February Wardrobe Architect Challenge

A few of weeks ago I posted about the Wardrobe Architect Challenge. In the first month I constructed a mediocre blouse using no pattern, but for the February part of the challenge, I decided I was going to try my hand at another blouse, this time using Colette’s Violet blouse pattern. Well, this is the part where I tell you I did exactly as I said I would and finished the blouse. But it is not. The first week of February we went on vacation. Then a giant metaphorical storm rolled in at work and I was exhausted. Then my sister joined us for the long weekend and we had way too much fun doing non-project things. So then there were about 10 days left in February. While it wouldn’t have been impossible to tackle the Violet, I hadn’t gotten around to ordering my fabric at this point. So I decided to switch the February and March projects and instead work on my accessory first and save the blouse for March. This is also the part where I tell you I actually completed this part of the challenge in February, but that would not be true. I completed the February challenge in March.

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The timing actually worked out. I’d realized just after my vacation, and after buying two new purses, that I should have also purchased myself a nice heavy tote bag while I was on my bag buying spree. The reason is actually practical: I often bring two bags to work with me; one purse for my wallet, phone, etc. and one larger bag, usually a canvas tote or a baggu for carrying my lunch, shoes, sweaters, etc. I have a lot of baggage. The canvas tote and the baggus work fine, but are more suited for groceries. I really kind of had a bag like this in mind, but without the heavy price tag (after all, I did just blow a ton of money on nice designer purses!). The main reason the February challenge didn’t get finished by the end of the month is that I waffled too long on materials. I wanted a leather bag but I was just unable to find exactly what I wanted. Feeling a little bit defeated, I pushed the challenge to the back of my mind. After about a week or so of avoidance, a little inspiration hit and I decided that I would use some fabric that I already had on hand and add the leather touch I wanted through straps.

I mentioned in the first Wardrobe Challenge post that I already owned several bag patterns, but I actually decided to instead wing it, because that’s what I kind of like to do with personal sewing projects. As much as I do like making the bags with patterns, I didn’t really have anything that was exactly what I wanted. Making a basic tote bag is really simple using two pieces of fabric that are the same size and then attaching straps – it is unbelievably simple to alter your bag however you would like. I decided to give my bag some extra stability by using leather straps and then adding a fusible interfacing to all of the pieces of my fabric. In addition to this, I also boxed the bottom of the bag so it I could easily stack lunch containers in the bag without the containers falling over (Purl Bee has a great tutorial and bag pattern for free that you can use).

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I also wanted my bag to have hidden pockets on the inside, as well as the ability to close at the top. I considered a zipper or a magnetic snap but instead opted for one of these adorable little button closures and some scrap leather. I didn’t do any finishing to the leather edges because I really love the look of raw leather.

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I want to talk for a minute on costs. I didn’t mention cost at all in my original wardrobe challenge post because I didn’t think about it much until I started this month’s challenge (my January project did not incur me any additional costs because I already had all of the materials in my stash and I made my own pattern). This month I only had a few of the supplies on hand, so I needed to purchase a few things. The entire project cost about $59, which includes fabric ($16), fusible interfacing ($18), leather straps ($20), and thread and finishing accessories ($5).

In addition to the cost of the materials, the project took me about 2 hours from start to finish – which isn’t too big of a time commitment for a sewing project (I estimate the Violet blouse will take me about a whole day).

Now that the bag is finished, I’m feeling inspired again for the next month’s challenge. Also, even though I didn’t stick exactly to this month’s challenge, I think it is okay to be flexible. The blouse is a little bit daunting for me and I was feeling a bit stressed out, especially about time constraints. Instead of immediately failing the challenge and crawling in to the fetal position, I decided to make adjustments to the challenge and do something that I was more comfortable with and that I knew I would enjoy making. After all, what’s the point of the challenge if I’m going to be stressed out and hating every minute of it?

 Outer main fabric and inner fabric by Bonnie Christine from Hawthorne Threads, outer secondary fabric from local fabric store, leather and brass accessories from Tandy Leather.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon The Simple Way

I remember the first time I saw Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon recipe – it seemed daunting. I’m not usually one to take on complicated recipes, although I do appreciate them knowing that the end results are almost always worth it. Actually, I wouldn’t say that Julia’s recipe is particularly complicated, but it is pretty elaborate and I don’t usually have the sort of time to commit to an elaborate recipe, and I don’t know a lot of people that do. So after some experimenting, I have come up with a very simple version that will give you just as good of results – as Julia says in her book Mastering The Art of French Cooking “there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”. For the below recipe, cooking time is several hours, but the actual commitment is about an hour, including prep, browning the meat, checking the pot in the oven a few minutes each hour, and clean-up time. Trust me, it is a piece of cake!

First of all, the original recipe calls for bacon chunk, which is something you have to ask for from your butcher – we get our bacon from a pork grower at the farmer’s market that does not keep this on hand at the market, but will bring it in specially if you ask – but again, who has time for that? You would have to be the kind of person that plans their meals weeks in advance – and that just doesn’t happen with me. So I used regular bacon slices instead.

Second, I don’t know what cut of beef I actually used for this recipe. The truth is, I had a few roasts in my freezer that were unlabeled that came from my family’s farm. It doesn’t really matter (I know, gasp!) – you’ll be cooking it for several hours and it will fall apart in your mouth when it’s ready – it will be amazing. Go ahead and get the cheaper cut – it should be fairly lean though as there is already lots of fat in the bacon. My roast was probably about 5lbs and I just cut it up into about 1 1/2 – 2 inch cubes.

Third, Julia’s original recipe does not have a lot of vegetables in it. It has an onion, one carrot, mushrooms and a bunch of pearl onions. I omitted the mushrooms, but I did add several more carrots and some new potatoes. Julia’s original recipe cooks the mushrooms and pearl onions separately in an herb broth, but I didn’t want to dirty more dishes, so my vegetables just got thrown in to the pot for the last hour of cooking. She also suggests serving boiled potatoes with the dish, but I figured the potatoes would retain more of their nutritional value if I just threw them in with the beef.

I would suggest using a large cast iron dutch oven for this recipe. You’ll need a pot that you can transfer from the oven to the stove and back to the oven – the pot needs to be able to regulate heat well and I’ve found that cast iron is the best material for this purpose.

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Simple Boeuf Bourguignon

Ingredients
– 8 slices of bacon
– 4-5 pounds of lean stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch cubes
– 1 onion, chopped
– Ground black pepper
– 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
– 1 bottle of red wine (I used a bottle of the store-brand reserve red wine, it was very inexpensive but also was pretty good quality. Don’t spend a ton of money on a bottle of wine, but make sure you get something that is at least drinkable on its own)
– 3-4 cups of beef stock
– 1 tbsp tomato paste (did you know that instead of buying cans of tomato paste, you can buy tomato paste concentrate in tubes that store in the fridge and last for several months?! This was a life-altering discovery for me)
– 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife (add more if you’re a garlic nut like I am)
– A few sprigs of fresh thyme (you’ll also need fresh thyme for your herb bouquet below)
– 1 large bay leaf
– 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in to 1 inch lengths
– 15-20 whole new potatoes, washed
– 20 pearl onions, skins removed
– Fresh herb bouquet (parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage) – you can tie it with baker’s twine or in cheesecloth.

Instructions
– In a large cast iron dutch oven, fry your bacon on medium heat until it is slightly cooked and the greases have been released (you’ll be browning your beef in this afterwards). Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside on a plate.

– Dry your beef very well on paper towels – beef does not brown properly if it is wet. Brown a few pieces of the beef at a time in the bacon grease on medium heat – do not overcrowd the beef while it browns! It took me three batches to brown my beef so be very patient, this is one of the most important steps. Put the browned beef aside with the bacon.

– Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

– Cook the chopped yellow onion in the remaining grease and then turn off the stove for now.

– Add the beef and bacon to the onion in the dutch oven. Coat everything with pepper and 2 tbsp of flour (you do not need to add salt – I find that there is enough salt between the bacon and beef broth). Put the pot (uncovered) in the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Take the pot out, stir everything and put it back in the oven for another 4 minutes. This creates a nice crust on everything. Remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

– On the stove top, pour beef stock and red wine (equal amounts of each – reserve the remaining for later) over the beef until it is just barely covered – stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Bring the pot to a simmer.

– Put the pot (covered) back in to the oven and check it about every hour until finished (it is about 3-4 hours for me). Be careful that the liquid does not evaporate completely! It will reduce quite a bit while cooking, but you can add additional wine and stock – the liquid should be thick at the end. The beef is ready when it easily comes apart with a fork – it should actually just fall apart from being so tender. Your beef will be tough for quite a while during the cooking time but it will eventually take a turn for the better and become really, really tender – this is what all the time was for. About an hour before your beef is ready, you’ll want to add in the new potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and herb bouquet. You’re probably asking how you’ll know when this time comes – you know when your beef starts to become easier to stab with a fork (prior to this point it was probably very tough). Add the vegetables and possibly a little bit of stock (don’t add too much – the vegetables do not need to be submerged, they will cook from the steam and heat in the dutch oven). After the last hour is complete and you’ve taken the pot out of the oven, remove and discard the herb bouquet and bay leaf from before.

I usually serve my stew with these parmesan thyme buns from Sweet Paul – they are very simple to make. The dough takes about an hour to rise and once your beef comes out of the oven, just turn the temperature up and shape your buns while the oven is heating. The buns take about 15 minutes to bake.

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That’s it! Very simple and not daunting at all. Enjoy!

I found a PDF online of Julia’s original recipe which also includes some recommended beef cuts.

Starting Pepper Seeds & Seed Starting Tips

I’d planned to write this post a little earlier since lots of people are getting ready to start their seeds about now, but I ran in to a bit of a dilemma when my local Ikea did not have the shelves I wanted in stock. I’d had plans to expand my seed starting operation (more on this later), but unfortunately I needed to resort to stalking the Ikea website until the shelves were back in stock. Finally last week they were available and I made a special trip there to pick them up. In case anyone else is looking to buy these shelves at Ikea, I will explain a very useful tip that I wish I would have known before bursting in to an Ikea fit of rage at home later that evening. Here’s the story: I am very organized when I go to Ikea – I have a list of the things I want that includes name, product number, and location (I really don’t like spending more time than I have to in most big box stores). So that’s exactly what I did – I went in with my detailed list, went directly to the self-serve furniture area and picked up exactly what I needed, assuming the hardware would be in the plastic packages that were dangling from the shelf frames. Nope. Of course, they don’t actually tell you this anywhere or make it at all obvious. And why would I bother actually checking that little dangling package? It’s Ikea, you would think they have their shit together. Also, these shelves do not include assembly instructions, so how are you supposed to even know what you need hardware wise? You don’t. And most people wouldn’t actually notice any of this until they get home and start trying to put their shelves together. Luckily instead of going all the way back to the store, I decided to google “How to put Ikea Ivar shelves together” and stumbled upon this blog post on Making It Lovely which told me where THE HARDWARE WAS HIDING! (and it seems she didn’t know either until a reader commented on her post. Curse you, Ikea!). Anyway, luckily everything is sorted and now I feel like I can write this post properly.

The peppers! Back in January I wrote about the big seed order of 2015 and about a week after that, I sat down and made a seed starting schedule. If you’re new to gardening, you may or may not know that many seeds require to be started indoors several weeks and occasionally several months early. The timing is really dependent on your climate and what you’re planning to grow. I like to grow a lot of peppers, squash, and tomatoes. I usually start the peppers several months early because they will be transferred to my greenhouse in early spring – plus they don’t get leggy if they live inside the house for too long, like tomatoes tend to do. The tomatoes are started about 6-8 weeks before they will be transferred outside (I usually aim for the first week of June because most of the danger of snow is gone – but I live in Alberta, so is the danger ever really gone? Not really). The squash get started about 4 weeks early and go outside around the same time as the tomatoes. Most seed packets will give you a general outline of when seeds should be started indoors or planted directly outdoors, and you can easily find information online on ideal seed starting times for your climate.

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So the first round was getting the peppers started. I had a few pepper plants that I started mid-summer indoors last year that I’ve been keeping indoors – they are not doing great (see photo at bottom of this post). In the late fall they suffered from an infestation of spider mites that I didn’t catch right away and most of the peppers did not survive. The two that did are runts. I have managed to keep them alive and I think being put under the grow lights will do them some good. Aside from the sad peppers I already had growing, I started about 1/2 tray of new pepper seeds. I didn’t bother waiting until I had my shelves set up, I just went ahead and let them grow on the counter (so there are currently 24 pepper plants started right now – all different varieties. Am I insane? Yes.). They have since been moved to the seed starting shelf below.

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Now back to the actual set-up: I’ve expanded my seed starting set up this year using some of the things I wrote about a few weeks ago here. For almost the last 10 years I’ve been using a seed starting greenhouse that my Mom bought for me, which has worked great (I’m still using it, it just isn’t in any of my photos). I highly recommend these types of shelves for people who do not have a ton of storage room as the whole unit breaks down and fits in to a medium sized rubbermaid container in the off-seasons. For my new expanded section, I decided to use these Ivar shelves from Ikea because I could use them in the off-seasons as basement storage. I will also be purchasing another inexpensive shop light from Home Depot, although right now I only have one (it’s all I need right now but I’ll need more in a few weeks when I start more seeds) – and I just used those screw in hooks to hang the light from. The shop lights are adjustable so I can move them up and down as needed. I am also planning on purchasing a couple more heavy duty plant trays from the greenhouse as I’ll need sturdy trays for schlepping plants in and out of the house during the hardening off phase in spring (this means gradually introducing the indoor grown seedlings to the outside world in order to prevent plant shock, which can cause damage and possibly death to your seedlings). Altogether, I will probably spend around $200 this year on expanding my seed starting set up. In addition to that, I also purchased good quality seed starting soil and the seeds – but those costs are fairly minimal. $200+ is a good chunk of change to shell out at once, but for someone that grows as many plants as I do from seed, it is much, much cheaper than purchasing young plants from the garden centre. And if I think of the cost spread out over many future growing seasons, it isn’t that much. I’ve been wanting to expand the set-up for a few years because I’m finding myself growing more and more plants from seed, but I just didn’t really want to spend the money. Now that almost everything is set up, I don’t know why I just didn’t go ahead and do it earlier. Another incentive for expanding the seed growing operation this year was dining room space. Honestly, we do not use this room for its intended purpose (I can count on two fingers the amount of times we’ve eaten at our dining room table this year) – it is my sewing/crafting area and for a few months a year it also acts as my seed starting area. So in order to continue using it for my crafty projects, I need to ensure the seedlings are contained to one area. It doesn’t look like I’m using much of the shelving right now, but in a couple of months when everything is bigger and has been transferred to larger growing containers, it will look like a jungle.

So now that I’ve talked about the expanded seed starting operation, I wanted to touch on some of my go-to seed starting tips. Seed starting is very easy and I really love taking care of the young seedlings and watching them grow. I never get tired of seeing the first plants pushing their way out of the soil.

Seed Starting Tips
1. Make a list of all of your seeds that need to be started early indoors. This may include tomatoes, peppers, squash, flowers, herbs, etc. Your seed packets will have recommendations on indoor seed starting times (if your seed packets only have a “direct sow” date, you can plant these directly in the ground in the spring, they do not need to be started early indoors). Like I mentioned above, you can easily search online for ideal seed starting times for your climate. I am in US zone 3, so most of my seeds are started in April and May (my last frost date is May 23rd, but I usually push it back to June 1st for my own peace of mind for my delicate plants like tomatoes and squash). After I’ve determined which plants need to be started indoors, I usually make a seed starting calendar. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, I have a list of chronological dates with all the seeds I need to start on that date listed underneath.
2. Put together a dedicated seed starting area and gather your seed starting supplies – here are some of the things you might want to get for your set-up.
3. The most important things to remember are good soil, consistent water, heat, and airflow. Starting seeds in a basement works, but you need to provide adequate lighting and heat (this is where those shop lights and heating mats come in handy). Seedlings do not like to have dry soil, but they also do not like wet soil. Think about how a wringed out sponge feels and that’s what you want your soil to be like. I usually use a misting bottle initially and mist my soil a couple of times a day until the seedlings appear, and then I use a watering can with a very skinny spout that is easy to control. Airflow is important because it promotes strong stems and roots, and also prevents mold and other diseases caused by poor airflow and high humidity. When my seedlings get a little bigger, I like to set up my table fan nearby. Remember that your plants will be exposed to wind when they finally make it outdoors, so you want them to be prepared with strong roots (you know how it feels to jump in to a swimming pool after you’ve simmered in the hot tub? Prepare your seedlings indoors before bringing them in to the outside world, the last thing you want is for their seedling bodies to go in to hot tub/pool shock).
4. Always label your starts with name and date planted. You may think you’ll remember what you planted in which container, but lots of seedlings look exactly the same, so save yourself the frustration later and label everything. I like to also make a little note on my tomatoes on what type they are (dwarf, tumbling, determinate, indeterminate so I don’t have to refer to the packets later when mapping out where I will be planting them outdoors).
5. When your seedlings outgrow their containers, transplant them in to larger containers. You don’t want your plant’s roots to become suffocated. Alternatively you can start your plants in larger containers to begin with, which is what I like to do with my tomatoes and squash which grow large fairly quickly.
6. How about fertilizers? I actually don’t fertilize my seedlings at all. The starting soil that I use has a natural slow release fertilizer in it already, so there is no need for me. I’ve used starting soils without this as well and it has been fine. I don’t like my seedlings to grow too leggy or spindly in their containers while they are living indoors, so it works for me to go without the additional fertilizers. Once everything gets moved outdoors for the season, they get a good douse of fish fertilizer.
7. These are your babies – talk to them and pet them. I know it sounds weird and if you didn’t think I was nuts before, you do now. I always talk to my seedlings because I’m crazy and I talk to everything, but giving them a light brush with your hand has a similar effect as the fan – it helps them to grow strong roots that will help them when the hardening off adventure begins. You don’t actually need to talk to your plants, I’m just insane. Or am I?

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So now here is the first round of seeds started, it’s so great having everything set up again because it means spring is coming! I’m sure I’ll be complaining about plants taking over my house in no time, but for now I will enjoy it. Have you started any seeds yet?

New Quilt Stitched By Me

I posted a photo of my new finished quilt on Instagram a few weeks ago but I love it so much that I wanted to also post it here on my blog. This was one of those projects that was on my sewing to-do list for quite awhile. I have made a patchwork lap throw in the past and really liked the end result, but I just loved this fabric from my favorite artist, Leah Duncan, so much that I really didn’t want to cut it up, so I thought the best thing to do would be to let the pattern speak for itself and make it into a throw quilt. I used a simple polka dot fabric on the back side and finished it up with a plain black bias border. I’d considered doing a bolder border, like a stripe or something, but I kind of liked the idea of keeping it simple. Also, another note on the bias – I have tried sewing bias before and kind of failed, but then I found this excellent tutorial via Pinterest. Try it out if you’re going to be sewing a bias edge! It does take a bit more time and patience, but the end result is worth it. Now on to the next sewing project!

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Are you working on any projects? I have a million things on my project list right now so it is going to be a busy weekend for me!

My Laundry Favorites & DIY Laundry Soap Recipe

I am going to admit right away that I get really excited about good quality, functional and beautiful laundry care products. I actually get excited about a lot of simple things, like seeing the Canada Post guy walking up to my door, hearing the seal pop on canning jars, or using a new sharpie for the first time. Yep, simple things amuse simple minds. Anyway, I have this dream, like probably many people do, of having a really beautiful laundry room in my house. Of course, that is kind of an expensive dream that is a totally unnecessary luxury. Hell, I’m lucky to even be able to do laundry in my own house. My current laundry room is housed in my unfinished basement. The walls and floor are concrete (and not the pretty polished concrete you see in all the really expensive modern homes), all the plumbing and electrical is exposed, and the cat litter boxes are nearby. Not what you would call a laundry sanctuary. Maybe one day my laundry room dream will come true (we’re talking like 20 years here folks). But the current set-up is functional and I fill it with products that I love in order to make the laundry experience more enjoyable. Here are a few of my favorite products or things that are on my dream laundry room wishlist:

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1. Mrs. Meyers Lavender Fabric Softener $7.99 & Dryer Sheets $7.99 – mrsmeyers.com – I don’t really like most scented laundry products, but Mrs. Meyers makes a really subtle lavender scented product. I hang dry most of my clothes so using a fabric softener is a must for me. The dryer sheets are nice for laundering bedding.

2. Wooden Drying Rack $115.00 – Rejuvenation – This is not the exact drying rack that I have but it is pretty close (I bought mine at Portland Homestead Supply in Portland, Oregon). I used to have a wire rack from either Wal-mart or Ikea but it was POS and it eventually became unusable. I’ve had my wooden rack for a couple of years now and it is showing no signs of wear at all.

3. Laundry Cart $249.00 – Old Faithful Shop – I don’t have this but I want it. I’ve wanted it for a few years but I haven’t been able to justify spending the money. It’s so pretty though.

4. Wooden Ironing Board $99.99 (on sale!) – West Elm – I don’t have this either but it is also on my wish list. My current ironing board is okay but isn’t the greatest quality or the prettiest. I like pretty things.

5. Wool Dryer Balls $26.99 – amazon.ca – I love these wool dryer balls, especially for bedding. I used to use the plastic/rubber dryer balls until I heard that they could be damaging to the sensors on your dryer. I have no idea whether or not that is true but I do like the wool balls and they do not bang around in the dryer like the old ones did.

6. XL Mason Jar $21.25 – amazon.ca – You’re probably wondering why I like mason jars in my laundry room. I use them to store my laundry soap and my laundry making supplies. They are perfect for the laundry soap because you can just shake the jar instead of having to keep a soapy whisk in your laundry area.

That brings me to my next point: I read a lot of articles about making your own cleaners and shampoo and yogurt and so on. I’ve tried some of those things and they work pretty well but it is debatable on whether or not they actually save you that much money. But the laundry soap is another story! A DIY laundry soap that works really well AND is really cheap to make?! This is it. I’ve been making it for about 3 years and it has never failed me. It will take you about 20 minutes to make and last for a couple of months (that’s for two people only). I have always been a bit hesitant to sharing my recipe because I want to keep the secret for myself but here it is for you all to go ahead and try out. Let me know what you think!

DIY Laundry Soap Recipe

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup washing soda
1/3 bar of soap, grated OR 1 cup soap flakes (I’ve used both – soap flakes are easier)
20 cups of water (I use tap water)
Essential oils (optional – I use lavender and just add as much as I feel like at the time)

Instructions:
In a large saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the borax, washing soap and soap flakes in 4 cups of water. Once dissolved, remove from stove and pour in to a large bucket. Add 1/2 the water, stir to mix, add the rest of the water and any essential oils you like and stir to mix. Let sit overnight or until the next day when you have time to transfer it into containers (I’ve left mine for as long as a couple of days and it doesn’t make a difference – it isn’t like rising bread or anything). Transfer to containers with lids and whisk or shake before use. 1/2 cup per load is more than sufficient.

Please note: I have a front loading HE washer and this soap works great in cold or hot water.

I am not sponsored or affiliated with any of the products featured in this post, I am just very fond of these products!