TWiP: Minty fresh

This Week in Pictures (TWiP) at Polka Dot Cottage

Looking through this week’s pictures, I see a pepperminty theme. I started out the week in Saratoga Springs (I told you about that last week) during which time I had three Irish Cream Peppermint Lattes at Saratoga Coffee Traders. The first one was beyond delicious. The other two didn’t quite live up, but they were still pretty good.

I am not usually a big latte drinker, so I think maybe I overdosed a bit. The hotel served free coffee and tea all day in the lounge, and near the end of our trip I found myself more drawn to the herbal teas (particularly the peppermint) than to the coffee. It seems I reached my coffee saturation point.

Even since I’ve been home, I’ve been limiting my coffee intake. One cup in the morning (if that) and no desire for any more during the day. What’s really floating my boat right now is Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Green Tea. It’s a seasonal thing, but I love it, and I bought four boxes last Christmas. I’m still working on them, although I’ve made a serious dent in my supply this week.

I can’t put my finger on what makes this particular tea so delicious, but it’s really quite good. Probably the best mint-based tea I’ve ever had. In fact, I’m going to stop typing now and refill my mason jar :-)

So, what is This Week in Pictures?

It’s a roundup of the photos I shot with my DSLR for Project 365 (one image each day for all of 2015), plus some phone snapshots I posted on Instagram during the previous week.

Ready? Cast your mind back to this time last week…


365: 2015 311/365 – I left my less-than-enthusiastic kids in the hotel and walked into town for some local shopping. When my bags got tiresome to carry, I sat on a park bench and enjoyed an Irish Cream & Peppermint Latte. It was really quite good! [in Saratoga Springs, NY]

Instagram: Knitting a Christmas gift for my Dad and sipping peppermint herbal tea. The only thing that would make this afternoon more relaxing is for the staff to come into this lounge and turn on the fireplace. ūüėä [in Saratoga Springs, NY]


365: 2015 312/365 – We took separate cars for our weekend away (as we often do, for various practical reasons). The boys and I were home by 3:00, and Neil came rolling in six hours later.


365: 2015 313/365 – Sometimes when I leave my daily photo until after dark, I just don’t feel like going to the effort required to make it an interesting shot. For example, this image, while accurately portraying my progress with my current knitting project, does nothing to convey how cozy my evening is about to be, sipping peppermint tea, catching up on some Masterpiece Classic, and finishing up the neck of this vest.


365: 2015 314/365 – I love rainy Fall days, especially when I have nowhere to go and can spend all day curled up in my comfy pants and heavy sweater, reading or doing something crafty… Today, though, I had a lot of places to go, and I got plenty damp in the process. Even so, I found the rain rather charming. [taken with my phone]


365: 2015 315/365 – I made cranberry bread this afternoon using my mother’s recipe. I don’t always have a lot of luck with cranberry bread, but this is the best loaf I’ve ever made! So delicious with a bit of cream cheese on top…


365: 2015 316/365 – This morning hundreds of birds flew through my yard (as they do every year at this time) on their way to someplace warmer. They were unbelievably loud, (and a little too Hitchcockian for me to want to stay outside with them for long).


365: 2015 317/365 – Our 22-year-old microwave bit the dust this week, and today we got a new one. As always happens when I get something new, I start looking at everything around it with a critical eye. I’m now thinking that old, impossible-to-get-clean-anymore toaster oven’s days are numbered… Also, I’d be lying if I said the idea of an entire kitchen makeover hadn’t crossed my mind. Actually, that idea has crossed my mind every year since we moved in here. In 1997.

Thanks for taking a peek at this week’s photos! If you want to see this stuff as it happens, please feel free to follow me on Flickr¬†and/or Instagram.

I may already have plans to blog about some of these things in greater detail over the coming week, but be sure to leave a comment if there’s something in particular you want to know about!


2010-45 This Week in Pictures at Polka Dot Cottage

November Baking: Cranberry Bread

Before I get to the cranberries, let me just warn you about some possible down time. I’ve been watching my blog exhibit various weird (and annoying) behaviors behind the scenes for several months. For the next few days, I’m going to attempt to get to the bottom of it, which means there could be some times when my website is inaccessible.

I hope to keep the downtime to a minimum (and to solve all of the problems without having to do anything drastic) but I thought I should let you know in case you drop in and find everything temporarily gone.

Ok, on to the good stuff!

Mom's Cranberry Bread

Mom's Cranberry Bread 2015 315/365

I’ve shared this recipe before, but I did so without all of the pretty pictures, and more importantly, without having actually made it myself. I just copied it directly off of my mother’s recipe card.

Of course, this was a perfectly good bet, since it’s one of those tried-and-true recipes and it didn’t require any testing from me. So why share it now?

Well, for one thing, I’ve made a few heart-healthier tweaks to it so Neil can enjoy a slice. Also, the original recipe was written to involve a blender, and my own blender is such a pain in the neck to get out of storage, use, clean, and put away that I decided to do that part¬†with tools that I find less problematic.

I highly recommend following the recipe in terms of softening your shortening. My 22-year-old microwave went kablooie (technical term) 10 seconds into softening mine, and as a result, it was still somewhat stiff when I went at it with my hand blender. That was not a success, so I switched to electric beater. Better, but the wet ingredients were truly unappetizing to look at until I added them to the dry. Luckily, it didn’t affect the final loaf, but it definitely¬†made the blending stage more of a challenge and kind of messy.

Mom's Cranberry BreadMom's Cranberry Bread Mom's Cranberry Bread

I baked one loaf as written, and then a batch of muffins without the walnuts, for those in my family who are not big on crunchy things in their bread. I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried the muffins myself because I am enjoying the loaf so much, and frankly the walnuts are a big part of that for me.

I’m having a slice for breakfast right now, in fact, topped with a bit of cream cheese. Mmmmm. Cranberry bread is so November!

Here is the updated recipe. Now, please pardon me while I go online and price new microwaves.

Mom’s Cranberry Bread (Adapted)



  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  2. Beat egg, shortening, orange juice, orange peel and sugar until combined.
  3. Stir in cranberries and nuts.
  4. Empty into flour mixture. Mix by hand until moistened.
  5. Bake in a greased 9×5 pan at 350¬įF for 45¬†to 60 minutes.


Adapted by me from this recipe. Feel free to use regular baking soda if you don’t have any sodium¬†restrictions.

*¬†I used Earth Balance Vegan Shortening because I originally thought it might have a more heart-healthy fat content than Crisco. It turns out it doesn’t, but I do prefer the Earth Balance ingredient list at any rate. You can use whatever shortening you have on hand and it will be fine.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 serving
Servings Per Recipe: 12
Amount Per Serving
Calories:  243
Calories from fat: 79 (32% of tot cal)

% Daily Value*

Total Fat   8g 13%
     Saturated Fat  1g 6%
Cholesterol   21mg 7%
Sodium   109mg 5%
Total Carbo    37g 12%
     Dietary Fiber   2g 7%
     Sugars    18g
Protein   5g
Vitamin A       7% Vitamin C     20%
Calcium         5% Iron      15%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Your daily values may be higher or lower depending upon your caloric intake.


Fancy doo-dads for the sewing / quilting crowd

Many of you already know that I take plain crochet hooks and add snazzy polymer clay handles to them (and if you don’t know that, you can see what I mean here).

Every since I started doing this, I’ve been on the lookout for tools I could supply to the knitters out there. So far, no luck in that department, but yesterday I came across something that would make a lovely gift for those who sew: seam rippers!

seamripper_mockup1 seamripper_mockup2

I was just saying to myself a few days ago that I could use a nicer seam ripper than the cheap, dull one I am using, and then lo and behold, a catalog lands in my lap and it features seam ripper “blanks” that I can decorate to my heart’s content. (Above are some mock-ups of what that might look like.)

The rippers themselves look to be of excellent quality, but I will (of course) make one for myself and test it out before offering them for sale.

My question is: does this sound like something you would buy? Either for yourself or for a gift? I would probably price them roughly the same as the crochet hooks (possibly a dollar or two more, depending on how many I would need to buy at once [the more I need, the less each blank costs]).

If there is enough interest, I could have custom ordering up and ready within a week or two, and get a nice batch put together in time for Christmas gift-giving.

What do you think?

TWiP: Home and Away

This Week in Pictures (TWiP) at Polka Dot Cottage

Convention Season continues with this being our third weekend away out of four. As is typical for this time of year, there’s a healthy mix of home and away in my photos.

This weekend it’s the World Fantasy Convention, and this is one that moves around from year to year. Neil goes almost every time, but the boys and I only tag along when it’s within driving distance. Last year was our first time going, as it was in Washington DC. This year it is again close enough to home, but in the opposite direction in Saratoga Springs, NY.

It’s been a really nice weekend so far. We’ve had an opportunity to take a scenic detour on the way here, and since we’ve been here we’ve wandered around the city a bit, and spent time in a park. We’re in a really nice hotel, and I’m enjoying being in the heart of the downtown area.

We’re within walking distance of a yarn shop, folks. I’ve already been there twice :-)

So, what is This Week in Pictures?

It’s a roundup of the photos I shot with my DSLR for Project 365 (one image each day for all of 2015), plus some phone snapshots I posted on Instagram during the previous week.

Ready? Cast your mind back to this time last week…


365: 2015 304/365 – Neil found an adorable unicorn today. I bet she poops rainbows. [at my sister-in-law’s house] UPDATE: My brother-in-law informs me that sadly, she does not poop rainbows.


365: 2015 305/365 – I’ve been sewing today and yesterday. I wish I enjoyed the process more, but I’m pretty much all about the end result these days. Today, though, I put a favorite album on Repeat on my earbuds, and actually had some fun! I now have two Beatrix shirts, the second of which fits much better than the first. I have one more to sew and then I’ll do a little show-and-tell.


365: 2015 306/365 – My knitting and crochet patterns and tutorials in print. Now available :-) YAY!


Instagram: Sewing my third (and final, for now) #beatrixpattern – this time with short sleeves. My first had issues but I will still wear it, the second is nearly perfect, and I have high hopes for this one ūüĎö‚úā

365: 2015 307/365 – This is my “I sewed a shirt and it fits me!” dance :-) Blogged:


365: 2015 308/365 – I lit some Autumn spice candles and put on some Baroque music this morning while I put away my sewing stuff. The dining room is clean (and smelling lovely) once again, and I feel very relaxed. There’s something about the fall that makes me want to listen to violins and harpsichords.


Instagram: Took a detour down Memory Lane on our road trip. Bonus points to my siblings and cousins if they recognize where this is… [in Cairo, NY] UPDATE: they all did :-)

365: 2015 309/365 – The boys and I drove to Saratoga Springs today, and stopped about 2/3 of the way there for lunch, and so that I could show them my grandparents’ old house (as much as I could without venturing onto land that is now someone else’s private property). This is a view of the Catskill Mountains from the parking lot of the church just down the road. It was just as quiet there as it always used to be. We didn’t encounter a single other person the whole time we were there. [in Cairo, NY]

Instagram: Firecracker burger for lunch. Mmmmmmm! This is the only open restaurant for miles, but it’s really good, luckily. [in Catskill, NY]


Instagram: This hotel has so many nooks for kicking back with a book (currently enjoying Susan Branch’s new memoir) and the free coffee is available all day. I may never leave. [in Saratoga Springs, NY]

365: 2015 310/365 РWe spent an awful lot of time hanging out with friendly ducks at Congress Park today.  [in Saratoga Springs, NY]

Instagram: This place is a little weird, but the food is delicious. I think we need to try their ice cream now ūüėĀūüć¶ [in Saratoga, NY]

Thanks for taking a peek at this week’s photos! If you want to see this stuff as it happens, please feel free to follow me on Flickr¬†and/or Instagram.

I may already have plans to blog about some of these things in greater detail over the coming week, but be sure to leave a comment if there’s something in particular you want to know about!

SAME TIME PREVIOUS YEARS (2009, 2010, 2014)

2009-452010-44 This Week in Pictures

Buttonless Beatrix x 3

Buttonless Beatrix
Hi there :-) I love having shirts that I’ve sewn myself, but I don’t necessarily enjoy the process of making them. When it comes right down to it, I am a lazy sewist.

I’ve sewn dozens of blouses in the eight years since I learned how to sew, but only used 3 or 4 different patterns. Shirt patterns are fussy. They need to fit nicely over a number of curvy places on the body, and so the fabric must be manipulated with darts, gathers, and other techniques that I don’t find particularly fun. These techniques take time, and so the instant gratification factor is far too low for my liking.

05 shirts 03

If you look closely at the one shirt that I make regularly (two often-worn iterations of which are shown above), you’ll notice that there are only three pattern pieces (front, back, sleeve) and nothing fussy whatsoever. A piece of elastic in the neckline does all of the work of making the fabric conform to the curves. This kind of sewing suits me perfectly. In fact, I can pretty much sew Simplicity 3835 in my sleep now.

The thing is, elastic is not always an appropriate substitute for good fit, and sometimes it’s nice to have a garment with more of its own shape to it. I recently bought some super lightweight plaids that were begging to be shirts, but I felt they needed more structure than my usual style could give. That’s when I started shopping around for a new pattern.

I decided to try Beatrix, and there were several reasons for that: I loved the look of the samples online. There had been a sew-along that I could look to if I needed some help. Lots of people had made it, so there were plenty of examples to inspire me in social media.

Right off the bat, I decided to modify the pattern so that it didn’t have the button band on the back. I’ve never gotten the hang of buttonholes, and I didn’t want to be bothered by them. (See above RE: lazy sewist.) Additionally, I decided that the advice to first sew a muslin didn’t apply to me. (Again: lazy) and I cut right into my favorite plaid with wild abandon.

The results were actually a lot better than they should have been, given my lack of due diligence.

Buttonless Beatrix

Buttonless Beatrix

It turns out I had chosen a size much too big for me (a common mistake of mine) so I took the shirt in about an inch on each side. That was better, but I had a gape in the neckline that I didn’t like.

I tried a few things to fix the gaping problem, but nothing really grabbed me. I’ve decided for now to just wear it as-is. I still love this fabric, and if I throw a light cardigan on over it, you don’t really notice the flaws. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

For my next try, I made some changes to the pattern pieces: I took an inch off the back piece at the fold. I did a hollow chest adjustment on the front piece (to address the gap) and then took a tapered inch off at the fold (an inch at the bottom, tapered up to nothing at the top) on that same pattern piece. I adjusted the facings to match the new necklines.

Attempt #2, with the adjusted pattern was a much better fit.

Buttonless Beatrix

Buttonless Beatrix

Buttonless Beatrix

In fact, the only problem I really had with it was that the facings were too small to go all the way around the neckline. I won’t pretend to understand how that happened. I just made a note to go back to the old facings for next time.

I like the way this pattern looks with my knit cardigans. One of the problems I have with my elastic-neckline tops is that they dip below the collars of my sweaters in the back. This pattern does not. I also like how the shirttail hangs out below the edge of the sweater. Thumbs up.

Buttonless Beatrix

Buttonless Beatrix

The last one I made is pretty much perfect in every way :-) I tried the short sleeve option, and I can totally see myself wearing this a lot next summer. And in the meantime, it’s nice under a sweater.

Beatrix includes all of the following fussiness: gathers, interfacing, curved hems, stay-stitching, under-stitching, bust darts, and set-in sleeves. The first one I made took me all day. But the second one did not, and the by the third, I was fitting the whole process into a single morning.


2015 307/365

Will I make more of these? It’s very likely. I might even try doing a sleeveless version.

As much as I prefer the no-fuss no-muss done-in-under-an-hour thing when it comes to sewing, I am really appreciating what a well-fitting top does for me. With the modifications I made to the pattern, it really does fit me quite well, and it’s probably worth the extra hour or two of my time.

For now, though, I’m out of fabric, and I kind of want to put away the sewing paraphernalia and restore my dining room to its former glory before I am tempted to go full on dumping ground in there again.