Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homemade Holidays: Other Inspirations

There are so many fabulous tutorials and ideas out there I just had to share a few quick links.
The lovely sisters behind the Eighteen 25 blog put together this glittering tree tutorial - and see that fabulous seasonal print in the middle there? And the bunting banner? Well, they're giving those away as a free download as well!

These fabulous homemade votive holders could easily double as a stylish pen cup, petite bowl, or other storage solution. Easy, fast, and unexpected! From the gals over at Lemon Tree Creations – They've got oodles of other great ideas too, so be sure to give the blog a browse!

How's this for fabulous? Laura Belle over at OhHi Blog takes it up about a thousand notches with these gorgeous floss covered branches - gorgeous for decorations all year round or as simple package sweetness.

Into Advent Calendars? Not into decorating your mantle - well this should provide the perfect two-for...easy as could be, plenty of room for prizes, toys, or heck - fill each tin with a thought to ponder, a sweet little "coupon" for your spouse, scripture if you're into that, maybe an ingredient each day and a recipe each week - whatever your fancy! Or maybe go see what Andy at Poppies at Play puts in her tins!

Do you have a favorite tutorial? Let me know below - perhaps I'll do another round-up!

Homemade Holidays: Seed Bombs (with label download)


A perfect gift for anyone from your favorite green thumb to your most gardening averse friends; Seed balls, or seed bombs, a little earthen truffle, are perfect treats for anyone who appreciates a beautiful flower.


Equal parts seeds, dried clay, and compost these simple little seed bombs get thrown on the ground wherever a flower should grow - nature does all the work. A little dew, a little rain, some sunshine and there you go - wildflowers, or herbs, or grasses, or any other seeds for that matter!

Seed Bombs

You'll Need:

Dried Clay (Got mine at the local health food store - bonus now I have face masks too!)
Compost (I like mushroom compost - easily available at a garden center)
Seeds (I did a wildflower mix but you could certainly do herbs if you like. With hard seeds you may need to "nick" the surface so check the seed packet before you start!)
Tray or lined surface


In your bucket mix equal parts compost, dried clay and seeds.

Now you'll need to moisten the mix. If you happen to have a spray bottle feel free to use that. I just splash some water in the bucket until the mix is moist but just barely - so it holds together but isn't soaked.



Grab a small handful of the seed mix and roll/smash into a ball - the finished balls/pods should be about 1/2" to maybe 3/4" in diameter.



Seriously, squeeze the crud out of it - it will stick together and form a ball, promise.


Set somewhere to dry - in the sun if you can - for a few days until nice and dry. Then package, label, and give!


To make it even easier I've made some labels for the giving - just print, cut apart, attach as you like or slip in a bag. Feel free to download them, pass them on, or use for your giving! Click here or on the image below to download.

Enjoy - and happy homemade holiday seed bomb making/gifting!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Recipe and Homemade Holiday Gift: Caramels - in various flavors and varieties


I stumbled upon a caramel recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens December 2010 issue and knew I had to try it. I've had a love affair with caramel for as long as I can remember. The brief cooling period in our relationship, a very Romeo and Juliet tragedy where my orthodontist insisted I not cohort with the Capulet caramel, only fueled the love affair. Braces finally removed, the first thing I ate, jubilant with being able to smile again, was a Sugar Daddy - which proceeded to hurt my tender teeth. No matter, I still love caramel.

For the longest time caramel was elusive to me. I had no idea how it was made and frankly didn't care as long as I could get my hands on it - especially the soft, chewy, melty when warmed fresh ones from the finest confectioners. Finally I figured out how to make caramel sauces and really, as they say, it was all downhill from there...

When someone tells me they don't like caramel, it is one of those completely foreign concepts where I have to willfully force my face not to deceive me and expose the completely incredulous disbelief I'm feeling. Then again, I've been on the receiving end of that same look when I tell people I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes. ('Tis true, though I have tried many times...the closest I get is bruschetta)

And yet, after all this time, I still had not made my own caramel candies. Until now. And, as per my usual, I had to fiddle with them and add my own touch.

Please know that I am no caramel master (I am a master taster though!) so the recipe ingredients and quantities are not my own and full credit goes to the Better Homes and Gardens team for their hard work in that arena. The toppings, well, that is my twist.

If you are looking for more homemade holiday food gifts Better Homes and Gardens has a nice feature here as well.


1 cup butter
16 oz packed brown sugar (2 1/4 cups)
1 cups half and half/light cream (I used cream and whole milk in equal parts)
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Topping ideas and suggestions (add while caramels are cooling - within the first 10 minutes or so)

Curry and Coconut (I love this bit of heat and interest - my husband not so much): sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons curry and 4 tablespoons shredded coconut on top of caramels.

Flaked Sea Salt: Sprinkle 1 tsp sea salts on top of caramels.

Marshmallow and Chocolate: Together or separate - melt 1 ounce marshmallow fluff and 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, pour over caramels while cooling.

Lavender, Fleur de Sel: Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each dried (cooking grade) lavender buds and fleur de sel on top of caramels.

Peanut Butter, Pretzel, Chocolate: Melt 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, pour over caramels. Crush a handful of hard pretzels and sprinkle on top of caramels.

Autumn Spiced: Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger on top of caramels.

Hot and Sweet: Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each chili, chipotle, and curry on top of caramels with 1/2-1 teaspoon large flake sugar - such as a pearled sugar.

You could also try any kind of crushed nut you like - macadamia, pecan, etc.

Line a larger baking pan with well buttered foil. If possible I would also recommend using buttered foil on the sides and a silicone baking liner on the bottom for easier removal - also buttered for good measure.

In a larger, heavy saucepan melt butter at a low heat. Add brown sugar, half and half and corn syrup and stir very well.

Heat mixture at medium/high heat until boiling, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and add a candy thermometer.

Continue boiling, adjusting heat as needed to keep a nice steady boil, stirring often, until the temperature reaches 255F (Better Homes and Gardens says 248 - we vary in this temperature determination and I strongly lean toward the higher temperature as I was not able to achieve the "firm-ball" stage I desired at the lower temp).

Remove from heat, add in vanilla and stir well. Pour into baking dish. At this point prepare and add toppings if desired (shown above).

Allow to cool completely and firm up. Invert pan onto cutting surface, remove foil/liner and use a buttered or oiled knife to cut into desired size.

Wrap caramels in plastic wrap or wax paper (so much easier with waxed paper) and store. If your caramels turn out too soft don't toss them - you can store them in the refrigerator to keep the consistency a bit harder before eating.

Happy caramel experimenting and eating!

Recipe: Cranberry Sauce Scones


While many Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday we opted to have our "big meal" yesterday. Since there are only really two of us eating the feast (the little one doesn't make much of a dent) we've got plenty of leftovers. Thus the rework, revise, reuse leftovers process began today with a few batches of Cranberry Sauce Scones. I tried multiple recipes and various quantities of cranberry sauce but in the end the winning recipe wasn't too far off from the original source (a bit more flour, a bit less sugar, a bit, a bit, a bit here and there). I owe a debt of gratitude to Molly Wizenberg for her original recipe from her book A Homemade Life.

It was actually quite difficult to choose a winning recipe - they were all really good and the cranberry sauce made for the perfect sweet, oozy, pop of flavor I was looking for. In the end I opted for a not-too-sweet, not-too-savory middle ground that Goldilocks would love...or, in this case, my red-headed assistant (who gobbled up two big scones in mere moments).

Cranberry Sauce Scones


2.5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2.5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter + 1 tablespoon reserved for later
1/4 cup whole milk*
1/4 cup cream* + 2 tablespoons reserved for later
1 large egg
1 cup cranberry sauce (I used a homemade whole berry version)**

* You could also use 1/2 cup or half and half instead of the milk and cream
** Recipe at the end


Preheat oven to 425 F

Stir together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Cut butter into small pieces and work into the dry mixture with your hands until all butter pieces are quite small (about the size of a pea).

Mix together cream, milk and egg in a small bowl. Pour into dry ingredients and stir together until incorporated - but may still be crumbly and dry.

Add cranberry sauce to bowl and mix again until incorporated.

Flour a cutting board well. Pour mixture out on the cutting board and bring together with your hands until you form a round disc - about 11 inches in diameter. You may knead if you really must but it isn't necessary at all. You may also need to dust with a bit more flour if things are too sticky. Cut the disc into wedges, like a pie, until you have 8 triangular wedges.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper (NOT wax paper). Evenly space the wedges.

Melt additional tablespoon butter and mix together with additional 2 tablespoons of cream. Brush the tops of your scones with butter/cream mix.

Bake for 12-17 minutes until a pale brown golden hue.

These scones freeze extremely well - just pop in the freezer after cooling and reheat in the microwave or toaster oven.

Don't forget - if you need a conversion chart (for measurements or temperatures) my free cooking conversion chart is right here.

For the reader who asked for the cranberry sauce recipe - here you go, super easy!

Cranberry Sauce

3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice (if you don't have any just use 1 cup water total). If you use fresh be sure to add some zest for extra loveliness!
1.5 cups/12oz package cranberries - fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
For a flavor kick add a dash of brandy or port

Put all wet ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Add cranberries and spices and bring back to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer/boil gently for 8-10 minutes. Cranberries will pop and soften. Stir often.

Remove from heat and cool completely. Refrigerate after cooling.

Troubleshooting: your sauce will thicken as it cools, if it doesn't return the sauce to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water and whisk together in a small bowl, add to cranberry sauce and return to a boil, then again, let cool - this should thicken your sauce sufficiently.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homemade Holidays: Scents-ational Seasonal Greetings

Talk about quick and easy - this super-fast little craft will take your seasonal greetings to the next level in no time!


Note cards, greeting cards, gift tags or whatever other paper you would like to scent
Scent (see note and ideas below)
Small bowl

For the scents you can use any number of materials you probably already have on hand in your kitchen (some common ones listed below), or more expensive essential oils. If you are using essential oils I recommend diluting them with a bit of water. For the most part clear liquid scents are easier to work with as they won't dye the paper, but, in the case of some scents, their color can be carefully applied and incorporated into your design (see "fire").

If your card has an image of fire consider liquid smoke.
If your card has an image of candy/peppermints consider peppermint extract.
If your card has an image of cookies consider vanilla, coconut, or almond extracts.
If your card has an image of flowers consider rose blossom extract.
If your card has an image of fruit consider orange, lemon or lime extracts.
If your card has an image of a hot beverage consider chocolate or coffee extracts.


Step 1

Get set up. Decide what you'll be scenting, pour extract or scent into a small dish, and allow ample room for things to dry.


Step 2

Decide where to apply scent (inside of card or outside, where on image) and brush on. Be careful to stay within the pattern if using a colored extract or oil as both with stain or mark the page. It is always advisable to spot test any paper and scent combination before beginning.


Step 3

That's it! Set aside your cards to dry completely. Write a lovely note and send away!

Note: The cards seen above are from the uber-talented Robert Sabuda's 2005 The Christmas Alphabet collection, published by Running Press as a card collection and Orchard Books as a book. Sorry to say, both are out of print but, there are many other fabulous designs on Robert Sabuda's website and plenitudes of amazingly talented designers, printers, and stationers.

In honor of Small Business Saturday here are just a few purveyors and providers of fine stationery I can highly recommend. Give them a visit online or in-store! (In no-particular order)

Greer (Chicago)
Broadway Paper (Milwaukee)
Kate's Paperie (Various locations, New York)
Paper on Pine (Philadelphia)
Paper Place (Austin)
Paper Affair, Bumblebee Press, or Paces Papers (Atlanta)
Maido Stationery (San Francisco - just picking one because San Fran is a mecca of amazing stationery shops!)
Two Hands Paperie (Boulder)

Friday, November 26, 2010

In which I propose Thanksgiving be a two-day holiday and name blog posts in the style of A.A. Milne

One of the things I love more than anything in the world is Farmer's Markets. I love the connections, the food, the air, the gifts of time, people, and the earth. In the spirit of Forgotten Friday I'll be sprinkling this post with images of something I am most grateful for...

I propose Thanksgiving be a two-day holiday. Call it whatever you like, do it as a tradition or a celebration, whatever you like.

Call it Thanks day and Giving Day, Thanksgiving and Give-Back Friday...call it nothing at all. But I ask you to at least consider an extended holiday.

Thanksgiving can stay. Let it be as it is. Gorge on grandma's mashed potatoes, bliss out on a piece of pie, take a second helping of a green bean casserole laden in condensed soup and processed onions even. Keep it all, every second. Keep all the napping, family, football, indigestion and most of all the gratitude.


Then, the next day, or that weekend (it doesn't have to be Black Friday but I'll ask you to think about that too) take all those thanks you just said and put them to good work. You gave thanks for your home and family, your health, prosperity, your job...others may not be so lucky. After spending an indulgent day eating more that we really should, many of us go out and spend more than we can on things we don't need - they are things we want.

What about giving some of what we already have to those who are in need? I propose that we celebrate Thanksgiving fully - embrace the joys and give thanks and then we give to others. I propose that the second day of Thanksgiving highlight the giving aspect.


Clean out a closet - give a coat, or a sweater, to someone who needs shelter from the cold. Clean out a drawer - give soaps or toiletries to a women's shelter. Clean out a craft space - give supplies to a school or a community center. Clean out a toy box - give gifts to kids who thought Santa might forget about them this year.

Teach your kids what generosity is by involving them in the process and prepare for the onslaught of new toys, gadgets, and 'stuff' that is, in all likelihood, coming their way. Yes, I'm assuming, dear reader, that you have more than you need. I assume that if you have the time to read a blog that you can afford internet service, and that you are, for the most part, living comfortably.


Which brings me to my next point. I assume you are living, for the most part, comfortably. But how many of you have felt stress about money this year? Paid a bill late, charged an item on a credit card, lived a little beyond your means. I'm pretty sure we all do this once in a while, some more than others, some less. I ask you to again, consider the things you are thankful for - family, friends, a place to live...these are thing that financial missteps can damage greatly. Money is, more often than not, cited as a reason for divorce. Money issues create stress, stress can lead to heart attacks, heart attacks are the number one cause of death in America. Get where I'm going here?

Black Friday is named as such because it was the day that retailers finally broke even, finally moved their bank account ledgers "into the black"...meanwhile the consumers plunge more and more deeply "into the red" buying things they can't afford because they are on sale, putting everything we just praised and gave gratitude for into jeopardy. Sure, that's a bit of a jump to say that the one 50% off big-screen TV purchase could lead us down a path of ruined relationships and death but those little things add up, they become the collective.


Don't worry, I won't leave you with a downer post about debt and despair. I have some ideas and I hope you'll consider them:

1) Give thanks. Give thanks deeply, with meaning. Pause to reflect on what really, truly matters to you. I have a strong feeling you aren't giving thanks for a fancy pen, or a DVD, but rather for things that aren't really "things" at all - people, places, health, happiness...

2) Take all that gratitude and make it better for others. Give away things you don't want, don't use, or don't need to people who do need them. If you have some, donate time and money too.

3) Take all that gratitude and make it better for yourself: If you must shop on Black Friday, or for gifts, or at all, for that matter: do so with cash. Bury those credit cards deep in a block of ice, wedge them between the blades of a pair of scissors, light them on fire - whatever it takes. Invest in making yourself financially secure and stable. Give home-made and home-grown gifts, be honest when you can't afford more - you'll be surprised at how often your friends and family will understand and embrace your integrity.

4) Take all that gratitude and make it better for next year: Consider, again, what matters to you most. If you are a person who makes new years resolutions then use your gratitude to fuel your commitment. If you are thankful for your family, want to spend every second with them, then dedicate yourself to making more time - to turning off the TV and playing a game, to getting up earlier so you can eat breakfast together - or, to losing weight so your health will be better and your life longer.

Let your gratitude to be your guide, give to others so that they can be grateful, get rid of excess so you can focus on what matters - that is what I propose.

If you are looking at ways to find, express, or be more grateful consider joining my mentor, Sandi, from A Bloggable Life, in her experiences.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Homemade Holidays: Heat Embossing and Etching on Glass


Ready for a homemade gift with the works? Well, here's a nice combo of both the etching tutorial and the heat embossing tutorial - both combined in one place.

Use this technique to create custom ornaments, vases, charms, frames, mason jars, glasses, etc.

A quick word of warning before beginning though - some glass, especially thinner glass, does not respond particularly well to being heated to high temperatures and may shatter. To be safe it is advisable to wear some protective gear - gloves/eyewear in case of shattering when embossing.

Also, since embossing is done by heating and making the embossing powder viscous this wouldn't be a good project for a candle holder, where the embossing could melt when re-heated again.

Step 1
To begin go ahead and etch the glass with your image or pattern. In this case the etching is on the outside of the piece - though you can etch the inside if you like. For complete instructions click here.


Step 2
Once your etching is complete go ahead and select your stamp for embossing. In this case I used an adjustable stamping block/kits available in craft stores and made my own stamp.


Step 3
Stamp directly on to the glass. Be patient - you are bound to need to redo a few times before you get something you like. For example:

Just wipe off and try again until you get something you like.


Step 4
Dust on your embossing powder. Try to be more sparing than you would be with paper as it sticks to the surface much more easily. The good news is, though, that you can remove the remnants after embossing so don't worry too much about the stray embossing powder.


Step 5
Heat set your stamp and embossing powder just as you would with paper. Be patient - this process takes much longer with glass. Be careful the glass will be VERY hot.

See the stray embossing powder there?


Step 6
Let your embossing and glass cool completely - then go back with your craft knife and gently scrape away the extra bits of embossing powder. This part is actually rather fun though it does make a sound like getting your teeth cleaned (shudder!).

If you clean up the actual embossed section - say finishing the edges on letters or similar - go back with your heat embosser and heat through again to set everything.

That's it - An etched and embossed glass!

Happy homemade gift crafting!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homemade Holidays: Heat Embossing on Paper

Note: Black Friday and other holiday sales are coming up - this is a good time to use those craft store coupons for savings on slightly more expensive products like heat tools, custom stamping accessories, etching paste (from yesterday's etching tutorial), etc.

Today's tutorial features heat embossing for unique homemade stationery - a great gift for anyone from kids learning to write thank you notes to a far-away friend. The process is easy and the tools can be used for a myriad of other projects (as you'll see tomorrow!)

There's no limit to what you can heat emboss with the right stamp and a little thought. A few fabulous gift ideas: recipe cards, book plates, custom gift bags or tags, calling cards, monogrammed stationery, invitations, menus, holiday cards, journal/album/scrapbook covers (careful that it's a paper cover though, not plastic or something that may melt), photo/art frame mats, calendars/date books, labels, boxes, file folders, magazine holders...need I go on?


To start you'll need:

Heat Tool (usually in the stamp aisle at craft stores)
Embossing Powder (in the stamp aisle at craft stores)
Stamp Ink - you can use plain ink, or the ink specifically for embossing, which dries more slowly and comes in a faint tint or clear color.
Stamp(s) of your choosing
Whatever you would like to emboss - in this case note cards


Step 1:
Decide what you would like to stamp and where. I decided to do thank you notes - the "thanks" stamp is from PaperSource (and a happy leftover from our wedding, hurrah!).


Step 2:
Stamp your design on your paper. The above shows what a tinted embossing ink looks like stamped on a note card.


Step 3:
On a lined surface (I use a cookie sheet and wax paper), dust the embossing powder over the stamp. You'll want to make sure the surface is lined so that you can reuse the excess powder, or put it back in the vial for later use!


Step 4:
Shake, tap, and dust off the excess embossing powder. Get off as much excess as possible - once you emboss the design (and any dusty extra bits) you can't get it off - so be sure everything looks like you want before continuing on.


Step 5:
Turn on your heat tool and heat the area of be embossed with back and forth strokes. You'll soon see the embossing powder turn from dusty resin to a melty pebbly texture. Heat just a bit longer (as in a few seconds) until the embossed section becomes a smooth, raised metallic surface. Let cool.

Make sure to read and follow the instructions on your particular heat tool and be sure not to leave on one section of the paper too long (as it might catch fire), or leave running at any time. Turn off your heat tool as soon as you are done using it.


You may be tempted to stop using the heat tool when the embossing powder turns to a pebbly texture like this - let it go just a bit longer and you'll get a more smooth and finished surface.


Your paper may bend or warp a bit when embossing. Just place under a heavy book for a bit of time and you'll get nice flat note cards in no time.

Giveaway: I have two sets (8 cards) of the "thanks" note cards shown above to give away. If you would like one go ahead and comment and I'll pick two people at random on Monday, November 29th.

Happy homemade holiday embossing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Homemade Holidays: Glass Etching and Candles


This past week has been an etching extravaganza. From candles to...well...I can't tell you because people getting these gifts are reading (humbug?). Let's just say a good glass etching is a fabulous gift. So, without further ado, I give you the quick and dirty etching tutorial!


Supplies: You'll need etching paste (this can be difficult to find but is easily available online and in many craft stores), contact paper, a craft knife, something to etch, and a print-out or drawing of the design you would like to use.


First, make sure your design is the correct size for your vessel. The more simple the lines of the image the easier it will be to cut and etch. I'm using the most complex one on the page to show you how a more intricate pattern works - both in silhouette and as a reverse-out image.


When you are ready, go ahead and trace the pattern you'll be using onto your contact paper with a pen or marker (place the paper below the contact paper and the contact paper plasticy-side up - write directly on the plastic contact paper). Don't worry, this won't show on your etching so be as messy as you need to be.

You could try to cut the contact paper with the design directly below but I don't recommend this method - it leaves too much room for error and things move around too much.

There are tons of silhouette images easily and freely available all over the internet - just give a search for your interest area (i.e. "Labrador silhouette"). If you happen to have a silhouetted photo you would like to use (for example: a child's face) this is the method I use: resize to fit the vessel, on the image trace the outside line of the face/image with a heavy marker, then use those lines to trace onto your contact paper - this simplifies the image and makes it easier to see when tracing onto the contact paper.


Once you have the pattern or image drawn on your contact paper go ahead and cut it out carefully with your craft knife.

Peel the backing away from the contact paper and place onto your glass to be etched. If you are trying to do a reverse-out image (like the top portion of the piece above) make sure to place tape or contact paper in a frame around the space to be etched for clean lines and a nice border.


At this point I like to use a clean cloth to push down the pattern and clean any smudges or oils off the glass. Firmly secure the contact paper.

Remember, if you are using a round/cylindrical vessel a square piece of contact paper may get bubbles and not adhere very well - especially if you are trying to do a large etching. I recommend tracing the shape of the vessel onto the paper by laying it on its side and tracing as you roll the glass. Often you'll have an arch shape. After tracing go ahead and cut your image out of that piece of contact paper - it will adhere better and give you a more accurate idea of placement.


From here follow the directions for the etching cream you are using. Make sure to shake well, get a nice, thick, even coverage, and be patient. Also, make sure to keep an eye on your craft - etching paste can and will drip - don't ruin your piece with splotches! And be careful, etching paste is caustic - keep it away from eyes and off of your skin.


After the recommended period of time (five minutes for my etching paste), go ahead and rinse the vessel. The contact paper will usually come off in the wash but you can pull it right off as well. Give a good wash with soap and water after and dry. That's it! You're done!


If you want to turn your etched glass project into a candle you can follow the instructions here, or simply place an appropriately sized candle inside. In my case, I happened to have a bunch of random broken, half-used candles lying about. I melted them down, pulled out the wicks from the melted wax, poured the wax in and voilá, a custom etched-glass candle!

If anyone would like the piece etched for this example you are welcome to it. First to say-so gets it!

Have fun making those homemade holiday etchings!