Life

Life as we know it

April 15, 2020

Well well well, it takes a global pandemic to bring me back to blogging, does it?

Honestly, I feel busier than ever despite having “nothing to do”. Subtract the social calendar, access to my home office during business hours, and any significant demand for jewelry (which is what I usually make). Add significant demand for fabric masks (which I’m not making and giving away as fast as I can manage), long term meal planning, and the constant mess that comes with 4 people confined to the house.

The dishes are never ending. The laundry piles up even though I’m pretty sure we’re mostly in sweats and pajamas.

Life as we know it has changed. A lot. But we’re doing our best to stay prepared and get by.

And all in all, we’re okay – and I think we’re doing the right thing. This certainly isn’t how we imagined we’d be spending the spring of 2020, but we’re doing what need to be done. My husband is working, I have ways to help people, my kids are happy and healthy, and we have a nice yard to relax and garden in.

But the time feels so weird!

Is it just me? The days fly by, yet each day feels like about 30. I forget what I did which day, because by evening morning feels like weeks earlier. I have this weird liminal feeling, like we’re just stuck in between.

But I certainly am keeping busy, with things like…

 

Sewing masks!

I wasn’t kidding when I said I was doing as much as I could. I’m at nearly 300 made and a bit until 50 cut for a friend to sew. After my initial rush to Just Get Them Done, I’ve been able to finesse the designs and really get a good groove going. This is good. Being productive makes me feel better. My own mask PSAs can be found here and here.

 

 

Making pizza!

The kids love making pizza, and since we all have different preferences, we often do multiple pies to accommodate toppings, no toppings, extra cheese, vegan cheese. This is my favorite dough recipe (from Mel’s Kitchen), it’s so easy and so quick.

Making soup!

I love making soup, and I’ve been trying hard to keep the fridge stocked with produce (largely thanks to Misfits Market), so it’s easy to make veggie soup with a handful of this and a handful of that.

Have you ever made your own veggie stock? I’ve taken to simmering some water with my (washed) peels and ends from carrots, celery, potato, onion, etc while I finish prepping the veggies and give them a saute and seasoning. Then when I’m ready to add water, it’s fortified with this extra flavorful and nutrient loaded broth which I’ve simply strained and added to the soup pot.

Gardening!

We decided right before everything went into effect that it was the year for a proper garden. My husband and brother spent an afternoon grabbing supplies and building raised beds, which we’ve been working on situating and filling since. We ordered a bit over a yard of dirt and about the same of rocks and…well we moved most of it! Some is still in the driveway on tarps. You most definitely need a wheelbarrow for this, moving all that is no joke. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m really pleased with how things are coming along.

If you have seeds laying around and some potential garden space, why not try to get them germinating?

Doodling!

In my spare time, which is actually quite sparse, I’ve done some doodling for coloring pages and various artwork. My free downloads are available here.

I hope you’re doing well. I know this is hard. But you’re doing great, I promise.

 

Health & Home

Ilana’s guide to wearing masks: part 2

April 11, 2020

Welcome to PART TWO of Ilana’s Guide to Wearing Masks: an utterly non-exhaustive list of tips for life right now.

[This post is adapted from something I posted on my personal Facebook page]

Attention: anyone using a fabric reusable mask with channels*, whether I’ve made it or someone else has.

YOU CAN ADJUST YOUR FIT AND MINIMIZE SIDE GAP FAIRLY EASILY.

*Channels meaning that the elastic is slipped through a little sleeve in the mask rather than sewn in.

I’m now at almost 250 masks completed. I started just churning them out, following instructions. Then, after I ran out of the thin 1/8″ elastic for the second time I started getting creative and was able to troubleshoot issues I was seeing.

So here’s the important part:

The problem: if you are using a fabric mask with elastic ear loops, you’re probably seeing some gapping at the side even if your elastic is tightened for a snug fit on the face. I’m finding this requires more adjustments, and of course, gunk can get in through significant gaps. And it makes sense, the way the elastic pulls to stay put causes a sort of U shape to form on the sides of the face.

The solution: replace your ear loops with a longer piece of elastic in one piece to create two bands that go around the head (I’ve found about 24″ sufficient for kids and 25-26″ sufficient for adults, but play with it to find your best fit). No elastic? How about ribbon, twill tape, strips of t-shirt material, flat shoe laces? Make yourself some ties, 36-40″ long.

How to do it: don’t worry about removing and replacing the elastic. While I do have a special tool for this, you don’t need one. Use a safety pin, paper clip, or hair pin to guide your material through the channel.

Added bonus: no pressure on the ears with this method!

How to wear: for elastic versions, put the mask on your face and bring both elastic parts over your head. The loop (top) goes somewhere from top to back of head based on comfort and best fit, and the knotted part (bottom) goes lower on the head or high back of neck. The tied version is a little easier to get on, as you put the loop on your head then ties the ends as comfortable. Either way, this does two things – it allows a more customized fit, and it cinches down the outer edges for tighter fit at the sides of the face.

The downside: getting the elastic type on is a little difficult at first; be careful and make sure hands are clean. When taking them off, if you’re wearing earrings, PLEASE do it carefully. And this may mess up your hair as compared to the ear loops. If that matters to you.

The notes: I’ve shown different types of elastic in the photos for reference. 1/8″ and 1/4″ woven elastic are fine, as is 3/8″ or 5/8″ fold over elastic, which is the soft, flat elastic used for things like baby headbands – I prefer the 3/8″ because it fits most channels better. I haven’t tested this, but I have a feeling anything flat rather than round (like a boot lace) will work; the round may just roll around. If you use fold over elastic, be sure to heat seal the cut ends (hold close to, but not in a flame, until you see the edges melt smooth). Fold over elastic is inexpensive and plenty of Etsy shops have it in stock; I’m not sure how well it will hold up to high heat hospital sterilization, but for personal use its great.

Keep washing your hands! And your glasses, phones, and jewelry! Wash your mask after every use! Put it on and remove it with clean hands!

Note: my model is my toddler. Don’t try to put masks on babies, and please remember children don’t need masks in car seats and it can be hazardous. As always, supervise kids when they’re wearing anything with loops/ties.

I’m including labeled images for clarity. If something still doesn’t make sense, please ask.

I hope this helps. Stay safe. You’re doing great.

Health & Home

Ilana’s Guide to wearing masks: part 1

April 4, 2020

Welcome to Ilana’s Guide to Wearing Masks: an utterly non-exhaustive list of tips for life right now.

[This post has been adapted from something I shared on my personal Facebook page]

The CDC is now recommending that the general public wear non-medical masks when in public, though it is not mandatory at this time. Right now is a scramble, but this guideline may be in place for the foreseeable future.

Image of Ilana, a white woman with her hair in a kerchief, seated at a sewing machineDisclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional nor even a professional seamstress. I’m just your friendly neighborhood mom who has made and sent out almost 200 masks, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching and thinking about all this, and I thought I’d compile some of it for those of you who haven’t spent as much time on the topic.

1. When do I wear a mask?

When you (a healthy person, if you’re sick stay home) have to be in public in a place where you can’t reliably practice social distancing.

You don’t need a mask in your yard or to go for a walk, nor if you go to a park (assuming they’re open near you) as long as you can maintain a distance from other humans. Also, don’t touch playground equipment or other shared items. Getting outside is safe and healthy, just use sense. And no, you don’t need to wear a mask when enclosed in your car (in fact, if it isn’t a great fit it can even be distracting or dangerous, and if you wear glasses the mask may cause them to fog).

2. What is a non-medical mask?

A face covering that does not include surgical masks or N95 respirators. This can mean disposable paper masks, reusable fabric masks, and makeshift masks.

3. How effective is this?

I’ve read that a double layer reusable mask is about 50% effective at filtering particles (aka keeping other people’s gunk off you). The bigger thing is that asymptomatic or not-yet-symptomatic people can carry and spread the virus, so there’s a lot of value in using these masks to keep your gunk to yourself. Also, if you can keep from adjusting it when you’re out, it helps remind you not to touch your face.

Be sure to put them on with clean hands, remove carefully, and be mindful of where “dirty” masks are placed so as to avoid contamination.

4. Can I make a mask?

You sure can. If you can sew, there are countless free patterns available for simple reusable fabric masks (some links below, there are many other styles). Cotton and flannel are good choices, and I’ve seen some that use a stretch jersey, like t-shirt material. Then you’ll need elastic, hair bands, ribbons, or some other material to affix it to your head. Some people are recommending a layer of interfacing in the center, and some styles include a pocket for a makeshift filter. Something is better than nothing, so don’t worry about perfection.

If you can, use different fabrics for the outer and the lining, so if must take your mask off and put it back on for whatever reason, you know which side was against your face and you put it back on the right way.

5. Okay but I can’t sew, what do I do?

Do you have a bandana and two hair bands? Then you’re set. Fold the bandana into a rectangle tall enough to cover mouth and nose. Lay it on a table and slide the bands on. Then fold each end inwards towards the center, “trapping” the hair bands. Put it on carefully, one ear at a time, and the tension should hold it in place (link to a tutorial below). No fabric? Use paper towel or large napkin if you must.

Also, a bandana or other makeshift mask will serve the purpose, but please read on to #6.

6. Can I just use a scarf?

Yes, but – and this is important – you must wash it after every use when you’re around other people or you risk contaminating yourself, and it has to stay in place. Read that again, please. Anything you wear has to be washed between uses and it must stay in place on its own. Anything you need to adjust frequently when you’re out is not serving it’s intended purpose, and introducing gunk from your hands into your face space.

If you do something else clever, like pull a turtleneck, cowl neck, or sweatshirt over your face, take that garment off when you get home and wash it. Do not continue wearing it.

7. Can I buy a mask?

If you can find them, it’s not a bad idea to have 1-2 per person so you have backup, especially as we don’t know how long this will be necessary. Small businesses/independent seamstresses are a good place to start. Check places like Etsy for sellers who are making and shipping. I say this for two reasons. First, many small businesses (and people, period) are struggling to stay afloat and this little online shop may be that household’s only source of income right now. And second, the maker prepares your fabric, sews your mask, and ships it; you don’t have to wonder where the factory is, who’s handling it in the warehouse, etc. It streamlines the process.

Also, wash your mask when it arrives. I’m sure the fabric has been pre-washed and shrunk, but it’s touched the sewing machine, table, packaging, and of course, the maker’s hands.

8. Once I have a mask, am I safe?

I wouldn’t say safe, but maybe safer. Remember, this is largely for the good of those around you (that “keeping your gunk to yourself” thing).

Continue to social distance. When you can, really, stay home. Continue washing those hands and washing them well. Do everything you’ve been doing.

Wash your mask regularly – and be mindful where you put it once it’s used so you don’t contaminate things. Keep the proper side against your skin. If your mask feels damp or gunky, take it off and swap to another; if you have to be out for an extended period, it’s good to have a spare as backup.

9) Do my kids need a mask?

It may be prudent to have masks on hand for many months, so maybe. For now, best practice is to not take your kids out in public if it can be avoided. If you can, run to the store by yourself. Don’t go out just to get out.

I want to stress a few things on this topic:

  • kids are not great about not touching their faces, so if they’re going to be adjusting the mask or playing with it, it’s much less effective.
  • masks are not necessary for sitting in your car. Please do not put anything with elastic/ties on your child and strap them in their car seat. It’s unnecessary and can be dangerous.
  • especially for babies and toddlers, the odds of them keeping a face covering on in a safe and effective manner is slim. If at all possible, just keep them away from people.
  • this isn’t going to “just go away”. When we reach a point that we can venture out in public semi-regularly again, continue to make good choices. Choose small group activities, or a walk in the park over a crowded museum or other activity. We don’t know how this will linger, and there’s expectations of a second spike. Don’t take risks you don’t have to take.

I hope this has been helpful. Again, this isn’t expert advice, this is what I’ve been gathering. I will edit if and when info/recommendations change.

Also, these recommendations are for the general public. If you are immunocompromised, have respiratory or other issues, please do your best with what you and your doctor have discussed. Some people have always had use for a mask. Some can’t wear them. Don’t make assumptions.

Use sense. Stay safe. Be patient. We may be apart, but we’ll get through this together.

Edit 1: having been out in public for the first time in an eternity, I can say…carry sanitizer, so your hands can be as clean as possible when putting on and taking off your mask. Try on your reusable mask before you go out to make sure it fits and will stay in place. And if you have cartilage piercings, be careful taking your mask off! I’m not finding speaking in a mask particularly comfortable, as it wants to move as the chin moves. I’m also generally a low talker and have to keep in mind that my speech is muffled behind the mask and adjust accordingly.

Edit 2: because I’m thinking about it, clean any jewelry you wear out regularly, and if your hair falls in your face like mine does, realize that any germs that wind up in that hair winds up on your face (and pushing your hair back with dirty hands contaminates your face). Consider hats, kerchiefs, headbands, etc to keep hair off your face when you just can’t avoid being in public.

Mask patterns:
1) http://blog.fabricworm.com/2020/03/fabric-face-mask-sewing-pattern.html?m=1

2) https://thestitchingscientist.com/2020/03/how-to-sew-a-face-mask.html

3) https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Cloth-Face-Mask/

Some simple no-sew mask options:
1) https://nypost.com/2020/04/03/how-to-make-a-diy-no-sew-face-mask-with-fabric-and-hair-elastics/
2) http://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-might-be-the-simplest-no-sew-diy-coronavirus-mask-2020-04-03

The recommendation itself:
1) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html
2) https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-03/cdc-recommends-wearing-face-masks-during-coronavirus-pandemic

Review Shopping

Compare/contrast on ballet flats

February 10, 2019

Apparently we’re all about shoes around here right now. My last post was about customizing shoes and this one is about different ballet flat brands.

For someone with no style whatsoever, I love shoes.

Okay, maybe I do have style. It’s like…if 80s Stevie Nicks had a low budget and wore yoga pants. Or something like that. Maybe it’s better not to discuss.

ANYWAY.

I do love shoes, but my feet are small, and a little on the wide side, and I prefer some support. I used to be a solid 6 but after two babies and fluctuations of almost 40 pounds during pregnancies I’m a wide-ish 6.25 now. Which of course, isn’t a size. And which leads to never ending battles with myself and all brands of shoes, trying to find something that fits and is comfortable.

In the past 2 years I’ve tried 4 popular flats brands, so I’m going to give my personal reviews here for your consideration.

Tieks

I purchased a pair of Tieks by Gabrielle foldable flats in matte black while pregnant with baby Z. At $175 it was a gamble, but I’d heard great things about them.

Pros: foldable and easy to carry, low profile/sleek look

Cons: visible toe cleavage, no support, visible toe bump

I wore them a handful of times and then sold them. Up until that point, they were probably the most comfortable ballet flats I’d worn, but I’m not a fan of toe cleavage nor the toe bump, and as my foot grew with the pregnancy they started feeling snug and looking just a tad off, and didn’t get better after. The packaging (a cheerful blue box and faux flower band) is adorable, shipping was quick, and overall the shoe was nice, but it wound up not working for me.

 

My Rothy’s points

Rothy’s

I tried a pointed toe style, and truly wanted to love them. Unfortunately, I have Fred Flintstone feet and they just weren’t right.

I was surprised and impressed by how nice the shoes felt, and the removable insole allowed for some customization. Plus, they’re washable! And you can choose from a pointed toe, rounded toe, or loafer style. The point runs $145, but you can nearly always find someone’s referral code for $20 off.

Pros: cozy moldable fabric, elegant styling, removable insole, washable

Cons: no stretch, no support with original insole, a little narrow for a wider foot

I wound up returning them. I would however, recommend them for average widths. Shipping was fast and they were packaged nicely, and they were really very nice shoes. I tried them with multiple inserts/insoles and they would have been comfortable if I wasn’t between sizes. Additionally, on my wide-ish feet the pointed toe looked a little skewed.

Soto Massimo Terzetto in black snake, stylishly paired with pajama panta.

Soto Massini

This company is fairly new and launched in 2018 with Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns. They promised ballet flats with the comfort of sneakers. I’m not going to lie, there have been bumps in the road here between delays in production and shipping, and a skeleton crew on customer service. I have received two pairs out of my order of 3, and I am fairly pleased with them. They are not sneakers (but I didn’t really expect them to be), but they do come with an exceptionally cushy and moldable removable insole that provides an extreme level of support almost unheard of in a ballet flat.

I snagged mine for an early bird price of $125,

Shimmering vanilla Soto Massimo Terzetto with embroidered back, packaging visible

though full price is said to be about $250.

In the pros and cons I’ll speak to the shoes themselves, not the company or the process. For reference, I am wearing a size 37 (euro).

Pros: cushy removable insole, nearly orthotic level support in an attractive shoe, lots of colors available

Cons: less streamlined than other flats, some bagginess at sides

I am not disappointed in my shoes. That said, I’m unlikely to keep all 3 pairs. At first try on they were tight across the top of the toes, but the footbed began to compress almost immediately and by second casual wear they’re very comfortable. They are a little clunkier than other ballet flats, but the support is so above and beyond everything else that it’s a trade off well worth taking if you struggle with other flats. The packaging is lovely, a sturdy box, silver wristlet and silky white bags to protect each shoe.

There have been some complaints about quality, though my current two pairs are fine. For $125, yes. For $250, I’d want to see some improvements in quality control and customer service.

As of this writing Soto Massini is not yet fully up and running regularly so I can’t recommend them per se, but I’d keep an eye on the brand.

My “mystery pair”, Yosi Samra

Yosi Samra

I’d heard of this brand but hadn’t seen them in person, then Facebook hit me with an ad for their mystery sale where you choose your size and they send you a mystery pair. For $19.99. Sigh, I can’t resist.

My mystery pair turned out to be the Samara 2.0 Beige Serpent Leather Ballet Flat, which retail for $108. Little Miss’ pair is a beautiful berry colored velvet and the 11C perfectly fits her little feet (usually a toddler size 10).

Pros: sleek styling, fold nicely, elastic edge doesn’t gap and fits well

Cons: no support to speak of

These shipped surprisingly quick, and come folded in a small sturdy box with a drawstring bag for storage. These are meant to be snug, but the 6 is a hair tight. Wearing thick socks and warming with a hair dryer is providing a little give. While I wouldn’t have chosen this pattern, I actually love them.

I doubt I’d pay full price for these, but they often offer sales and coupons, and some simpler designs are under $100 normally. If you’re not too fussy about color, the mystery sale is an outrageous deal.

Edit: two friends had issues with the color peeling on a pair each of their Yosi Samra mystery shoes. The company graciously sent a new pair, but be aware that this is a thing that can happen.

Overall:

Ease of purchase, shipping speed: equal for Tieks, Rothy’s and Yosi Samra.

Returns: Tieks and Rothy’s offer free returns, Yosi Samra deducts cost of shipping from your refund (mystery sale items are not returnable).

Comfort: Soto Massini wins this one due to that insole, but the other three are very nice compared to most other flats I’ve tried.

I didn’t mention this previously, but if comfort is key, Sketchers has some very cute styles with a memory foam insole which provides nice support. The company has come a long way from the glittery platform sneakers I wore in high school.

Aesthetics: personal personal here. I loved the look of the pointed toe Rothy’s, it just didn’t work for me. I prefer the Yosi Samra to the Tieks due to toe cleavage and big toe bump. The Soto Massini are overall heavier shoes, but still attractive.

Price: Yosi Samra has adult options under $100, the others do not. Yosi Samra does run sales and offer coupons. Rothy’s can be purchased with a referral code for $20 off (many bloggers share theirs, and there are nearly always referral links posted in the comments on their Facebook posts). Tieks does not offer sales or coupons.

Do you have a favorite brand for ballet flats? Have you tried any of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Crafting

The making of little green shoes

January 11, 2019

Sometimes being ambitious and creative results in wasted supplies and a mess, balled up in the corner to be re-discovered at a later date. Sometimes though, it pays off.

Little Miss, aged 4.5 years, is to be the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding this spring. She has a sweet little white dress with a full tulle skirt and wide deep green ribbon sash, and a selection of three floral headpieces for us to choose from.

The bride will be wearing green shoes herself, and thought it would be cute if the flower girl matched. A quick Google search showed not inexpensive, but not pricey glittery green shoes. So I agreed.

Further research showed those glittery green shoes to be costume quality, and with very poor reviews. A fairly in depth search turned up exactly zero realistic options for little green dress shoes.

Dyable shoes? Nothing I liked in the size. Ballet slippers? Not enough grip.

They’re! So! Green!

And then it came to my attention that people buy expensive leather flats and have them custom painted. So with a little research, I was able to come up with a clever, ambitious plot.

And as a result…I have little green dress shoes. Yes, it worked!

So if you’re curious how to get leather/faux leather shoes in any old color you want, read on.

For this project I used $10 Cat and Jack flats from Target (thank you Cat and Jack, for affordable kids clothing, feminist t-shirts, inclusive styles, and gender neutral basics) and some leather painting supplies from Dharma Trading Co.

The supplies:

I used Angelus brand leather paint, which is simply a flexible acrylic like, as well as the leather preparer/deglazer and matte finisher. To be perfectly honest I’m not 100% certain that the preparer isn’t just acetone and the top coat isn’t just acrylic sealer, but this all cost under $15 so I went with it.

Note: this will not work on suede, it has to be a flat surface.

Step 1, prepped and ready to go.

The process:

First I grabbed a cotton makeup pad and used it to swipe the leather preparer across the surface. Then I applied blue painters tape around the edges to minimize areas where paint would get onto the rubber sole and inner area.

Next up, I took a deep breath, gave the bright green paint a shake and got started. I used a smallish flat paint brush because it’s what I was comfortable with. It was very streaky and I began to worry that black was a poor choice for the base (it was the only choice available, so oh well). I allowed dry time between each coat (10-15 minutes), and on about the 4th coat it began covering nicely. I believe I did about 6 coats and wound up with a nice even finish. There are certain areas where brush strokes are visible, but 1) not nearly as badly as I feared, and 2) who will be looking that close?!

The trick here is lots of thin layers. Don’t rush and glob it on.

Finally, when it was all dry, I applied a thin layer of the matte finisher with my brush and used a paper towel to smooth any areas where it pooled.

Challenge #1: the painters tape did keep the paint off most of the sole, however when I removed the tape it also removed some small areas of paint by the edge. I touched it up so it isn’t an issue. One could also not tape and just be very careful around the edges. Any excess on the sole came off easily with a little of the preparer on a cotton swab.

In progress. You can see that the shoe still looks very dark, and there’s a lot of streaking. The elastic still looks pretty much black.

Challenge #2: this paint isn’t made for elastic. A women’s pump wouldn’t have this issue, nor a fancy flat, but these shoes have elastic edging and elastic across the top of the foot. The first 1-3 layers soaked right in and I was fairly certain wouldn’t work, however after that the color began showing and I was able to get decent coverage. It did affect the feel of the elastic across the foot, but it still has a little give and still serves it’s purpose with no cracking.

And so, Little Miss will have adorable green shoes for the wedding!

My thoughts on painting leather:

  1. Would I buy $200 leather flats and customize them? No. No, I can’t say I would.
  2. Would I buy inexpensive faux leather shoes in a store and consider painting them? If I had reason to, heck yeah!
  3. Do I think this was worth the investment of effort and money? Yes. I got reasonably priced shoes and supplies and the grand total of maybe 2 hours it took me is well worth having the perfect little shoes.
  4. Do I think these will be durable enough for their purpose? Short answer:  yes, I do.

Long answer: I am perfectly confident having her wear these for the wedding. There is no transfer and the color doesn’t seem to be wearing away. The finish looks nice and even and for pictures, they will look great. Assuming they survive the wedding, she can wear them again if she’d like.

And…done! If you look closely you’ll see that the elastic binding the edge is still black on the inside. I chose not to paint all the way down for just in case in changed the texture and made it scratchy. That part of the shoe will never show when worn.

In terms of durability, there is a little something in the back of my head saying that even though this is made for the purpose, it is just acrylic paint and if scraped there may be the possibility of peeling. I am not about to try it though. Referring back to the fact that people paint their pricey flats (which having briefly owned a pair of plain ones, I know the sides of the shoe touches the ground when you walk), I assume that this method must be reasonably durable or there wouldn’t be a thriving market on these custom shoes.

So, all this brings me to my final question.

Does anyone have any leather goods they’d like to be green? Because I know someone with about 4/5 of a container of leather paint, preparer, and finisher left.

Baking

Christmas [cookie] time is here

December 21, 2018

If you follow me on Instagram or know me in real life, odds are good that you are aware of my Christmas cookie routine. Specifically, the Sicilian fig cookies I make.

Called cucidati, they consist of a not terribly attractive but delicious filling made of figs, dates, cinnamon, tangerine peel, chocolate and walnuts, wrapped up in a mild cookie dough and topped with citrus flavored icing. They are a Christmas tradition, one that I’ve only in recent years discovered that there are numerous versions of.

My maternal grandparents grew up in the same small town in Italy, and their families lived there for as long as we know. This is interesting and convenient because it keeps pretty much my mother’s entire family history not only in Sicily, but in this town – which was extremely handy this past summer when I found records from the only church in town and was able to dig up records going back to the early 1800s.

My grandparents made these cookies every year. I specifically remember my grandfather’s version, a massive cookie stuffed with the filling. With both grandma and grandpa gone, I’ve taken it upon myself to make the cucidati for Christmas each year.

You know me, I’m a sucker for traditions and old school methods. Carrying on a family recipe is very much a me thing to do.

Grandma’s recipe, grandpa’s knife.

This year, I stumbled upon my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for the dough, written on a crinkled rectangle of paper and stuck in my recipe binder.

I’ve just finished my third (and likely final) batch for this year. They’re just so good! I’m outlining the general idea below, for if you’d like to give it a try. If you like Fig Newton’s, these are a must.

The recipe

So my recipe isn’t precise, particularly the filling to cookie ratio. I’m going to give you what I believe is roughly equal. Extra filling will last in fridge or freezer and can be used to top a cookie crust to make chewy yummy bars, or for anything else you can think of.

I promise you, this tastes better than it looks.

For the filling, two 8oz packages of dried figs (remove stems and soak in water briefly to soften), the same or slightly less of pitted dates, about half the skin of a tangerine shredded, a handful or two each of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon and if you wish, a splash of amaretto. Grind together in a food processor or blender (in 1 or 2 batches as needed) until relatively well chopped and combined. I’ve also done this by hand with a chopping bowl and mezzaluna, do as you prefer.

For the dough:
3 cups sifted flour
3 level teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract
Up to 1/4 cup water, added slowly as needed.
Add all ingredients minus water and mix. It will start to form a dough; add water a little at a time and continue mixing until it’s sticking together (knead with hands if needed). Break into two rectangles, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours. I also like to chill the filling so it’s a little less sticky.
When ready to make, one rectangle at a time, roll to 1/4″ thickness and cut into rectangles as long as you can and about 3″ across. Flour rolling pin as needed. I like to do this on top of parchment so it’s easier to roll. Using hands, form filling into a somewhat unattractive log as long as the dough’s long side and about 1″ across (unless you prefer thicker/thinner). Lay in center of dough and roll one side tightly up, then the other, press to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut into roughly 1″ cookies. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 for roughly 15 minutes until dough puffs up a little and sets, starting to gain color.

Tin foil or parchment underneath when you add icing prevents icing from drying on your table.

Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. As they cool, mix powdered sugar with water or fresh orange juice (that tangerine will come in handy here). The proportion seems ridiculous, but you need a lot of powdered sugar and very little liquid. Mix to make a spreadable icing. Brush on top of cookies and add sprinkles before icing dries. Let cool the rest of the way. These last well sealed airtight without refrigeration, and I’m told they freeze nicely as well.

I have made these gluten free also, using the roll out cookie recipe from Kelsey Ale’s book Paleo Sweets. It’s a fussy dough and you absolutely must do it on parchment or you’ll never get it to roll without falling apart, but it is possible.

Did you try them? Let me know what you think!
[This post was created in the dark, mobile, with a baby nursing to sleep. Please excuse any errors before I get on a laptop to fix them.]
Decor Tutorial

DIY Decor – Sock storage for free elves

February 5, 2018

I’ve had something on my mind for awhile and this week, I finally got around to making it a reality.

I’m going to start this by admitting that I’m quite a dork. Am I wearing a Star Wars scarf and drinking tea from an Outlander mug as I type? Maybe.

So anyway, what do you do with spare socks? You know, those extras that get separated from their mates no matter how careful you think you are with the laundry?

You can leave them in pile somewhere and hope to find their partners. Or you can decorate with them while they wait, and then when if you find their mate, you can reunite them easily.

And so I bring you, easy wood transfers part 2! FREE DOBBY!

Part 1 was here – while that works, I made an improvement for part 2.

Back when I was taking masters degree classes, I took a fascinating hands on art history class where we used historical methods. This included dyeing yarn with natural materials, making our own paints, and doing transfers the old fashioned way – using charcoal. Well, charcoal is messy and anyway I don’t have any on hand, so I went with the next best thing. I borrowed my toddler’s black crayon.

Materials:

  • Craft wood (I used a 6×11″ piece from Joann Fabrics)
  • White paint and a paint brush, if you want a background
  • A black crayon
  • A fine ballpoint pen (Pentel RSVP is my favorite)
  • A paint marker in your choice of color
  • String or ribbon
  • A handful of clothespins
  • A stapler*
  • Scotch tape
  • Computer, printer and basic design skills

*this will work for a quick and dirty method on soft wood. On thicker/harder wood, you can use press in frame hangers

The method:

  1. If you want a background, throw a coat of paint over your craft wood and let it dry.
  2. Image time! I have the advantage of being a graphic designer, but you don’t need mad skills to do this. If you choose to trace rather than just freehand the design, you’ll need to grab your design and print it at the right size. This can be accomplished in Microsoft Word using basic fonts and clipart from Google image search (keep in mind that you can use these images if you’re making it for personal use, once you go to sell something, licenses are needed).
  3. Turn your paper over and scribble on it with the black crayon. Really go for it. It doesn’t need to be a thick coating, but you want a bit of the crayon wax specifically around the outsides of your letters and image.
  4. Turn the paper back the right way and tape it to your craft wood. Grab the ballpoint pen and trace around the outside of all your letters and images with medium pressure. You can periodically lift the edge of your paper a little to check.
  5. Remove your paper. You should have a decent imprint of your image on the wood, and with luck, some of your crayon has transferred also to make the outlines a little easier to see.
  6. Grab that paint marker and shake it up, baby (no twisting or shouting required)! Get a good flow on your marker (test on scrap paper) then use it to trace your transferred design, filling in wherever you like. Paint marker will dry within moments, but be sure to work from left to right if you’re right-handed, or opposite if you’re a lefty, and try to keep your hand raised so you don’t drag the paint around.
  7. Roughly measure your string or ribbon and attach it however you think is best. I used an office stapler and centering the string at the bottom with a little slack, stapled the two bottom corners, ran it up the sides and stapled at the top corners, then tied a bow up top that I could hang it from.
  8. Finally, I hung it on the wall with a removable command hook, grabbed some clothespins and clipped up some socks.

Considerations: Weight and balance are going to affect how this hangs. If you want it super stable, use a thicker wood (like the blank plaques in craft stores) and use press/hammer in frame hangers, one on each side up top and hang it from two nails. This will keep it from shifting with the weight of the socks. You can also run the bottom string taut across the wood rather than loose below it. And finally, I used a stapler because it was here and it worked. Hot glue should work, as will any number of other fasteners.

So what do you think? Ready to get crafting and prepare to free those house elves?

Health Life

On hair, aging, and dry shampoo

January 17, 2018

In early 2017, I cut my hair short for the first time since I’ve been in charge of my own haircuts.

In late 2017, I bleached my hair for the first time ever.

The bleaching was strategic. We lifted the top layer of my hair and did highlights below, so that as they grow out, the roots won’t be visible. This also means the highlights aren’t as visible. A deep red faded to a funky pink, and at my toddler’s request, we re-dyed the bleached bits a deep purple (we being me, with the help of my fantastic friend and stylist – not me and my toddler) with only minor trouble.

Can you see the purple peeking out? Yes, that’s the extent of it. Yes, I look a mess. No, I’m not apologizing, this is real life right here,

Despite me having purple hair right now, it’s still a conservative take on purple hair. As my hair curls, little bits of dark purple peek out, and they’re only really visible if you’re looking, or if there’s direct light. After all, I am over 30.

Yep, I just said that. I am over 30.

I have this odd dichotomy in my thinking where I’m fine with everyone else wearing and doing whatever makes them happy, but I’m hyper critical of myself. My favorite word is “contrived” – no seriously, ask my husband. If I put in effort to really put an outfit together, I worry it looks contrived. If I put on makeup, I look in the mirror and ask myself, is this contrived? I never want to look like I’m trying too hard because that would indicate that I care enough about what other people think that I did try that hard. And I don’t care that much.

See what I mean? Being me is very complicated.

Side note: I was feeling halfway decent this weekend as we headed out to Target, which is VERY GLAMOROUS THANK YOU, and I asked my husband, “do I look nice or is it like, “whoa, look at that hot mess with lipstick on?” [Should there be a double end quote here? I don’t know, so I’m leaving it as is.]

But anyway. This all brings me to my next topic. AGING. Specifically, GREY HAIR.

This mama is rocking short, fine, wavy-to-curly hair in a natural medium brown, with carefully placed purple streaks and grey hairs sticking out.

And the thing about greys is that they’re not like regular hair. They’re coarser, springier, with a sarcastic little life of their own. If they sat neatly with the rest of their neighbors it wouldn’t be a big deal, but no. They don’t want to do that. They want to pop up in odd directions and scream, “hey y’all, look at me!” Like total jerks.

I’m not ready to dye my entire head. That’s a lot of trouble. A lot of upkeep. And I like my natural color! Eventually I’m sure I’ll do it, but not yet. So I need to get used to and ignore my greys (which I swear all had babies the same time I did, because since becoming a mom of 2, I’m telling you, they’re everywhere).

Aside from my greys, things are changing. Things are always changing. Do I sometimes feel old and boring? Of course. But more often I just…feel. I’ll take getting older over the alternative, so it’s not worth the aggravation of getting myself flustered over getting older.

But enough about me and my hair. I want to tell you about…okay well, my hair, BUT SOMETHING ELSE TOO.

Dry shampoo. Have you tried it?

I can’t get the hang of it. I’ve tried different brands, a lot and a little, with long hair and short hair – and now that I have color treated hair, I really need to shampoo less often to preserve the color – and I just don’t like it. My hair doesn’t feel cleaner. In fact, the residue it leaves sort of grosses me out.

So I did a little research and I found another option. Ready?

Arrowroot powder.

If you’re not familiar with arrowroot powder, it’s a starch extracted from tropical tubers including arrowroot and cassava. [Kermit the Frog, singing sensation behind Caribbean Amphibian (my all time favorite song) should make a triumphant return with the follow up, Tropical Tuber. I’m just saying.]

Arrowroot is pretty excellent. It can be used in cooking to thicken sauces, and it is used in paleo baking in place of flour (just be sure to buy a type that’s means to be consumed). It’s also a common ingredient in natural deodorants, and an excellent substitute for talc powder (which we know now is a carcinogen), because it absorbs moisture. It can be purchased online from suppliers like Brambleberry Soap, or found in health food stores and even some supermarkets – I recently purchased a bag at our local Best Market, with the gluten free flours in the baking aisle.

So how do you use it as a dry shampoo? It’s pretty simple.

Arrowroot and a little cocoa powder.

Step 1: Put arrowroot in devoted container for this use, or small bowl.

Step 2: Grab blush or foundation brush (clean!).

Step 3: Part your hair and dab some on your scalp, continuing to part and dab until your head is fairly well saturated with arrowroot.

Step 4: Wait 10 minutes. Scroll through Instagram. File your nails. Whatever.

Step 5: Brush your hair to move the powder from the roots down your hair, and remove some of it.

Step 6: Rinse with water, or don’t, then style and go about your business.

I have dark hair, so I mixed in a little unsweetened cocoa powder so it’s not bright white. Also, it smells awesome. Dabbing it into my hair still made me look a thousand times greyer (JUST WHAT I WANT), but it helped. Once I brush my curls they’re done for the day, so I need to rinse, but I can do it without shampoo. And hey! My hair dries nicely and feels normal, not greasy.

I typically shampoo my hair every other day. This method allows me to shampoo, wait 2 days, dry shampoo, and then shampoo again on the 5th day. Could I get away with just rinsing? Probably. But just rinsing won’t suck up any scalp oil that’s lurking, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, making your bouncy locks into an oil slick that would make Severus Snape (of beloved memory, may he rest in peace, I’m not crying you’re crying) jealous.

If you, like me, are a dry shampoo hater, I hope this helped you out. Grab some arrowroot in the supermarket and if you don’t like how it works with your hair, grab some almond flour too and I’ll give you a cookie recipe. Whatever works.

Signing off,

Ilana

[Who is slightly manic from potty training and teething (two different children, one issue apiece) and not really sleeping; this results in way more typing in all caps than usual. Also, she doesn’t leave the house more frequently than every 5 days or so.]

Life Parenting

Hashtag, momlife

December 2, 2017

Hi there. Remember me?

Who am I kidding, after 7 weeks with a threenager and a newborn, I barely remember me.

I know, it’s been an eternity since I’ve written. My goal when I share here is really to share something of interest – a recipe or craft, a review or just…something helpful.

Do I do things now? Sure I do. But they’re done flying by the seat of my pants, usually with the aforementioned pants on fire.

“Quick! Before the baby wakes up! Stop jumping! Don’t throw that!”

#momlife

Fact is, I’ve got plenty I could write about. But it’s not fun useful stuff, it’s think pieces coming from a brain lacking in sleep and adult conversation. You want to know the kind of thing I think about?

You ever consider a Wubbanub? It’s a pacifier attached to a little stuffed animal (I thought they were ridiculous, but it actually braces it for the baby a bit). So when you think about it, my son is sucking on a dog’s nipple right now.

You see why I don’t share much?

Side note: have you seen the videos people do where they use the filters that make the eyes real big, the mouth real wide and the voice squeaky (you know, the one that makes you look like the Goombas in the Super Mario Bros movie from the ’90s)? I could do those videos. I say so many bizarre things normally, imagine if I could do it with some semblance of anonymity.

But anyway. Cough cough. Moving on.

So because I have nothing of real note to share with you, I’m going to share the story of The Day My Water Didn’t Break.

One night, back in September, we heard a bang in the middle of the night. My husband leapt out of bed, thinking Little Miss had fallen out of bed (I, being 8 months pregnant, rolled around awkwardly like a turtle on its shell). She was fine though, so we went to sleep and thought nothing of it.

The next morning I heard my husband leave for work. Then I heard him come back in; I figured he forgot his lunch or something. The suddenly he’s standing in the bedroom door.

“That noise last night. Someone* crashed into the car and drove off. Half the front of their car is in the street.”

*colorful language redacted

“My car,” I said, still groggy, “my baby?!”

Yep. My 2.5 month old, beautiful new Subaru, parked in front of the house, had been crashed into hard enough that it moved up onto the grass. The damage wound up being about $6k to repair.

My beloved car on her first day back.

Luckily, this was upsetting but manageable. We have good insurance, a good body shop nearby, and my husband knows his way around dealing with car insurance. So it was an inconvenience, but all we lost was a $500 deductible and about 18 days with a rental that smelled like cigarette smoke.

But anyway. Police officer comes to do a report, and even he is impressed that the other car drove off, leaving so many pieces behind.

The officer leaves and I’m on the phone with the owner of the body shop when Little Miss wakes up. Keep in mind, I’m 8 months pregnant, a little flustered, and shaking from adrenaline.

So my sweet 3 year old girl comes down the hall and finding me sitting on the couch on the phone, naturally climbs onto my lap, wrapping her little arms around my neck. And then suddenly I realize I’m sitting on a soaked couch cushion.

I feel around; my pajama pants are wet and the toddler’s shorts are dry. I’m trying my hardest to finish this conversation and retain some of the information I’m being given, but I can hear my voice getting higher and higher.

Now I’m pacing the kitchen, trying to figure out if my water just broke. The moment I’m off the phone, I run into the bathroom, shedding clothes as I go.

It turns out that no, my water hadn’t broken. Little Miss had peed on me, and in the position she was in, it had leaked out of the leg of her nighttime diaper and onto me without ever touching her clothing.

I was absolutely mortified for about a minute and then the situation got real funny.

#momlife

And this is why I have nothing of note to share.

Even when I do cool things, I’m doing it in a nursing tank top with spit up stains, and trying to do it as quickly as possible.

Maybe I’ll have a recipe or something to share one of these days! If I remember what I did. If I remember to take pictures. If the pictures are usable (who knows what state the house will be in).

Sigh.

#momlife

[This post was created entirely mobil, from the couch, with varying numbers of children on me.]

Life

Everything and nothing

August 1, 2017

It’s been nearly 3 months since we’ve posted. I know I know, complete dereliction of duty.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. I actually have a lot to say – about parenting, politics, social media, the world – I just choose not to say it. And truth is, I haven’t been doing that much of interest these past months.

It’s not that I haven’t been busy – it’s more than things have been fairly run of the mill. I planted a garden that got mostly eaten by the animals before it ever had a chance. I’ve tried more natural deodorants (if you want to know I’ll share my thoughts, but I feel like the state of my armpits just isn’t that interesting). I read the studies on how coconut oil isn’t good for you, and continue using it in health and beauty preparations as well as sparingly in cooking and baking, as I did before.

And I guess most notably, I’ve been working on cooking baby #2. Little Miss is desperately excited about being a big sister, and we are working on making way for him in our space – physical, mental and emotional. We’re doing plenty of actual cleaning and organizing (championed by me and a sudden and incessant need for organization), and I’m also working through a lot of feelings that come with my daughter turning 3 and the knowledge that both her and my world are about to change in a very big way.

And so, this post is about both everything, and absolutely nothing. L-I-F-E.

But, I’m not going to leave you with nothing but a couple lines of pregnant lady drivel! I’ve got a few recipes you should know about if you’re concerned with gluten free or dairy free baking (titles are links).

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Brownies

from Paleo Running Momma

These dark chocolate brownies are gluten free and dairy free, paleo (made with almond flour). They are moist and fudgy; the batter is layered with a quick and simple to make raspberry sauce. Hot damn, people. These are awesome, stay beautifully in the fridge for a couple of days (they’re actually really good cold), and they’re really quite easy to make.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

from The Pretty Bee

I’m not being dramatic when I say this cake is outstanding. It’s gluten and dairy free (actually vegan, no eggs either), and the result is a rich, moist, awesome cake. Non-dairy cream cheese which is kind of nasty on it’s own is magically transformed into a sweet, creamy, amazing frosting. I have played with the recipe (subbing in a little almond flour for gluten free flour so it’s a mix), and flat out left out an ingredient by accident (the oil), and it still came good!

No-Butter Snickerdoodles

from The Frugal South

I actually just finished baking these. They are made with regular flour, but are dairy free (oil, no butter). They’re easy to make in a single bowl and bake in 8-10 minutes. The cookies puff way up in the oven then deflate a bit once they’re out; this isn’t a big, pillowy snickerdoodle, but as long as you don’t overbake them, they seem to retain a nice chewy texture and a lovely cinnamon flavor.