Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Homemade Christmas Gifts from 2013

I am definitely the type of person who loves to make gifts for people for Christmas.  Not for everybody (because that is just impossible to have the kind of time to do that) and not just to say I made something, but I try to brainstorm and come up with something special to make each year for at least somebody.  In the past I have made aprons, bags, pajamas, stuffed elephants for nieces and nephews, calendars, and other things.  This year it was primarily cookbooks and quilts (and calendars too but I didn't take any pictures of those - they were through Shutterfly).

I have blogged before about Tastebook and how I have been enjoying this little project (I didn't mention I was doing it for a present but that was my intention all along).  I really loved trying many new recipes and revisiting favorites.  And I felt like my photography improved throughout the process, at least with regard to food photography.  I also liked the writing process - describing the dishes or the memory associated with it. 

We gave copies to our mom's, Kayli's family, and a sister-in-law who I thought might appreciate it, but I also printed a copy for us and an extra one for Clara.  When I was a kid we used to go to these big family reunions and one year both sides of my mom's family put out family cookbooks that my mom contributed too (like the ward relief society cookbooks you sometimes see - I have those too from a couple of past wards we have been in).  My mom bought a bunch of copies of these cookbooks (they were largely sold as a fundraiser, I think) with the idea that each of her kids could have one when they grew up.  I have my copies in the cupboard and totally use them or go to them for inspiration every now and then and I love them.  So that is why I went ahead and printed one for Clara even though she is only 2 1/2.  It can just sit on her shelf until she is ready to go to college and then she can take it with her.

I really love that there was a dedication page and we were able to use one of my favorite pics from Yosemite that we took this November when we were trying to get a Christmas card pic.  This was the runner-up pic for the cards but it felt too busy for a card but perfect for the dedication page.

It really was a labor of love.  I tried a bunch of new dishes and discarded quite a few recipes as not being worthy of being included in the cookbook.  It took from early April to the first week of December to finish it and Paul helped a TON not just with being my go to taste-tester but also in editing and proofreading to catch mistakes.  I also realized (to no one's real surprise) that I was WAY heavy on the dessert category and light on the salad and main dish categories so I had to make some changes there.  Which meant cutting some favorite dessert and bread recipes (The House of Nash Cookbook, Vol. II is already in production with the recipes that didn't fit in Vol. I).  The book is 100 of our very favorite recipes, things that we have made and loved and would absolutely make again, over and over.

If you are even thinking you might want to check out Tastebook and play with it, EMAIL ME so I can send you an invite, m'kay?  Because I get credits for people who I refer and then I can get a free cookbook and I am getting close!  :)  Here are a few pics of some of the recipes inside our book so you can see what the formatting is like:

There are a few downsides to Tastebook, though.  I looked into four different recipe book publishers before deciding on Tastebook and each has its pros and cons.  So here are a couple of lists about what I learned through the process with Tastebook.

Things I do NOT love about Tastebook:

1. You can't do more than 1 photo per page.  I was hoping to do at least a couple of full page photos next to a page with a recipe or maybe a couple of "step-by-step" series for things like how to braid a challah bread but those just aren't options with Tastebook (but which ARE available with a company like Blurb).
2. You can't use your own photo for the cover.  There are something like 16 stock images on Tastebook to choose from for your cover image, but that is it.  I didn't realize this until we got the printed books but they are premade covers and then the white title square is basically just a nice label that they stick on.  It speeds up the process from printing and constructing cover bindings for every book, but still, I would like a little bit of a nicer option.
3. You can only order your book with up to 100 recipes.  I figured that was because it would only have that much space, but actually you could fit way more than that in the binding.  Probably 50 more.  You can order the additional recipes to be printed, but they print separately from the original book so the recipes don't get included in the automatically alphabetized table of contents. 
4. It is a little pricey.  Not as pricey as, say, Blurb, but still, each recipe book that I printed came to $40 (although I got 30% off of that for ordering more than 3 books, which I think was a Christmas special but I am guessing they do deals like that every now and then). 

Things I LOVE about Tastebook (particularly in comparison to other recipe book publishers I looked at):

1. Everything is saved online.  I can access any of my Tastebook recipes anywhere, even if I don't have the hard copy book or my own computer with  me.  This means I can also easily share and email my recipes with anybody who asks for them.  Also, theoretically I should be able to easily print additional books in the future, should I want to.
2. They have an app which means I can even access all the recipes I have added to my Tastebook account through my phone.  Like when I am in the grocery store and can't remember all the ingredients for something I had a sudden hankering for.  Or when I am visiting family and want to look up one of my recipes.
3. The spiral binding.  Tastebook was the only publisher that offered it and I LOVE when a cookbook will lay open totally flat without cracking a spine or pressing pages down.  It has the added benefit of making it so you can add or remove recipes if you want/need to down the road.
4. Overall quality is very good - it is a very professional product.  Everything formats nicely and comes out consistent and the paper, printing, and image quality is excellent. 
5. Each book comes with plastic page protector envelopes in the back so you can add loose recipes that you print off or recipe cards of whatever to your book.
6. You can pull in recipes from other sources.  My sister and a friend created Tastebook accounts and have added some recipes.  I can grab their recipes (including their pictures and everything so long as their recipes aren't set to "private") and add them to my own recipe collection and even print them to my own cookbook if I want to.  There are some major food bloggers/sites (like Epicurious and Smitten Kitchen) who post all their recipes on Tastebook so you could just create an entire cookbook of recipes you pull from other sources (pictures and all!) without doing too much work, if that sounds like what you are interested in.

Anyway, the other major gifts that I gave this year that were homemade were quilts.  I made this one for Clara from a pattern called "Meet Me At The Manor".  The pattern was from a quilting magazine that published it in four parts, and I saw the completed quilt at a quilt store and fell in love with it.  The quilt store (called Prairie Queens, here in San Jose) had collected the four magazine issues and chosen the fabrics (I wish I could take credit for the color scheme and fabric selection for this quilt because it is just beautiful) and sold the whole thing as a kit.  None of the pieces were cut out or anything - it was all just folded pieces of fabric so I did all the work of piecing it - but I feel like I have to admit that I wasn't some sort of creative genius in making this.  I don't really care though because I just love how it turned out so much and Clara is really pleased with it and talks about "her special quilt."  She saw me working on it over a few months (I mostly sew during her nap time or sometimes in the afternoon I will set her up at the kitchen table with crayons or playdough or some artsy-craftsy project and she will play while I sew next to her) so it wasn't a surprise present or anything.

I could have done a meandering swirl to quilt it myself, but after putting so much time and effort into it, I decided I wanted it quilted professionally with a vine and berries pattern that replicated the fabric I had chosen for the backing.  Here is a closer picture so you can see the detail of the quilting itself a little bit better.

I learned A TON from piecing Clara's quilt.  There are a few glaring errors that I won't point out because nobody would probably notice them but it bugs me that it wasn't perfect.  But I did my best and I feel like my sewing skills (particularly my quilting skills) grew by leaps and bounds.

So I decided to tackle the project of making a quilt for Paul.  He has asked me to make a quilt for him numerous times and I have always said no.  I didn't know if he really meant it or if he knew just went into it and honestly, I don't feel like fabric choices for a guy's quilt are as fun as fabric choices for a girl's quilt so I don't think I was all that inspired to start out with.  But after doing Clara's quilt I thought that maybe I could come up with something for Paul and create a quilt of my own design just for him.  So I chose trout, reeds, and log cabins as a recurring theme (basically going for an outdoorsy feel because I knew Paul would love that) and then added in some blocks specific to Paul - an appliqued block of Half Dome from Yosemite that I drew freehand after looking at a picture of it online, a BYU block and a U of U law block for the schools he went to (again, both appliqued from something I drew after looking at their logos online), and a banjo block.  Then I arranged them on graph paper and filled in with traditional blocks like churn dashes and stars and pinwheels, etc. 

I showed him the design to get him approval, then didn't say much more about it.  When my mom was visiting in August, I took advantage of having somebody to watch Clara for me and went to the fabric store and purchased most of the fabric (and supplemented with a little fabric I already had in my stash).  Then I pieced the whole thing in September through November while Paul was not at home so it would be a surprise.  He says that he had no idea I was working on it and he had seen what went into making Clara's quilt and how long that took me so he got choked up on Christmas morning when he opened the large box it was in, thinking it was a winter coat or something, and saw it.  It was worth all the work and hours on it to surprise him and get that reaction.

I also had this quilt professionally quilted with a large, looping design that had flies for fly-fishing periodically stitched throughout.  The backing was a green and brown flannel.  I searched the internet for quilt blocks that had fish and reeds and banjos in them for inspiration but didn't find much that I liked so I basically freehanded my own while looking at pictures of actual trout and looking at Paul's banjo to make sure I was getting the details right.  They were all created using an applique technique that I had learned doing Clara's quilt.  When it came to choosing colors for the fish, I didn't even bother trying to get the right colors for a rainbow or golden trout or anything - I just used fabrics I was already using for other squares and pieced them in a way that "looked pretty" to me and I think they turned out pretty well.  If Paul has any criticism about that part, he has kept it to himself (which is probably a smart move, haha). 

Sorry for such a braggy post, but I just had to document these projects because they seriously consumed such a huge part of my free time during 2013 and I wanted to share them.  I absolutely loved making these quilts and creating the cookbooks. 


  1. Those quilts are stunning! You are, as always, amazing. Send me a tastebook e-mail, please! I want to look through your recipes!

  2. Wow Amy! Those are amazing quilts! Will you send me a tastebook e-mail also? Love this idea!

  3. Wow! I'm seriously so impressed by your quilts! Could you please send me a tastebook invitation too! Thanks so much!

  4. I love my cookbook. So far I've made the southern fried chicken and German pancakes, and I've got my eye on the triple berry muffins and browned butter rice crispy treats. I know I have a hard copy but could you email me the invitation too? Just in case I ever need the recipes when I'm not at home.

    And your quilts are seriously amazing. My favorite is probably half-dome - the colors are gorgeous, especially up close.

  5. Wonder Woman!!!!!!!!!!

    I'd like a taste book invite!

  6. Amy, Amy, Amy, how are we ever going to keep up with you for Pete's Sake!!! I feel privelaged because I bet I was one of the first to see that preious quilt you made for Clara. It looks fantastic. Good work. :) The quilt for Paul is unbelievable. I guess that's Half Dome in the bottom picture huh? Really, the quilt is priceless.

    As for the cookbook. I would love to do that. That is a great idea. Please send me an email. shauna.klip@gmail.com

    I'm very impressed by it all. I wish I were as talented with the quilting. My quilt is cut out and I've started sewing. We'll see how it turns out. :) Thanks for your help. Talk soon,

    Shauna xo

  7. Wow. Just wow. Those quilts are amazing and beautiful. I can't even imagine the amount of time you must have put into those. What an awesome gift.

  8. I can't believe you did TWO quilts AND all of the work to make that cookbook. I've been tracking my recipes in google docs, but I'm certainly not organized enough to make a cookbook out of them! Both of the quilts look perfect to me! I'm seriously FLOORED that you designed pretty much absolutely everything about Paul's quilt. Well done.

  9. I loved seeing your quilts and cookbooks. I didn't feel like you were bragging at all. As a quilter I realized the work you put into them. They are beautiful and a memory for you, Paul and Carla. You have every right to be very proud. Just beautiful.

  10. Your quilts are amazing! And I would love a Tastebook referral.

  11. Those quilts are incredible. INCREDIBLE. The one for your hubby is stunning!!!! I want to start quilting and I always thought I would have to wait until my kids grow up but after seeing these two incredible works of art maybe I will try a simple one this year! Amazing. I would love to look through your recipes as well, though I don't know your email address, could you send me an invite at melanieandjoe32@yahoo.com? Thank you! Again, so. beautiful.


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