Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Countdown Blocks

Christmas was over a month away when I began making these and here it is, Christmas day, and I am just now posting about them.  I guess the date doesn't really matter, but I did mean to get them up earlier!  Simon made my project possible by making two cubes out of some spare wood he had.  I had initially planned on buying some unpainted wooden blocks but that turned out to be difficult to find at my typically shopped stores so this worked out really perfectly.  Obviously that chance of extra materials and the right tools doesn't fall into place for everyone, so I am confident in saying that a more forceful hunt would result in the right find.  
-Two 2inch wooden cubes
-12 squares of paper cut to JUST smaller than the cubes 
(depending on how much of the under color you want to show)
-Paint that is suitable for wood
-Punched out or cut out numbers 0-9 with the 0-2 needed twice
    The 9 will need to be one that works for both the 6 and the 9 depending on which way it is           shown; Otherwise it is not possible to have a "00 days of christmas."
-Modge Podge (I just made my own with water and liquid elmers glue.  It is cheaper and more practical considering the small amount used for this project)
-Foam Brush (for gluing), paintbrush (for painting)

 Here are the wooden blocks
 Paper Squares
 I chose a mixture of christmasy prints from a scrapbook store for mine, but solid colors would work too.  The busier the color pattern is, the more difficult it will be to read the number.
  It is important to get paper that coordinates in all combinations.  In almost all of the number combos, each paper will be matched with all the other papers so to use two that completely clash won't turn out well. 
 Simon is AWESOME and surprised me with a stand for my blocks so that really made the whole project complete!

 First, I painted a solid coat of "Real Red" Paint on all sides of the blocks.
I also painted the base ("Grass Green")
Modge Podge: About a 1 TBS water to 1/8 cup glue ratio, mix well.  If the paper is not sticking well to the blocks add more glue.   
 Then using my homemade modge-podge concoction i drenched the paper squares (only intentionally on the side going onto the wood but the whole paper ends up getting wet in the end, it works well that way)
Then I placed them where I wanted on the block and smoothed out the bumps.

 I took advantage of the education resource center at our school to get the number punch outs but if that is not an option, your church resource room may have a die cut machine or you can buy pre-cut numbers at a scrap-booking store.  
I used the same paint from the blocks and base to paint the paper numbers so the colors wouldn't clash.  Then after they had dried I used the same drenching method to attach the numbers.  Make sure on the 6/9 square that the background paper looks good both upside down and right side up.  For instance, my christmas tree background wouldn't have worked for it because it would look silly upside down.  
Also, when gluing the numbers you have to plan out which ones for each block:
Block One: 0,1,2,3,4,5
Block Two: 0,1,2,6,7,8
Here is my final product.  I had to cheat a little and photo shop the written letter in because I some how forgot to take a picture once the letters were dry.  But, this is a pretty close resemblance.  Swirly white letter saying "Days Till Christmas"  I also painted white snowflakes around the edges of the base.  I will put a finished picture up eventually. It is in storage already so I can't yet but i wanted to get the post up regardless (we are moving).
So, this is my newest addition to my christmas decorations but the countdown is over!
Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cheddar Biscuits and Roasted Broccoli with Smashed Garlic

For Simon's Birthday I made a birthday dinner at home and I decided to try out a bunch of new recipes.  I  tend to stockpile recipes that I like until an opportunity arises.  I do realize, that making a meal of completely untested recipes (at least by us) could have been a disaster; But I am happy to report: no disaster occurred.  The whole thing was a bit more stressful than meals usually are but that was probably more due to pressure I put on myself rather than the complexity of the recipes.  
   So anyways, I decided not to put all of the recipes on here but, rather, just the two that were both simple and turned out really well!!  
Some background: Seafood- not my favorite.  But I always loved going to Red Lobster for the DELICIOUS cheddar biscuits that they serve all-you-can-eat style! I had heard they were pretty simple to make so I went hunting for a good copycat recipe and here's what I found.  Personally, I think they are  identical!

2 1/2 cups bisquick baking mix 
4 Tbsp cold butter
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cups cold whole milk
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Brush on top
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 pinch

Preheat oven to 400°F.   
Combine Bisquick and cold butter. Don’t combine too thoroughly. There should be small chunks of butter about the size of peas.
Add cheddar, milk and 1/4 tsp garlic.
Mix by hand until combined, but don’t over mix
Drop 9 equal portions onto greased cookie sheet.
Bake for 15-17 minutes or until tops are light brown.
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a bowl. Stir in 1/2 tsp garlic powder and parsley flakes.
Use a pastry brush to spread garlic butter over tops of biscuits.

Now, for the Broccoli.  I LOVE vegetables but I don't really enjoy boiling them, so I try and find a variety of ways to make them in the oven while still keeping a lot of flavor.  Another thing that attracted me to this recipe is how few ingredients are needed and how low maintenance the whole thing is!

1 1/2 lbs broccoli florets, cut long with part of stem
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh pepper

Preheat oven to 450°. In a baking dish combine broccoli, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast broccoli about 20 minutes, until broccoli is browned and tender.

We had the biscuits for an appetizer, broccoli, mashed potatoes and balsamic glazed skirt steak for the main course and strawberry cake for desert.  (I may put up the strawberry cake eventually because it was so hard to find a strawberry cake that didn't call for strawberry gelatin and/or a box cake mix).  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DIY Earings

Simon and I found a really neat little place in downtown little rock with a lot of random eclectic beads and things.  I really like to make jewelry so places like that are a lot of fun to look around and get ideas.
It was really different because there were just bowls here and there of one type of bead. It was kind of overwhelming, something different wherever you turned, but if you like that kind of "shopping" or are in to jewelry making i would definitely point you in that direction!   
You can find them on facebook too. Argenta Bead Co

Here is a picture of the countless bead bowls I was talking about.  

So anyways, I found some cute flower beads with rounded backs which makes them perfect for making beads into earrings. 
I feel like these days everyone is into dangly earrings and my ears don't do dangly earrings anymore (one too many pairs of those ridiculous oversized hoops in junior high I would suspect).  So anyways, I stick to studs and I can never find cute ones that I like.  
This is one really easy and inexpensive way that I can have stud earrings that are exactly what I am looking for.  

 Okay, so here's what I used.  Those little empty earring posts are so so cheap.  I think they were 5 cents apiece.  They came with the backs too, somehow those didn't make it into the picture.  
That LOCTITE super glue is wonderful!  The twist top is the best I've ever used.  Most super glue allows for one time use because after that the top is glued shut.  Not this one though!  

This process is pretty self explanatory but just put a dab of glue onto the post and press it tight into the center of the earring for 10-15 seconds and then let it dry untouched for about 10 minutes.

Here is the final product up close.  The backings have stayed on great so far.  They are sturdy and the glue dried clear.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sandwich Bread in Bread Machine

We've been looking for a bread recipe that would take the place of our store bought sandwich bread.  The our first attempt was with a Honey Oat Wheat Bread.  The bread was good but not at all ideal for sandwiches because it was really crumbly and unstable.  
So I literally googled "sandwich bread in bread machine" and a blog came up by a girl who is on a low budget and wanted a good sandwich bread that didn't fall apart.  Perfect!  So I tried it and it really is the best sandwich bread.  I mean we were looking for something that was similar to the typical kinda squishy, lightly browned sandwich bread from the store, not necessarily the ideal bread for every occasion.  So I thought I would share my discovery.  

1 1/3 cups warm water
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil.  (Not the same with veg. oil)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tbsp and 2 tsp sugar
3 tsp yeast

In bread machine combine water, salt and oil. 
Add both flours atop liquid ingredients- 
spread it out so it is a barrier between the liquid ingredients and what you will add next  
In one corner of bread machine add sugar
Make a little well or whole in the middle of the flour surface and place yeast in the whole

[[I like making the dough in the machine and then baking the bread in a bread pan in the oven so that is how these directions are aimed.  If you prefer to make the whole thing in the bread machine-which is how the original blog post recipe was done- just set the bread machine to bake and select light ]]

Back to the recipe::
Set bread machine to dough cycle.  
After the cycle is complete (about an 1 hour and 20 minutes) remove dough and put into a lightly greased bread pan and allow to rise for about 1 hour.
Then, bake for 30-40 minutes on 300 degrees.  

From bread maker to bread pan-Don't let the clumpy texture fool you, the rising will fix that.

Risen bread before it goes into the oven.

The bread dumps right out of the pan, no hassle!

Here is a picture of the "perfect sandwich slices" that we are so excited about!!
We are on our second loaf.  Between breakfast toast and sandwiches the two of us went through a loaf in less than a week.  But I'm going to try and keep up with one a week so we probably need to slow down on our bread eating.  The blog post had an update saying she tried it with sunflower oil rather than olive oil and she thought it was even better.  I don't have sunflower oil so I decided to just go with EVOO until I was sure I would be making it regularly.  So, I can't speak for the update yer but that is the baker's tip.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Strawberry- Pineapple Smoothie

We decided to have Smoothies for dinner so we searched for a new recipe.  I found a Strawberry-Pineapple smoothie in and then we tweaked it a little bit and doubled the amounts so this is the DOUBLED RECIPE.  

    • 2 cups frozen strawberries
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
    • 1-1/2 cups pineapple juice
    • 1 cup vanilla yogurt
    • 1/4 cup white sugar
    • 12 ice cubes

    • Place everything in a blender and blend until smooth
    (the original recipe did not have any coconut milk but rather, 1 1/2 cups milk)
    Also, we accidentally left out the sugar but it was really good without it so I'm not sure if I want to really try it with the sugar next time or rather just enjoy the less sweet version.  

 We bought the 6 pack of little cans of pineapple juice, even thought it's a little more expensive, so we would be able to enjoy the remaining juice at our own pace rather than have to hurry to drink it before it spoils.

  • Here is what our doubled version made in total.  The plastic bottle is about 20 fl oz and the glasses, about 16 each.  
  • The glass alone wasn't quite enough to hold us so we had some toast and jelly to make it a more filling meal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Magazine Holder from Reclaimed Wood

A couple of weeks ago, Simon and I found a weathered pallet in the "Free: Please take me" pile in a front yard.  Everyone has passed those in their neighborhood.  I've noticed that you see those unwanted piles often on Sundays - people do their weekend cleaning on Saturdays I suppose.  We've found a lot of really good stuff in piles like that so I've gotten into the habit of checking them out whenever I notice them.

We almost passed it up because we don't really have the room to just keep wood until we need it.  I remembered though that I had been looking to buy a magazine holder of some sort.  We have so many magazines from Good Housekeeping, Southern Living and some other random things that I like using for recipes and what not that it was becoming a little ridiculous.  So Simon went back and loaded it into the car.  Later that evening, our magazines had a home!  

It's about 1'x1'x1.5'

We bought some rope that we thought looked equally worn at Lowe's. Rope can actually be pretty expensive so we limited to ourselves to the options that could be bought by the foot, but they had exactly what we wanted so it was perfect!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

I've been planning to make Pumpkin cupcakes whenever the fall season came around and now that it is here I had to find the right recipe.  Then I saw the cover of a November Family Circle Magazine with cupcakes that looked like pumpkins too!

 I thought that was really cute so I decided to put the two together.  

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice together in a bowl and set aside.  (The original recipe called for 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves but because I had the pumpkin pie spice from making the pumpkin spice lattes, after comparing the substitutes that recipe provided, I came up with the cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice ratios I used here).

 Then, in the bowl of a standing mixer combine pumpkin, sugar, brown sugar and oil.  

Add in eggs one at a time mixing well after each.  Then, in two portions, add flour mixture in.   

 Fill muffin pan with paper liners.  I always spray my paper liners, it makes the cupcakes come out of the wrappers neatly every time.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.  

 Now, for the SUPER orange icing!!  The amounts in the recipe made SO much more frosting that was needed.  I will almost cut that in half the next time - I may even keep the same amount of cream cheese for an extra strong flavor.  

It's hard to see in the picture, but I covered most of the cupcakes with orange crystal sprinkles, (If you are planning on using those for fall decorating, buy them early!! They go fast!) The pumpkin stems are the ends of giant pretzels. 
Well here they are:  My pumpkin pumpkin cupcakes.  The frosting in the recipe I used seemed to be much runnier than the type best for attempting a controlled icing process so I may try a different icing if I were to make the pumpkin designs again.  

Halloween-ing the Apartment

Decorating for holidays is one of my favorite memories as a kid and even since I've been in college I've decorated as much as I could.  Really the only ones I care much about are Halloween and Christmas as far as decorating goes.  Probably because those are the ones I remember the most about from decorating the house with my Mom.  
Our apartment doesn't allow for many decorations when it comes to storing them or putting them out.  So I decided that if I wanted any decorations I would have to make them from things that were already out.

I saw that Walmart was selling M&M's that were candy corn colors.  We also had several empty glass bottles that we were using for decoration.  So here was my first Halloween decoration idea: 

A lot of our picture frames are black so I figured I could use that to my advantage in this situation.  I took out the picture and made a little Halloween drawing on some green construction paper from my scrap booking box with a sharpie.  Then i added some floating eyeballs to the edges with double sided tape.
These things placed around the living room combined with a medium sized pumpkin we bought made the house look a little more festive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Wreath Making

So, a few months ago, some down-the-street neighbors were cleaning out their house and we saw a perfectly good grape vine wreath just being thrown out with the trash - we snagged it.  It has been sitting in our living room waiting to be decorated and I finally took the time to do it today!  I love fall decorating... any excuse to decorate really.  Especially for holidays.  This year, though, I'm really trying to find ways to do a lot of DIY decorating with things we already have or cheap items that can be made into something fun.  I was able to make this just by using scraps from my craft/scrap booking supply!

I had seen a really cute wreath with felt rolled flowers that I really wanted to try but since I didn't have any felt and was trying to be as thrifty as possible, I decided to try a similar idea with paper instead.  

So here's how it goes:  

To make the flowers, first cut a square of scrap-booking paper and make it into a circle.  Then make the starting point on the edge.  I forgot to take a picture of the paper flower post-swirl cutting, so here is what it looks like in burlap.  (Don't try these flowers with burlap.  It did not turn out well.  There are some really cute flowers that can be made with burlap, these are not them.)  

 Then from the loose end to the center, begin to roll pretty loosely, until the whole swirl is rolled. 
On the left is what it looks like after rolling and then releasing.  If you roll them too tight they don't fluff out like this one and then they don't really look very flowery.  I also think less is more with these flowers.  The more swirls on each flowers, the less it looks like a flowers. 

 Here are the first three flowers I did.  A 5x5  inch square will make the largest one.  Then I just  threaded some burlap through the wreath.  To attach them to the wreath I tried a lot of different methods. Many of them not seeming stable enough to really hold.  For these ones though I spiraled a paper clip and attached one end to the flower and then twisted it into the branches.  I think this is a good starting point but I later went back and added a little hot glue to ensure the hold.  I'm hoping to reuse this wreath many many times for different seasons so I used minimal hot glue for easy disassembling.  
 The green flower looks different in person than in this picture but it was made basically with the same technique. The difference for this one is you have to leave much thicker area when you cut the swirl past the first inch or so, in order to have enough height to cut the petals.  

Before putting the flowers on the wreath I finally decided  it worked better to use a hot glue gun and put glue on the top of the bottom swirl and  then press the rest of the flower into it.  It seemed to keep the whole thing from springing out when I put it on the wreath.  Also, I was going for stability so it could withstand the opening and closing of the door and hopefully winds.  

Well here's the finished product.  I hope those steps weren't too few.  It was more or less repetition and deciding where to place everything. Simon put it up with some brown ribbon we had lying around the house.  I just looped the ribbon through the wreath and tied a knot/bow at the end which we hung on a nail that we put at the very top of the inside of the door.  I like how it all turned out.  I flattened down the big green one a little more after this picture and I think it looks better that way; not so spiky.  
Happy DIY decorating!!