Monday, November 23, 2009

This Christmas - Introduction

It's time for trimming the tree, wrapping gifts and getting a stomachache from too much egg nog (yet I keep going back for more. . .)! It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of 2009. It's been a busy year with the move, a new niece and, of course, this little blog endeavor. Here's a teaser of what is to come in the next couple months:

- Gift Themes: a tradition I've done for my immediate family the past few years including Travel Theme, Personality Theme, TV Show Theme and, my favorite, Flavor Theme.
- Wrapping Paper Themes: Sticking with one theme helps you focus on that Day-After-Christmas Target trip.
- Holiday Centerpieces: Already kicked this off with a couple Thanksgiving options.
- Home Decor: I got a jump on this last weekend and can't wait to add the tree to the mix!
- 2009 Gingerbread House Decorating Contest: Check out the 2008 house that put this plan into motion!

I'll start things as I did with my Fall series: with one of my favorite cookie recipes. I cannot remember when or why it was decided, but the crinkles have long been my responsibility when it comes to our family holiday treats. I think it may have been after I was banned from sugar cookie cut-outs after making a huge mess with the icing. I will leave those to my mom!

Chocolate Crinkles
36 servings

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 Tbs cocoa + 1 Tb melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup powdered sugar

Mix oil, melted chocolate, cocoa, butter and sugar. Blend in 1 egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and stir into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 350. Drop teaspoonful of dough into powdered sugar and roll into ball shape. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

photo source:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flashback: Gingerbread House 2008

My story starts with yours truly planning a trip to Milwaukee to visit Kari last December. My driver’s license is only used to get into bars and onto planes, so I am a regular patron of the MegaBus. Hard to beat $7 rides to Wisco, especially when the drop off is just a couple blocks from where Kari lived at the time. This day happened to be one of the coldest days of the year, which caused me to wait inside Union Station rather than on the sidewalk where the bus typically picks up. No worries, I’d be able to see the bus pull up. I got there early, and waited. . .and waited. . .and waited. Part of that cheap $7 ticket means MegaBus is not too advanced with automated updates and location tracking so I really couldn’t know much more than calling in and hearing that there were no reports of delays. Convinced my bus had disappeared into thin air and unable to sit on the steps in the entryway any longer for fear my feet would fall off (I didn’t wear winter boots because, “it’s not like I am going to be walking around outside for too long”), I headed down to the Amtrak, bought a quick ticket for the next ride and jumped on the train. Finally making it to Milwaukee was one thing, but the intense cold pretty much ensured that we would be staying in for the evening. Hence, the first annual Gingerbread House decorating party was formed. We spent way too much money in the candy aisle at the grocery store and then proceeded to spend the next 6 hours on our little project. The breakdown follows. PS. I realized on my way home that the new MegaBus pick up and drop off was a block away from where I was waiting. It came and went, probably on time, while I sat inside the doors freezing my bones for an extra 45 minutes. Woe is me.

Gingerbread is actually a loose term – we used graham crackers as the base and glued pretzel logs to form a log cabin. The glue is powdered sugar icing and we went through quite a bit over the course of the night! It got sort of messy but we would just call any extra drizzles "piles of snow" and "icicles."

After the house was built, we moved into Phase 2. The aerial view is really just a conglomeration of sprees, snowcaps, kisses and gumdrops. After finishing though, we realized we forgot to add a chimney!

The front door has a cake decoration wreath and pretzel stick border. Lamppost candy canes with gumdrop lights stand tall on either side of the entrance. One side of the house has a picture window made with Andes mints that looks into the Christmas tree set up inside. The other side highlights two gumdrop candles in the windows. Licorice and stretched out gum drops helped out by looking like strings of lights and garland.

Phase 3 involved setting the scene. Pretzels formed a fence, and mini candy canes led into a snowy walkway. Green gumdrops not only acted as bushes, but also helped prop up the pretzels when a wad of icing wasn’t enough. Coconut was liberally applied to the whole shebang to act as new fallen snow and a red hot border was added. A snowman on the side of the house, a firepit and stack of logs and a sled round out the scene. We were also proud of our deciduous tree invention – we made popcorn balls, dyed them green and stuck them atop pretzel logs for a little whimsy.

I would say our 2008 house had an overload of material (I don’t know if I could have lifted it after all was said and done), but it was a lot of fun to do. It took me back to when I used to do Gingerbread houses when I was little. Or rather, my mom would do them and I would try not to wreck it. I am excited to announce that this post leads us into a 2009 Gingerbread House Decorating Contest! I have invited several participants to take part in a “long distance” contest and will have them send in their photos by December 21 for posting. I’ll have a poll open for a few weeks to give readers the chance to pick the winner! I’d be the judge, but am selfish and want to participate myself! Stay tuned for more information and get ready to be inspired (and get hungry!)

It's going to be fun, but if Kari and I are going to pull another all nighter on our 2009 house I may need to start resting up. I think her cat, Theo, perfectly sums up how we felt after we were finally done:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Room by Room - The Kitchen

Number one priority when we were looking for an apartment beyond 4 walls and a ceiling? A decent sized kitchen with newer appliances. Bob and I have really gotten into cooking over the past couple years and, although I am still at the stage where I need to follow a recipe to a tee and can't just make things up as I go along, having a kitchen we want to be in is a good thing. Stainless steel and granite countertops were just a nice-to-have. . .and it sure is!

My new motto is "keep the counters clear!" The blender went into the cupboard and the bright orange Mario Batali utensil crock was deleted from the Amazon wish list. By having multiple areas for prep, cooking time can become a bit more zen-like and a little less cramped. Of course, you can't keep everything shut up, so let me share what we have in our little corner here. If you are noticing a whole lotta red, you are seeing the leftovers from my red kitchen phase I started junior year of college. My Crate and Barrel toaster, Pier 1 fruit bowl and teapot still make me happy all these years later. Our bread "basket" is a dish from Mexico we received as a gift and sugar and flour reside in the white canisters. Our lovely Wusthof knives and some delish oils round out the corner.

I found some great dishtowels of San Fransisco and Paris at World Market with an apron to match. Switching out the dishtowels is such a cheap and easy way to change up the look of the kitchen. It's probably time to take down the Halloween themed ones, huh?

A little life was added to the kitchen widowsill with a bamboo plant and orchid. My orchid bloomed for the second time this past spring and summer which is a decided improvement on my track record with plants! In college I framed a bunch of black and white cards for each room in the house: jeans on a clothesline hung above my dresser, a toad in a tub on the bathroom wall and typewriter keys by my computer and school stuff. This one of the kitten peeking out of pie crust is just too cute not to keep up in the kitchen.

We took 4 IKEA Ribba frames to display some Bob originals. His photos of the Denver Public Library and the Colorado Convention Center fit our one pillar wall in the kitchen perfectly.

So what are a few of our other favorite tools in the kitchen?

- Marble cheese slicer: Snacky snacks of cheese and crackers were never so easy to whip up.
- Apple Corer and Divider: Because apples pair oh so well with those cheese and crackers.

- My homemade recipe book: organization + passed down recipes = delicious.
- Colorful bowls from Anthropologie: white dinnerware may be the classic, but you gotta mix it up sometimes.
- Pyrex Storage: Just say no to microwaving plastic.
- Nigella Salt Pig: Fell in love with the idea of a salt pig at The Chopping Block. Pepper is pretty jealous.

Time to get cooking!

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I Could Make That" - Distressed Picture Frames

What are 2 paint-covered brushes, candles and a sander doing alongside this picture frame? I embraced my shabby chicness and distressed a frame this weekend! This project is part of a much larger "kitchen makeover" project for my Mom that will be done over the holidays. I am looking forward to sharing all of the nitty gritty organization, painting and storage details and am kicking things off with this little frame. My parents have a great garden so I came up with the wall art idea of framing 6 seed packet prints found on Distressing the picture frames will hopefully help solidify the country look.

After more than a few google searches to find the best (re: easiest) method of distressing a frame, I linked up with this one found during an image search. I started with an 8 1/2" x 11" RIBBA frame from IKEA and took out the backing and glass. After sanding the gloss off, it got a coat of red.

The red paint dried after about 20 minutes. The next step was to rub candle wax on the red paint. After I wore down a candle to the nub (I thought I would have an extra taper or votive lying around, but alas had to settle for a birthday cake candle!), I painted on a layer of gold. This took awhile because the rich red color really soaked up the gold paint. Also, the point of the wax was so the second color would not stick to the first color during the sanding, and I think I overdid the amount of wax I put on the frame. After the gold paint dried, the edge of the sander is used again, this time only on random parts of the frame to expose the color underneath, in this case red.

It only took me about an hour and I was pretty pleased with the result. I'll bring this guy home with me over Thanksgiving, check that Mom likes the look, confirm that it matches the new kitchen color scheme we pick out and then follow through on the other five frames sitting in the closet!

This post is Linked to Between Naps on the Porch's Metamorphosis Mondays

Check out how the frames turned out in my Mom's kitchen!

Friday, November 6, 2009

"I Could Make That" - Holiday Centerpieces

Now that Halloween has passed, it is time to start thinking about winter coats, Black Friday and balsam trees.

Dining table centerpieces can be cheap and easy by using items you already have at home or in the garden. Embrace the holidays by using natural finds like pumpkins, gourds, berries, branches and leaves. I talked about my 2009 table centerpiece for fall in this post. Full disclosure: the centerpieces highlighted in this post are my mother's brainchild (brainchilds? brainchildren?). All I had to do was head up north for the holidays and take the photos, so thanks Mom! Looking forward to seeing what you have planned for this year! In the above picture, we've got 2 small pumpkins hollowed out as vases for cabbage leaves and wildflowers. Gourds and baby boos (little white pumpkins) surround two white pillar candles.

You could also gather up the items and place them with leaves in a basket with a couple votive candles on either side. Mmm. . .I'm starting to get hungry looking at that turkey!

I thought I'd also add in a quick place card idea. We do not really need place cards for our family holidays since we typically max out at 6 people at the table, but I got inspired when my mom was making her brussels sprouts dish (an excellent recipe I look forward to sharing with you). I used one of the shells and wedged in a piece of cardstock with the person's name written on it. Setting it on a fall-colored leaf added a little extra something.

Oh, but we're not done yet. . .stay tuned in the coming weeks for more holiday centerpiece ideas for Christmas and New Year's!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall In - Costume Recap

Another Halloween has come and gone. I stayed true to my roots by rifling through the closet and spending less than $10 on any prop needs. My bright yellow trench coat was the starting point. Hmm. . . Curious George or Dick Tracy? As much as I'd like to carry a monkey around all night, I went with the comic book detective. Easy enough: a black suit with a white button down, fedora and tie.

I probably could  have searched for a cheap red and white striped option at the thrift store, but by painting an old tie it ended up looking a bit more cartoonish and comic-booky (if I may make up a word). I also threw on a short black wig leftover from a mod girl costume to keep up with the look.

Dick Tracy's radio watch was actually pretty easy. I taped an ipod case over my real watch and made little zig zag "radio waves" out of black twist-ties.

There was a fun night ahead and some good costume spotting. Ready to do it again next year?