Saturday, February 23, 2013

Crochet Balls Baby Toy

Lily's first birthday required something handmade, of course. She lives in another state, so I wanted to make something that was light and easy to mail. I decided on crochet balls, but couldn't find a good pattern. They were either too small (lots of cute arigumi patterns, but too small for a one-year-old), or weirdly misshapen. After much trial and error, I found the perfect pattern here. The only modification I made was using multi-colored yarn and leaving out the middle stripe (just use the same yarn instead of switching colors where indicated in the instructions).

First, crochet the halves of the ball according to the pattern. Do this while you are not distracted, because you have to count stitches carefully. My poor husband got a dirty look when he said something funny and made me lose my place!


Sew the halves together with a big darning needle. Stop about an inch and a half from the finish.

 Stuff with polyester stuffing and finish sewing shut. Tie a couple of good knots and weave in the end of the yarn. Happy Birthday Lily!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Best Baby Products for Grandmas

 There is an overwhelming amount of products for babies, and they seem to have multiplied sixty times over in the space between when I had babies and grandbabies. It's been interesting to see what seemed like a good idea, but is used once and then put aside (baby bath contraption, video baby monitor...) These two products, however, are my favorites, and they are new since my go-round with kidlets. I don't know how I survived without them.  
The first is this mesh food holder. My niece Michelle told me about it, and it's Ryan's favorite thing. It keeps him entertained and he could feed himself before he had the motor skills to do it any other way. I put a piece of banana (Ryan's favorite) or peeled apple inside the mesh holder, and then he can suck out the fruit and juice. Since it comes through the mesh, there is nothing to choke on. The banana does make a big mess, so that's why he's naked in the picture. Easier to hose off afterwards! I don't always have baby food around, but I always have bananas or apples. Michelle says her daughter loved peaches and nectarines the best.

My other favorite baby thing is this little seat I got from Target. The padded seat helped him sit up before he could do it on his own, and it functions as a play table and high chair. The circle part rotates around to a food tray or a variety of attached toys. I love that I don't have to have a big high chair in my kitchen, and he is very happy to sit on the table and watch me cook or do dishes, especially if he's got a banana in his mesh feeder. He also makes an entertaining centerpiece for Sunday dinner!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cookie Bouquet

My husband loves these sugar cookies for Valentine's Day, but I wanted to do something a little different this year. I decided to make a cookie bouquet, because any food is better if you put it on a stick, right? The recipe for the cookies is here.  Roll out the dough thick enough to support a bamboo skewer. Cut out the shapes and place them on a cookie sheet. Stick the skewer into the dough so it goes through the whole length of the cookie. Make sure it goes through the middle of the dough and isn't coming through on the back.

 Put a piece of styrofoam or floral foam inside a basket, large mug or other container.

 Place some tissue loosely on top of the styrofoam, and tuck it on the edges between the styrofoam and the container.

Stick in the cookies, starting with the middle and working out toward the edges. It's almost too pretty to eat, but I'm sure my husband will manage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries - Easy!

Chocolate-dipped strawberries are so delicious and decadent, but you really shouldn't buy them because you can make them easily and inexpensively yourself. It's not hard, I promise, and you'll save yourself the $40 - $50 you would spend to buy them. I used to work at a place where we made gourmet dipped fruit, and imagine how amazed I was when I realized it was nothing more than semi-sweet chocolate chips and a little technique.

First, wash the berries thoroughly and let them dry completely before you dip them. If you get water droplets in the chocolate, it will ruin it, and if the berries are wet, they won't hold the chocolate properly. The best way to ensure that they are dry is to lay the berries out on a towel to air dry, but if you're impatient like me, you can roll them around on a towel until all the water is gone.

The chocolate is simply semi-sweet chocolate chips. Place about a cup of chips in a microwave-safe container. Heat for 30 seconds and stir, then heat for 15 seconds at a time, stir, and repeat until they are just barely melted. Stir until smooth. Do not overheat or you'll get lumpy chocolate.

You can stir in a tablespoon of shortening if you want - this is how some of the retail places do it to thin the chocolate and get a smoother, glossier finish. I prefer to give up a little of the aesthetics, however, for a better-tasting, more satisfying chocolate coating.

 If you want to dip the berries in other toppings such as coconut and chopped nuts, put these in little bowls ahead of time.

Grab the strawberry by the green part and swirl it in the chocolate until all sides are coated. I like to leave a good part of the berry at the top uncoated. Tap off the extra chocolate and twirl the berry to finish off the little tail of chocolate.

Dip the berry in the coconut or nuts if you are going to do this step.

Set the berry on waxed paper on a cookie sheet to set. It takes about an hour until they are set and ready to move.

 I like to add a white chocolate stripe on some of the berries. Put a small amount of white chocolate chips in a baggie and microwave for 15 seconds, take it out and squish it around, and repeat until the chips are just melted. Cut one corner off the bag and squeeze out to make the stripes.

I made a fairly thick stripe on these berries, but you can go thinner by cutting the corner smaller.

That's it! Super impressive, and no one needs to know how easy it was.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Personalized Onesies

 In my experience, people enjoy baby showers for the socializing, food, and, of course, the opening of the presents (ooooh, how cute!!!). Less popular are the games. In fact, some guests loathe the games and just tolerate them to be a good sport. So when I was trying to come up with an activity for Ryan's shower, I tried to find something that would be engaging and wouldn't encourage guests to hide in the bathroom. Personalizing onesies seemed like the perfect idea - an activity and gift in one!

I bought several packages of plain white onesies in sizes from newborn to 12 months and pre-washed and dried them. Then I slipped cardboard pieces inside the onesies to hold the fabric taut and provide a hard surface (cake rounds worked well), and bought some fabric markers.

At the shower, guests were free to decorate on their own or collaborate. Above is a picture of some of the results, and below is Ryan in the onesie I made. Yes, it's self-serving, but you can't argue with its truth.