Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009!

(The pic above is merely a reminder for myself that flowers and green things exist. Stupid winter...why does the new year start in winter, anyway? Should be spring!)

2009 was not such a great year for most people I know (understatement!) so I'm happy to be moving on. It wasn't a terrible year for me, although I did break my arm and get laid off from my corporate gig. Money has been tight but everyone in my family is in relatively good health, employed, and sheltered. I'm not taking any of those things for granted, at this point, and am thankful.
I accomplished quite a few things from my 2009 goals/resolutions list, including:
  • Go camping (only once, though!)
  • Buy a digital camera

  • Pick berries at a u-pick place

  • Grow a windowsill herb garden

  • Volunteer work related to teaching or art (at Articulture, as mentioned, and at Urban Youth Farm last spring)
  • Show art at a coffee shop (no, but at a non-profit gallery instead!)
  • Learn how to can/make jam (learned, but, alas, did not make!)

  • Buy fewer magazines (much improvement but still a problem)

  • Not break any more bones!

There are some things that I'm happy to have done this year that weren't even on my list last January, such as:

  • Lost 20+ pounds through a lower-carb diet and moderate exercise
  • Applied and got accepted to Le Cordon Bleu's Patisserie and Baking program

  • Sold my work, with my sister, at five local art festivals over the past year
  • Paid off one of my credit cards - yay!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Project

What do you get when you cross a terrarium with a snowglobe and subtract the water? No, seriously, what do you get? Because I'm having a hard time figuring out what to call these. I love terrariums but either kill the plants or they grow too large. I love the miniature world in a snowglobe but don't care about the whirling snow (it doesn't "whirl" for very long, anyway) and hate the glitter ones.

Anyway, I made these for my mom and sisters for Christmas. I made the birds and mushrooms using Sculpey. I added some holiday picks from Michaels, decorated some branches with glitter from Martha Stewart's collection and sprinkled some fake snow (don't know what it is, plastic? I got it from Target and I think people use it for their Christmas village displays). Everything is firmly affixed to a styrofoam base (that is glued to the overturned jars "lid" or the bottom of the container), using craft glue. The birds are attached to the branches using hot glue. I didn't glue the lids on because I wanted to be able to make repairs, if necessary, but you'll want to make sure they are tight-fitting if you go that route.

Gingerbread Houses and Tips

Here are a couple pics of the gingerbread houses my sister Melanie and I decorated this year. We enjoy decorating gingerbread houses but the construction part.....hmm, not so much. So, what we do is buy a couple kits. However, I'm not about to spend ten bucks on something you can't even EAT so what we do is buy Target's Halloween gingerbread house kit on clearance after Halloween (this year we scored two for a dollar each once things were marked 90% off).

Making your own "glue" aka Royal Icing is easy if you have meringue powder. It's an initial investment of $6-$7 but it will last you a very long time as you don't use much to make a whole batch of icing (and you don't have to fiddle with egg whites). Royal icing is just egg whites, confectioner's sugar, water, and (optional) vanilla. I like to make my own because then you can control how thick it is.
My other tip isn't related directly to the houses. See the green polka-dot tablecloth? It's actually wrapping paper. If you have a square or rectangular table, wrapping paper over a plastic tablecloth (just in case of spills, we kept the same plastic one all season long) is a great way to decorate the table. We used it when we had people over to decorate cookies and it was great because the kids could make a mess and it was easy to clean up at the end of the party. It's cheap, too, if you buy your paper on sale after Christmas or at the dollar store.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Strange Vintage Tree

Do you like our strange vintage tree decoration? We found this at the Goodwill and spiffed it up a little (well, Melanie did). The elves are original and all of the sparkly, glittery items are new. The cats like to chew on parts of it and then pretend that they're not doing anything wrong (see pic above of Mr. Boots trying to look innocent).

No Fireplace? No Problem!

Do you like our new "fireplace"? Okay, so it doesn't give out much warmth (or any) but I wanted to have a mantel where we can hang our stockings When it isn't The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, this is three bookcases placed side by side. The bricks are two pieces of decorated foamboard (I used Sharpie to draw the brick pattern). I didn't have black posterboard so painted a piece of cardboard and cut out the flame shape with an exacto knife. It is backed with a piece of translucent paper ( vellum that was painted orange and red, in this case, but tissue paper could work). The red and yellow flames and the logs on the front were cut out of cardstock and taped on. The finishing touch is the light of the "fire" shining through - a string of battery-operated lights place on the empty shelf behind the cut out.

Emily's Zombie Cookie

Happy Undead Christmas! This is what happens when you give my sister a cookie shaped like Santa's face......

Our booth at the Women's Art Festival

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A good use for garland

I bought this garland at a huge discount after Christmas last year, not remembering at the time that I never know what to do with it since I don't like it on the tree. Anyway, I needed something to decorate the stairwell (it is drab and can be seen from the dining room), already had the star hanging on the wall, add some garland and bows and voila! To my surprise, the cats haven't messed with the bows. I thought those suckers would be irresistable!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Trip to THE Mall

Took my life in my hands and made a trip to the Mall of America last weekend. That's right - America's largest mall, on the weekend, in DECEMBER. Actually, it wasn't too crazy except that parking was a little wack. Anyway, I really love the wreath "nests" they have up this year! It seems like something I could easily do at home - on a much smaller scale, of course!
Here's a picture of one of the ginormous Christmas trees in the rotunda. Below is a detail that shows the instrument ornaments decorating the tree.

And, hey, surprise! Nigella Lawson was there, signing her new cookbook. I didn't have a cookbook or time to stand in line so only got this blurry pic from the next floor up. Good thing I didn't happen to go the next day instead - Sarah Palin was there signing her new book :(

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A very Merry photo shoot

Here is the first picture - look how cute Mr. Boots is............
...........Second one - still cute, a little blurry...............

.......Oh-oh, starting to get antsy...............

..........and finally, full on escape mode!

Ribbon Wreath

I needed something to hang above our "mantel" - really several bookcases that we hang our stockings on - and didn't want to buy anything (having already gone over my holiday budget!). I started looking for round things around the apartment and came across this old plastic serving tray. I also have tons of ribbon (the paper kind) from a box that I got at a thrift store. I used double sided tape to attach the ribbon and just folded the ribbon like ribbon candy. What do you think?


Frankly, Thanksgiving is not one of my favorite holidays. This is especially true now that I am trying to eat fewer carbs! Here are some pics from this Thanksgiving, though. I made the pumpkin soup above with chicken stock, some sauteed garlic and onions,pumpkin puree, chinese five spice powder and smoked paprika. I was hoping it would be smoother but it tasted good - especially with real bacon and toasted pumpkin seeds as a garnish.
Our centerpiece! Yes, this tree probably looks familiar from Halloween. We didn't have a cornucopia handy and had a leaf theme going on with the other serving pieces so decided to go with it.
Last, here's a pic of the pumpkin spice cupcakes I made for my friend's birthday. I used a different recipe but you could use the quick bread recipe from my previous post. They taste about the same. The cream cheese frosting is what makes these cupcakes extra awesome, of course.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Paper Source Event

It's beginning to look a lot like stores and on-line, anyway. I'm starting to plan my Christmas projects and have been looking around for ideas and inspiration. Luckily, one my favorite stores, Paper Source, is having free holiday demos and "make and take" projects this weekend! Check out the schedule on their blog:

If you're in the area, I recommend the one on Hennepin in Minneapolis because there is a Penzey's Spices store and an Urban Outfitters on the same block! Penzey's can get expensive if you have no willpower like me but smelling the spices is free :) If you aren't near a Penzey's, no worries - you can shop online: Urban Outfitters has a lot of overpriced crap but you can find some cute little gifts or decorations, too. They also have a website, of course, and they have a lot of things that are only sold on the web:
FYI - I have no affiliation with these companies but like their products enough to spread the word :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pumpkin Quick Bread

I made a delicious pumpkin bread that I adapted from this recipe:

The changes I made are that I cut down on the amount of sugar (it's still plenty sweet) and replaced the cloves with ginger (didn't have any cloves and don't love them). I also sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on the top of each loaf to create a crispy sugary crust. The bread is very light for a pumpkin bread and not too moist. Next time I'll try to make some substitutions for some of the butter and sugar to make it a little healthier but didn't want to change the recipe too much this time.

  • 1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (use less if using fresh ginger)
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • Additional cinnamon and sugar for sprinklin on top (optional but delicious)
  • Nuts to sprinkle on top (again, optional but delicious)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs, mix well. Add the dry ingredients and stir until batter is just moistened (make sure to get all the dry stuff from the bottom incorporated, though). Stir in pumpkin but make sure not to overmix. Pour into two greased loaf pans, sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top (optional) and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween How-To: Decorations

As promised, here's a little more about my Halloween projects for 2009. The above is a pic of the bar - set up with a black light ($12 at Target), some cheap glow-in-the-dark skeletons and spiders (from the Dollar Store) and some carefully arranged tonic water (did you know the quinine in it makes it glow eerily under a black light? Apparently, a lot of people did know but it's news to me).

Above is the crazy Halloween headress that I made with a headband, silver ribbon with wire, scraps of purple fabric, and cheap plastic critters from the dollar store (painted with silver craft paint). I used safety pins to put it together so it easily came apart and didn't damage the head band.
I call this look "fun with spiders". The big spider in the middle is crumpled newspaper, taped into a ball with packing tape and covered with crepe paper. The web is more crepe paper and the baby spiders were cut from black construction paper and taped all around the room.
The coffin decoration is admittedly rustic looking but was mostly a way to try to cover the two tall bookshelves in the living room. My books are too colorful and cozily cluttered-looking to be spooky. I cut the coffin shape from cardboard and used low-odor spray paint to paint them black. I added the "R.I.P." because I wasn't sure you could tell it was supposed to be a coffin; I know that coffins typically don't have RIP on them but I think it worked.
This spooky wreath cost very little to make. I bought a weird straw wreath at a thrift store for a buck and covered it with black crepe paper streamer. You could used a foam wreath or buy one of those cool black wreathes made especially for Halloween. A little bit of spooky ribbon, some fake flowers in appropriate colors, a plastic skull from the dollar store, an old necklace, and some fake cobwebs complete the look. I did use hot glue to affix the skull to the crepe paper but everything could be removed easily, if I wanted to re-use the wreath for another purpose.
Above is our homemade mummy (serving as the warden here, to Melanie's prisoner garb at work). He was made out of crumpled newspaper balls (for the head, chest, and hips) connected together (more packing tape) with cardboard tubes from rolls of gift wrap (I knew they would come in handy some day!) for the arms, legs, and spine. Melanie worked hard to wrap him in white crepe paper and misted him with a very diluted mix of water and brown paint to give him an authentic ancient look.

I think this one above is my favorite project. I found the frame at a thrift store and knew I could do something creepy with it. I stained the wood with silver acrylic and printed some creepy pictures off the web. Voila! Sometimes you just have to be on the look out for strange items and used your imagination to make them fit your theme!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween How-To: Food Edition

We made sure to have plenty of treats for our guests at our Halloween get-together this year. Included were the peanut butter eyeballs pictured above. The filling is PB and confectioner's sugar, rolled into a ball and dipped in vanilla candy coating. The eyeball is black frosting with lines of red gel frosting. Next time I will make the PB filling less sweet since the coating is super sweet and I will make the pupil from chocolate rather than nasty black frosting. Oh well.

Here'a pic of the treat bags we gave out. They are from Martha's Halloween line and appropriately creepy. Inside are wind-up vampire teeth, body organ gummies and chocolate body parts (all from Oriental Trading). You can see some of the candy in the photo below.

I made these creepy "frog eggs" from Tapioca, using the instructions from here:
We put out glow sticks for stirrers, which added to the look.
This is a terrible picture but I also made Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I made the cake from a mix and the batter was, indeed, blood red. Silver sprinkles completed the look.
Here are some other things that we served that I don't have pictures of:
Bacon-wrapped Squash Bites from here:
Pesto dip: garbanzo beans, pesto, and parmesan cheese
Chocolate cookies: made from the recipe on a box of Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix. No joke. They are awesome!
Pumpkin Dip: Canned pumpkin mixed with softened cream cheese and cinnamon. Serve with Nilla Wafers or ginger cookies.