5th Annual Trunk Show

This year was really the best trunk show we have had so far!  The Ellie Bluebell Designs Holiday Trunk Show is my way of gathering a group of awesome artists, and creating a great place for friends and family to shop local, small businesses... while having adult beverages and snacks.

It was awesome, if I do say so myself (and I do).

Ellie Bluebell herself reigned over the party, at the same time doing an excellent job of Swiffering up each and every crumb of cookie that fell to the ground.

We were joined by my loyal artist friends Carolyn Buss Jewelry, Gabriel's Aunt, the Julie Ann Collection and Valentina Vitols.  New to the party this year were Modern Little Ones (finally, baby stuff at the Trunk Show!) and Crowandiris.

And most importantly, here's all the food I baked!

Chocolate chunk cookies, Cranberry Thumbprints (from Nov 2010 Sunset), Lavender Shortbread, Parmesan Rosemary Shortbread, smoked salmon spread with creme fraiche (caught and smoked by Casey), and homemade Chex Mix.  Also served, but not made by me, were Cranberry Bliss Bars (by my aunt, from the Jr League's Celebrate the Rain cookbook).  I had an assist on the cookies from the cookie fairy, Tiffany... God bless her.

We drank Garnet Mimosas made with Ellie Blue's Lavender Sugar.  We drank a lot of them.

My card collection is getting revamped - out with the slow sellers and in with the crowd pleasers.  New this year: the Bathing Beauties!  These cards feature sassified 1930's pin up ladies with parasols and lots of bling.  They are named after some of the founders of my sorority, Pi Beta Phi (Fanny, Libby, Clara, Ada, Inez, Rosa, Margaret, and Nancy).  By the way they're selling, they'll be sticking around a while.

Meet Fanny and Inez.

The Ellie Bluebell Smells' line is also evolving.  The Lavender Shortbread I made exclusively for last year's Trunk Show were so wildly popular that I made more this year (a lot more) and also added Parmesan Rosemary Shortbread, made with my Ballard-grown rosemary.

Ellie Bluebell fans have spoken, and they love cookies.  I hope to have these available in my Etsy store very soon.

They also love adult beverages, because they report that the savory shortbread are great with rose, hard cider, Alaskan Amber, and sparkling wine - blanc de blancs in particular.

We ate, we drank, we shopped!  And on top of all that, we collected three great big bags of food for the Ballard Food Bank.  Thank you so much to the friends and family who came and helped make it a festive success.

Happy Meatball everyone!


Hippies Are Smarter Than They Look

Having gone to college in Eugene, Oregon, I have a healthy appreciation for hippies.  They add color, levity and usually music to any outdoor gathering, and outdoor is really key when one is dealing with hippies since they are such great water conservators, unselfishly forgoing showers.

My parents, swept along by the trends of the times, were a little bit hippy themselves when I was a small child.  There was wheat germ in the fridge, home farming and canning manuals on the bookshelves, we shopped at the first PCC in Kirkland, and we went to a lot of outdoor events.  However, I would like it to be known that all of us were very clean and I must say we smelled great.

I remember stumbling upon my mom's copy of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe when I was in high school.  One of my teachers (Mr. Bryan Reinhardt) had been talking a lot about food choices and how they affect our planet and even the corporate structure of America.  I was intrigued, and surprised when my mom said I could have this amazing book.

I still have it, and its message about getting off the top of the food chain is still an important one, if not more important as our planet becomes more populated by the minute.

The reason I dug it out was when I started wondering if the food I'm feeding Natalie is good enough.  Is she getting enough protein?  Carbs?  Minerals?  And I had no more glimpsed the cover than I remembered complete proteins, the vegetarian's BFF.  Rice and beans it is!

I poured myself a glass of carrot juice, dressed Natalie in some tie dye (hand me down from friends in Eugene), and decided it was just going to be a hippy kind of day at Ellie Bluebell's House.

After my trip down memory lane with DFASP, I turned to Super Baby Food to see if there were any baby-specific notes on this combo.  Only the gassiness beans can cause, so to avoid frightening diaper situations, I opted to use dried split green peas, which is technically a legume but slightly better in the gas department. AND they don't have to be soaked overnight (lentils also share this virtue).  So brown rice and peas it is!

Viva la bulk foods section!

I wasn't looking forward to cooking both these things up separately, in two pots, ugh.  I mean, I've got stuff to do!  And I hate washing pots.  Also I only have one that's big enough currently, so there's that.

And then.... I found a paragraph in SBF describing how to cook them together all at once.  Sweet!  Now we're talking.  Truly helpful info for a busy mama.  Here's how you do it.

One cup of dry split peas needs to cook with three cups of water.  A half cup of brown rice needs to cook with one cup of water.  Sooooo (and this took my tired brain a minute, I will confess) I put four cups of water on to boil, and readied a cup of split peas and a half cup of brown rice.

(I have had that Brita pitcher since freshman year of college!  And they say we live in a throwaway society)

I had no idea how much this was going to yield, and I hoped my pot was big enough.

In the fridge was some organic celery, red pepper, and a bit of onion, so I thought I'd chop those guys up to the mix, too.  About a half cup of celery, half cup of pepper, and a quarter cup of onion (again, we have to think of the little ones' tummies).

Once the water was boiling, I added the peas and rice.  Looking good so far.

Super Baby Food says to turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.  It doesn't say covered or uncovered, so I went with covered because of the rice and so I could turn it way down and conserve energy (see?  I told you I'm part hippy).

This is what it looked like about 30 minutes later.  Time to add in our colorful veggies, an Ellie Bluebell Smells bay leaf, and keep cooking.

15 minutes later it was looking promising, and our prescribed cooking time from the recipe was up.  I took out the bay leaf, added about a 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and a tablespoon of Dr Bragg's Liquid Aminos.  These taste a little like soy sauce and are helpful if you aren't eating much meat.  We are getting seriously hippified now!

I cooked it about ten minutes longer, since I wanted it to get a little mushy.  Natalie likes mushy.

Mission accomplished!  I ate some for lunch along with her, and it was really tasty.  Definitely not much to look at, but neither are some hippies.

(This freezes great!  I used my silicone Beaba portion tray as well as filled up some empty baby food jars for the freezer.  An ice cube tray or silicone muffin pan work well, too)

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A Handmade First Birthday Party

A child's first birthday is sweet, momentous, and exciting... and also noteworthy because it's the last birthday party you will have full creative control over.  After the first birthday, you'll be filling requests for SpongeBob SquarePants themes, skating parties, and the ultra dreaded eight eight-year-olds sleepover.  So have your druthers with number one!

For me and my husband, that meant a party at home, lots of friends and family (mostly adults, by chance not design), no theme other than "birthday", and adult-tailored food and beverages (although I did put some Baby Mum Mums in a bowl for the under-two set).

I was very excited about making decorations for Natalie's first birthday, and I proceeded to Martha Stewart out, big time.  I love those penant-flag banners you've seen popping up at cute places, like the Paper Source, and decided I could make one myself, much longer than the kit would allow, and for less than they were charging.  My craft closet was already full of the supplies, after all.  

(Yes, I have a Craft Closet.  What??)

I also thought of making paper chains, like we used to do as kids to count down for Christmas.  Those things give you a lot of bang for your buck, time and materials-wise!  I got five designs of scrapbooking paper (two double sided and one single sided) and started cutting them into 2" x 6" strips with my awesome paper cutter, the Handy Guillotine (that is it's actual product name.  I would have bought it anyway but I delight in calling it the Handy Guillotine every time I use it.  Best $19 I have ever spent).

The Handy Guillotine, ready to slice and dice.  Please note the presence of my silent and constant partner, Starbucks VIA.

Then all you need is a stapler, and you're in paper-chain-making business.  I had my laptop handy so I could watch old episodes of Cougar Town online while making them.  If you're watching Cougar Town, I recommend having a glass of wine handy, as well.  Notice how this whole process is very handy?

Finished chains adorning the arch between dining and living room.

I really hated taking them down.  It took me over a week to put them in storage after the party.  Total cost of 16' of paper chains, $4 (for scrapbooking paper).

Now onto the festive penant-flag banners.

I made these using a stack of 6" x 6"printed scrapbooking papers which were already color coordinated, and which had been taking up precious real estate in the CC for too long.

I will admit I totally eyeballed cutting these, as I tend to do.  When you've got to repeat something 48 times, "measure twice, cut once" just isn't going to happen (unless of course you're talking about joists, studs, eye bolts or similar).  With paper birthday decorations, eyeball it.  I used an Exacto knife, a metal straight edge (this is what my drafting instruments are reduced to these days), and a cutting mat.  I borrowed the shape from Paper Source's kit, with a foldover tab on the top of the flag to wrap around the banner string.

Then I folded each flag's tab over my natural colored yarn and secured it with craft glue.  Total cost for 24' of penant flag banner, $2.50 for the yarn (since I had everything else already).  Definitely a savings over the PS kit, of which I'd have needed two.

I think the thing most people get excited about for first birthdays is the baby's first cake experience.  The guests, anyway.  They want to see smashing, grabbing, throwing, and sugar rushes.  As a mom, I was thinking, once she tastes frosting, my homemade sweet potatoes are history!  She's gonna get frosting in her hair/on the walls/in her ears/on the dog/inside the heat registers!

But what are you going to do - deny your child cake for 18 years?  It's one of those "feel the fear and do it anyway" things.  

Did I just say I was afraid of cake?

Well, I'm not.  I decided to make the Birthday Baby her very own, double layer, pink sparkly creation just to prove how unafraid I was!

It's yellow cake, from a mix, with white frosting, from a tub.  That's the actual name of the flavor: White.  A drop of red food coloring, and some sparkly pink sprinkles brought it up to Very First Birthday Cake status.

I baked the top layer in a giant size silicone muffin tin.  The bottom layer was baked in a 8" round cake pan, and trimmed (mmmm, cake trimmings...) by about an inch all the way around.  The cute little "1" candle is made by Tag, and I got it at Mrs. Cook's in U-Village.

So for the rest of the guests... cuppycakes!  

Coconut and Birthday Cake flavors.  I was a little scared to make only coconut cupcakes, since apparently some weirdos don't like coconut (I happen to love it, you remember the Skinny Coladas, right?) so luckily there was enough batter and frosting from Natalie's cake left to make a round of cuppycakes, too.

The coconut were a total hit, however.  I used a semi-homemade approach to these, and doctored up a white cake mix (again, how is "White" a flavor?) with coconut milk and some other things as recommended by this recipe on Allrecipes.com.  

Ever notice how even when you serve cupcakes that are made from mixes and tubs, if they are dressed up a bit with frosting, sprinkles, and coconut, (and made with love, of course) people still go ape you-know-what over them?  I love that.

Almost too pretty to eat, which Natalie acknowledged by daintily swiping at the frosting with her fingers.  Her dad finally fed her some bites of cake with a fork.  And she's still into sweet potatoes, just like before!

Total cost of Natalie's cake and 36 cupcakes, $16 (including fancy $4 sprinkles and $2 candle from Mrs Cook's).

It was a wonderful party, and Natalie had a fabulous time being a social butterfly with her guests!

Next year, I'm prepared to produce a Disney Princesses party if asked, but I'm hoping for more homemade cakes and free reign with the decorations.  Good luck with that, right?


I Feel Pretty

Like the new design?  This was long overdue.  And I didn't even win that contest I posted about a few months ago, I did it myself!  The only thing better than winning free pretty is DIY pretty.

In the interest of feeling pretty, there's a blog I read and love I thought I'd tell you about, by a chick I love, who goes by the name of Carolyn.  Handcrafted Carolyn, that is.  Makeup, jewelry, sass, she does it all.  You will love.

Another thing that's got me feeling pretty lately are dresses and the weather which is finally allowing me to wear them!  My friend Laverne, whom you can stalk here, and I agree that one of the very best places to get pretty dresses is Puella.  

I am wearing this one right now.

You may have seen this brand at Anthropologie, which translates to big bucks, but we figured out how to get them on the cheap: 

I have never, EVER been able to resist a grab bag.  Puella's are amazing.  They are only offered a few times a year.  You choose your size and wait a good long while for it to arrive.  You don't have too many rights with these grab bags (no returns, Missy), but you should just keep your mouth shut and enjoy the spoils about to come to you.  Trust.  

The other dress treasure trove I have recently stumbled upon is REI.  Yes, you read that right: REI!  This summer their women's buyers really hooked us girly girls (and outdoorsy girls and casual girls and athletic girls etc) up with some awesome options.  

I got a black Patagonia Kamala and blue Patagonia Margo (seen above.  Hot!)  

(And I hope I don't need to tell you that the way to save money at REI is by being a member - 10% dividend checks once a year are a pretty awesome little windfall I always forget about till it arrives)

So cheers to summer, dresses, and feeling pretty!


Round Two, Part Two: Homemade Baby Food

Okay, so it's nearly two months later and I am just now finishing the Round Two baby food post.  How sad is that?  The fact that I have a somewhat clean house and a happy, alive baby are two decent reasons that I shouldn't worry about it, but, man.  I gotta get better at this.

Where were we?  Zucchini?  The squash is in the oven.  The zucchini is about to get steamed.

Like the larger pictures??

Don't forget: it is extra important to get organic when you're going to include the skin in the puree!  I pretty much always get organic anyway, because little ones eat so much more than adults do comparatively to their body weight, so chemicals build up in their little bodies in much higher quantities than adults!

A full, medium-sized pot (like mine) of zukes will steam up really quick, about 8 minutes.  And the less you cook the more nutrients baby gets.

Look at that beautiful puree!  Zukes cook down and then puree down even further, so you can feel good about how much good stuff your baby is getting even if they only eat a little.

I thought these were really beautiful.  I may need to get out more, like maybe go to a museum or the opera or something.

(And as you can see, commercial baby food has its place in my kitchen too!)

I froze them up in the small, 1.5 oz silicone mini muffin tins, which are terrible for muffins but awesome for baby food.

Where's that squash??  It ended up taking nearly two hours in the oven, and I didn't even get it cooked enough, which was evident when I pureed it and it was still pretty stringy.  I'm not even going to show it to you it was so bad.

Alright, moving on to the apple sauce.  I don't think I can screw this one up!

I didn't worry about getting all the skin off since these are organic apples.  From my very own home state of Washington.  I cut them up really coarsely since they're getting pureed anyway.

These smelled so good steaming!

God bless food processors.  Can you imagine having to grind all this stuff up by hand?  Oh wait.  Pretty sure that's how my mom did it, with a little countertop food mill.  I love you, Meem.

Who says you can't mix zucchini and applesauce?  That's the beauty of feeding an infant.  They don't have any preconceived notions of what goes with what.  I have been known to put zucchini or even kale in Natalie's oatmeal!

By the way, this applesauce was so unbelievably delicious unsweetened.  I guess they don't call them Red Delicious for nothing.  It was hard to make sure all of it found its way to Natalie instead of my own mouth.  And the house smelled amazing!

I will say, though, that pound for pound and dollar for dollar, I will probably buy organic jarred applesauce in the future.  Or at least until the cost of organic apples drops at the farmer's market later in the season.

Everything else I have made has been more cost-effective than (not to mention nutritionally superior to)  commercial baby food, and much of what I have made is not even available commercially (like the zucchini).

So set aside an hour or two (or maybe two months) and make your little one some apple-zucchini sauce!

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And Now For Some Deals

Ah, Daily Candy.  You have sparked numerous little obsessions for me, from the edible hibiscus flower that goes in champagne to the no-fail way to get bumped to a better class of airline seat, and also amazed me with mind-reading emails about things I've loved for years, like teeny tiny houses

Start with DailyCandy's Deals (here's Seattle's Deal's page, since I am nothing if not a locavore).  You can also sign up for as many daily email editions as you want about your favorite cities, children's stuff, and their Swirl online sample sale.


Round Two

I'm really getting into this homemade baby food thing. Natalie's been eating like a champ (see: cheeks, legs, arms, and belly) and has enjoyed nearly everything we have given her.

This operation was even bigger than the first. It ended up taking me nearly two days to fully complete, so maybe it was a little ambitious. But baby's gotta eat! A lot!

I was armed for cooking all these things with a combination of knowledge from Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes and Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron, and striking out on my own from there, also factoring in the Beaba Babycook's manual and recipes.

In this corner, wearing their Certified Organic stickers: butternut squash, Washington apples, zucchini, avocados, and millet!

And in this corner, wearing rice cereal splattered jeans and yesterday's makeup: mom!

No picture of mom. Thanks.

First up, roasting the butternut squash, since it's probably going to take a long time. Oven to 350.

I had to use my biggest, nastiest looking knife. You know, the one you grab in the middle of the night when you are fairly certain that noise you heard was a gorilla with 'roid rage trying to break into your house?

I had a Julia Child moment hacking that thing open. It would have been more appropriate if the squash was a duck or a side of beef, but Natalie's a vegetarian so far. The butchering will be limited to gourds and pineapples for now, sorry meat-heads!

If you happen to be a gorilla on 'roids, right about now you're thinking my house might be easy pickin's, judging by the size of my knife.

So I scooped out the seeds and sent them to compost (still have hopes of getting my garden going this year after last year's pregnancy-hiatus). See the lovely giant composting bag I got ready?

Face down in a baker (I had to use the biggest one I have, the Emile Henri meant for Italian-family sized quantities of lasagne) with 1/4 in of water in the bottom. Think of it as a shallow, deadly hot tub, Mr. Squash.

I really should have put something in the picture for scale. Try picturing each half of the squash as two faces... preferably of someone you do not like, given the hot-tub analogy above.

So those went into the oven for what was supposed to be only 45 minutes to one hour. It took much longer. More on that later.

Now on to the zucchini!

Get more than you think you will need, since zucchini's so full of water it condenses a lot in baby food form. I used 8 medium zukes. And for God's sake, spring for organic since you're not peeling them!

Chop it up coarsely. Don't worry about size or consistency, even. It's going to get the heck steamed out of it and then food processed so it doesn't matter.

Guess who wanted to help out by checking the quality of the zucchini....

It IS Ellie Bluebell's House after all.

Just like the initial operation, this entry is going to have to be finished tomorrow! Someone is awake from her nap and hungry for sweet potatoes....

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Cocktails and Crap Television

I don't watch that much television, so when I actually get around to sitting in front of the tv, I like to watch the crappiest, smuttiest, most low-brow, vapid garbage I can find. Enter Monday night's hot-tub-make-out-scene-ridden suck-fest, The Bachelor!

The Bachelor is best watched with a girlfriend (although most of my friends report that their husbands or boyfriends get really into the show with very little encouragement) or two, so when the Mister was out of town last Monday, I invited my BFF, Katie, over for the show and some dinner.

We made a tasty and healthy treat of black bean taco salad, which was really good and this close to being the star of this post (sharing the spot light with the cheesy but still very cute Jake, aka The Bachelor). But as I was meditating on the fact that our standard beverage of choice, red wine, really didn't go too well with beans, I remembered a certain little beverage I'd tried at the most recent Yelp Elite Event at Salty's.

That glorious evening was sponsored by Pearl Vodka (a very fabulous and surprisingly frugal spirit), and the good people at Salty's were whipping up many Pearl Vodka Skinny Coladas for the Yelpers that evening. I myself took down about four.

Skinny Colada: a pretty stupid name for a delightful and deelish little cocktail.

Given that it's tropical and served over ice, I thought it'd be a better match for our taco salads. Upon further review, however, it's such a good drink that I think you'd be hard pressed to find something it wouldn't go with.

Or rather, once you have a sip, you don't care about the food anymore. Maybe that's how it got it's stupid name.

Anyway, here's how you make two Skinny Coladas:

Obtain coconut vodka (Pearl is very good, and I noticed it was on sale last month in Washington State liquor stores, but they didn't have the coconut flavor in my neighborhood store. So I got Burnett's. Very frugal, and if you're worried about being judged, just pour it into a Smirnoff - or better - bottle before your guests arrive), pineapple juice, sweetened lime juice, and club soda.

You may notice something very scary and tragic about this photo: EMPTY VODKA BOTTLE. Don't let this happen to you! Stock up! There's nothing fabulous about running out of vodka. As a result of my poor booze-stockpiling, Katie and I were only able to have one cocktail each. What the hell kind of nerve do I have writing a blog about entertaining (among other things) with that kind of performance?? I am lucky that she is a peace-loving Christian who believes in forgiveness.

So pour one part coconut vodka and one part pineapple juice into a shaker of ice, add a splash of the lime (our own personal addition and a deviation from Pearl's Skinny Colada), and give it a weak little shake. We're not making martinis or shots here, go easy on the shaking.

Pour into highball (or even stemless wineglasses, as we did. Please notice my appropriated Riedel glassware, courtesy of the 20-Something wine event and my generously sized handbag) glasses 1/2 full of ice. Top with club soda.

Cheers! So tasty.  Just the thing for trashy tv and taco salad.

Here's the only problem we noticed about the Skinny Colada. It made us want to do fat things, namely make a double batch of hazelnut chocolate chip cookies (double, because if you're going to all the trouble, you might as well make a whole bunch).

(Hazelnuts were added, of course, for protein and, thus, health purposes)

Sooo not Skinny.


Desperately Seeking Makeover

It's pretty pathetic that I am a designer, and this is what my blog looks like. Okay, so I'm a designer of buildings, and these days it feels like that life was very long ago and far, far away (with 8 months of stay-at-home-momming under the elasticized waistband of my yoga pants). But I am a designer no less.

Seeing blogs like www.alifeintranslation.com make me realize just how far I have to go. Luckily, those gals are having a contest in which the winner will receive a makeover on her blog, and lucky for everyone who reads Ellie Blubell's House, I have entered. For your sake, I hope to win.



Adventures in Organic Baby Food: The Maiden Voyage

For whatever reason, maybe because I love to make things, I have been looking forward to making my own baby food for years. Like before I even became pregnant. Maybe because I'm a huge nerd. Maybe because I enjoy making things more difficult than they need to be. But it turns out making your own baby food is one of those things that's more worth it than it is difficult. It only sounds difficult.

I started by visiting my neighborhood PCC to get large quantities of organic sweet potatoes (of course, I'm doing this all organic).

I should back up.

I started by coveting a Beaba Babycook machine. And thanks to a certain aunt of my husband's, I am now the proud owner of one! Isn't it cute?

But it's pretty little, and this was going to be a large scale operation, so I got it set up to do a small batch of sweet potatoes for today's dinner, just to see how it worked.

For the mother lode, I assembled my sweet potatoes, in all their ugly but organic and nutritious glory.

According to the sweet potato baby food recipe on Organic.org one should wash, peel, and chop these guys. I wasn't sure about leaving the skin on or not, so I took their advice and removed it. My three pounds of potatoes yielded a lot of diced cubes! The paper bag is my goes-to-the-compost-bin vessel.

Did you know dogs love raw cubed sweet potatoes? Ellie Bluebell did.

Toss a couple cubes to your sous chef!

So I put the expandable steamer in my pot along with about an inch and a half of filtered water (if I'm going to the trouble of organic, I'm not going to use plain old tap water), covered it, and fired up the burner.

That plethora of sweet potato cubes steamed up really fast! Just 10 minutes later, they were spoon-tender (got lazy and grabbed the nearest utensil, which just happened to be a spoon rather than a fork).

Now here's the tricky part. I wanted to use as few pans as possible, and in order to mash them in the pot, with all that lovely, nutrient-rich steaming water, I had to first remove the steaming basket. Be careful, it's hot. Then I grabbed my handy dandy, low-tech potato masher (you could also use a food processor, a food mill, or even a blender), and gave 'em hell.

You might want to pour out a little of the steaming water, depending on how thick or thin you want your 'tatoes. Then I started loading up my freezing vessels: two silicone mini-muffin pans, and one Beaba food freezing tray.

I covered the mini-muffin pans with some plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn. And then came the second tricky part: finding room in the freezer. By moving the vodka and gin to the lowest shelf and reboxing some gardenburgers, I was able to accommodate them.

You can barely spot them in amongst the chaos of my freezer. Can you find the vodka??

After they were rock-hard, I popped the little nuggets out of their trays (easy, thanks to the silicone) into some freezer Zippies, labeled and dated them, and felt really good about the wealth of sweet potato baby food taking up precious booze space in my freezer.

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