I have on hand before I head out to the market. Before tucking them into the buffet, I lined them up on the windowsill for a pretty moment, and relished in their neatness.

Finally! Order has come to my flour collection. What a relief.

Simplicity Pattern #2572

Look how big my baby is getting! I actually made this back in September, and it’s been hanging in Cleo’s closet waiting for her to grow in to it. Fortunately, the time came during the month that mommy went back to work, and baby went to day care. And brought home a variety of germs. Which brought the entire house down for about a month. Four huge cases of tissues, several prescriptions, and a few paychecks later, here we are.
Now- let’s talk hoodie. I always have SOME sort of problem with a pattern, now don’t I? This one was actually pretty easy to work with- though I got a little carried away gathering up the ruffle edges, and had to loosen them up. I always do that. It’s a very gentle gather, not some crazy circus petticoat trim, though that’d be fun! My only complaint is that the cuff edges are unfinished- you can see that just on the inside of her sleeve. I plan to clean it up with some bias tape, with the same treatment that the edge on the bodice received:

Can you see how challenging it is to get a photo of this busy little person?
My only advice for you, should you decide to make this hoodie, is that you choose a fabric that is not quite as dense as the flannel I’ve chosen. Those layers of (although gentle) gathers, sewn onto the bodice or sleeve, covered with bias tape, make for some challenging stitchery. And it’s not always pretty. And you might also consider choosing a bias tape that matches (rather than pops against, as I’ve chosen) your hoodie fabric.
Won’t this be the perfect little hoodie for a day at the coast?

A week before Halloween, I decided to make this costume. In the past, I would have these HUGE costume birthday parties the weekend before Halloween, and in the last few years, I’ve somehow lost the urge to spend an entire month preparing for my birthday drinking weekend. I was actually really let down by myself; that I wasn’t eager to find or make the perfect costume for my little one- something that I’d always looked forward to doing as a mom. But that urge kicked in as I was dredging through the limited selection of reduced price costumes online a mere seven days before my favorite holiday. I saw a costume like the owl one pictured above in a virtual shop that my bestie showed me back in August, but it was too springtime flowery and too spendy. It haunted me as Halloween got closer. Finally, when it seemed that I already had too much on my plate between trying to finish up a commissioned portrait, taking a watercolor class, and the rest of daily life, the urge really struck.
Six days before the holiday, we headed out to the fabric store to purchase our fabrics. I used scrap felt for the eyes and beak, a scrap of fuzzy fleece for the chest and face, and the rest is purchased flannel, perhaps about a yard in total. I did a few sketches, and used an existing hood from one of her sweatshirts and a tighter hat as a guide for the owl’s head, and then constructed the rest of it on my own. I must say, I work best under pressure. Because in those six days, I was able to finish a 3×4 foot portrait of my nephew dog, prepare this cake (for the 4th time, with raisins, BOMB!) for mine and my mom’s birthday, spend a day with mom, learn some new watercolor techniques, carve some pumpkins (see below) and bust this costume out.
I’ve taken some pattern drafting classes in the past, and I must say, if you like to sew, and want to learn to sew your own clothes that fit perfectly, I highly recommend seeking some out. It definitely helps if you are one of those people who enjoys visualizing and translating a three dimensional idea into a two dimensional pattern and back into a three dimensional product, but it’s something that you can definitely get better at. I found my class at our community college, and learned SO much in just two trimesters.
I don’t have a pattern for this costume 1) because I didn’t have time to make one and document as I worked, and 2) because it’s so similar to the one I was inspired by. Next year though, I’m thinking ahead. I’m going to start early. It’s going to be fabulous. Hold me to this. Please.
Another festive thing that took place were these bars:

Salted Caramel Popcorn Pretzel Bars adapted from Shutterbean

Nonstick cooking spray
12 cups plain popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup kernels or 2 microwave packages)
4 cups coarsely chopped small salted pretzels
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 cup Unsweetened MimicCreme
2 cups (1 package) Dandies vegan marshmallows

Coat a 9 x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray.  In a large (your biggest!) bowl, toss together popcorn, almonds and pretzels.  In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil over medium high.  Boil, undisturbed, until mixture is amber in color–8-12 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and slowly pour in cream (mixture will sputter).  Immediately add marshmallows; stir until melted.

Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pretzels and quickly stir with a rubber spatula to coat.  Transfer mixture to dish and use a dampened hands to press the mixture into the pan.  Sprinkle with a heavy dose of kosher salt.  Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

They were SO GOOD. I veganized them, using this awesome product called MimicCreme that I found recently at my market, in place of the heavy cream, and Dandies vegan marshmallows in place of the regular marshmallows. Those marshmallows have the best flavor, I had to resist eating half the package. It paid off, and these made such great treats to share with friends and family. As Shutterbean shared with me, the recipe claims to make 12 servings, but those would be HUGE. I ended up with 24. And I’m the queen of out of proportion portions! I’d recommend chopping up the marshmallows so that they melt more easily- though they aren’t jet-puffed, they’re not minis either! They’re much denser with a better flavor than the regular nastioso marshmallow. A special thanks to Bean for coaching me through this- from not disturbing the boiling sugar mixture to reassuring me that this concoction really WILL fit into that 9×13″ pan!
And, here are my pumpkins. I like to wait until just a few days before Halloween so that they don’t get all yucky and moldy, needing a shovel to be disposed of. Also, I was smart this year and wore vinyl (Latex would work too, if you aren’t allergic like me) gloves to guard against that awful dry skin that I always get from carving multiple pumpkins. I can’t believe it took me so many years to figure this out. I always do a kitty as my warm-up pumpkin. It’s tradition:

I hope that you had a happy Halloween!

Over the summer I became good buddies with a fellow painter, who is dating one of my best friends. His name is Blaine, and he’s fabulous. We became fast friends, made art together, and then he took off to live in a city two hours away from here. And he took my friend with him! RUDE! Still, we had a blast, and he got me out of the house every week or so for a painting night. Here are two of the paintings I made with him- the one above he wants to trade me some of his work for, but I won’t give it up until I have the promised something to hang in its place.
Here’s another one I did- I covered up a painting I’d started a few years ago (sorry Charles, I know it was one of the few pieces of art in the world that you liked), but I didn’t like where it was going, so it just kind of sat there. Gathering dust. No good! Now it’s hanging right next to me. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a blue-green slut. Evidence:

Both paintings are 30×40 inches. These days I am pretty into abstract art; anything too literal is too much of a commitment for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking at all of my work from when I was in school, and it so quickly brings back all of the feelings that I poured into it, and though I suppose that the communication of said emotions is the point of that work, it’s not what I want to hang in my home and look at every day. So the blue green one reminds me of oceans and dreams, and the yellow and grey one was inspired by one of my favorite bands, VNV Nation. Can you see it?
With each painting (and with most of the media I work with) there are several layers. I like painting big like this because it’s so tactile, and I can feel it out, rather than planning each step rigidly like I do with printmaking. (I have a block to cut, which I’ll blog about later; in the meantime, here is an example of one of my relief prints, and here is one of my serigraph prints.)
I’m a few layers in to a triptych, but those I’ve been working on for some time. I need to get to it! I get to a certain point in my layers where it looks so far removed from the outcome I desire that I lose momentum. And the distraction of cooking, baking, mommying, sewing and living don’t seem to help either.

So, this was a collaborative project that I worked on with my mom and husband, that my grandparents started. They had this huge three ring binder full of photos and stories and ephemera collected over the years. There are all of these great stories from the lives of my grandparents- growing up on farms during the depression, experiences they had while stationed with the Air Force in various foreign countries, as well as many stories of people they met. The problem was that there was only one copy of this cumbersome treasure. My mom had the idea to have it bound, and to have a few copies made, so that each grandchild could have a copy, as well as one for my grandparents. So she sent me to ubuildabook.com to see if I was interested in helping her make it happen. And I was! Here’s the final product:

We are all so happy with the books. My grandparents especially- they were so touched and amazed that we organized their memories in such a permanent way, and made it so that they can share them with others- there is an option with ubuildabook to order more copies without an extra fee, with a few reasonable restrictions. And the turnaround time was surprisingly fast! We received the books within a week of placing the order. It was amazing!
Making the book itself was pretty easy. We decided to scan the pages as they were found in the book, instead of re-typing and editing them; I didn’t feel that it was our place, and my grandfather had spent a lot of time working on his own layout (and page numbering system!) that we felt it was charming the way it was. Basically, you download the layout software from the ubuildabook website, and start at it! My mom and husband did all of the scanning- there were about 120 pages in all. Then I uploaded each image (page) into the program, and made each double page spread using those images. Making the pages themselves was really pretty easy… perhaps more so because I was on my high school’s award-winning yearbook staff, but I think that most people could figure out what to do. If not, you can call them, and they are quite helpful (I had a question after I placed my order). There are so many options for the layout and design of your book, which I didn’t really use, other than for the cover. It makes me want to go back and design a baby book, or perhaps compile my favorite recipes! Really the options are endless.
Here are a few of my favorite pages:

Those are my Great Grandparents Mary and Pete. Included in the book is a recipe for bread that she would make often- we called it G’Mary Bread. I was pretty excited to try out the recipe, and made it within the first 24 hours of having the printed book in my hot little hands. Now, you might remember that I’m not an experienced bread baker. Let’s just say I need a few more tries. Here’s what came out of it:

G’Mary Bread

1 qt (4 c) potato water
2 tbsp shortening
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dark molasses
1 tbsp anise seed
1 pkg granulated yeast soaked in a little water with sugar
1 c rye meal
white flour

Stir everything but the flours together, add the rye meal. Keep adding white flour to the right consistency, and until it loosens from hands.

Let it rise until it raises double in bulk.

Punch down and let rise a second time.

Make into loaves and let rise.

Bake on a hot cookie sheet for 1 hour at 375F.

Perhaps you can see where and why I ran into trouble. The recipe is just a little vague. First off, potato water?!? I boiled some potatoes to mash up for my daughter, and was pleased to not have to waste that good potato water… but I was a little uncertain when I got to the yeast-water-sugar action. I ended up putting the yeast in a little dish, adding about a 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons warm water. I stirred it let it sit for a few minutes, and it got bubbly and thick so I figured I was off to a good start. I added the rest of the ingredients up to the rye flour, and then I got a little worried. It was so watery! Shouldn’t there be more rye flour? I remember this being a very savory bread… I started adding the white flour. Things got really sticky really fast, and about 3 cups in I abandoned the wooden spoon and started kneading with my hands. By the time I got to cup 5 or 6, I lost count. The dough just wasn’t pulling away from my hands, and I had no idea what the “right consistency” looked or felt like. I think there ended up being about 8 cups of white flour total in there! The dough was DENSE. Good thing I ran out of flour. Who knows how many more cups I would have added, before deciding it was never going to pull away from my hands? I put it in a warm oven that I’d turned off, in a bowl covered with a towel.
Then I went to bed.
I got up at 4:30 the next morning and gave it a few good punches (should I only have punched it once?), and went back to bed.
Then, at 9, my daughter supervised with a critical face as I divided the dough into two huge and heavy balls to let rise once more, for about an hour. (There was no moving those loaves to the preheated cookie sheet, but I think that would’ve been too much because the loaves were a bit brown on the underside anyway.) Then we baked! The bread smelled delicious and at the end of the hour, my mouth was so ready for some fresh bread action, and I was so curious as to how I did. I sawed at one of the hot loaves- the crust was really hard- but got a nice thick (and yes, dense) slice.  Oh my. Much heavier than I remembered, but really good!
I took the uncut loaf over to my grandparents to see how it measured up to the bread in their memories, and they admitted that mine was much heavier, but that “it’s hard to get the amount of flour right,” said my grandma. Fair enough. My mom said that we’d make the next batch together when we’ve got my great aunt on the phone, who’s made it several times before. I can’t wait, because I think that it would make a really tasty grilled Daiya and Fieldroast sandwich! Here are my warm slices, covered in Earth Balance:

I discovered with the next slice that olive oil makes an even better topper! I’m really happy that we were able to give this gift to my grandparents, and that I now have this recipe to work on my bread skills with. My great grandma was a true animal lover, and I’m so happy that I was able to keep that spirit alive with some tasty vegan bread. If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes.

My little girl and I are going on a trip next week, to see my best friend in California! We will be traveling by plane, which is FREAKING ME THE F*CK OUT. I picture my little terror sweet bebe, screaming and whining and squirming throughout the entire flight each way as I am the meanest mommy EVER to not let her roam freely throughout the cabin, greeting the other passengers. So, I’ve armed myself with a sack full of never-before-seen toys and books to pull out one by one as the minutes creep by while we are confined in the air- one for each flight, actually! Of course, I needed some fresh new containers for this trip- I have a reputation for being “well-contained” to hold up. Enter the Simple Drawstring Sack. I have been making such sacks for various occasions over the last few years (lunch sacks, snack sacks, camera accessory sacks, dirty clothes while traveling sacks, lingerie/sock sacks, gift sacks…), after my friend in Japan sent me 2 small ones that she’d made.
This is the most easily modified to suit your needs project that one could think up. Each one that I do is different, depending on whether or not I have finished selvage edges (like I did this time), whether or not my fabric is one piece or two (here I had one)… and so on. I was able to make these 2 bags in about 45 minutes while watching a show and taking photos between most of the steps. Let’s get started!

Here’s what you’ll need:

fabric- just a bit more (by a few inches) than double the size you want your sack to be
drawstring material- double the width of your sack (I usually use bias tape because I like the colors that are available, and it’s sturdy)
coordinating thread
pins (optional)
scissors
2 safety pins
sewing machine
ironing situation
For all seams I used a half-inch seam allowance. Really, you can do whatever you want to though. French seams would be really nice!
First off, if you are working with two panels (instead of just folding one large panel in half to make the sack like I did), stitch them together right sides together down one side. Press open the seam. If the edges are unfinished on the other sides, you’ll want to finish the top edge where the drawstring will come out. I usually will do this to the top 2 inches, folding over 1/4″ from the side edge, and then another 1/4″, pressing and then top stitching.
If you are working with just one panel with finished edges like I was, here we go! Start out by making the channel at the top of the sack for the drawstring: fold over and press 1/2″ or so (just make sure it’s wider than whatever you’re using for the drawstring! I like to be generous here. Why not?) along the top unfinished edge of your fabric. Fold over another 1/2-3/4″ and press. Pin it down if it makes you feel better… And don’t mind my cat.

Zip on over to your sewing machine and top stitch that puppy down! As you can see here, I’m using a generous 5/8″ seam allowance. Of course, if you have a thin cord that you’re using to cinch your sack, this might be considered excessive. MAYBE. Be sure to back stitch at each end to reinforce the seam. It sure would be sad if you lost your contents!

Now that you have your channel all finished and pretty, let’s spread it out and take stock. As you can see here, I took the easy road. This is a half-yard of fabric, folded in half lengthwise. If you’d not had those finished edges and needed to turn in the upper edge, now would be the time to make a little snip in the fabric just below the channel so that it’ll smooth out nicely when you stitch up the side. Clip in just to the point where the seam allowance will be… Once you do that, the fabric will lay flat when it’s sprawled out on your rug (or table if you’re fancy). If you’re extra fancy, you’ll probably use pins. Again, I winged it. Is that why my seam ripper and I are so tight?

Now you’re ready to turn this into the sack it’s destined to be! Start right where that channel stitch hits (or right where you’ve clipped they should be really close), and go down the side and along the bottom edge. Again, be sure to back stitch at the beginning and end.

Clip the corners at the bottom of the sack to keep it from getting bulky, especially if you’re making a wee sack:

Now it’s time to install your drawstring. I cut mine to be just a bit longer than double the width of my sack- so that when it’s open all the way, the only part of the drawstring visible is the knot. Attach one end of the drawstring to the bag just below the channel using a safety pin. Attach a safety pin to the other end of the drawstring.

Thread the loose end with the safety pin through one of the channel ends of the bag. Since I used bias tape, and one edge of it has an open fold, I positioned my tape so that the opening would face the bottom of the channel, giving it a more finished look with the folded edge being at the top. Feel the safety pin on the inside of the channel and work it through, gathering up the fabric around the pin, and then pulling the fabric over the drawstring while keeping the safety pin moving forward in the channel, like this:

Eventually the safety pin and the drawstring will emerge out the other end of the channel, right next to where you began. Snazzy huh? I am really good at this thanks to all of the scrunchie making I did in middle school.

The hard work is done! And it wasn’t even that hard, was it? Tie a (simple overhand) knot using both ends of the drawstring lined up together. Turn the bag inside out and press. You’re done! All that’s left to do is fill it with toys and snacks and underwear and head out for your adventure! Wish us luck.

from Babycakes by Erin McKenna

3 1/2 c whole spelt flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 c coconut oil, plus more for the pans
1 1/3 c agave nectar
3/4 c unsweetened applesauce (there’s a recipe for homemade in this book! i took the slacker route and used store-bought…)
3 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 c hulled and sliced strawberries
vanilla frosting (recipe to follow)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottoms of three 8 x 3-inch round cake pans with circles of parchment paper and coat lightly with oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add 1 cup oil and the agave nectar, applesauce, and vanilla directly to the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the cakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the pans 180 degrees after 12 minutes. The finished cakes will be golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Let the cakes stand in the pans for 20 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edges, cover the top of each pan with a cutting board, and flip over. Carefully lift the pan away and re-invert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate or a cake stand. With a frosting spatula, gently spread vanilla frosting over the top. Scatter enough strawberries over the frosting to completely cover it. Place a second layer on top, right side up, and spread with more frosting. Add another layer of strawberries. Place the final layer on top, domed side down. Spread the top with frosting and arrange strawberries over it decoratively. Cover the cake with a dome and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 16 slices.

Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 c unsweetened soy milk
3/4 c dry soy milk powder
1 tbsp coconut flour
1/4 c agave nectar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c coconut oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a blender or a food processor, combine the soy milk, soy powder, coconut flour, agave nectar, and vanilla. Blend the ingredients for 2 minutes. With the machine running, slowly add the oil and lemon juice, alternating between the two until both are fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate for 6 hours or for up to 1 month. (If you plan to use it as a sauce, store the mixture at room temperature for up to 1 week.) Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.

I made this cake and frosting for my daughter’s smash cake at her first birthday party a few weeks ago. I was nervous that she wouldn’t be such a great sport and would be uninterested in whatever cake I put in front of her, thus thwarting my visions of a frosting covered baby I so desired for her party photos. I wasn’t willing to lure her in with too much sugar- I refuse to sacrifice her nap schedule for anything! Alas… strawberries. Strawberries shoved avocado out of the solid #1 position in my daughter’s food ranks weeks before the party, but would the position hold? Should I go with the first, tried and true love, zucchini? No, strawberries are delightful this time of year, and slabs of zucchini might look unusual in my prized smash cake photos. Hello Sweet Paradise Cake! Thanks for coming through for us again, Babycakes. She loved her cake, as you can see here:

The cake was actually quite tasty. Instead of the three 8-inch rounds, I did two 9-inch ones for the rest of the guests, and one 6-inch one for the smash cake. It worked really well! Of course the baking times took some serious adjustment, less for the larger pans, and much more for the smaller, and taller, one. I lost track of the time it took, but let’s say it’s a good thing I bought that extra box of toothpicks! My mom came over the next day to help, and I put her to work frosting the cakes. She did a lovely job! She showed me this great trick- before setting the unfrosted cake down on the plate or cake stand, put down some strips of parchment paper where the edge will meet the plate, that you can slide out when you’re finished frosting. That way, you don’t have to worry about keeping the plate clean! It was such a great idea. I hate a messy plate around a beautiful food item! We opted not to put the strawberries on top, since we didn’t want the frosting to get watery-pink before the party. Turned out I was too crunched for time to put them on just before serving it, having to make picnic sandwiches, decorations, and these cupcakes for the party. Who knew that preparing a birthday party for someone who won’t even remember the day would be so time consuming and stressful? Oh yeah, moms that have done it before, that’s who.
Like the cupcakes, this cake is not too sweet. But the flavor is sooooo good. At first when I sampled the frosting by itself, I swore it wasn’t sweet enough, and contemplated dumping confectioner’s sugar in. I’m glad I refrained! It was such a nice complement to the cake, I’m so glad I didn’t change a thing.
Overall, we had a really great day. The rainy spring gave us one sunny day in the middle of what seemed like a month of solid rain and cold. Here’s the dress that I made a few months back- perhaps you remember my very first project on this blogging adventure?

Well, it is still just a little on the big side, which is actually kind of a relief because it seems like everything else is too small for her anymore. Other than a skinned knee on her good buddy, and a skinned nose on the birthday girl (she’s new to bipedalism and got a little ahead of herself), I must say that her party was a big success.
Happy First Birthday, baby girl. Thank you for the best year of my life, with excitement of more to come. I’m so blessed to have you in my life. I love you more than I could have ever imagined!

Oof. It may not look like much, but this is a biggie. I say that because it’s not just my bedroom closet- I’m working on ALL of the closets in our house. After a few trips to Goodwill, a trip to Buffalo Exchange, much sorting and tossing, here we are. It all started with my childproofing efforts- my need to get those cleaning supplies, plastic bags, cat hair tumbleweeds, and bottles of wine out of my speedy daughter’s reach. Yes, I know that there’s nothing like adult supervision to keep a baby safe, but I have visions of myself losing consciousness and her gnawing her way into a lower cabinet (those little teeth have needs…) to get to those lemon fresh cleaning supplies. Hence the big clean. I’m sure the checkers at Target saw me coming and whispered to each other: It’s her- the Itso bin collector. I bet she’s got a crazy hoard! Well, it’s true. But my hoard is organized, and it’s much smaller than it used to be. I put five of the Itso bins on that upper shelf there- on either side of the jeans stack, and they house out-of-season shoes, scarves, and handbags. Lots of handbags. I found that snazzy hanging shoe holder at The Container Store, and the (double sided and double awesome) jewelry organizer is from Mary Kay. Here’s a closer look at that action:
This project went beyond the bedroom. I did the laundry closet, both hall closets, and all of the cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen. The only thing that I wish I could change at this point is the closet wall color! They look so blank and ugly compared to all of my pretty and organized bins. I still have a lot of work to do- various bookshelves throughout the house are full of boxes of old photographs and art supplies. Knowing that I don’t have huge messes piled up in my closets is such a relief. Having started the project and working on it slowly (I started in March!), one closet at a time, made this project so easy to handle.
Here’s the hall closet. Sorry about the sad photos; there is a wall where I would have liked to have stood in order to have taken the ideal photo. Sigh.

This one really drove home the fact that I don’t need so much in the way of toiletry back stock! I don’t know what it is, but I have a fear that I’m going to run out of lotion and that will be my fate- dry skin forever! Silly me. Perhaps one bottle in my stock would suffice, not three. I’m working on it. And can we talk about lip gloss and eye shadow? I’d better start piling it on if I’m going to use it all in this life time.
Well, if you wonder where I am in the next few weeks, I’ll be tackling my craft supply mayhem. Before this it was a task that the thought gave me such anxiety. But now I think I can handle it.