Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's not "Death by Chocolate," but It's Close!

We're trying to deal with the cold temperatures here in Philadelphia, and like many of my friends and neighbors, that means baking.  Why is it when the weather turns cold, we want sweets?

Yummy, chocolate-y bread pudding, fresh out of the oven!
My daughter was home for a visit several days ago, and we decided to use up a partial loaf of French bread to make Double Chocolate Bread Pudding.  This recipe appeared years ago in Good Housekeeping magazine at the request from a reader who had this delicious dessert at the Red Fish Grill in New Orleans.  It isn't hard to make, but does take a bit of time.  Gather the following ingredients:

2 cups of heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (chips or a chopped bar)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
about 6 ounces day-old French bread
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
whipped cream or Cool Whip and hot fudge sauce (optional)

The recipe calls for simple ingredients.
Begin by cutting day-old French bread into 1 inch cubes.  Place in a 1 1/2 quart or 8" x 8" glass baking dish.
(My glass dish is 8" x 10")

Next, mix the cream, sugar and milk into a heavy 2 quart saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat.  Whisk in 6 ounces of chocolate until mixture is smooth and chocolate is melted.  Gradually whisk in eggs and vanilla until well combined.  (It's important to take your time adding the eggs...if you pour them in too fast, they will clump together instead of blend with the other ingredients.)

Pour mixture over the bread cubes and stir to coat the bread evenly.  Cover and place baking dish into the refrigerator for 30 minutes, stirring two or three times.

Stir a few times, so the bread sops up the pudding mixture.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Top the bread mixture with 1/4 cup chocolate chips, and bake in oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until pudding is set.
Sprinkle on some chocolate chips just before baking.
Cool 10 minutes to serve warm, or cover and refrigerate to serve cold later.  Top with whipped cream and for a little extra decadence, drizzle with hot fudge sauce.

Simply delicious!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Zippity Do Dah!

What to do with hundreds of zippers??

Here's one idea:

Yes, it's a luggage tag, made with a recycled zipper and recycled leather!

Back to the friend, Sherrie, had received a VERY large donation of sewing supplies, fabric and notions, and sorted it all our for our local American Sewing Guild.  I was away from home at the time, but she offered to set aside a few things for me.  Instead of picking through the zippers, she gave me the whole bag of them -- 337 in all colors and sizes!!

My new zipper stash, sorted by size.
So, I've been looking for projects to make with my newly acquired craft material.

While in Missouri last fall, my niece sought my help in crafting some leather luggage tags that she wanted to make for Christmas gifts.  A quick trip to the Goodwill store yielded the leather in the form of a skirt, a women's blazer and a large purse.  When we were finished, she had 13 luggage tags and a few people scratched off her gift list.

Her project motivated me to make a few luggage tags and I was inspired further by the tiny zippers in this collection.

A red Wilson jacket (that cost me $20 at the thrift store) was the perfect weight for my tags. When recycling leather garments, I found it best to start by deconstructing them.  Using my scissors, I cut the jacket apart along the seam lines, trimming out the lining as I went.

Depending on the style of the garment, you can end up with some pretty large pieces of leather! Also, some of the design elements of the garment can be left in tact and incorporated into something else (like the flat-felled pocket on the right (above) may become the top of a clutch?)

Using my rotary cutter and ruler, I cut two pieces, and sewed the zipper to them.

Sewing leather is not hard, but a few specialty sewing notions come in handy:  first, buy a package of leather needles.  They are a bit heavier and are designed to pierce the leather without breaking.  Second, a Teflon-coated presser foot keeps the leather gliding along under the needle without jamming or skipping stitches. (Someone suggested covering a regular presser foot with a piece of scotch tape, but I haven't tried that.)

After inserting the zipper, I trimmed the leather to create the top of the tag.

I made a 'layer sandwich' of another piece of leather, wrong side up, a piece of heavy vinyl, and the zippered top piece, and stitched around three edges.  I trimmed the bottom leather and vinyl after I stitched them in place, to be sure nothing slipped and the sides of the tag were nice and clean.

I made a little 'belt' out of another strip of leather and a buckle from my stash of recycled hardware, but needed to put a cut in the tag into which the belt would go.

Another notion, called a button-hole cutter, made quick work of that!
The wood block under the leather protects your table when using a button-hole cutter.
When the tag is unzipped, you can slip a business card or a piece of paper with your name and address under the vinyl piece.  The zipper helps protect your identity from prying eyes.  I especially liked the bright color -- it makes it easy to identify your bags in the airport.

I just couldn't help myself when I saw a lavender leather jacket (clearly for a woman!) for about $12 at another thrift shop.  And I couldn't stop making more luggage tags...what a great gift!!

Two different styles of luggage tag made from lavender leather.
Check back later...I have a lot more leather and zippers, and I'm hoping to come up with more ideas how to use them, alone or together!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

From Pinterest to my Dining Room Table

I can't be the only person who spends time browsing through Pinterest and saving pins that I'd like to try someday.  But I wonder how many people go back to their pin boards and actually try a recipe, recreate a craft or re-purpose a piece of furniture that inspired them.  When I'm looking for something fun to do, I open my Pinterest board and pick something.  Here's what I finished today:

A vintage doily table runner with my mother-in-law's antique aluminum tea pot filled with pink tea roses.
A similar doily table runner has been on Pinterest since 2010.  An article appeared on the Country Living website about how to use vintage doilies for decorating, and the original pinner thought was neat -- and I do, too!

I have been collecting vintage linens and laces for about 20 years, so I knew I had the materials on hand to make one myself.  But you can find vintage linens just about thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales.  Most are not too expensive, but larger pieces can run several dollars.  

I pulled out my bin of vintage lines and began to dig through it for some doilies that could work for this project.  Some of my stuff is stained, cut into small pieces or lengths of lace trim, so I had to be selective.  I found nine that would make up a nice runner.

My stash has a large variety of lace, linen and trim.
Over time, vintage linens will discolor or stains will mysteriously appear.  I found a product at a quilt show that does a wonderful job cleaning vintage linens.  It's called "Restoration" and is a powder that you mix with water.  Restoration is color safe, fabric safe, environmentally safe and an excellent deodorizer. To remove most stains, yellowing and restore brightness and freshness, mix it with water according to the directions and soak the linens for a few hours.  After soaking, remove the linens and rinse thoroughly under cool water, then lay them flat to dry.  It also helps remove stains and yellowing to let linens dry in bright sunshine.  Just spread a clean, white sheet or towel outside, and lay the doilies flat on top for several hours.  Take the time to 'block' them into the shape they should be...round, oval, neatly as possible.  This will eliminate the need to iron most of the doilies later.
Restoration is available at
After cleaning my doilies, I did a rough layout, moving things around until I had a pleasing arrangement.  I did measure my table first for the proper length.  I didn't want the doilies to hang over the edges.

Move the doilies around until you get a nice arrangement, then pin the pieces together.
I pinned the pieces and used white thread to baste the doilies together.  If I ever want to use them in a different way, they can be cut apart easily.

I tried to find doilies in my stash that were different -- included in this runner are examples of crochet, Irish crochet, netting, tenerife, and bobbin lace.  The color palette ranges from bright white to ivory.  

This runner make a distinctive foundation for a small floral arrangement, candles, or a bowl of fruit.  It looks especially sweet with vintage furniture, like my 1930's Duncan Fife dining room table.

On to the next project!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Revolving Door at Our House

Our house is quiet youngest son went back for his last semester of college yesterday, my middle son started a new job today, and our house guest (of the past 7 months) moved out a week ago into his own apartment in anticipation of the new semester starting next week.

One of the projects I worked on in December was a quilted throw as a gift for him.

While it wouldn't qualify as high-end design, there is a little story behind it.

My son's friend, Niyi, needed a place to stay while he took a semester off of college.  His mom lives in another state, but he had a good summer internship outside Philadelphia.  So my d.h. and I invited him to move into our house until he returned to school.  In the evenings, he would ask me to play chess or a board game.  After beating me at chess in three moves, we switched to Scrabble. Two or three times a week, we'd engage in a lively game.  Sometimes I won, sometimes he did.  One thing I learned is that the Scrabble dictionary of acceptable words has expanded greatly in the past six or seven years, a phenomenon I attribute to "Words with Friends."

When I saw the licensed Scrabble tile print fabric at a Quilt Show, I knew I had to buy it to make something for Niyi.  I bought the outer border and backing fabric at the same quilt show, but found the blue, yellow and red prints in my stash. I picked a simple block to create a border around the tile fabric.

Our friend is quite tall -- over 6 feet.  I needed to make the throw a bit longer than the panel came, so I split it in half and added a piece of blue stripe fabric between the two.  I had one row of  tiles left over, so I incorporated them into the corner blocks.

I decided to machine quilt this myself, so after I pinned the layers together, I set up my machine with the stitch guide and quilted diagonal lines 2 1/2" apart across the throw, not including the borders.

It is just a little something to send along with our friend.  I hope that he treasures it as much as I treasured our evenings playing Scrabble!
Our friend Niyi at Christmas.