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2011-11-30

Beaded Ornaments!

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Well Christmas is all set up. I still have some tweaking here and there to do, but all the boxes are put away. Phew! That was a lot of work.

I have 8 trees this year. Some are not so big. Others are. I'll be sharing them next week, but with all of these new trees - I needed some new ornaments.

Luckily, I thought ahead last year and scooped up a bunch of plain glass ornaments last year in the after-Christmas sales that Michael's had. Sometimes I'm smart like that.

Even longer than that was when I bought this beaded ornament book.
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I don't remember when I bought this book exactly, but I know I've had it for at least 3 years. The instruction in this book is quite good.

I have watched my mom make these beaded ornament covers for a while now and I've always thought they were pretty cool looking. The unfortunate part? She's never made me any. Harumph! Well I can make my own.

And that's just what I did. I really only like 3 designs in this book, there are 5, and so I've made two of them, but one I made two different ways.  I'm thinking that my next ornament will be a fully enclosed one, but here's what I've made so far!

 This one is actually the 2nd of this ornament that I've made, but this time I used all silver beads, except for the larger beads on the dangles. There I used some iridescent crystals. Luckily, by the time I got to this ornament I'd gotten the netting pattern down and the ornament went fairly quickly.


 Here's the very first ornament that I ever beaded. The netting is a mess on this one. I misread the directions and made it far to crowded. Luckily, because of the nature of netting - you can't really tell. This one is a mix of pearls and silver. As you can see - I'm working with what I have.


Here's my favorite ornament so far. This is the 2nd ornament I made, and this one is far more delicate looking and feminine. Love all the dangles on this one. This is another mix of pearls, crystals and silver beads. I want to do another one of this style.

I also want to try doing the netting out of bugles rather than 4 seed beads. I think it will look a little more polished. We'll see how this adventure goes. :)

I can't wait to show you some of the ornaments that I'm making for H's tree. I'm still waiting for the paint to dry enough to put them in the oven to finish curing them, then I can get on with the fun paint treatment.

See you guys tomorrow!
Heather

2011-11-29

Making Map Candles

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So awhile ago I pinned this wonderful candle alteration from The Shabby Creek Cottage.
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The possibilities for this easy alteration are endless, but I went with some map images that I found at The Graphics Fairy. Love her site!

And by following Gina's super simple instructions for altering your candle; I ended up with this!

I love them! I think the London map looks better, but the technique that I used with the Paris map laid down better on the candle. I got a little overzealous with the heat gun on the London one and I have a few wax drips. I also did not pull as tight as I did on Paris so the tissue paper puckered a little, but no worries - these candles still look fabulous!


I'll see you guys later today with some of the ornaments that I've made so far this year!

Heather

2011-11-25

Thanksgiving Challenge!

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I’m not generally a competitive person. That’s why I don’t play team sports and play one-player video games (excluding MarioKart and Burnout: Revenge); I just don’t care that much about winning. I care about the experience. Maybe that’s why I am competitive with myself about cooking. “How much better can I make this meal?” translates to, “How much more awesome can I make eating this meal?” If Sunday dinner is like a football game, then Thanksgiving is like the Superbowl for me. This year’s challenge: Make everything from scratch. Yes. Every. Single. Thing.
Now, the first thing to consider is Mike’s criteria for Thanksgiving. There are a few dishes he cannot imagine Thanksgiving without: Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Okay, that’s pretty standard. There are no greens in there, though, so I had to throw one in. To save time and space (we’re covering the entire menu in one post), I have simply included links to the dishes and my commentary instead of posting all of the recipes.


First things first--my new toys! I've had my non-stick cookware set (a wonderful wedding gift from my parents) for a little over five years now. It was beginning to show just how hard I've worked it, so (the one drawback to non-stick), while it's still in decent shape, I decided to donate it. That, of course means that I had to buy a new set. Shame. :-p I chose a stainless steel with a lifetime warranty. If I can manage it, I really will have this set for the rest of my life. And so shiny! What better time to break in the new set than Thanksgiving? Just one of so many, many things I am thankful for.


Herb Roasted Turkey Breast With Pan Gravy
Okay, here's the star of the show. Even if I ruin everything else, it won't compare to the shame of messing up the turkey on Turkey Day. Honestly, I've never been that big a fan of roast turkey (too dry), so I had mixed feelings about this recipe. There's the potential for disgrace as mentioned above, but how much glory is there in success? Just wait and see.


The first issue was peeling the zest off of the lemon. I don't zest, which I know is weird for a cook, but it's not something that I saw much of growing up and not something I have much experience with. The recipe said to use a vegetable peeler, but I immediately started cutting into the pith, so I switched to the big side of my grater. That cut into the pith too, so I switched to the small side. I only thought of that because I had used that side of the grater yesterday to zest the orange for the cranberry sauce. Success! Well, now I know what to use when I need to zest, but I still don't know how often I'll even do that.


Yes, I know it's not a mini-food processor like the recipe calls for, but it worked just fine. I just scraped down the sides of the bowl a few times.


Number one, it is so important to talk to your butcher. My boneless turkey breast started as a bone-in breast, but five minutes of waiting transformed it into what I needed. This is not the first time I've had my butcher do a custom job form me either. Most places will de-bone (or slice or cube or whatever) your cuts for free, so be sure to ask.

Have I mentioned that I find something gratifying about literally getting my hands into my food? I don't know why, but I feel like I'm really cooking when I get to do this. Also, you kind of know it's going to be good when you're stuffing herbs and other aromatics underneath poultry skin. Special thanks to my "photographer" (the hubs) for taking pictures while my hands were all messy. :-)


Hello, beautiful! Oh, I'm actually talking about both the turkey and my cast iron skillet, Bertha.


Oh, what a pretty bed for my turkey! This is a great presentation trick to use up fresh herbs that you have leftover. In case you're wondering, this platter is for more than just the turkey, but you'll see that later.


What did I say about being beautiful? Crispy skin, juicy meat, delicious flavor...I'm getting ahead of myself. Just tent that baby with aluminum foil and move on.


Traditional Supper Stuffing With Cider Gravy

Once again, talk to the people at your supermarket. I bought a loaf of whole wheat farm-style bread, and they sliced it up for me. Hint, they have a machine for that. It's no big thing. That's half the prep time!


People, these devices were good enough for my mother, so they're good enough for me, darn it! Again, saving on prep-time. Just as an FYI too, I wasn't sure what kind of apples to get (there were a couple mentioned in recipe), so I actually got every type except Macintosh.


Okay, here's the point where I realized, "Oh wow, this is going to make a ton of stuffing"...I sure hope Mike likes this. I am competing with Stove Top here.


Yeah, it took my biggest stockpot to fit everything. When I said I was breaking the new set in, I guess I meant the entire set.


Parsnip-Potato Mash

I didn't include any pictures of this dish because I already featured it back at the beginning of the season. I am liking this recipe more and more, though, because it's versatile--you could add Parmesan or cheddar cheese if you wanted or even another vegetable like I did with the carrots originally--and because parsnips have such a unique, peppery-ish flavor.


Triple Cranberry Sauce

Look at those gleaming red jewels! This dish is pretty but packs a punch. It's also fantastic because you can make it ahead and just have to pull it out when dinner is ready to serve. It's also so much fun to hear the cranberries go pop-pop-pop! as they cook.


We talked about zesting and everything already. Small side of the grater, blah blah blah. Here's what they don't tell you about zesting-it turns you colors! I may have bore an orange hue for the rest of the day, but I smelled citrusy delicious!


Here's something else no one tells you-oranges are tough fruits to juice. I had to juice both halves, so I juiced the first one by hand...and then I got lazy. So I pulled out my great grandmother's juicer and used lever technology to get every last drop out of that other half. Representing Gee-Gee. :-) From there it was practically done.


Easy Cheesy Spinach

This is the only picture I have of the cheesy spinach. Things started getting pretty hectic in my kitchen about this time.


Here's my stove at the height of the cooking activity. I actually ran out of eyes and had to get pretty creative with the stove top action.


Pumpkin Pie Latte

Dear Starbucks, I regret to inform you that you have lost yet another type of drink that I will purchase from you to my kitchen. I'm sure you've noticed the loss of sales in Chai Tea Lattes. Now it's the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I can get the puppies fed in the same amount of time it takes me to make a comparable version on my own. Please don't get me wrong. I love your whimsical style and cute, red holiday cups, but you're going to need to step it up if you want this relationship to last. If you don't start trying harder, before you know it, not even your white chocolate raspberry mocha, or, as I like to call it, The Pink Pixie, will be enough to lure me back. Here's hoping you'll soon start trying to impress me again. Love, Dana.


Apple Pound Cake

There's another five-letter b-word I'd like to call this cake. It caused me quite a lot more frustration than I like to admit, but I think I already know how to fix that next time...


You all have seen this contraption before. I don't use it often, but, when I do, I'm so glad I own it. I remember Gee-Gee, our great-grandmother, used to be able to peel, core, and slice an apple in minutes with just one paring knife. I am not nearly so talented. I am fairly certain I'd end up bleeding from several fingers if I tried that. You may have noticed I'm a big fan of my gadgets.


Here's a gadget I don't have any experience with, though, a Bundt cake pan. This is literally the first time I've made a recipe that calls for one. Then again, I've only just recently embraced baking as part of my repertoire. As you can see, it's not the easiest shape to butter and flour, so here's what I did. I put a tablespoon of butter on a folded up paper towel and then just go around the outside half of the pan, pressing down hard so that the butter conforms to whatever part of the pan I'm working on. Then I do the same on the inside half of the pan. After that, I drop my flour in and--here's the tricky part--place a plate on top of the pan, flip it over, and shake my little heart out. It came out pretty good, don't you think?


Okay, a pound of butter and sugar. What can go wrong here? Nothing yet. It creamed up beautifully. Just look at all that buttery-sugar goodness.


This is where I started to run into trouble. Not so much with the egg separation, though, I did at first (see the little bowl with the broken yolk?) and simply just started using my hand and fingers as the separator. I have the most control that way. What? They were clean!


Okay, egg yolks are added. Now just to form the eggs and fold them in...


I tried making the egg foam with a hand whisk, but it didn't seem to be going well, so I switched to my electric hand mixer. Twenty minutes later, the whites were still not forming a proper foam, much less soft peaks. I don't know if I accidentally got some yolk in the whites or if my eggs weren't fresh enough. Either way, I needed to get my cake in the oven and baking, so I mixed in the well-aerated but still-soupy egg whites as best as I could and hoped my cake would still rise...


Here you can see a little bit of the not-egg-foam.


WHY ARE YOU BLOWING UP?! WHAT THE HECK?! I THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE TROUBLE RISING! Looks like I'm going to have to run the auto-clean (see: incinerate) cycle. My house got so smoky during this disaster, and my poor fur-babies got so freaked out by it...we now know what roles the kids will play if the house ever catches fire. Bruin will wake us up and lead us to safety and Badger will wake us up and cower.


Oh, awesome. You all can't see it in this picture because I used the flash on my camera, but this was during the brief power outage we had. Thankfully, it was right at the end of the cooking time, so that actually worked out okay. Among many other things, I am very thankful for electricity.


Sigh. That is not very pretty. Next time, I'm definitely going to try this without separating the eggs and just mixing them in. It works for pumpkin bread, which is basically just an awesome pound cake, and the baking soda is already a leavening agent, so I think it will be fine.


The cake actually ended up tasting really good, so we live, we learn, and we eat cake. :-)


Delicious Pumpkin Bread

Heather and I have both blogged about this fantastic baked good, and Mike calls it crack-cake. It's awesome. That's all you need to know. :-)


Ladies and gentleman, allow me to present an entirely made-from-scratch dinner!


Everything was so good, and, without even meaning to, I actually ended up with an apple theme running through most of the meal, which I love. Mike was so happy with everything, and it all lived up to his traditional expectations. The turkey was actually the best part, which I wasn't expecting at all. A boneless turkey breast is so easy to slice too. It's already been decided that this is our new traditional Thanksgiving turkey recipe.

I cannot say how thankful I am for everything I've been blessed with. Thanksgiving is, of course, a time for giving attention to all the things and people we have, but let us be thankful everyday. We are all so richly blessed simply because we have roofs and love and so much more. I hope you all had warm and wonderful Thanksgivings with many more to come. And now here's what I'm especially thankful for.





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