Cookie Swap

9 Dec

Cookie swap gals

Last weekend (oh my gosh, was it really just last weekend?!), I had the pleasure of hosting a small cookie swap at our house. For those unfamiliar with cookie swaps/exchanges, it’s just a get-together where each person brings several dozen of one type of cookie. Everyone divides up their cookies amongst the other guests and goes home with a variety!

Cookies

We exchanged a few cookies, a few recipes and a disaster story or two. We also had cocoa and tea along with the surplus cookies and some bread and cheese to balance out the sweets. Yum! This was my first time hosting a cookie swap, but I’ll definitely do it again!

Russian Tea Cakes

For my cookie contribution, I made what my family has always called Pecan Puffs and what the rest of the world seems to mostly call Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes. Whatever you call them (fluffy snowballs of sugary goodness?), they’re a holiday classic and pretty easy to make.

Supplies:
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 tsp. salt
Powdered sugar for rolling

1. Heat oven to 400ºF.

2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. (The recipe is supposed to make four dozen, but I ended up with far fewer than that, despite being careful about their size.)

4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Remove from cookie sheet and cool slightly on wire rack.

5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar. Let cool on wire rack, and then roll in powdered sugar again.

Bird Tile Coasters

7 Dec

Bird Tile Coasters

Most of my creative gift projects for Jennifer end in disaster and the purchase of something made or provided by someone more skilled than me. Today, however, I’d like to share a rare success I had last Christmas. After coming back from our apartment complex dumpster with a discarded piece of countertop to sell on Craigslist, I headed to Home Depot to figure out what kind of material it was. When the countertop guy sent me home with a small square countertop sample, I had an idea: I could use them as coasters. I planned to collect free samples from different stores until I had enough for a set of coasters. As attractive (by “attractive” I mean “cheap”) as that was, I eventually decided it wasn’t the best idea, so I ended up purchasing eight 3″ x 3″ tiles on clearance at Lowe’s. I think I paid 4¢ apiece.

To transform the clearance tiles into coasters, I glued small squares of felt in each corner of the underside of the tiles with white glue. To transform them into chic coasters, I decided to top them with bird silhouettes cut out of patterned scrapbook paper. This was, after all, at the height of the chubby-bird craze that left avian forms on everything from lampshades to necklaces. For a template I traced a bird on our Urban Outfitters kitchen towel and set about cutting cute little birdies out of surplus scrapbook paper. To affix the birds to the tiles I used simple white glue. I then brushed on two coats of water-based polyacrylic to waterproof the coasters. Ever since the finish coat dried the bird coasters have adorned our end tables and desks and protected them from the massive amounts of tea, diet coke and lemonade that we drink.

Supplies
3″ x 3″ tiles
White glue
Felt
Scrapbook paper
Polyacrylic (or polyurethane)

1. Buy 3″ x 3″ tiles.

2. Glue a small square of felt in each corner on the underside of the tile.

3. Print, trace or copy a template of your favorite silhouette.

4. Cut the silhouette out of scrapbook paper.

5. Glue paper silhouette to tiles with white glue.

6. Apply 2 coats of polyacrylic to the top of the tile.

Rosemary Wreath

4 Dec

Rosemary Wreath

Rosemary wreath

I’ve been looking for easy, homemade Christmas decorations. We haven’t amassed much of a collection and simplicity is important when you spend half your holidays out of town (as we always do)! There is an abundance of rosemary in the garden here, so I made this mini wreath complete with mini pine cones (which I love!) for our door. It goes nicely with our super tall and skinny Christmas tree, and the fragrance is a great bonus!

Rosemary wreath

Supplies:
3 feet of heavy, flexible wire (strong enough to hold it’s shape, but not as thick and rigid as coat hangers)
Bunch of rosemary
Ribbon
Any additional embellishments, like pinecones or bells

Rosemary wreath supplies

1. Bend wire in half. Twist the two strands around each other several times (this creates places to tuck the rosemary).

Wrapping wire

2. Wrap the ends together to secure the circle.

Wire wreath frame

3. Tuck the ends of each piece of rosemary into the wire. Occasionally, I’d also wrap the rosemary around the wreath a few times. (Sorry there aren’t really photos of this. Once I got going, I forgot to document!) The goal is a full and even wreath, hiding as much of the wire as possible.

Rosemary and wreath frame

4. I used a long piece of ribbon to attach the wreath to a hook on the back of our door, by essentially making a huge loop. Then I added the bow separately to the front and tied on the mini pine cones with twine. Customize to your heart’s content!

Rosemary wreath

Custom Paper Snowflakes

1 Dec

Custom Paper Snowflakes

Two years ago, in a snowflake-making frenzy, I decided to look up some tips on making prettier paper snowflakes. (This happened to be while Greg was writing his final paper for a class on Exodus. The above snowflake is Moses parting the Red Sea!) My previous, elementary hacking at paper triangles was successful, just not always the very loveliest in paper precipitation. I was surprised to learn that making really beautiful snowflakes with custom shapes, words and designs isn’t really any harder than making basic snowflakes — you just have to draw out a pattern, keeping a two things in mind: the pattern must touch both sides, and it must connect top to bottom.

Supplies:
Paper, cut into a square
Sharp, fine-pointed scissors
Pencil

1. Fold the right edge of the square over to the left edge making a tall rectangle.

2. Fold the bottom edge of the rectangle up to the top edge making a square.

3. Fold the lower left corner of the rectangle up to the top right corner forming a triangle.

4. In pencil, draw a pattern on the triangle. The long side of the triangle (on the left) and the side of the triangle on the right correspond to the spokes that will radiate out from the center of the snowflake, which is the lower right corner of the triangle. The top side of the triangle will be the outside edge of the snowflake. Remember: the pattern must touch both the left and right sides of the triangle and connect between them.

Pattern

5. Cut out the pattern, starting with the small and intricate pieces.

Cut snowflake

6. Unfold, squeal, make another! Try cursive writing — it’s really fun!

Deer ornament

Thanksgiving Recap

28 Nov

Thankful for

Thanksgiving was difficult for my family this year; my grandfather passed away unexpectedly just days before. Though it has been a sad week, I know that I do truly have a lot to be thankful for, including Grandpa’s 80 years of life and our wonderful visit with my grandparents just two weeks earlier.

I’m grateful for my family and friends, who’ve supported me this week and in all of my pursuits, and for everyone who stops to read my little blog and encourage my creative adventures! Thank you!

Last night, we had a few friends over and feasted on leftovers (and a ND win over USC!). We modified our standard chicken chimichanga recipe and used Thanksgiving turkey instead. It’s a fantastic way to use up extra turkey (after having your fill of sandwiches!).

Turkey chimichangas

Turkey and Bacon Chimichangas

Ingredients:
1 lb shredded cooked turkey (or chicken)
1/2 lb bacon, cut into small chunks with scissors
1/2 onion, diced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 can chopped green chili peppers
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
12 large flour tortillas, warmed
Shredded cheddar cheese
Vegetable oil
Sour cream
Salsa


Directions:

1. Heat 1 inch of oil in a heavy pot, over medium heat. Maintain the temperature for frying in step 6.

2. In a separate skillet, cook bacon. As the bacon nears completion, add onion and saute until translucent.

3. Lower heat on bacon and add chilies, salt, oregano, chili powder and cilantro. Simmer 2–3 minutes.

4. Add turkey and tomatoes. Stir to combine. Simmer 2–3 minutes.

5. Top each open tortilla with 1/2 cup meat mixture and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Fold burrito-style and secure with a toothpick.

6. Fry chimis in hot oil, until crispy and tan. Turn to brown both sides evenly. Set on a platter lined with paper towels.

7. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Warn your guests about the toothpicks!

Log Slice Table

23 Nov

Log Slice Table

Log table

Note: Greg’s back!

There’s nothing unusual about an end table that’s made from a chunk of tree; in fact, you probably own a few yourself. Things start to get exciting, however, when you can still see the bark and count the rings to find its age! Tree decor is everywhere these days — from branch chandeliers and coat hooks to log pedestals and candle holders. When Jennifer and I saw these log side tables in Domino magazine (Ippolita’s Cigarette), we had to have one (or two or three).

The only trouble was the exorbitant $1,100 starting price. Each. (In comparison, the most expensive piece of furniture we own is the IKEA Malm bed we bought secondhand via Craigslist in Atlanta.) So we decided to do things the old-fashioned way and turn a little elbow grease and a cannibalized IKEA stool into our own log table.

Table top

The first order of business was acquiring the log. My parents burn a fair amount of wood both for grilling humongous burgers and to ward off those frigid Southern California winters. Consequently, my dad is always willing to stop for free firewood someone has put out by the curb, including this large section of downed pine they let us scavenge from their wood pile.

The next step was to cut a five inch slice of the wood for the table top. This is best accomplished with a chain saw, which is great for cutting logs but leaves the wood rough and uneven. To level out the surface, I broke out the belt sander. Belt sanders wear down wood very quickly, which makes them great for leveling uneven spots but (at least in my hands) leaves behind imperfections of their own. So after approximately leveling the surface with the belt sander, I took an orbital sander to it, beginning with 80 grit to remove the belt sander marks. I gradually increased the grit, ending with 200 to give it a nice, smooth finish.

Sanding

Finally, after disposing of the resulting dust (with a rag and air compressor), I applied three coats of polyacrylic to the top for protection from nicks and liquids. I also applied clear lacquer spray to the bark on the sides for protection.

Tree rings

We then attached the log to the legs of an IKEA Marius stool ($5.99). For a more rustic look, we spray painted the glossy legs with flat black paint.

Log table

Photo of Ippolito Cigarette from Domino Magazine (RIP!)

Turkey Cookies with Candy Corn Feathers

16 Nov

Turkey Cookies with Candy Corn Feathers

Turkey cookies

If you still have candy corn left from Halloween, use it to make these adorable turkey cookies! We made this batch in my tiny Atlanta apartment (on top of the microwave, no less! I’m so thankful for our current counter space.) and sent them off to Greg’s brother at school. The idea came from Pillsbury, but rather than slice and bake dough, we used a basic sugar cookie recipe. Don’t be intimidated by the list of supplies — though these cookies require several types of icing, the decorating is very straightforward. No experience necessary!

Supplies:
Sugar cookies, your own favorite recipe
Tub of chocolate frosting
Candy corn
Orange decorating icing
Black decorating icing
Mini M&M’s

1. Bake round sugar cookies and let them cool completely. If you don’t have a round cookie cutter (we didn’t at the time!), just use a drinking glass.

Sugar cookies

2. Pipe chocolate frosting (using a pastry bag or ziplock with a small hole in the corner) about halfway around the cookie, along the outer edge. Arrange candy corn over the frosting for feathers.

Adding candy feathers

3. Use two dabs of orange icing to attach green mini M&M’s for the eyes. Dot black gel on the M&M’s for pupils.

4. Use orange icing to draw the turkeys’ beaks and feet.

Dotting eyes

(They look pretty cute here, even without the feet!)

Hanging Fall Leaves

11 Nov

Hanging Fall Leaves

Hanging fall leaves

As I mentioned in my last post, there aren’t a lot of obvious signs of fall in Los Angeles. Ladies walking their dogs get out the gloves when the temperature dips into the 60s, and, like everywhere else, it’s getting dark earlier. But those aren’t fun.

Red leaves

Fortunately, my mom mailed us some leaves collected near my parents’ home in St. Louis. Some of them were brown on arrival, but many were still vibrant in their oranges and reds. I just used thread to tie the leaves to the branch arrangement that I made last month for Halloween decor.

Now I have my own little fall tree. It makes me happy.

Fall leaves

Mini Caramel Apples

9 Nov

Mini Caramel Apples

Mini caramel apples

Even with LA’s most recent heatwave (I love 90 degrees in November!), I was inspired by fall at the grocery store. I’ll take fall inspiration where I can find it in this land of cacti and palm trees! I couldn’t resist the display of tiny crabapples — seriously, I came back to them no less than five times before putting some in my basket — as they’re so, so, so cute! I knew immediately what I could use them for and even happened to have the caramel dipping sauce and toppings at home! They were fantastically easy and would make a lovely addition to any Thanksgiving dessert table.

Mini apples

Crabapples

Supplies:
Crabapples
Lollipop sticks
Marzetti caramel dip (or, of course, you can make your own!)
Chopped nuts
Sprinkles
Pointed skewer (optional)

1. Wash and dry apples. Twist off the stems, if you’d like.

2. Insert lollipop sticks into the center of each apple. I found it helpful to start the hole with a pointed wooden skewer.

3. Heat caramel in a small, deep bowl as directed until thin enough for dipping.

4. Holding the end of the lollipop stick, dip each apple into the caramel. Tap off excess and set on wax paper.

Dipping caramel apple

5. Let the caramel harden a bit in the refrigerator, approximately 20 minutes.

Dipped crabapples

6. Coat the apples in nuts and sprinkles. You can either roll them in the topping or sprinkle it on — I found a combination of the techniques to be perfect.

Rolling apple in nutsDipping apple in nuts

7. Serve (with a bow, perhaps?) and enjoy!

Mini caramel apples

Fuzzy Snowmen

5 Nov

Frosty

About this time two years ago, I was hard at work making a website. (Well, obviously, Jennifer, isn’t that what you do for a living?!) But this one, karenssnowmen.com, was a Christmas gift for my mom, the source of my crafty genes and maker of fabric snowmen for as long as I can remember. My mom was the reason for my craft-filled birthday parties and my craft-filled Girl Scout troop meetings as well as my craft-show-filled weekends growing up.

www.karenssnowmen.com

My mom doesn’t do the craft show circuit these days, but she still makes several new snowmen styles each year (especially for her loyal customers, returning year after year!). This year she’s added a few sports teams snowmen and I think they’ll be a huge hit!

Cardinals and Cubs snowmen

Just look at those rivals, hanging out peacefully! (These guys aren’t on her website yet, but email her if you’re interested! She has STL Cardinals, Blues and Rams, as well as Mizzou and Nebraska football, and the Chicago Cubs, Bears and Blackhawks.)

Sitting Wire LegsSnowden

You can also visit karenssnowmen.com to see more snowmen in all shapes and sizes, including ornaments. My brother Jason (who also happens to be pretty creative) did the fabulous illustration for the site. Thanks, family, for all the inspiration. Keep it coming!