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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crafty Coasters

I've never understood why coasters are so expensive. They're handy little things if you don't want your drinks leaving ugly little rings on your furniture, but they aren't something I want to drop $10 on. That's money much better spent on a good glass of vino.

I got on the coaster kick because we have some pretty old furniture in our cottage and there's nothing left - in the form of a sealant - on the tops of the tables to prevent water rings whenever we set a glass down. So I've been thinking coasters are in my future. But with the hope I wouldn't have to spend a fortune and that I could find something to go with our "lake living" vibe, I turned to the web for some inspiration and came across a simply brilliant solution!

Here are the supplies I needed:
(4) 4 1/4" ceramic tiles (got mine at a home improvement store for $0.11 each)
(1) large sheet of scrap book paper, any design or color you like (on sale for $0.16 at Michael's craft store)
(1) sheet of felt (also on sale for $0.16)
Inexpensive foam brush (~$0.24)
Mod Podge or some other decoupage product
Glue gun
If desired, clear sealant of some sort (spray paint, etc. for extra water proofing protection)

Since my DIY projects are sensitive to cost but usually started because I just can't find something "different" that I really like, this project was super fun because it addressed both. In this case I found a fun paisley piece of scrapbook paper, picked up the cheap white ceramic tiles and a piece of green felt that matched the paper.

To get started, I cut four squares of scrapbook paper, leaving about a centimeter of extra paper on each side of the tile to cover the edges and help it seal to the bottom. Then I applied a thin coat of Mod Podge to the top of the tile.

I then placed the paper upside down and placed the glue-side of the tile on top, using my hands to smooth it over so there weren't any wrinkles in the paper. When that was done, I cut notches out of each corner (see bottom right of photo below).

I then applied the glue to one side at a time, folding it over and gluing in place. After one side was glued down, I made sure to smooth out the front again before starting the next side since I noticed bubbles would start to appear if I skipped this step.

When all sides were in place, I gave the top and sides another thin coat of Mod Podge to protect and set the paper.

Then I allowed for time to dry (5 minutes, maybe 10). Afterwards, I cut four pieces of felt exactly to size and used a hot glue gun to put it in place. This would hide the edges but also make sure the tile didn't scratch the surface it'd be placed on. I was having so much fun, I started making a bunch of 'em.

If you have the basic supplies, the tiles, paper and felt will cost less than a buck. Since I wanted to make a bunch of these that may be given as gifts, I invested in a craft sealant ($3) that you spray on top to make sure they're water proof. I think they'd look really cute tied together with matching ribbon and added to a wine basket, or given as a housewarming gift with ingredients for a tasty cocktail.

Since you can use other materials besides scrapbook paper (e.g. pictures, pages of old books, magazine pages, sheet music, etc.) you can make them really personal. And ... you just can't beat that price!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Decking the Door for Fall

Since we moved into this house late last fall, I never got to do anything special outside for the seasons. So this year I was all over the chance as soon as the first cool day hit.

I started by picking up two planters since I definitely wanted some beautiful fall mums. I found these on clearance for $5.00 each and thought they'd work. They were the right size, right price, wrong color.

Nothing that can't be remedied by my old friend, Spray Paint. I selected a nice brown color with a "hammered" look that was intended specifically for plastic.

It took two coats before they were ready to go, spraying both the outside and inside so no plant peekers could find out my dirty little secret. Then I got started on a new wreath.

I've seen a lot of yarn wreaths online and I kind of like them but they aren't really "me." I want them to be me but they just don't want to be me (does that make any sense? Probably not). I even went so far as to purchase the supplies hoping to convince myself I could love them ... but sadly, those supplies had to be returned. Who am I trying to kid?

Instead, I netted out with an inexpensive grapevine wreath ($3.50) as the base. I've seen some felt flowers online that I wanted to replicate but I opted to purchase a 1/4 yard of fleece instead. I thought it'd look a bit softer and cozier, plus at $.78 per 1/4 yard, it was reasonable.

I picked a chocolate brown, pretty wine color, and my new fall favorite, mustard. Love. Love. Love.

To begin, I took the strips of fleece and cut them into squares. The squares were then cut into circles and then the circles were cut into one long ring. Like this.

Then I plugged in my trusty hot glue gun and got to work. You start with the center of your ring and fold it over, gluing it in place to form the center of the flower. Then you basically keep wrapping and gluing it around itself to make your petals. A couple of these in a few different sizes and I had a nice, cozy bouquet.

I laid them out on the wreath, making a few more flowers of various sizes where I needed to fill space and when it looked about right, I gave them a generous blob of piping hot glue and stuck them in place.

Total wreath cost: $6.00

I really like it ... well I REALLY liked it until my husband called it my Harry Potter wreath. I just gave him the evil eye and ignored the comment. Ignored it until I was hanging it the next morning and noticed they were Gryffindor's colors. Drat! It IS a Harry Potter wreath! I love Harry, but ugh.

Too late now. Sooooo, I got my planters in place and filled them with some beautiful wine colored mums to play off the Gryffindor quidditch colors I selected.

And now I'm ready. Welcome fall, c'mon in!

P.S. I've since tried doing a wreath using felt (on sale 6/$1 this week so total cost w/ wreath: $4.50). Here's a photo of that one so you can see how it makes a tighter flower. I also added in some sparkly beads (bottom left). I like both flowers but personally preferred working with the fleece more.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a cake

I've long loved the smooth finish fondant icing gives a cake and the many cool designs you can find from bakers that use it. This art, however, comes at a pretty price.

When my daughter's second birthday rolled around, I decided I'd give fondant a go to see if I could pull off a Minnie Mouse cake - and it worked! So I've been dabbling with these cakes for various special occasions and am sharing a few of my tips for the brave that may want to give it a try. If you accept the challenge, know you can likely yield an awesome cake for around $15.00, maybe a little less!

To get you started, I have the help of my beautiful niece, Hannah (12), who was interested in learning about cake decorating. So when she came to visit for the weekend a few weeks ago, we got to baking, having fun and taking a few pictures along the way. We were exhausted when we finished our cakes, but it was worth it. She did an amazing job and I think her first one looked spectacular! (C'mon ... if she has the courage to try this and do it so well, you should too!!!)

Getting started...

Tip One: Keep it to one tier.
The more you make, the longer it takes and the more overwhelming it can become. When you're starting out, make a single tier cake like this cool little guy that I did for my son's pirate party. Choose either a 8" or 9" cake depending on the size of the pans you have at home.

Tip Two: For the cake, buy boxed!
No sense jumping completely off the deep end and making this from scratch. There will be plenty of other work to do, so simply follow the directions for one boxed mix, making two layers (either 8" or 9").

Tip Three: Let someone else inspire you.
If you don't think you're creative, simply google "fondant cakes" or cakes under a theme you're looking for. Use a picture as your guide (as I did for the pirate cake ... found him online). Start simple, and look for something that only has 2 - 4 different colors.

Tip 4: Look into the supplies you'll need ahead of time, make sure you have them on hand.
For example:
Food coloring
Cookie cutters that you might like to make fondant shapes
Cardboard for the bottom of the cake (they sell professional type ones at craft stores like Michael's)
Rolling pin
Rolling mat
Saran or other plastic wrap.

Let's Begin...
Okay, so let's say you just mixed up your boxed cake mix and put the two layers in the oven. While that's baking, make your buttercream. This one here is a simple recipe that I use all the time. It will go between the layers of your cake and surround the outside to which you'll apply your fondant. This is a sweet, sugary, buttercream ... very good!

Note: If you have a mix master, use it and keep that hand mixer for some lighter duty work.

1/2 c. shortening (e.g. crisco)
1/2 c. softened butter
1 tsp vanilla (or other flavoring)
4 c. powder sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Start by creaming together shortening and butter. Beat on low to medium speed until soft, creamy and a little fluffy. Take first cup of powder sugar and start slowly sifting it in, adding more as the sugar is absorbed into the mix. Once all the sugar has been added, mix in vanilla, salt and set buttercream aside.

Cake: When the cake is done, take the layers out of the pan and put on a cooling rack, allowing it to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

When the buttercream is done and throughout the time your cake is cooling, get started on your fondant. Or better yet ... make your fondant ahead of time. It can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored up to two weeks in advance. You'll just need to pop it in the microwave for about 10 seconds when you're ready to use it to make it soft and pliable again. When storing, keep it in a cool, dark place (fondant is very susceptible to heat and will melt!!).

Easy Peesy Marshmallow Fondant Ingredients:
Powder Sugar
Dribble of water
Food coloring
That's it!

I usually try to have three 10.5 oz bags of mini marshmallows on hand and three bags of powder sugar (believe the standard size is a 2 lb bag).

You'll need to make one color at a time. The amount you need of each ingredient will depend on how much fondant you need of a particular color. To cover your cake, you'll obviously need the largest amount; I recommend using 3/4 of a 10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows. Simply add or subtract amounts in proportion to this starting recommendation, depending on how much you need.

To begin, use some Crisco to grease a 2' x 2' section of your kitchen counter. Then add about 2/3 bag of powder sugar in a single heap, right in the middle of the greased area. Dig out a little crater where you'll add your marshmallow mixture. Leave room under and around the crater so the marshmallow mixture can't easily escape or touch your counter ... protect it with a powder sugar wall!

Next, pour 3/4 of a 10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows into a medium size microwave safe bowl. Add ~ 2 tsps water to marshmallows and put in microwave for 30 seconds. Add 30 second intervals, watching closely, until marshmallows are puffy.

Take bowl out of microwave, drop in food coloring and stir until smooth. Here's an example of black fondant we were making.

Then pour mixture into sugar crater.

Next, grease hands with Crisco and start tossing some powder sugar over and around the marshmallows. Lift powder sugar under and around until it's cool enough to start pressing the sugar into the marshmallows. The idea is to slowly start working the sugar and mallows into a ball, being careful not to let it fall apart. Yes, this part is the trickiest! It takes some practice but you'll learn your own techniques as you go along.

When it starts getting into a ball shape, then move it away from the sugar and start kneading it on a hard surface, working it into a smooth ball. If sticky parts appear, dust a little powder sugar on and continue kneading. When the fondant is smooth and sometimes a little glossy, it's ready.

If you're making a bunch of colors in a row, simply wrap each in Saran or plastic wrap and set aside. This will prevent it from drying out while you work.

When your fondant is ready, it's time to return to your cake. First, level the cake by cutting off the rounded part so they will stack evenly. When level, spread one of the layers (crumb side up) with icing, about 1/4 inch thick. Place second layer of cake on top. Place a small thin layer of icing on your cardboard to keep the cake in place. Move cake to cardboard. Then ice top and all sides of cake with buttercream, using extra in places with exposed crumbs to make it easier to spread.

Next, grease a baking mat with Crisco and begin rolling out the fondant you plan to use to cover it. For an 8" x 3" tall cake, you probably want a ball of fondant a bit larger than your fist. Use a rolling pin to smooth it out. Note it's important to flip the fondant frequently (like a pancake) so it doesn't stick to the mat and tear.

When the fondant is in a large enough circle to cover the top and all sides - and about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick - use your hands and arms to transfer the fondant and then center it over the top of the cake. Lay it on the cake and start smoothing it out over the sides. Pulling at it and working it out to prevent if from overlapping or bunching around the sides. Then cut the extra off with a sharp knife.

Once this part is in place, use other colors of fondant to add accessories, using the same process to make and roll pieces out. Pizza cutters work really well if you want nice straight lines ... and little flowers or circles work well to hide blemishes! To adhere, I typically use store bought frosting and dab a little on with a knife, or pipe it out of a sandwich bag.

When your cake is finished, lightly cover it with plastic wrap and keep out of the sun or away from heat. Also keep it away from places where water could splash it (e.g. near a kitchen sink) as water will breakdown the icing. Your cake will keep well for two days before cutting, if needed - simply stored at room temperature.

Here's Hannah's cake. Can you believe it was her first one??? Love it.

And here's the other one we had for dessert that night.

Lots of fun ... thanks for baking with me Hannah!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

making mornings special

I just love fall. I personally think there are few things better than sleeping with the windows open, a nice chill in the air and waking up on the weekends to the smell of hot coffee and a griddle cooking up something amazing.

This past weekend, my husband did just that. I crept downstairs to see what was waiting for me only to find my children had devoured every last one and I got a lousy pop tart. They, however, were ecstatic and told me their daddy had made them special pancakes (which they pronounce panpakes) ... with peanut butter!

Peanut butter? Yieew. Not sure that'd be something I'd really dig but after rummaging around for some food later that morning, I found he had made extras and froze them for later so I decided to give 'em a whirl. I popped two frozen pancakes in the toaster, one for me and one for my daughter. Then we sat down at the table to take a nibble.

I took a bite and OMG! We had to take a moment of silence to honor this great thing which I quickly inhaled. It was like eating a peanut butter cookie for breakfast. Mr. Pancake, take a bow ... you are officially my idol.

It took a little convincing but I was able to wiggle the recipe out of him which I'm sharing here. And since these have been in high demand in this house, I'm also sharing a little extra tip we're using to make pancakes even more fun.

I happened to have one of those plastic ketchup bottles that you find for sale in summer or at dollar stores. I snipped the tip off, filled it with the pancake mix and made shapes of all kinds. You can also do this with a Ziploc bag. Use whatever you have on hand.

This time I made hearts and pancakes out of my kid's initials. My son is learning the alphabet and he was so excited when he saw the 'm' screaming, "Mom, that's my name!!"

So here's how to make the delicious little nuggets of which I speak.

PB&J Pancakes

2 cups Pancake Mix*
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 heaping tablespoons extra chunky peanut butter

Put all ingredients in bowl and use a hand mixer to smooth the peanut butter into the batter. When it looks like this (oooooh, see those peanut chunks??), you've got it!

Serve on a plate and top with your favorite flavor of jelly, or maple syrup if you prefer. Extra cakes can be frozen in a Ziploc Brand Freezer Bag and reheated in the toaster for a quick weekday breakfast treat.


*Note: We used Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix. The amount of milk and eggs listed here are as called for on the package. You may need to tweak depending on your brand of choice.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Teacher appreciation

Since my son just started 4k last week, I wanted to make sure we kicked off the school year on the right foot. I thought it'd be nice to do something special for his teachers - yet something easy as we had a busy Labor Day weekend in store.

Since he has two lovely ladies leading the class I thought some pretty fall flowers might be appreciated. Oh, but with a twist!

For supplies, I took an empty canning jar (once filled with my mother's AMAzing pickles) and decided to make that the vase. Step one = free. I also had some brown satin ribbon on hand. Step two = Free. This is looking good. Free + Free also = happy husband. (Are you getting the subtle educational references here? Oh, just play along, yeeesh.) AND for the "twist" I purchased a few packs of number two pencils. I ended up using about 4 1/2 packs of 10 (~45 pencils): total, $2.40. Less than a tall skinny caramel latte. I'm a rock star with a capital R. *rocker fingers in the air, head bangin' and tight rolled plants in the house*  (hee hee, only kidding about the pants)

Okay, focus. Kathy, maybe I do have ADD? Whatever. Here are the supplies.

Then, I just warmed up the hot glue gun and started gluing them to the outside of the jar. At first I glued them with the eraser up, as if you were writing with them. But then with about ten pencils in place, I realized the erasers would be covered by the flowers and this would just end up looking like a really strange container ... not the first impression I was going for.

So ... I carefully ripped them off and began gluing them with the eraser side down, making sure to keep the pencils straight and the erasers flat on the counter. I used the writing on the pencils (#2) as my guide when applying a strip of hot glue, and kept working my way through until I had them all in place.

Next I added a strip of brown satin ribbon around the top 2/3 of the "vase" and then I picked up two bunches of Zinnias in beautiful fall colors.

Couple Flower Notes: When looking for flowers for a project like this (where you'd want the blooms to cover or fall over the top of the vase), make sure you select something that has a flimsier stem (for lack of a better word). Zinnias or Gerbera Daisies work very well for this purpose because they have big blooms with heavy heads . Gerberas are a really great choice because they are readily available year round in seasonal colors and reasonably priced. Zinnias are priced similarly but more difficult to find.

What you want to avoid is something with a very strong or stiff stem such as roses or mums. While beautiful and available in a wide range of colors, they're not as easy to work with when you don't want the top of the container showing. They work better in floral foam arrangements or for taller, more vertical displays.

Then just fill the jar with water, only about 1/2 full if you'll be traveling with it, and strip the stems of any leaves that would touch or go under the water. This prevents them from being submerged and molding ... helping to keep the rest of the flower living longer.

Okay class, flower lesson over.

So our pencil vase ended up being $2.40 and then it was just the cost of the flowers. I hope his teachers will like it! Who knows, it may even serve as a good container after the flowers are gone, holding things such as rulers for the class.

Non-teacher version ...

If you don't have a teacher to appreciate but want to try this inexpensive project, try using a smaller jar (e.g. jelly jar, peanut butter jar) and glue cinnamon sticks from a local craft store. Three off these in a row would look great with flowers on a dining or coffee table. You could also do a taller vase (just an old glass one or a jar) and use sticks found around the yard or wine corks to display beautiful Merlot or magenta colored flowers. Magenta pairs well with chocolate brown, so a great option for fall if you don't care for the typical oranges and reds.

And finally ... just want to give a big thanks to all you teachers out there. I have many friends who teach everyone from special needs children to kindergarten up through high school. As a parent, I can tell you we sincerely appreciate all you do to care for our most precious assets. We trust you with our worlds and thank you for your help in shaping their futures!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What's for dinner?

Ever since I had kids, I've been looking for anything and everything that will help me organize our crazy and hectic lives. I've made huge strides in the meal planning area but occasionally my mind is so filled with all the other things I have to do, I can't even recall what I planned to make for dinner by the time Thursday rolls around.

And that particular dilemma (i.e. motherhood induced memory-missingitis) is what lead me to this project. The idea isn't new and it certainly isn't mine as it's been bouncin' about on various diy blogs; rather this is just my take on a simple but handy project.

The gist of it comes down to the fact you can use glass as a dry erase board. And glass easily lends itself to picture frames for a new take on dry erase calendars and the like.

Once you have your supplies, this is literally a five minute project (three if your kids are in school). And it doesn't cost much either. I opted for some fancy scrap book stickers which you'll see momentarily, but even with my "splurge," we're talking $9.50.

So here's what I made (and excuse the flash ... as you should know by now, I'm no photographer).

And here's what I needed.
  • Picture frame
  • Scrap book paper
  • Scrap book stickers (large and small)
  • Dry erase marker
I bought a $5, 11" x 14" frame at WalMart, kept the matt and simply cut a piece of scrapbook paper down to size. Once taped in place, I closed 'er up (nurse, scalpel!) and brushed my hands together using exaggerated motions to indicate this part of the process had concluded.

Next I added the larger stickers to the outside of the glass representing Monday - Friday. I then put a title at the top (just in case things get so bad I don't know what the heck this thing is), and I also decided to use my little script scrapbook stickers to put an extra saying in the bottom right hand corner: "what's cookin?" Clever, right?   *eye roll*

With that, all that's left to do is write my menu. I can easily change up the look later using different colors or even wrapping paper if I tire of the matt - which I think I may already dislike - and I dig the flexibility. In general, I think this is a clever little trick ... wish I had thought of it!

If, however, you can actually remember what you're planning to eat today, you could take a framed picture on your bedside table (just any old picture), forgo the scrapbook paper and keep a dry erase pen nearby to write reminders to yourself (e.g. dentist appt today ..., pick up dry cleaning, etc.). Heck, do it on your bathroom mirror.

Or you can do something like this using inexpensive stickers to plan out meals, family activities, or just as a note pad to others in your home. Whether hung on a wall or left sitting on a table, it's an easy way to help keep up with everything life throws your way. Especially if you also suffer from motherhood induced memory-missingitis. I hear it's pretty common. :)