Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm a Knifty Knitter

This week, I took up knitting. This is not my first foray; when I was a teenager in Canada I decided I was going to teach myself to knit, and started with a cable-knit shawl collar cardigan. I bought the needles, the pattern, and lots and lots of yarn, and off I went. I actually made some progress, and even got as far as figuring out the ribbing and the cable twist. But when I got to the first increase or decrease, I gave up. Uh, yeah, I think I was a little too ambitious.

But check this out...here's my first project this week. Pretty good, no?

Here's my secret; I did not use knitting needles, I used the Knifty Knitter looms by Provocraft. I came across these while browsing for Christmas gift ideas for Pinkerbelle. Based on reviews, I decided that she was a little too young for these and went with My First Sewing Kit by Alex Toys instead (it was on sale at Michael's). But I wanted the looms and I put them on my wish list.

This just involves wrapping the yarn around the pegs in various ways and using a little hook tool to loop it over. It's not brainless, but it is pretty easy. Skippy and Pinkerbelle have even helped out some.

The original hat was too small for any of my kids--I should've used a bigger loom. I had already started this garter stitch scarf with the rest of the yarn but didn't have enough. Instead of buying more yarn, I got the brilliant idea to unravel the useless (to us) hat. So the hat is now this ball of yarn, and will become a scarf.

Michael's is having a big yarn sale this week and this morning I went and picked some out. I didn't really have a specific pattern in mind, though, so that made it a little difficult. But I came home with this fun nubby "Pooch" yarn--a scarf, maybe? And Pinkerbelle picked out the soft pink fuzzy stuff, and wants a little blanket. These yarns are normally $6 and $7 a skein, but this week it's $2 for the Pooch and $1.5o for the pink. That's a really good deal and I was tempted to buy a lot but held back in light of my colossal waste of money on the sweater that never was. Better to actually accomplish something before I start sinking a lot of cash into this hobby.

I can't wait to get started!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Handmade Gifts

Okay, now that the big day is over and things are back to normal around here, I can show the gifts I made for the kids. I wanted to hand-make one gift for each child. Firstborn was a little tricky. He was not particularly happy with any of his birthday gifts back in November. Hello preteen years. At least he wasn't rude about it; I could just tell he was disappointed.

Anyway, he's not into stuffed animals or any cutesy stuff like that, but he does like to be comfortable and cozy. He would wear pajamas all the time if I let him, except he doesn't wear real pajamas, he wears holey old sweatpants and huge t-shirts. So this is what I came up with for him.

I made the pants out of flannel, using his old sweatpants as a pattern. The shirt was my first attempt at freezer paper stenciling. (That is cool stuff! I will definitely have to do that again.) This is lounge-at-home wear, not street wear, so I used a kind of funny saying that was sleep related, that I normally wouldn't necessarily want him wearing in public.

This whole get-up, without getting too precise about it, was about $10 or a little less. He likes it (score!) and has been wearing it quite often since Christmas. It's been through the wash twice already.

The other two were easier. They both like stuffed animals, and when we watched Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium several months ago, they both noticed the sock monkey. Perfect! I did a little research, ordered the original red heel socks, and whipped these up.

Meet Matilda and Murphy. They each came out a little differently, and have their own character. They are a big hit, and caused more excitement than I even thought they would. Including the stuffing and button eyes, they were probably about $6 each.

Lastly, I'm going show off my gift from Dixie. With the help of her hubby, she made these gorgeous silhouettes of my children! These are somehow actually manipulated photographs, rather than cutouts, but you'd never know it. (Sorry about the blurry photo, my camera battery ran out right after this.) I love them! And I feel a little guilty that all I gave her family was a plate of cookies; she also gave us a family movie basket and a plate of goodies.

Time to get back to real life now. Orange juice spill on aisle one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Souper Saturday--Vegetable Beef

Tonight I concocted another soup with what I had on hand. Not that it's an original recipe or anything. I looked at a recipe online to get an idea of a basic vegetable beef soup, and created a reasonable facsimile.

I put about 3-4 cups water, beef soup base, ground mustard, onion powder, s&p, worcestershire, 2 peeled and cubed potatoes and a sliced carrot in the pot. Brought it to a boil, reduced heat and simmered about 12 minutes, until veggies were tender. I didn't have any other veggies to add, but green beans, peas, even mushrooms would have been nice.

What lead me to do a beef-based soup in the first place was some deli roast beef that I needed to use up. It was sliced quite thickly, and I chopped it up and added it to the pot along with 8 oz of tomato sauce and simmered until heated through.

My sister sent me these awesome soup bowls for Christmas with our Souper Saturdays in mind. She sent cute polar bear drinking glasses too, but I forgot to put them in the picture. Thanks, sis!

I thought this was surprisingly good for how simple it was and how few seasonings I put in it.

Handsome 7
Me 8
Firstborn 6.5
Skippy 10 (he ate 2 bowls...unusual for SS!)
Pinkerbelle 4.5

Average 7.2 Not bad!

Now we're off to catch the last weekend of the Celebration of Lights in the park. The Christmas season is wrapping up...I hope yours was memorable (in a good way!).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Supper

Well, I said I would highlight tonight's menu, but I always underestimate the time needed to prepare for guests. I'm sure everybody is busy with their own stuff anyway, so I'll just be quick.

Christmas Eve Menu

Assorted crackers

Cream cheese with pepper jelly

Cranberry goat cheese

Main course:

Beef and blue sandwiches with caramelized onions
Pumpkin soup

Guest is bringing

Homemade applesauce

Christmas custard
Candy cane brownies

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Baking

Yesterday Firstborn and I made the Peppermint Bonbon Cookies. We both really like this cookie. The dark chocolate and peppermint is a delicious, festive combination. Mmmm!

Mine perhaps don't look as pretty as the Southern Living photo, but they won't last long enough around here for it to matter.

Today my plan was to make the Sparkling Ginger Stars from the same book (Christmas with Southern Living 2007). They are made with fresh ginger and coated with sparkling sugar. I wanted to make these last year but never did find the sparkling sugar. This year I finally found it at Michael's.

But, this year I could not find my star cookie cutter! I had already made a special trip to the store for parchment paper in the freezing rain, and I was not going out again. So, I made Sparkling Sugar...Circles. Bah humbug.

They are still quite tasty, and the sugar is pretty, even if the shape is less than interesting. That's it for cookies for me this year. We are having friends over for a cozy Christmas Eve supper tomorrow, and in my next post I will highlight that menu.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Souper Saturday--Chicken Noodle

Tonight I had the leftover roasted chicken from Wednesday in the fridge. I picked off all the meat and made chicken broth with the carcass (could there be an uglier word?). Broth is so simple, as you probably know. I just covered the bones with water, added chunked up carrot, celery, and an onion to the pot, a couple of bay leaves, and a few peppercorns and simmered for about an hour.

After removing all the bones etc. so I was just left with broth, I added some (fresh) sliced carrot and celery, brought it to a boil and added whole wheat noodles. When the noodles were cooked, I lowered the heat and added the cooked, chopped chicken. I added a good amount of sea salt to enhance the flavor.

This one was a winner at the dinner table! There is nothing homier than a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. The kids actually liked it, rather than just tolerated it. I tend to prefer trying a more adventurous soup, but this was good, basic comfort food.

Handsome 9
Me 8
Firstborn 9
Skippy 8
Pinkerbelle 8

Average 8.4 This is our top contender so far this year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

Darlene at Our Creative Life is hosting a cookie recipe exchange, and I'm also going to hook up with Melissa @ The Inspired Room's holiday linky. This recipe comes from Christmas with Southern Living 2007. I made them last year, and while a little time consuming, they were mmm, mmm, good! Firstborn has requested them again this year, so next week when he's out of school, we'll make them.
(Tip: do not use your Pampered Chef chopper to crush up starlight mints. It will dull the blades. Not the smartest idea I've ever had.)

Yield 2 1/2 dozen
  • 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
  • Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons milk (optional)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels, melted (optional)


Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint and 6 Tbsp. sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.

Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.

Shape dough into 1 1/2" balls; place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 325° for 12 to 13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Whisk together powdered sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies, if desired. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired. Sprinkle cookies again with chopped peppermint, if desired. Let cookies stand until glaze and chocolate are firm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Harried Little Christmas?

It doesn't matter how low-key I try to keep things, it seems like it always gets a little crazy as Christmas approaches. We're not traveling this year, and we don't even send gifts to extended family, other than a little something to both sets of grandparents. I'm sure I have much less to do than many of you. Hey, I'm easily overwhelmed.

He looks like I feel! (Photo from flickr.)

Late last week I suddenly realized that I had almost a week less than I thought to make several gifts, because I hadn't been factoring in the kids being out of school starting Monday. So I've been working on that, and getting the teacher gifts together, attending Christmas programs and other events, and finishing up shopping.

Monday the kids had a snow day due to the weather so I pretty much got nothing done. Yesterday I ran a few errands and then took supper to Dixie and spent the rest of the afternoon with them. (Her daughter came home from the hospital yesterday morning and is improved, but full recovery will take several months. Thanks for your prayers.) On top of being gone all day, for our supper I roasted a chicken, which splattered fat all over the oven and necessitated cleaning it today. Just one more thing.

I must confess, though, that I'm actually kind of enjoying it. My house is a mess and the laundry is unfolded in baskets, and I haven't addressed the Christmas cards yet. But the decorations are festive, Christmas music is playing constantly, the kids are excited, the fireplace is cozy, and we actually had a little snow this week.

I hope you are having fun as you prepare for the festivities at your house!

One of the reject Christmas card photos; we could not convince the cat to be in the same photo with the dog.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Prayer Request

I have mentioned my friend Dixie numerous times. Her six-yr-old daughter, who is also Pinkerbelle's best friend, is in the hospital with pneumonia. If you are so inclined, please say a prayer for her. Thank you.

C. and Pinkerbelle, Halloween 2008

I Won!!

This never happens! I won Nester's giveaway from LHerbertDesigns! The last time I won something was 1995. I'm serious. I won a drawing at Walmart for $50 worth of L'oreal cosmetics (or maybe it was $25, can't remember). That same summer I won a drawing at the local Christian bookstore for a Michael W. Smith CD. I should've played the lottery that summer. My luck has never been so good.

Until now! Laryssah does original, fun, and funky watercolors. Take a look at her Etsy shop. I chose the brown speckled and blue speckled eggs. She also has a blog.

So, a big thank you to Nester and Laryssah! My luck has changed. Perhaps this bodes well for 2009.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quick Supper--Hot Ham Sandwiches

These hot ham sandwiches are very versatile. Make them and eat them right then. Or make ahead and wrap individually in foil and freeze, and bake from frozen as needed. Or use the packaged attached dinner rolls and serve them at a brunch. Use any ham, chopped up; it's great for using up leftovers. Or use deli ham. Use any cheese you prefer. Use a spicy mustard in place of yellow. You really can customize it to use what you have.

For 8 hamburger buns, mix 1/4 cup softened butter with 1 tsp yellow mustard and poppy seeds (as much as you like). Spread a thin coating on tops of buns.

Now, chop some onion finely...it depends on your taste, but maybe 2 Tablespoons. Mix it into remaining butter mixture and spread on bottom halves of buns. Line a pan with foil, or if making individually, use a square of foil for each bun. Top bottom half with chopped ham, or slices, even. Top that with swiss cheese, or any cheese you prefer. Two of my family don't like swiss, so I used shredded cheddar for them. Replace bun tops. Cover pan with foil, or wrap individually.

At this point, you can put the individually wrapped ones in the freezer until needed. The baking is the same, frozen or not. Put in a 350 degree oven until hot, cheese is melted and buns are just slightly crusty on top.

If you're making them for a brunch, it's nice to use the smaller dinner rolls.

Slice off the tops in one piece, and proceed as above, using the foil lined pan. The sandwiches will be attached until serving, when each person can pull one off.

These are really delicious. My whole family loves them, and they are super convenient to keep in the freezer. I remember my grandma pulling a couple of these out of the freezer for a quick lunch. Delicious!

Joining Amanda's Family Friendly Food Week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stamped Tile Coasters

This is another easy and inexpensive gift idea. You can find these all over the internet (that's where I got the idea), but I thought I might as well put it on my blog too. I'm giving these to the kids' teachers this year, along with a Scholastic gift certificate. My cost per teacher for the coasters is about $6. That includes the cost of the ink and stamp, which obviously I will keep and be able to use over and over, so if you think of it that way, the cost is even less.

You will need
  • tumbled marble tiles from Lowes or Home Depot (9 in a box for about $5)
  • StazOn stamp pad ($8 at Michaels or Hobby Lobby, use the 40% off coupon)
  • a stamp (cost varies, use the coupon)
  • sticky felt pads, or cork, or just felt and a glue gun
The tiles are unglazed and natural and rustic looking.

Ink your stamp; with bigger stamps I find it easier to apply the ink to the stamp as above, rather than patting the stamp onto the ink pad.

Set your stamp on a tile and press down, being careful not to wiggle or shift it. I liked this acrylic stamp which made it easy to position since I could see through it.

Lift the stamp straight off; again, don't jostle it. When you're all done stamping, let them dry for a while, maybe even overnight, and then put them in a 350 degree oven for 15 or 20 minutes.

When the tiles have cooled, apply the little felt pads to the back corners to protect surfaces. I noticed that some people like to use a protective coating on the top, and some don't. I chose not to, in order to keep whatever absorbancy the tile has.

Tie a stack of four with a pretty bow, and you're all set!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Easy, Inexpensive, Cozy Homemade Gift

When I was homeschooling, and pre-blog, I wasted spent a lot of time reading homeschooling message boards. Three Christmases ago this gift was very popular on one of the boards; everybody was making them for everybody they knew. They called it a corn cuddler. Basically it's a fabric bag filled with feed corn; you put it in the microwave to make a heat pack. (I remember three years ago that some people were able to get the corn, which may also be called deer corn, at Walmart , but I had to get it at a feed store.)

I jumped on the bandwagon and made a whole bunch and gave them to friends and family. Most really liked them; some I'm not so sure. My grandma thought you would end up with popcorn. You won't. Although if you microwave it too long, you may hear a pop or two (I think it's just cracking), and if you nuke it way too long, it can burn and will stink up your house for days. Trust me on this one.

My friends and family may have since put them out for the squirrels and deer; I don't know. But we still use ours every winter. The kids love them and ask for their "beanies" every night. We warm them up and they take them to bed. I put mine under the covers to warm up the bed while I brush my teeth, etc, and then when I get in bed I keep it at my feet, which are always akin to icicles. The corn stays quite warm for a good 15-20 minutes.

At that time, I made the bags out of muslin...

...and also made an envelope-flap type cover to make it pretty. I added ribbon ties on some of them.

What I've found is that the cover didn't let enough of the heat come through, and we ended up just using the muslin bags. Of course, it was heavy decorator fabric, so something thinner might not be a problem.

If I were to do it again, I'd just make it out of flannel, with no extra cover. In fact, I will, just to show you how to do it. This is the finished product, so you can see what we're aiming for. I just used some rather ugly flannel that I already had. If you were making this for a gift, you would naturally want to use something cuter. I'm assuming.

You may have noticed the rice grains; I didn't have any feed corn on me, so I tried rice, which I know people also use. I thought about putting some dried navy beans in, but I've never heard of anyone using that, and I didn't want to end up with a bag full of refried beans or something. Now that I'm finished, I can tell you that I prefer the corn. I think it holds the heat better and it does smell a little popcorny. It's cheap; I don't remember exactly but it was something like $15 for 50lbs.

Okay, let's get started. First, cut 2 squares of fabric. I did them about 12"x12".

Now, put the squares right sides together, and sew a straight line across three sides, leaving one side open. I used the typical 5/8" seam allowance. I am a lazy seamstress, and did not iron the fabric, or pin it before I sewed.

Now, trim off the two bottom corners and then turn it right side out. Trimming the extra fabric helps to make a sharper corner when you turn it.

Next, you are going to sew two straight lines from bottom to almost the top, evenly spaced, to form three channels. I didn't take a good picture of that, but you can see what I mean in the photo of the finished one. Stop about an inch from the top (open) edge, and backstitch to finish the seam. I tried to show that below.

Now fill the three channels with equal amounts of corn. Don't stuff it absolutely full, you want some looseness for the corn to be able to shift around. If I recall, I think I used about 3/4 cup of corn in each channel. Next, take the open edge and fold it so the raw edges are inside. Go ahead and pin across that edge; it'll make the next step easier and will help keep the corn in. Hopefully the next 3 photos will help you figure out what I'm saying.

Now you've got it pinned across the top, as below.

Lastly, sew straight across the top. Be sure to cross the vertical seams that formed the channels so the corn will not shift from channel to channel. I ran a second seam across the top to reinforce it and make sure that all the raw edges were sewn in.

That's it! Done! It should look more or less (hopefully more) like the first photo. Now put it in the microwave for 1.5 to 2 minutes, and go cuddle!