Sunday, 29 June 2014

Bringing NY to the UK

In the form of the best cheesecake ever.

I've always been a bit disappointed by the 'cheesecake' that people in the UK seem to find acceptable. It's not really cheesecake. It's light and fluffy and almost mousse-y. This is not cheesecake. Cheesecake is dense, crumbly, intense and cheesy! I found this recipe from Smitten Kitchen a few years ago when in my final year of vet school, and every Friday was 'Cake Friday'. It was such a hit that not only did one of the scarier professors tell me that it reminded him of his visit to NYC, but I also was requested to make it not once but twice more. It really is that delicious!

If you want to see really yummy and fancy looking pictures, or just go straight to the deliciousness that is the recipe, I suggest you head straight-on over to Smitten Kitchen, because hers looks way more professional than mine does. I'll let you know some of my little alterations to her recipe that I've found helpful for life in the UK.

First off - Graham Crackers. They are a distinctly American cracker/biscuit that is kind of sugary and cinnamony and honey-molassassy and amazing (the preferred brand of with is Honey-Maid. Nothing compares!). I will never understand why they aren't a thing here in the UK, but I have yet to find them and most British people don't understand the concept. Sometimes I manage to bring a box or two over with me for special occasions like Thanksgiving, where graham cracker crust on a pumpkin or pecan pie is pretty much necessity, but I don't usually have them on hand. So the nearest thing is digestive biscuits. I like McVitties originals, as they're the most similar things I've come across, and I use about 225g of them, all mushed up.

I also line my pan with baking paper. Partly because I don't have a tall springform pan, and last time I tried making anything with a springform pan the sides came away with the pan. So I use baking or parchment paper. I probably would try to cut it off a bit more evenly at the top, because it can get in the way of the cake puffing up.

Here's the crust all pressed into the pan. Try to really get into the corners and press them well, because otherwise you end up with a giant wedge of crust in every piece, which I find a bit much.

I also use vanilla bean paste (or if I have an actual vanilla bean on hand I use that), because I love the look of the little seeds, and it tastes a bit better in my opinion.

My pan here is a bit too short. You really need a TALL springform pan for this. Like really tall. My cake puffed up at least 4 inches beyond the pan, and as a result cracked a bit. I have yet to make one that doesn't crack. Hence why a topping is sometimes nice to cover up the mess that is the top of the cake. I didn't make one this time mostly out of laziness, but I'm bringing some nice Blackberry jam in with it. I have, however, made SK's cherry topping in the past and it is fantastic.

This is my result. I had to chop off the top as it was burnt, and then popped it back in the oven for another 10 minutes to try and cook the top a bit. I'd gotten pretty good at this when we lived up in Edinburgh, as we had a fairly new oven, and I felt like I could trust the temperature reading (plus the oven actually was able to get hot enough to cook it properly). This was my first time making this recipe in my much older oven in our current house, and, as you can see, it's a bit of a disaster. The oven only went up to 250 C despite needing to be at 300 for the beginning, and it's a bit top-heavy on the heating coils, even with the fan oven on. Usually I put some foil over the top to prevent the top from burning, and tend to have better results, but wasn't really thinking it through this time and didn't really know how this oven would behave anyway. Oh how I can't wait to get back to Edinburgh!

Here's the result once the pan and paper are off. It collapsed a bit in the middle (and every time I look at it as it cools it seems to be sinking a bit further, so it may have been a bit raw in the middle. Hopefully the girls at work will appreciate the cheesecake despite it's somewhat disastrous appearance. It really does taste amazing!

I can't believe my last day of work is tomorrow, but seriously I am so ready for mat leave. This weekend I've started to really feel the discomforts of being so big and whale-like. I think this might mean the baby has dropped, because it feels like I have a cantaloupe sitting in my pelvis. I am imagining that standing up to do surgery for 4 hours tomorrow is going to be really uncomfortable!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Knitted Chevrons

Here's a project I've been working on pretty much since the first month of pregnancy.

Really recommend this book, lots of great patterns!

A knitted baby blanket! I found this great book of baby blankets, and loved so many of them. I chose one that looked interesting enough to hold my attention while being easy enough that I could watch the tele while knitting.

I chose fairly gender-neutral colours, since at the time I didn't actually know whether Button was a he or she, but they actually lend themselves quite well to a baby boy anyway, since it's mostly the blue and grey. The yarn I chose was Sirdar's Snuggly Baby Bamboo, which is really soft and cozy and nice, and the blanket hangs quite nicely without being stiff. I kind of wish I'd chosen the colours a bit better, and had white replacing either the grey or blue (the orange is for the border), just so it would have a bit more contrast, but it still looks pretty nice anyway.

The pattern actually called for a heavier weight yarn, and originally the pattern was coming out way too loose, so I reduced the needle size by 1 mm and also added an extra chevron to it to keep the width. In hindsight I think the extra chevron panel was unnecessary, as I feel like it's now got to be super long to keep it in proportion.

Closeup of the chevrons

I do quite like the pattern still, and I think it looks really nice, but I have to say I am not the biggest fan of making blankets anymore. They take SO LONG, and use SO MUCH YARN! I imagine this will be another project that gets finished while I'm on maternity leave because I'll just have to crank it out while watching a film or something. I kind of wish I hadn't started it now, but I'm about 2/3 done, so I just really have to suck it up and finish it.

As an aside, here is a little glimpse of our nursery! It is a VERY small little room (A's former study), but at least it has just enough room for the cotbed and a nursing chair. 

I love the colour we chose, it's such a nice happy lemon-y colour! The awesome little whale pillow was commissioned by A from a crafty friend of ours for my birthday. It's so sweet! The shelves were an absolute nightmare to put up because the outer walls are all masonry. It was a very frustrating process for A. But he did a good job!

The cotbed is our kind of baby gear dumping ground at the moment, as there's really no storage in our house at all, and Button will be in a little crib in our room or in a moses basket wherever I am for the first few months anyway, so this will probably be mostly used for nursing at night when A is asleep and storage until Button is old enough to sleep on his own in here. In hindsight I think we went a bit overboard with the cotbed, but it will be handy for the future as it converts to a really nice looking toddler bed!

It's all getting a little bit real now - I have my one final day at work on Monday, and then I'm officially on maternity leave for 9 months! Ahh! Tomorrow I'm baking a delicious New York Cheesecake for everyone at work to celebrate (and to introduce them to proper cheesecake, not the weird mousse-y stuff that they consider cheesecake here in the UK), so I may make a post on that as it's the best recipe I've ever found, and I need to share it with everyone. Ta ta for now!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Finish it up Friday!

Here is my finished quilt for Button! I didn't actually finish it today - as could possibly have been anticipated I got bored one night after work and finished the stippling, and then started on the binding. Please excuse the crazy expression, I stayed up a bit late to finish it off, and it was way past my bedtime (which, during pregnancy, has been about 10pm!)

I really love the orange binding pop on the front, and my little dark patch at the bottom, random though it is. I think it helps bring out the orange on the quilt itself. Oddly, I calculated the number of cm of binding I would need as 500cm (the quilt was 133 x 108cm plus a bit of wiggle room), and thought I had JUST enough to make the binding strips and even made them a bit smaller than I would have otherwise, I seem to have ended up with nearly twice the amount of binding strips I needed. I have no idea what happened. But better too much than too little! Only shame is that now I used up the remaining orange fabric for binding. I'm sure I'll find a use for it at some point!

I was surprised at how easy the binding process itself was, and even though I had to hand-sew the last side of the binding it went really quickly and I did it all in a few hours while cuddling up to my hubby while he watched football. I only poked him with the needle once, I swear!

Here's the back view so you can see the patchwork detail. It ended up lining up pretty well and I didn't have to chop off too much of the two coins on the edge.

All in all a pretty good job I think! I've just gotten my fabric for the pram-sized quilt now (another Riley Blake design - Giraffe Crossing!), but I've been threatened with divorce if I start it before my maternity leave (A knows me too well, and knows that I would finish it this weekend if I got going on it!). So instead I am perusing patterns to try and find a pattern that works. I'm not sure I can handle waiting until Tuesday to start, especially because I have today off while A is working, and I'm not really sure what to do with myself while watching trashy tv!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Stacked Coins Quilt

Sorry there'll be a few posts coming rapid fire to showcase my current projects! First up:

I decided to make this Stacked Coins Quilt for Button, from the pattern on Moda's Bake Shop. It's a fairly simple quilt, good for cranking out in a relatively short time. As it was my first foray back into quilting after a few years, I wanted something fairly quick and easy. Also I didn't really know how long it would take me, and I envisioned Button arriving early and chaos ensuing. I only fairly recently got a new sewing machine, a Janome DC3050! I haven't named it yet, but I haven't used it much, so hopefully as I start to use it more I'll come up with something suitable.

I'd never heard of the brand Janome before, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use, and how versatile (and no, I'm not being paid to say that - I wish!) I don't know if the brand has made it to the US - I always used a Brother machine which was pretty great, especially given that I got it in middle school (I was a crafting geek even then!), and it was still working well when I left. However it was a bit difficult to transport to the UK!

Anyway, the quilt. In hindsight it is pretty big, but I didn't really have a concept of size in my head (I literally googled 'Baby Quilt' and found this one). Oh well, I have a smaller, more portable crib quilt, planned for later, so maybe this one will be kept until Button is big enough for the cotbed (yes, we got a crib and a cotbed, we maybe went a bit overboard!). Or I can use it when I'm sitting with him or something (Ahhh I got all excited again, only a few weeks now!).

'Little Ark' fabric by Riley Blake Designs

I started out by sourcing this adorable fabric on Etsy, which is Noah's Ark themed by Riley Blake, who I've only just discovered, but there are so many adorable fabric lines! The fabric came from the US. Normally I would go to a fabric store and try and be a bit more frugal, but I've found it very difficult to find really good fabric stores in the UK, at least now that I'm not in Edinburgh, which is really sad. John Lewis does have a good haberdashery section, and usually has a small selection of designer fabrics (at great expense!), but being in the centre of Sheffield it's a pain to get to. So this fabric, plus the shipping cost probably ended up being as expensive as going to John Lewis, but on the other hand I wanted really cute fabric, and I fell in love with this fabric as soon as I saw it.

I got charm packs for this quilt (which probably drove up the price further) because I do not yet have a rotary cutter and mat. I really like working with charm packs and roly polies or jelly rolls and whatever other silly names these things are given, because cutting is probably the part I find the most tedious, I like to just get to the sewing! At some point I want to get a rotary cutter and mat, but scissors works well for most purposes, so until I see how much crafting I actually am capable of once I am responsible for a small person, I will hold off.

The first thing I'd say about the quilt itself is that I think I probably should have chosen a fabric more suitable to the pattern. Once I cut the 5" squares into 2.5x5" coins, the pieces that had the actual ark on them were cut up so you can't really tell. I tried to rectify it by lining up 2 of the half ark squares in the centre of the quilt, but I'm not sure it's really noticeable to anyone but me. It's still an adorable fabric, and you can still see the animals and the raindrops, and I know it's Noah's Arks, so I'm happy with it regardless. Perhaps at some point I'll get some more of this fabric to make something else, but for now this will do. Hindsight, eh?

Here's the pieces lined up to create the stacked 'coins' - 22 in each stack. I was really trying hard to plan this quilt properly so it looked really random. I realised as I was laying the pieces out that I'd cut the coins the wrong way around, so that the patterns are 'upright' when the quilt is horizontal. I even was consciously thinking about this while I was cutting and I still managed to get it wrong. Oh well, again, not really that important in the grand scheme of things, but it bothers me slightly.

Here's the top all done. This probably took me about 3-4 hours, mostly because my ironing board was in the other room, and because I realised halfway through that I'd sewn one of the strips upside down and had to undo it. I am a bit of a speedy sewer, which often leads to mistakes and things lining up poorly Fortunately this pattern didn't have to many fiddly corners to line up, so worked out well!

Here's the back. I really love the idea of putting a patchwork detail in the back (not my idea, it was in the pattern!), and I think I'm going to use this in every quilt from now on. It makes such a nice touch! I planned the back before I'd fully cut all the charm squares, so I decided to cut these coins the opposite way so that it would still look upright when the quilt was horizontal. Maybe that way it will look like I planned it that way from the beginning! Sadly one of the patches on the back will probably get cut off in a weird way depending on how the binding goes on, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I didn't take pictures of putting the layers together, but there's a really nice tutorial that the pattern links to (here's the links here for basting, quilting, and binding). They're really easy to follow with lots of pictures and even a video link for the quilting bit, so I definitely recommend having a look. I had a bit of a problem with this one because I have very limited floor space and my table is too small, and also being so heavily pregnant this did not make my back or pelvis feel very happy, and A was sitting on the couch watching the World Cup, alternating between saying 'Make sure you're not overdoing it, Dear!' and 'Move move you're blocking the tele!'.

I was utterly terrified of all of quilting and binding before this quilt, so much that when I made quilts back in high school and college I usually sent my quilt top and back off for a professional to do the rest. Basting seemed easy enough, but when I sent them off I just let them do the batting as well. It was VERY expensive. So knowing how to do it myself is definitely a bonus. All I needed was a darning/embroidery foot, which I got on Amazon for £5. It's a bit squeaky, but it does the job! For the batting I found a bamboo/cotton blend on Amazon, which from the reviews sounded perfect for a baby quilt, and I have not been disappointed. It's really soft, and is the perfect weight to make a baby quilt that still has lots of movement and isn't stiff, but still feels like it should be pretty warm and cozy. I have no idea what the brand is, but if you're interested, this is what I got.

I decided to do the quilting bit in stippling all over in white, as in the tutorial. Partly because it seemed fairly straightforward, and partly because it looked like I'd be very forgiving! I practiced on some scraps for a few minutes - I found I had to play with the tension a little bit to make sure both sides looked good. I probably should have practiced more, but I'm very impatient, and I also didn't have that many scraps as my fabric stash is still small.

Starting out! 

Free motion quilting was actually a lot easier than I was expecting, and I think this pattern lends itself well to the stippling because you have convenient strips to follow. I think the key is just really paying attention to where you're going so you don't go back over your lines (unless you like that look, I guess!).

After a few strips are done.

I like that the strips are slightly different in width. I think it makes it look a bit more polished on the front.

Just over half done, and I really like the effect. You can see my basting pins in the right half. I ran out of pins, so they're spaced perhaps a bit too far, but so far it hasn't been a problem!

This is as far as I've done so far with the quilting, because I ran out of thread. For some reason I thought 300m would do it. WRONG. So I went to HobbyCraft to get more thread, and would you believe they had no 100% cotton thread in white?! You'd think that would be a staple, but then again HobbyCraft has never been really great for quilting. So I ordered some online, again from Amazon, but it wont arrive until next week! :( That is basically how this blog came about. I really can't handle doing nothing.

Because I got home from the shops around 4, and I really couldn't handle just sitting around, I decided to use the time to making the binding, which because of the cutting and ironing aspect I wasn't looking forward to. It went pretty well actually,  and now I'm all ready to finish up when my thread arrives!

A longggg strip of binding.

I decided to put a very small patch of colour in the binding, I don't know if you can see it hidden in there, but I used one of the dark raindrop patterned coins and added it in. I thought it'd make it a bit more interesting since the binding is the same fabric as the back of the quilt. Again, in hindsight I think it'd have been better to use a different fabric from the binding, but partly this was a cost issue (I could only get the fabric in full metre lengths, and I had just the right amount left over), and partly this was because that was how it was done in the tutorial. It should look brilliant from the front though.

So until my new thread arrives next week, that's all for the moment. I'm working Monday to Thursday next week, so I suppose I'll probably be too exhausted to have done much work on it anyway (being a vet at 35 weeks pregnant is really tiring!). Maybe I'll jump on the 'Finish Up Friday' bandwagon and post next week if/when I've finished by then since I have that day off from work!

Buttons, Baking and Babies

Hello! Welcome to my new blog, Buttons, Baking and Babies.

First off, a bit about me. I am a veterinary surgeon, originally from Connecticut, USA. I managed to get into the University of Edinburgh's vet college, and, while it was never my goal or intention, fell in absolute love with Edinburgh, and met a really fantastic man as well. To make a rather long story short, we had a low-key registry wedding for the purposes of allowing me to stay in the country after graduation, then had the whole big proper wedding exactly a year later at one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland - Dalhousie Castle! What a great day!

My husband and me!

Anyway. After many months of searching I finally landed an awesome first job down in near the Peak District of England. If you happen to be interested in animals or my exploits in vet school, or the lead up to this blog, feel free to check out my other blog 'From Auld Reekie to the Peaks'.

So, moving on. This blog will probably start off mostly about my crafting projects and possibly culinary exploits, but very quickly will probably become obsessively about babies. That is because....

This is me!

That picture was taken just last week! I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with our first child! Andrew, my wonderful husband, and I have nicknamed him 'Button' for while he is still a bump. I think A is a bit superstitious about announcing the name before he's born. Which leaves me at a bit of a loss cause that's the first thing everyone asks, and I have to say, well yes, we have a name, but I'm not telling you. So for now he is Button. I have a feeling this nickname will continue well into childhood, but that's okay cause it's a pretty cute nickname :)

Being so heavily pregnant, I've got exactly 5 days of work left before my maternity leave (yikes!), and I am notoriously bad at sitting and doing nothing. So I have got some projects lined up for when I'm on leave before Button arrives (and hopefully I'll find some time to craft when Button is sleeping, although I imagine at least in the beginning I'll be sleeping whenever he is sleeping! I'm not sure I'll be baking for awhile, but it's another thing I hope to get back into, especially as Button gets older (I am already excited about making birthday cakes, how sad is that?!