Prospero Año Nuevo…

If you’re making salsa, shouldn’t Happy New Year’s be in Spanish, too? So there you go.

I always make this Good Luck Salsa for New Year’s neighbor gifts. Sometimes it makes it to my neighbors. Sometimes we devour it first. We’ll see what happens this time. I’ve seen similar recipes called Dixie Caviar or Texas Caviar, but I prefer to mention the luck the black-eyed peas will bring for 2012.

Salsa Good Luck Salsa

2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

1 can yellow hominy, rinsed and drained

1 can petite diced tomatoes, fire-roasted or garlic and onion

1 green pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

1 can green chilis (or a small jalapeno, minced)

1 cup fat-free Italian salad dressing

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

In a large bowl, stir everything together. Chill and let the flavors meld for a day or two. This keeps in the frig for up to a week.

To gift it, put in jars and embellish as desired. I put the ingredients on the back of the tag, along with instructions to keep it refrigerated. I downloaded the tag for free from Custom Printables, here. They design some really fun and cool things there…check it out!

This is a fun and savory way to get your black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, if you’re not a fan of Hoppin’ John or other standard ways to prep them. Of course, you’ll still need your collard greens for wealth, but at least you’ll be lucky, so there’s that.

Wishing you all a fun and happy 2012!

Wishing You a Very Merry, Joyful Christmas!

Stay-Calm

As I’m finishing up the last of my Christmas baking, wrapping, and crafting, just wanted to take a moment and say thanks for all your support and patience as I’ve gotten my blog up and running. It’s been a great experience, and a much needed creative outlet! This truly has been our motto throughout this year of changes and adventures…and adapting to being country mice, not city mice after many years. It makes a great mantra, if you’re looking for a calming message to repeat to yourself…over and over and over….in my case!

I hope you and yours have a fabulous Christmas, filled with blessings and fun!

(By the way, to give credit where it’s due…the supplies for this digi-scrap page all came from DesignerDigitals.com, if you were wondering. Which I’m sure you were, having nothing else to think about 2 days before Christmas.)

Seriously, more cookies?

Yes, more cookies. This week I made fun cookies for class parties and gifts, and now I have to brag about it a little, they turned out so well.

amaretti

First I made amaretti for my sweetie. He loves anything with almond, and with both almond paste and amaretto, these are one of his favorites. You can find the recipe at here, at Cooking Light.

DSC_0014 kisses

He also loves meringue cookies, so I always make these for Christmas. They’re super simple and impressive. I even made them on a rainy day and they still turned out crunchy and pepperminty!

Here’s how:

Peppermint Meringues

3 egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 to 4 drops peppermint oil, or 1/4 tsp peppermint extract

Red gel food coloring

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then add the sugar, a little at a time. Then beat this mixture until stiff peaks form.

meringue-bag Now for the trick: Take a gallon size ziploc, put it inside a large tumbler or glass, and fold the top over the outside, like a collar. Using a paintbrush, paint three narrow but heavy stripes of red food coloring from the tip to the top of the bag. Fill it with meringue, and snip off the corner to make a hole about half an inch in diameter. Then just pipe whatever shape you would like onto parchment lined cookie sheets. You’ll fill up 2 large sheets. I make sticks about 2 1/2” long, and when I get bored with that, simple kisses.

Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour. They can come out of the oven then, or, if you have time, just leave them in the oven until they’re cool. I think they’re crisper if you leave them in to cool.

Keep them in an airtight container, or they’ll get gooey. And that’s not what you want!

gingerbreadsThundercloud and I made these for her preschool class using the ABC Cookie Cutters from SpoonSisters.com and the gingerbread recipe from King Arthur Flour. They totally rocked. The class was a little freaked out about eating cookies that were bitten, the teacher said. But she thought they were funny!

finished-melting Last but certainly not least, we made these for the second grader’s class party. I know, the kids just threw them in their mouths, but apparently the teacher had shown them around the school first. So I got a little love that way! We used the same gingerbread cookie recipe and I saw the cookies on The Decorated Cookie. Actually, I saw them on Pinterest when I was wasting WAY too much time.

heads And here’s a funny photo I just have to share. I took it while constructing these cookies, which, make no mistake, were pretty labor intensive. It took about 4 hours, start to finish, even with my minions help, to make 40 of them. But the satisfaction was worth it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And now school is out for Christmas break, so wish me luck as I become cruise director for the hooligans at home for 10 days. I better make a trip to the liquor store first.

I’m Melting, I’m Melting

So Princess Thundercloud is getting the butterfly mobile for Christmas, but the boys are a little more difficult when it comes to an idea for handmade. Mostly because they’re so destructive inquisitive, they tend to break anything I make for them. Thus, I look for inexpensive, instant gratification crafts to make them.

I’ve seen loads of these crayon paintings on Pinterest, with all sorts of techniques. I extrapolated what seemed like it would work best for me (meaning, I had the supplies on hand for the most part) and here’s what I ended up making.

crayonSome of the ones I saw had a silhouette of something (like a girl under an umbrella or a couple kissing under an umbrella) but I just wrote the hooligans’ names at the bottom and called it good. Plus, I’m reinforcing that the only uppercase in their name is at the front. I’m so helpful with their education.

To make this, I used 2 11×14 canvases ($8 minus 40% at Michaels= about $5 with tax) and a box of 120 crayons ($7 at Walmart). Take out all the neutrals, then arrange the crayons however you want. There are a lot of wacky color names in a box of 120. I had no idea.

I used E6000, my favorite heavy-duty epoxy, to glue them across the top. You could use hot glue, too, but it gets hard a lot faster than E6000, so I was able to smear on all the glue, then have time to place the crayons. I say I did it…my husband actually helped out with this, mostly because it was Sunday night and he wanted to watch football rather than work on his Army stuff he brought home. But I digress. He does deserve some credit.

After the glue dries (I left it about 30 minutes, while I wrote Christmas cards), you just need…are you ready for it?….your blowdryer! Yes, that’s enough heat. We have a hot air gun for stripping paint and such, and my husband was itching to use it, but I think that owuld have been way too hot.

Hold your canvas at a slight tilt, about 30-40 degrees from vertical, for you geometry geeks, seemed to work best. Turn the dryer on “High” and hover over one set of crayons. It takes very little time, once they get hot. The paper starts to shine a little, then the wax begins to drip out the tip. It’s quite amazing. Use the air flow to control where the wax goes…as you can see, I learned this on the left side of the crayons, where the big white gap is. It’s really fun to play around with controlling the path.

I did this over newspaper, and we had a few drips, so I was glad for the paper. The wax hardens almost immediately. When we were finished (it was helpful to have my husband holding the canvas while I was melting), we just put them flat on the kitchen table for a little while to cool completely.

My rainbow-lovin’ boys will dig these, especially with their names on them. And we have the satisfaction of giving them something we made for them!

He’s Got Me Leg!

The hooligans love looking at “their” ornaments each year as we decorate the tree. I remember my brother and I were the same way when we were small. Heck, I’m that way now!

I was struggling a little with this year’s ornament for the kids, but yesterday creativity struck and here they are.

ornamentsThe kids think these cookie cutters are hysterical. I bought them a few years ago from SpoonSisters.com. You can, too…they still have them. They’re called ABC Cookies (Already Been Chewed…aaah, the humor of elementary school never fails).

If you don’t want to buy them, you could use a regular cookie cutter, then use a scalloped biscuit cutter or plain ol’ knife to cut off appendages.

I used Sculpey Oven Bake Clay in Brown, White, Red, and Blue. Just roll out the borwn as you would cookie dough. They’re between 1/8” and 1/4” thick, and 1 package made 3 ornaments with a but left over. Cut them out like cookies and place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Decorate with the other colors (and get out that need to play with clay). Bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. They’ll still be a little flexible when done, which is fine. Overbaked means they’ll shatter easily. Don’t ask how I know.

After they cooled, I wrote the names and year on the back using a white gel pen and made a hanging loop from red and white baker’s twine. And you thought I wasn’t going to sneak in any Stampin’ Up! products today! The pen and twine both are.

Now I have to go make 24 of these, out of actual gingerbread dough, for Princess Thundercloud’s preschool party on Thursday. When I picked her up last week, she was crying inconsolably and the teacher could not figure out what was wrong. Nor would she tell me. She did let us know she wasn’t hurt or sick, but that was it. On the way home, she finally deigned to tell me. They made a gingerbread boy at school, and when the teacher went to get him from the kitchen, he jumped up and ran away. AND THE FOX WOULD CATCH HIM AND EAT HIM!!!

I finally convinced her he was fine and hiding in the playhouse in the playground, and her teachers confirmed it at the next class. So all was well, but we have to make more gingerbread men that are unable to run away, she says!

I hope your day is not fraught with drama and foxes. It’s much too close to Christmas!

I’m prepared to be thankful…

I try to write thank you notes in a timely manner. I really do. Otherwise I forget. (By the way, Kimberly, I really did appreciate the Halloween gifts!) Here’s the problem, however. I want to send handmade thank you notes, of course. I never seem to have exactly the right one on hand, so I have to wait until I have time to design the perfect one for the occasion. And sometimes that falls through the cracks. My life is very cracked, you know.

But I’m on the ball for Christmas…already designed my thank you cards. Still have to make a bunch more, but they are designed!

thanks

All Stampin’ Up! supplies: Thank You Kindly stamp set
Baja Breeze, Not Quite Navy, Silver Glimmer, Black, Pumpkin Pie,
and Whisper White cardstock; 1 3/4” Circle, Small Heart, and Snowflake punches;
Cherry Cobbler Polka Dot ribbon; Not Quite Navy, Black, and Pumpkin Pie markers
Dazzling Details Glitter Glue

I think it’s all self-explanatory. The hat is just a square piece and a rectangle piece. The eyes look a little odd in the photo, but I covered them with the Dazzling Details and they look cool in actuality.

Now, doesn’t that make you want to give me a gift, just to get such a cute thank you note?

Hope your last week before Christmas is smooth sailing and filled with joy!

Rainbows for Our Sunshine

You cannot imagine how happy I became today when a plan finally came together, after the week I’ve had. My first kid is eight today. I know, where has the time gone? I can’t believe he’s that old, yada, yada, yada. I’m a mom, I have those thoughts. However, any sadness is quickly replaced by, “Wahoo…what kind of cake can I make?!!!”

1-jar The boy loves rainbows. Always has. So when I saw these jar cakes online, I knew I had to try it. The Family Kitchen blog has great instructions, but you basically make a white cake mix, divide into 5 parts, tint with Neon Food Color, and layer. Put them in about 1/2” water in a baking pan. Bake for about 35-40 min at 350. Voila. Super easy, took an hour from start to finish to mix and bake. Another ten minutes this afternoon to frost. And a trip to town to buy ice cream because of course we were out of vanilla.

The ones I saw filled the entire jar, but I’m planning to serve a scoop of ice cream on top of mine. We’re having a Pizza and Polar Express movie night for his birthday, so I thought it possibly would be neater if they ate directly from the jars. Plus, I think kids will think they’re cool. I do. And, as I’ve established before on this blog, that’s what it’s all about. Me and my opinions.

all-jars One cake mix made 8 pint, wide mouth jars. As you can see, they’re about half full.After they cooled, I put frosting in a ziploc, cut the corner off, and piped it in neatly. Or semi-neatly. Then I used the back of a spoon to smooth it out.

I’m pretty sure the birthday boy will dig them.

Enjoy the weekend, if you wanna.

In Need of a Little Comfort

So here are some things that have happened in the last three days:

1. Two days before we left Washington, our then-four-year-old was riding his bike and holding a stick and scratched a neighbors car. Through the paint, from front to back. Accident? You be the judge. Anyway, they just got the estimate to fix it. Ranges from $900 to $1400. Merry Christmas, you little hooligan.

2. I forgot my Costco card and didn’t realize it until I got there. The nice folks there finally found our member info and gave me a temporary pass. I used it to buy orange juice, among other things. When I was carrying the box with 4 half-gallon cartons into the house, one valve started leaking and dripped OJ through the garage, across the kitchen, down my pants leg, and onto my new pale tan suede Dansko clogs. Thank goodness for baby wipes.

3. I had two hours alone to go to the Scholastic Warehouse sale today. Finally. I got there, shopped for 10 minutes, and the fire alarm went off so we had to evacuate the building. No fire, but the firetrucks had to come verify, so we were out in our cars for about 30 minutes. Did some speed shopping afterward and got amazing deals, but still.

4. Dropped my favorite coffee mug and broke it on the way in from the car. The one that is ginormous and says “Keep Calm and Carry On.” There’s some irony for you.

Bear in mind this is but a small sample of my week. Thus, I need comfort food. My mom’s beef stew and pub bread, to be exact.

bread

First, the stew. This is an approximation, as my mom made it a little differently each time and so do I.

Beef Stew

2 lbs round steak, cut in 1” cubes
4 Tbsp flour, sprinkled on meat
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can beef broth
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Throw it all in a crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If you like your stew soupier, add another can of beef broth. Or anything else you like…it’s adaptable!

Pub Bread

This is great if you’re feeling the need to work out some aggression. Or knead, I should say. Start this about 3 hours before you want to serve it. It makes two loaves and freezes well, so it’s a great rainy or snowy day project. It’s really only about 20-25 minutes hands-on time, but the rising requires some patience!

1 bottle dark beer
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup butter (unsalted and softened)
1 package dry yeast ( 2 1/2 tsp)
1/3 cup very warm water
5-6 cups flour

In small saucepan, heat beer to boiling. In large bowl, combine oatmeal, salt, butter, molasses and hot beer. Let cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in water and add to oatmeal mixture. Stir to blend, then stir in flour, 2 cups at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Turn dough onto well-floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat entire surface. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place for about an hour, until doubled. I preheat my oven to 175, then turn it off before starting the dough. Then I set my bowl in there to rise.

Punch dough down, shape into loaves, and place in 2 ungreased loaf pans. Cover and again let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 (remove the loaves if they’re rising in there!). Bake 30-45 minutes, until loaves sound hollow when tapped on top and the sides start to pull away from the pan. Remove from oven and cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Smother it with butter while a little warm and enjoy!

I’ve also shaped this into rolls and baked them to cut down on cooking time. They were yummy.

I hope you’re not in need of comfort, but if you are, this is a great meal!

Wrap It Up

So you’ve been a busy little elf, making all sorts of treats and crafts for Christmas. Now how to wrap them? You don’t want to just throw them in any old container. Really, you don’t! You want your friends and family to say, “I hate to open such a lovely package…but I know what’s inside will be even better than the wrapping!”

Here are a couple of quick ideas for fancying up whatever you’re giving. I owe credit for both of them to my friend Kendra who showed me how to make these about 5 years ago…but they’ve stood the test of time in my wrapping arsenal!

wine-tagGussy up your hostess gift with a quick snowglobe shaker tag. This snowglobe stamp from Stampin’ Up! is sold individually and so versatile. The “globe” is also from SU! and is called a round treat cup. It perfectly fits the 1 3/4” punch. I colored the stamp with inks and stamped it, then stamped the base in Always Artichoke on white cardstock. I cut it out and popped it up on Dimensionals. For the collar around the bottle, I punched a 1 3/4” circle from Cherry Cobbler paper, then used the 2 3/8” Scallop Circle to punch out the collar. I dotted it with glitter glue.

front-bag

This is a simple little gift bag you can customize for any occasion. I think it has a name, but I can’t remember it. The front and bag are just an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of cardstock, cut in half (8 1/2” x 5 1/2”), then embellished however you please.

side-bagThe bag portion is just a paper lunch bag. How clever is that? Just cut off the top to leave a bag 6” tall. Glue the front and bag on, then use an XL Oval punch to make the handle.

We’re using these for our granola teacher gifts, I think. How many ways can you think of to use this idea? Thanks, Kendra!

Sweet Dream Butterflies

I wanted to make something crafty for each of the kids this Christmas. Here’s Princess Thundercloud’s gift:

bfly-done

I saw something similar at Pottery Barn Kids quite awhile ago, but didn’t wanted to pay their price for it. This cost about $5 to make, and it took about 2 hours total work time, over a day or so. She only naps an hour a day, so I had to do it in shifts!

bfly-big-shot

I first cut out a ton of butterflies using both my Stampin’ Up! Big Shot and the Beautiful Butterflies die and their Butterfly punch/ Actually, my husband and boys used the punch, so they could claim credit for making her a gift.

bfly-dies

I used Stampin’ Up!’s Kaleidoscope DSP, which is retired. I wanted double-sided so I didn’t have to glue the butterflies back-to-back.

bfly-glued

Then I laid them “randomly” in about 2 1/2’ long columns. Okay, you know me, it wasn’t really random at all. I made a pattern, staggering it in each column. Then I put a dot of Crystal Effects (also Stampin’ Up!) in the center of each. I cut monofilament cord (the kind I use for jewelry making, but fishing string would work, too) about 3 feet long and taped each end. Then I nudged the butterflies over so the glue was embedded in the string. It really was easy. The glue sets after a few minutes, so the string stuck readily.

bfly-strings

I made 11 strings to go around a 14 inch embroidery hoop.

tapedWhen the butterflies were dry, I wrapped each string around the inner hoop a couple of times and taped them. Then I put a bead of glue around the inside of the outer hoop and tightened it onto the inner hoop. My husband had to help with that, since it was a little hard to balance. I didn’t want to lay the strings down, as they tangle easily.

I let that dry overnight, hanging in the basement. Then I tied ribbon on to hang it and glued butterflies all around the outside of the hoop. And ta-da! It’s done. I put it back on a hook in the basement until Christmas, again because the strings tangle and I didn’t want to spend Christmas Day freeing butterflies.

I like it better than PB Kids’, because theirs was a solid color. Light pink or white, I think. This is much more fitting for my wild little three-year-old.

My husband was really impressed, too. In fact, his exact words were, “Wow…I’m surprised that turned out so great!” Really, after knowing me for over 25 years, he’s still surprised when an idea works out the way I thought it would?