Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Preparations!

I've been working on so many things in the last few days that I can hardly keep track!  I've been making prototype products which will be stocking stuffers for my Mom and sister, stocking stuffers that are just one-time projects, embellishing dog collars for the family pets, drawing gift tags (which I will be using in their primitive state this year, and redoing on the computer for next Christmas to be sold in my shop), and doing my Christmas baking!

I can't show you my prototypes and projects for stocking stuffers yet, but here's a shot of one of the dog collars.
I bought the collars ready made for $1 and sewed on sparkly ribbon.  I also made the tag which has the dog's initial and some scrolling in gold(which you can't see in the picture!) on the front and his/her name and phone number on the back.  They're made of Sculpy, so we'll see how long they last.  I'm not really expecting much out of them, they are more just for fun than to actually last.

Next up I'll show you my preliminary gift tags...they are printed front and back...and my paper didn't fit quite right in my printer, because it was actually paper from my sketchbook, so the back is a bit skewed, but they'll do for this Christmas.  A digitally re-done version will be available for purchase in my etsy shop next year.  I did six different designs and each one has a different font (which is a hand drawn facsimile of a real font) for the To/From on the back.
Ornaments and Lights
Singing Elf
He's silly looking, but the elf is my favorite!

This year, I decided that for my part of the holiday baking, I would try three NEW recipes that I found on Pinterest:  6-minute Microwave Salted Caramels, Eggnog Cupcakes, and Brownie Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.  Well, two out of three turned out!  The eggnog cupcakes are great and so are the brownie-Oreo-chocolate chip cookie bars are so decadent.  The 6-minute microwave salted caramels taste great but they never really set up, so they're very sticky and pliable, and not too presentable.  I definitely like the taste of salted caramels, though!  YUM!  Here are some pictures of my successes and links to the recipes:

Here's the recipe for the 6-Minute Microwave Caramels.  Maybe they'll work for you!

I think I'm going to make some gingerbread men, because what's Christmas without gingerbread men?  And no one else is planning on doing those, plus it looks like I'm going to have a whole day with nothing to do but wrap gifts.  Imagine!   I decided to eliminate one of my stocking stuffer projects.  I was going to make felt flower brooches for my mother and sister, but I decided that I was just making myself insane and I really did have enough gifts without them.  Also, there are so many people on Etsy doing those right now, that it doesn't really make any sense for me to sell them in the shop.

I'll see you with at least one more post before Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah to those who are celebrating and enjoy the season to everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom!

Alright, so I said I was going to take pictures of all the food I made today for Mom's birthday.  In all the bustle of cooking, I only took a couple of pictures, and then when it was all done and on the table, I only remembered the photo plan after it was completely devoured!  The meal was a lot of work, but it turned out great.  I made salad, herb & cheese breadsticks, spaghetti and homemade marinara, chicken rollatini with spinach alla parmigiana, and chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.
The marinara is sort of a little of this, a little of that kind of concoction. I don't really use a recipe.  But here is a list my ingredients and some measurements:
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2 small cans diced tomatoes
2 medium onions
1 large bell pepper
5 cloves garlic
black pepper
pinch of sugar

Here are the recipes I found on the web:
Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmigiana
This was delicious and easy!  I didn't use exact measurements, and mine turned out fine.  I used my homemade marinara. Also, I melted the cheese on top with the broiler on, so it browned up a bit and got a little crispy on the edges, unlike the picture.  YUM!  The photo is from the site where I found the recipe, via Pinterest, because I forgot to take my own photos until after it had all been gobbled up!

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
The cake was good, very moist, and just as a warning...the batter is quite thin but the cake turns out fine.  I had my doubts when I was pouring it into my pans!  Also, let the cakes cool in the pans for longer than the recipe recommends because the cake is so moist.  The frosting tastes amazing!  Also, I doubled the frosting recipe, and still ran short, so it wouldn't hurt to triple it.  The recipe says to use the frosting immediately after making it, and you really should because it begins to firm up a little very fast.  A little tip, as well, you don't need to heat your chocolate for the frosting on the can do it in a microwave safe bowl in fifteen second increments, stirring in between each.  It takes about a minute or a minute and a half, depending on your microwave.

I made up the recipe for the breadsticks.

Herb & Cheese Breadsticks
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn meal (plus approx. 1 tbsp for pan)
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter or margerine, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients with a fork until a soft dough forms.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead a few times until a ball forms.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 10 inch strips.  Twist strips twice and place on a cookie sheet dusted with corn meal.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and brush breadsticks with melted butter/margerine.  Makes about 10 breadsticks.

Meg got a nice bottle of white wine that complimented the meal really well and we all ate way more than we really needed!  Happy Birthday Mom!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas, Cleaning, Baking, Building, Etc...

I know...I've been absent again.  I am such a bad blogger!  I've been busy with Christmas projects that I can't post about on here (but am really, really itching to!), cleaning and decorating the house, baking homemade healthy dog and cat treats (I'll give you links to the recipes, don't worry!), building a house for our two outdoor-only cats so they don't have to be shut in the barn every night, and so much more.

First of all...Christmas projects!  I can't go into specifics, but I will say that many of these are prototypes, if you will, for products that may be in my etsy shop in 2012.  I thought, who better to use as Guinea pigs than my family?  I'm just really hoping that I have time to complete all my planned projects before the big day!  One project I can talk about is a camera strap I made for my sister's SLR...yes, that's right, she's one of the rare breed of FILM photographers!  I used this tutorial for a strap cover from The Cottage Home, but modified it to be the strap itself.  I made it long enough to be worn around the neck or cross-body, and added snaps to the ends.  It came out great and Meg loves it; I'm so glad!  I'm thinking of changing it up completely, so that I'm not using The Cottage Home's pattern at all, and selling a few in my shop.  Here's how it looks:

Next up, cleaning and decorating.  Cleaning, no big deal, right?  Wrong.  I am re-organizing our basement because it is just a mish-mosh of all of our stuff from our old house and storage right now.  Well, it was.  It's mostly organized now.  There's an art supply area, a linens area, the exercise equipment is moved, all the holiday decorations are separated and in their own areas.  I still have to re-do the laundry area, but I did do one major thing...I made my own laundry detergent!  I know, this sounds a bit odd and overzealous, but I have very sensitive skin and hate super perfumey detergents (multiple chemical sensitivity - a common symptom of Fibromyalgia), plus I wanted something that was okay environmentally.  So, I looked around the internet and the same basic recipe kept popping up, so I tried it, with my own modifications of course (I can't just do anything like I'm told!), and it works wonders!  It is dirt cheap, smells great, and works better than any store bought detergent I've ever bought before.  The following is my modified recipe (I used lavender scented soap).
Let's see...what else. and cat treats.  I love our pets, and I like to do something special for them at Christmas.  I usually buy them some toys and treats.  This year I decided to make treats because the ones in the store are so expensive and chock full of preservatives and garbage.  Oscar is an itchy dog...majorly he's  on lamb and rice dog food, Alaskan salmon oil and hydrocortizone spray when he's just going nuts.  Lots of dog's can't tolerate wheat gluten, and I'm pretty sure Oscar is one of them, but usually dog biscuits are made with wheat flour or corn meal, which is also hard on a sensitive dog's stomach.  Oh, I forgot to mention that the wheat and corn make dogs ITCH.  Just what Oscar needs, right?  So, I went looking for some recipes with rice flour and I found a great one for pumpkin dog treats on Simmer Till Done.  Pumpkin is great for doggy digestive systems, so these treats are a good thing to have around if your pooch gets into something he shouldn't.  I found another recipe that looked tasty, for peanut butter coconut treats, but they had regular wheat flour, so I just substituted rice flour and tada, Oscar-friendly treats!  The cats deserve something decadent, too, so they got Cheddar-Parmesan Treats and Kitty's Moist Morsels, which are little gourmet meatballs that look and smell delicious!  Cats are fine with wheat flour (though they don't need it, as they're carnivores unlike dogs, who are omnivores) so finding recipes was a bit easier.  I made these after the dog treats and the addition of Brewer's Yeast was a smart one, I wish I'd added it to all the treats.  Here's a peek at some of our tasty snacks!

So, on top of all that, I've been building.  Or, rather, modifying.  Let me start at the beginning.  We have 2 cats, Sylvester and Jerry, that live outdoors.  Their choice.  They're manly men, and they don't want to be inside with the sissies.  I've been locking them in the barn at night and letting them out in the morning, but they weren't too happy with the whole situation, and honestly I wasn't thrilled with having a kitty litter in a barn.  Just a pain in the butt.  Also, they eat outside, so there's a neighborhood opossum who thinks the cat food is for him, too, and I don't want to pay for his dinner.   I mean, I'm an animal lover and an advocate for animal rights, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  So anyway, we had an old rabbit hutch that was falling apart and had no rabbit in it, and my little brain saw potential.  Basically, I ripped it apart and put it back together; new roof with shingles to match our house, new floor with carpet from Wal*Mart, new side door so they can enter from under our back steps to be out of the wind, sawed the legs off because why do they need to be up in the air?, covered the front for the winter (I'll take the cover off in the summer so they can have a nice breezy summer home!), and added some new fleece blankets and new food dishes just to spruce the place up, and poof, you've got yourself a cat house.  So,  I solved the barn problem and the opossum problem at once and the boys love their new house.  It doesn't look half bad either; I still need to paint it, but paint isn't going to dry well in this cold and I don't want painted cats.  My daddy taught me my way around some power tools!  I don't have a picture of it...but it started out looking like a broken down version of this...
Okay, so that was like the longest post....EVER.  Tomorrow is Mom's birthday, and I'm making dinner and a cake, so I'll be posting about my results.  Also, I can finally post about what I made her for her birthday.  See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Favorites: Holiday Cocktails

Since the holidays are upon us, and we are all SO busy, I thought I would share some holiday cocktails to get you through the season that I have come across during my travels on the web.  Enjoy and remember, these are not for the kids!

Rudolf's Tipsy Spritzer from My Recipes

Merry Cranberry Margaritas from My Recipes

Mulled Red Wine Holiday Sangria from Rock UR Party

Spicy Gingerman from Single Minded Women

Kringle Kocoa from Single Minded Women

Capital Eggnog by Southern Living

Drunken Elf by Summer Wind

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DIY: Paper Christmas Ornaments

Who's in that Christmas spirit?  I am!  Here are some tutorials for Christmas ornaments that you might enjoy.  They're easy; they're cheap; they're made from something we all have on hand - paper; you can't go wrong!

Striped Paper Ornament from How About Orange

Paper Bauble Ornament from Homemade Gifts Made Easy

Paper Geo Ornament from Compulsive Craftiness

Paper Strip Ornament by The Cheese Thief

Mailable Modern Paper Ornament by AndyMathis

Paper Bauble 2 Ornament from Homemade Gifts made Easy

Folded Paper Star Ornament from Heartland Paper

Up to my Eyeballs

I have been up to my eyeballs, yes eyeballs, in projects.  I've been doing some supply shopping for my etsy store and planning more products to go in there...that will be happening soon.  I've had my eyes glued to Pinterest, because it is the devourer of time.  I have been planning, sketching, finding tutorials and materials, and making Christmas present projects for Mom and Meg, which I wish I could post on here because they've been so fun and creative, but they both look at this blog, so it would reveal the surprise!  I also got sick along the way, somewhere, and am still recovering...fibromyalgia makes everything worse.

I've also done almost all of my Christmas shopping; all I have left to get is some dog and cat treats and then I'm done with shopping.  Actually, I had all of my presents bought on Black Friday, which I have never done before.  I left at 7:30pm on Thanksgiving to go to the Woodbury Common Outlets, in Central Valley, NY, which were opening for Black Friday at 9:30pm ON THANKSGIVING!  They had some amazing deals and I saved a bunch of money.  At one store, what should have cost me about $200.00, only cost $85.00!  And that included a gift for myself, because the day before Thanksgiving was my birthday and I had some cash to blow!  At another store, what should have cost me $30, was only $15!  So, I really made out by going there.  It was totally insane though.  I had wanted to go into the Coach store, but there was a four hour wait just to get in!  It was cold and late and there was no way I was standing for four hours, no matter how good the deals were.  When I got home, I did some shopping online at Kohl's and got $165 worth of merchandise for $54 plus I got $15 Kohl's Cash!  My recommendation, shop on Black Friday and go to outlets on Black Friday if you can!

I'm making all of my stocking stuffers, and some of them are prototypes for things that will be in my etsy shop in the future.  Others are just fun projects I found online, mostly using Pinterest (which I am completely addicted to), that I thought people would like.  I haven't been doing much sewing lately, so Christmas has given me a good excuse to do some small sewing projects and I'm having fun.  I've also taken on a knitting project for my mother's birthday, it's a hooded neck warmer from knitpicks.
I'm doing it in an oatmeal colored acrylic yarn, Jiffy from Lion Brand, because Mom is allergic to wool.  She knows about this, so it's okay that I'm posting it here.

Later today I'll be posting some holiday tutorials that I have seen around the internet and hope I have time for before Christmas!
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