Saturday, December 31, 2011

last minute mirror garland

What you'll need:

aluminum foil

Rip off a medium or large piece of aluminum foil.

Fold in half so the shiny sides are touching, then again and again until you have a decent sized square (not too small).

Use something round to trace a circle onto the foil (or just wing it -- the circles don't have to be precise -- or do squares or triangles!).

Cut the circle out of the layers of foil (bonus! you'll be sharpening your scissors at the same time).

Pull the circles apart carefully (they have a tendency to stick together), but keep them together as matching pairs.

Lay out the circles in the order you wish to have them with the dull side up. Keep their matching circle beside them.

Roll out a length of string over the tops of one row of circles.

Smear glue on the matching circle (you don't have to go crazy to the edges) and sandwich the string between the two circles.

Continue on until you have the length of garland you want.

Cut the string (long or short depending on how you want to hang it -- tied or taped).

Hang and display the garland wherever you like (but hopefully in some sunlight -- sparkly!).

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011


I've been working on these for a while now and I figured it's probably time to let them out into the world and stop fiddling with them a hundred times a day already!

Also I can't for the life of me choose a favourite. I couldn't even decide which individual months I liked most to make a random sampling calendar.

That being said, it doesn't prevent YOU from choosing from the calendars to make your own unique blend. If you've got a favourite, grab it. If they're all your favourite, grab them all! Each is standard U.S. letter size, perfect for printing off at home.

This year, I decided to ditch the watermark (because I really hate them). Instead, I put a license on the photos through Flickr. So remember these are for non-commercial, personal use only.

Thank you ever so much for reading and supporting le blog this past year. Your comments and loving presence really mean so much to me.

(if you find any... mistakes... let me know and I'll fix it up prompt-like. the more you stare at numbers, the more you second-guess yourself)

Outdoorsy pics from 2011 Calendar

Crafty pics from 2011 Calendar

Foodie pics from 2011 Calendar

{note} These will only be available through Flickr for a limited time.

Friday, December 23, 2011

friday fixations: christmas movies edition

I'm going to be watching a whole lotta Christmas movies this weekend. How about you?

{elf} Number one favourite holiday movie. Santa! I know him!

{the original rudolph the red nosed reindeer} This is my favourite childhood Christmas movie. My gram had the piano music and her and I would play the songs from the movie at the piano every year. I learned a lot of piano from that book, actually, but I'll never be as good as she was (dual hands confounds my brain). Wherever it is right now, whoever has it, it's marked up with all of my little cheat notes. I wish I had it.

{national lampoon's christmas vacation} The best National Lampoon ever. I would watch this one in July.

{a christmas story} For whatever reason, this cute story escaped me until a couple years ago when I made it a mission to watch after constantly hearing about it everywhere I clicked. Now I love lamp.

{home alone} One or two or both! (Hint: go with both.)

{the grinch} It's worth a watch just based on the facial expressions Jim Carrey manages to make in his grinch suit.

{the santa clause and christmas with the kranks} Is any holiday complete without Tim Allen? (And while we rolled our eyes at Christmas with the Kranks, we have already watched it twice this year.)

{the muppet christmas carol} Is any holiday complete without the Muppets?

And some unorthodox Christmas movies to sneak in for your man (you know, in between the classics):

{batman returns}
{lethal weapon}
{die hard}
{the ref}
{trading places}

And that's it for me until (at least) after boxing day!

Have a wonderful Christmas! (and these! You must look at these!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

diy: mailable CD sleeves

Ever since I happened to find myself in my friend's car, listening to songs I knew came from a mix CD I made (that were mixed among his songs -- so I know it wasn't one of those, "she's going to be in the car, I'd better put on her tape" pretend things), I've made it a tradition to make at least one mix CD for that friend per year.

When we found ourselves no longer in the same city, I had to rethink my whole CD delivery system. In a very nervous test trial, I constructed one of these, put one standard stamp on it, and popped it in a mail box. I was so pleased to hear it had arrived safe and sound and now, this is pretty much the only thing I use for CD packaging.

Paper sleeves are quick, easy, and do the job just enough to get a CD from point A to point B. Besides, jewel cases are bulky and awkward and (without even considering the mail) no one wants to keep them around anymore (gone are the days of CD racks, right?). I also realize that most songs would be transferred from CD to iPod these days so the need for sending anything more doesn't exist.

I whipped up a bunch of these beauties for Christmas gifts/cards this year, but you can do this for any gift or any reason.

First of all, I like to choose a picture for my background, something that I can clearly write over. Usually, I try to match it with the theme of the CD (if I have one) or a specific name for the CD (if I have one). You don't have to get fancy, of course. In fact, you don't have to use the computer at all. You can handwrite everything, too. This is definitely something you can customize according to how much effort you want to put into it.

The only thing you must do is size your picture the size of a standard CD insert (just the picture, not the border). You know the little picture that goes into a standard jewel case door? That's usually the size I'll use so that when I print out my sleeve, I know it's going to be about the same size as the CD itself. The picture usually works out to 12 cm by 12 cm (or 4.72 inches), but you can take any existing CD you own and measure it out yourself. By ensuring the picture and print boundaries are exactly the same as the CD, I'll know just by looking where not to sew. You don't want to sew three sides only to find you can't fit the CD into the resulting pocket.

Once it's sized you can go ahead and embellish it however you want. I like to add the track listing and a title, but the sky's the limit. After I printed these out, I realized I need to work on scale in Photoshop Elements. It's one thing for it to be clear on the screen, but what it really needs to be is clear once printed out. I've since figured that out for future products, I think. If you size the picture appropriately, move it to a standard letter-sized document, then zoom in for the type, things should print as clear as they were on the screen (while zoomed in -- it's convoluted I know). (This was the first time I've used PE for CD envelopes so I thought things would be the same as in my other program and they weren't. Lesson learned.)

I'll usually make a second picture as a fancy front with the address typed in as well, but this year I opted to go with handwritten to save myself the time of designing a front for multiple people (and getting names and addresses horribly horribly wrong).

When printing in Photoshop Elements, after choosing print, I just uncheck the box marked "centre image" and change the measurements for the top and left position both to 0.5 inches (or 1.27 cm -- gotta love how Canadians talk about inches and centimetres at the same time, right?). This gave me a nice border around two sides of the sleeve which is also a little quicky time technique because now you'll only have to cut out two sides instead of four (if you're going the computer-free route, make sure to leave a little bit of a border -- 0.5 inches seemed like the perfect amount).

After printing my image out onto cardstock, I measured around the other two sides so the border would be the same and cut them out using a paper cutter (if you don't have one of these, you should really get one. They're so handy for straight cuts). My cutter will even handle two pieces of paper at a time which makes this process even quicker, just use some paper clips to hold the paper together to prevent shifting (though they shouldn't shift that much).

Do the same for your front address picture or use the now cut out back to measure out the dimensions for a plain backing (use paper clips and cut as usual).

Now for the fun part. I'd just like to remind you that while paper is really fun to sew, if you do make a mistake, you'll have to reprint and recut everything again. Once holes have been punched into paper, there's no going back. So. Deep breath. Take a front sleeve and a back, paperclip them together, and starting on one side, run a straight line around the edges with your sewing machine. You could get fancy with the thread (different colours for top and bottom stitches) or use a zig-zag or other stitch, whatever you want (I'd love to do two different colours one of these days, but I hate changing bobbin thread so whatever's there is there -- until I run out). Just be sure to keep it close to the outer edge. Don't freak out if your line isn't perfectly straight or if something goes wonky with your bobbin thread and the back looks, um, challenged (as some of mine turned out). I think that sort of stuff really adds to the charm of homemade. Besides, even though you can plainly see all of those imperfections, everyone else will be going crazy for the idea and the gift and won't even notice or care (if the post office girls were any indication).

Once you've gone around three sides, slip your CD into the last open side, push it down into the pocket so it doesn't interfere with your sewing needle, and sew the fourth side shut.

That's it! Now you can put a stamp on and send it wherever you like! (Or just hand it over as a nice little, prepackaged gift.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

friday fixations

{celestial seasonings holiday teas} I'm so glad I found these! Some blog somewhere put the idea into my head (by proclaiming that Nutcracker Sweet was their be all, end all for holiday drinks -- that's all it takes for me #easilypersuaded). I like them all; but if I had to put them in order of favourite to not as favourite, it would definitely go Gingerbread Spice, Candy Cane Lane, and Sugar Plum Spice (this one leaves a weird taste in my mouth). Also try combining Candy Cane Lane with the others. Delicious! It doesn't look like Nutcracker Sweet (or -- holy hell! -- Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride?!) is available in Canada which makes me so angry right now.

{tea cups} That's a really surprising addition, right? At first, all of my granny tea drinking was taking place in plain ol' ceramic mugs and then I thought, "I am the biggest idiot on the planet!" cuz I have shelves and shelves of pretty, dainty tea cups and saucers. You know, just sitting there, doing nothing. So I started drinking my teas out of pretty cups and not only did I feel pretty using them, but I realized that tea cups are perfect for tea because they're just insulated enough to keep the tea warm while you drink, but they don't keep it boiling hot for (what feels like) forever like a standard ceramic mug does (and the tea cup itself seems to stay at a reasonable temperature too). Mugs are best left to coffee and hot chocolate, I think.

{christmas music} Maybe since I'm not in a retail store every day or because we missed out on Christmas (a little) last year, I'm kinda hooked on listening to festive music during the day. This is my favourite mix to start on, then I just let it run on to the next and the next. (Actually, when I think about it, I'm probably listening to this music because it's so budgie friendly, i.e. he either sleeps through songs or chatters away with them. There is no angry squawking when Christmas music is on.)

{light effects} That perfect moment when the sun comes into the main floor living room and hits the sparkly things on the Christmas tree in just the right way so as to reflect little dots of light onto all of the walls and the ceiling. I tried to capture it in a picture, but it just didn't do it any justice. And, on the weekends, when we're lounging and watching Netflix in that room, it's fun to pull the curtains closed and look at the shadows of the snowflakes I have stuck on the window.

Here are some videos I love right now, too!

{christmas hedgehogs} Remember those "choose your own ending" books? Well, here's a super cute choose your own ending hedgehog video!

{shit girls say}You identified with at least one thing in there, didn't you? Come on. You know you did. I need more of these videos pronto.

{snl call your girlfriend} Finally! Spastic, random dancing is acceptable!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

fantasy baking list

Just because I'm not baking (much) this year doesn't mean I can't divulge what I'd love to bake (or make), like, tomorrow!

{1 chocolate covered peanut butter filled ritz crackers} I don't know what it is with me and chocolate covered anything lately, but I just want it and I want it right now. These would be so buttery and sweet with that necessary touch of salt.

{2 sriracha chex mix} Idle Husband loves sriracha. Like, loves it so much, I'm buying a new bottle at the very least once a month. I think we'd both like this a lot. Sweet, spicy, crunchy. It sounds like it hits all of the right notes.

{3 bacon jam} I mentioned this one before, but it's worth mentioning again. Mostly because at least once a weekend we have a conversation about how much bacon is too much bacon. Should we really be eating bacon once a week? Maybe we should cut down to once a month... and then we have that conversation again the next weekend after finishing off (you guessed it) another plate of bacon.

{4 low fat gingerbread cookies} Ok this one I might actually try making. I've made cookies with applesauce in the past and they turned out very cake-like. I'm so curious as to whether these are as true to gingerbread as it seems like they are. {UPDATE: I've since made these and they are fantastic! I found the dough to be extremely easy to work with -- which is rare for me -- the taste was very gingery and the texture was soft and cake-like which worked really well. These are definitely going to be my go-to gingerbread cookies.}

{5 lofthouse-style cookies} I've also mentioned these before, but I just can't get them out of my head. Still. I've also come across these other versions, here, here {UPDATE: I made this version. They don't taste quite like Lofthouse, they're more like a plain sugar cookie (just bigger and softer); but they are still very delicious} and here. Yes, that's right. I'm so obsessed with these cookies, I have four possible recipes to try. And that's saying a lot, isn't it?

{6 macaroons} I love coconut so much, I have it on my muesli every single morning. (And sometimes, I'd eat it out of the bag with my spoon, so now I mix it with nuts and raisins to stop myself from doing that.) These have been haunting my dreams so I bought another bag of coconut with the thought of perhaps making them at some point in the future (but with the thought that I could totally stop myself from making them cuz I'd eventually use the coconut for breakfast anyway). But I do have a carton of egg whites that need to be used up soon, so I might be making these more now than future (there's my grand excuse. I found it).

Other notable recipes:

melomakarona This is a traditional Greek Christmas cookie. It tastes kinda like gingerbread but they take it one step further by soaking it in a sugar syrup (one of two ways with all their desserts, I'm telling you!). I think the parents gave me their recipe, but this one is already online if I don't get around to making their's this year for you.
slow cooker sugared pecans or walnuts I can cook it in the crockpot, so I'm already 90% pro-this recipe.
five ingredient carrot cake I've had this on my list for a while now. Hello, upcoming birthday cake.
no bake chocolate pumpkin pie I'm already a big fan of her recipes. Also, can I take out the chocolate? (also, I'm all over the place aren't I? High fat! Low fat! Unhealthy! Healthy! I can't seem to make up my mind.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

wrapping ideas

You've probably started wrapping gifts by now, but I thought that if you were stuck for ideas you might like a little round-up of some of my favourite wrapping and embellishment ideas.

{1 yarn and string} With a little yarn you can create cute decorations for any package. I've also used string and I liked the look of that as well. What skills do you need to do this? None and that's my very favourite kind of DIY.

{2 make your own gift bags} I mentioned this before, but I still love it. It's a "forever kept in my brain" kind of DIY.

{3 snow globe wrapping paper} I don't think I'd ever do this as intended, but I like the round snowflakes all over each package. Maybe I'd just do that instead of going through the hassle of snow globing all of my gifts (paging Martha Stewart's team of elves!).

{4 cut out designs} I did this. It was hard to get the placement correct. But (despite some tearing) I like how it looks.

{5 sparkle tags and velvet ribbons} Anything that sparkles is a win in my book. In fact, just take a glue stick and some glitter and glitter the hell out of pretty much everything. I used a glue stick and some pretend glitter (read: hole punched coloured paper -- the hole part) and stuck it on a package in a random pattern to look kissed by glitter. Just glitter it! (That's my new Christmas slogan.) I also adore the scratchy sparkles with the soft velvet. That's a good look.

{6 burger paper} This is not a DIY unless you're really artistic or have amazing pictures of burger ingredients you can blow up and print out onto wrapping paper (hmm). This is about the only wrapping paper I've actually wanted to buy in many years. But they assume I wrap gifts in boxes like a pro. Gifts in boxes that are appropriately sized for burger stacking. (Where are those damn Martha Stewart elves?)

{7 sewn kraft paper bundles} Messy. I like messy and carefree these days. Or do I? I'm all over the place.

{woven paper} If you have a lot of time on your hands or you've got one or two extra special presents you want to decorate, this would look so cute. And with newspaper. You have to use newspaper or it will look wrong.

please note the super awesome pink hydrangea gift tag I printed and cut out myself

Also I really have to suggest you search for "free printable gift tags" (and go through the images) if you use gift tags for your gifts. I've been saving the ones I really love every year (whether I use them or not) and it makes my life so much easier to scroll through the files on my computer and choose what fits in and works for me each year than to try and find something from the store. There are so many gorgeously designed tags for free that there's no reason at all that you should buy them from a store (and anyway, good luck finding creative, design-y and unique tags in any store on the cheap).

I love printing them myself because I can print only what I need. I don't have a whole lot of people to gift to so usually I can remember who gets what, and I don't need to print out a full sheet of tags. I get what I need and I don't have a bunch of them sitting around, being all useless and taking up space (it's more environmentally friendly this way, too, I think). And if you want them sticky, just buy some sticker paper. (That's on my to-do list. Sticker paper would be really handy to have around for a lot of things.) The same principle is true for holiday cards, too.

And just for you, here are the gift tags I especially love this year:

everything! (I found the above tag here last year, but there's also a whole bunch of other Christmas stuff for downloading, including cards and wrapping paper.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

friday fixations

{cubicle refugee} I love this tumblr! Its images are all organized by colour and I'm a sucker for anything arranged like a rainbow. Swoon!

{pomegranates} In case you missed it, I found this video on the correct way to open a pomegranate and my life is forever changed. If you do some quick research on how to pick a ripe one (heavy, bright red colour, large, blemish free, firm not too soft) you'll also have no troubles finding a delicious fruit. And did you know that you can dry them for decoration as well? I've had one in my pantry for about a month now. It's lookin' pretty good!

{brown and pink gift wrapping} I've been wrapping gifts in kraft paper and using pink tissue paper as a highlight for my Christmas gifts this year. I love the look of the bright, almost neon pink against brown. Actually, I love any neon colour against brown right now. I think I might make this my standard wrapping for everything. I can easily change the tissue paper colour and kraft paper is available year round (and it's fairly cheap. I've been wrapping gifts and using mine for templates for almost three years now and I'm just finally feeling like I might run out -- but then again, I hoard all the little scraps to use for smaller items should the need arise at some point in time).

{gift bag diy} I love love love this tutorial! It's easy and only takes minutes of your time, I swear! I had a tiny gift I needed a bag for and, despite having two boxes full of premade gift bags, I didn't have a single one that was small enough yet (ironically) large enough to fit my gift. Literally 5 minutes later, I had the perfect sized bag that also fits in with all of my other wrapped presents. Genius! The only thing I did differently was in regards to the handles. I used a hole punch and some ribbon to string through and tie tight. This is a gift I'm hanging on a door -- to thank the people who helped me up off the sidewalk after I slipped -- so I wanted it to have a big loop to go over their door handle. I think I'll be ditching all of my other gift bags at the Value Village after Christmas. They're always too dumb and phony looking (and never the right size) for me to use anyway .

{baking soda and water} Do you have a ghetto toaster oven? You know, where the door is so grunged up and disgusting looking you can barely see what's inside anymore? Maybe this applies to your oven door? At any rate, I found this tip for cleaning an oven window on Pinterest and since my oven's new and the door isn't all that bad, I thought I'd give it a try on my toaster oven (which was totally ghetto). I am really kicking myself for not taking before pictures. Dumb! After two applications, I swear to all that's holy that the glass looks practically brand new again! Now, it's not as easy as they'd have you believe. Put it on! Wait! Cleaned like magic! If we're talking about at least two years of grime (in my case), you'll have to use some elbow grease (my arms are angry for not moving the toaster oven off its shelf and onto a more hip-height surface) and possibly more than one application. The major trick that I discovered is that you have to use the little cakes of baking soda (that accumulate when you're wiping it off) as scrubbers on the tough spots. They'll do (some of) the work for you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

whipped shortbread

Sadly, this is going to be the only entry in my Christmas cookie baking this year. Well, I might try my hand at some gingerbread, but I'm definitely not going to make a bunch of cookie samples to give out as gifts. That's only because I'm more likely to eat half of them myself. Hello. I have no willpower.

I thought a small package of shortbread cookies would be a nice gift for the Greek parents (especially in light of all the jam they sent us earlier this year), so I found this cute little tin (at the thrift store) for them to travel in. The shortbread is pretty Christmas-y, too, but I mostly chose it because I feel like it's a cookie they'll appreciate.

Greek confections can go one of two ways. They can either be doused in syrup and covered with a layer of sugar so thick, you have to brush half of it off to eat it or they're almost bread-like with just a hint of sweetness. Maybe a touch of citrus flavour.

So these are kind of Greek-like in their simplicity. Fairly plain looking, slightly sweet, but they have a very delicious melt-in-your-mouth, buttery texture.

Since I'm sending these in the mail, I opted out of my usual glazed cherry on top and went with sprinkles. Glazed cherries probably wouldn't look so tasty after a trip through the mail.

{whipped shortbread}

2 cups butter (salted or unsalted is fine, but it must be butter)
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cut the butter up into cubes or rectangles to make it easier to beat. The secret to these cookies is to beat the daylights out of the batter so it's best to make these with a stand mixer. Beat the butter on a generously high setting until well creamed. Add the icing sugar in increments beating slowly at first, increasing to a high setting (to avoid getting a big cloud of sugar in your face). Add the cornstarch in increments in the same manner as the sugar. Add the flour in increments, continually beating in the same manner as the last two ingredients (I hope you're not covered in suspicious looking white powder at this point). Add vanilla and beat to mix and whip completely. It should be super soft and fluffy at this point.

Scoop with a cookie scoop or teaspoon. Make sure to press the tops down a little before baking.

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

{note} Variations: pressed with a sugar-dipped cup; pressed with a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern with sprinkles on top; add a nut on top; press in a chocolate kiss; press in a glazed cherry; squish with a clean cup and after baking, dip into melted chocolate and let cool; switch out the vanilla extract for peppermint, then add crushed candy canes to the top (or a mini one); using smaller rounds of dough, press down with thumb then, after baking, spread icing on one side and sandwich with another cookie; flatten with a clean cup, then use a stencil to get a design in the top, as seen here. (I've only done the cherry, so let me know how things turn out if you use any of the other ideas!)

{noted} For the parents, I halved this recipe so it only made one sheet of cookies. Me. Eating them all. Not going to happen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

november recap

Happy name day!
{idle husband's name day cake was really basic this year. a banana bread baked in round cake pans with leftover chocolate ganache from my macaron baking days. simple but crazy good}

I'm so happy with November! I have all of my gifts done and wrapped! I just need to work on cards now and I'm set for the holidays.

Pomegranates, you don't scare me anymore
{noticed the pomegranate seeds on the cake? I wish I had tried my new technique for opening those crazy things properly cuz I would have made a pomegranate cake instead. here's what worked for me. they're really yummy with chocolate}

Oh. I still have to decorate the house. That's on this weekend's agenda. Have you decorated yet?

Got my first ornament today!
{I received my first ornament in the swap. it came with a chocolate kiss}

And here's a little desktop photo for you for December. I hope you like it!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

stuff I'd like to get

I keep getting asked to provide some ideas of what I'd like for Christmas, so here are just a few things that I would be pretty darn happy to receive (in no particular order, of course):

{1} tiny budgie pendant (actually, this is in top position for a reason. I've been wanting a small signature necklace for a while now and this one is just too perfect for me); owl oven mitt (bizarre, I know, but I will never in a hundred years spend anything more than $5 on an oven mitt, so I'll never have a cute one I actually like, and I will continue to use the one I got at a thrift store that keeps burning me); rose quartz necklace or coral and turquoise earrings (anything from this jewelry designer, actually);

{2} Bridesmaids movie (I love Kristin Wiig and I've wanted to see this movie forever);  return address stamp (the calligraphy is so pretty. Where do they teach that?); pink and grey watchAphrodite USB charging station (we would both enjoy this, I think);

{3} 2012 arty tea towel calendar (I have a tiny tea towel collection already. I should show it to you); bitchface print (because I think I suffer from this affliction, too); oxo salad spinner (I've heard it's the best one and I hate my crappy cheap one that rips up all of my lettuce and barely dries any of the leaves); wreck this app (or book because I think it'd be a fun way to recharge some of my creativity or any app that's for money, actually, cuz that's another thing I will not buy for myself).

And since I just wiped out on my walk today (we're talking, like, legs out, straight back, and onto the back of my head. Thank goodness for touques or I'm sure I would have cracked my head open), I'd really love some cleats for my shoes (since no one seems to want to put any of the city's free sand on their sidewalks).

And as usual, please see my Pinterest account. Both DIY and Christmas boards have useful information.

Monday, November 28, 2011

little gift ideas

I've rounded up some of my favourite DIY advent calendars which you should probably get started on if you want to start counting down on the first of December. I've decided to do a twelve days of Christmas theme and I've come up with a more... interesting method of doling out daily surprises. I can't divulge it here though. Maybe next year!

{1 small mittens} I would also like to suggest socks. You could do iron-on numbers or cut numbers out of felt and quickly stitch or fabric glue them on. Pin to a string and you're done.

{2 hand painted pouches} I like how clean and crisp this looks. You don't even need a stencil if you've got a steady hand.

{3 advent boxes} This is a free printable (yay!). Download the numbers and glue or tape them on standard boxes (or any other package, actually). Super cute and super easy.

{4 decorative packages} Packages wrapped up in similar papers and tied to a hanger? Some people can do messy so well, can't they?

{5 advent pouches} Another free printable! Print these out onto iron-on paper, cut out the numbers and iron them on to homemade or purchased drawstring bags. I like the retro look of this one (and you'll have it for years).

{6 clothespin tree} I think this would look really cute propped up on a side table.

{bonus! paint chip boxes} I spent the last week making a ton of these (by a "ton" I mean, I made 13... and counting). They are really easy to knock out (once you get the template printed properly). They're too skinny to hold much as a gift (since they're designed for business cards), but you could slide in little notes that could give clues for gifts or suggestions for holiday things to do. (And they're 100% free.)

Not only have I not done the advent calendar thing, I've also never gotten small gifts in a stocking. Is that weird? Do most people do the stocking stuffer thing? I feel like I missed out on that cuz it seems like stocking stuffers and advent gifts are talked about everywhere. So I gathered some cute smaller presents that would probably do fairly well as stocking stuffers or advent gifts (I don't really know what the price protocol is on this stuff!).

{1 guy friendly} Tobias Funke key fob; cutesy swiss army knife; Zoidberg iPhone cover (and other Zoidberg loving things); classic telephone handset for cell phones (ever try to cradle a cell phone during a long call? it sucks).

{2 for those who craft or appreciate a good one} transform any pair of gloves into touch screen friendly gloves (I'm dying to make these for myself); cross-stitch iPhone case; pretty purse measuring tapes (I would love to get one of these. Having one in my purse would be so handy for measuring thrift store finds); macaron stamps.

{3 too cute for words!} cat or owl ceramic measuring cups; mini cat calendar; action bunny with shiny gold pants; cupcake calendar.

{4 make something delicious} make them yourself (they're not that hard. I like the recipe from Bravetart. She's got a nut-free recipe now, too) or order macarons online anywhere. If you're in Edmonton, do it the easy way and get gift packs at Duchess; lump of coal rice krispie treats; bacon jam; Lofthouse-style cookies (typically, I do not like store-bought cookies, but these are my one weakness. I've never made this recipe, but I will one day when my jeans are looser).

Annnnd, if you need more inspiration, I'll be continually pinning stuff to my Pinterest account throughout the season (or as usual. It's kind of addictive over there). You can check under DIY or Christmas for specific gift ideas or just follow my boards if you're also a pinner. I'm sure more and more ideas will keep turning up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

new christmas schedule

Lately, I'm really starting to feel crunched. I'm trying to get Christmas gifts together, decorate the house, get all of my Christmas baking done, plus all of my usual chores (the bathroom can't stay dirty forever and I would really like to go for my usual walk every day without feeling guilty about it -- or about not doing it), so obviously, something has to slide and that would be the blog.

I've decided to cut my posts back to one or two updates per week until Christmas is over. I think that would really ease my tension. 

Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

phoning it in: Christmas wreath

How we decided to decorate our porch for Christmas determined the wreath. And yes, we've already decorated and we've been lighting up the place for two weeks now. I have officially become one of those people I used to hate (although, not quite as bad as our neighbours whose house looks like a Santa sleigh runway).

Of the people on our block who have added lights (Santa headquarters included), everything looks rather... deconstructed during the day. The lights are strung up haphazardly all over the place with extension cords and timer plugs placed dead centre of their house. Thank goodness for the snow, in some respects, which hides the spiderweb of cords strung out on their lawns. During the day, the magic that is Christmas is completely lost and houses look like the insides of machines. So I wanted decorations that would look just as nice during the day as they do at night.

Since I couldn't find anything in pink (damn! Our house looks so good in pink!), I decided on classic red and green. Everyone does blue and white and twinkly icicles now, right? They're no longer unique and modern and out-of-the-box. With red and green, I could do a little take on holly and berries, using fake greenery and red lights. The branches would hide the cords of the lights and what bulbs are seen during the day would look like dark red berries leftover from fall. It was sort of on a whim (read: they were cheap) that I decided to add red bows as well. They were a surprisingly fortunate addition because I could use them to secure loose ends and cover tags and joining plugs. Any bows that were left, I tied to the bare branches of our tree. Bows on bare trees are super cute.

So with all this greenery and faux berries, I couldn't put up another wimpy wreath. And by 'wimpy' I mean skinny because (let's face it) most of my wreathes have been in that category. No, I wanted a big beefy leafy wreath with a proper hanger and berries and bows.

I really didn't get around to looking for one properly. I was honestly just going to buy it, premade. I was kind of exhausted with trying to come up with ways to do it myself, and by the time I fiddled around with everything, I figured I could have just bought it and been done with it. Besides, I have to make a bazillion decorations before December. I have enough to do for Christmas this year.

We decided it might be fun to do some cheesy Christmas cards, so we found ourselves at Value Village rifling around for Christmas sweaters and vests. That place is a treasure trove for Christmas decorations, just so you know. If you were to be looking. They had a lot of wreathes to choose from. After carrying around a $6.99 wreath that I thought would be okay (once I took all the old and damaged junk off of it), I discovered this gem.

The branches were squished down at the time, so I could see how it went unnoticed. I liked the blue-ish tinge (since our door is blue) and it was huge (the biggest in the store), and plain (no "fixing" required). And did I mention it was $3.99? It was perfect.

I found a few other things to possibly go on my wreath:

Plastic mistletoe looking garland ($1.99). Anything Christmas-y and plastic makes me think of my gram. As soon as I see that stuff, I think, "vintage!!" and feel the need to buy.

Sparkly golden apples ($1.99 along with some other decorations that are actually pretty nice, too) cuz I want some gold out there big time and apples, why not?

The rest was found at home in my (junky) craft supplies box:

Feathers leftover from my wrapped feather gel pens. I'm kinda squealing over the feathers. I really love this nontraditional addition! And they're just tucked in. No gluing or tying required!

Bright green ribbon tied into bows (where's red when you really need it, right?).

A bit of tucking, a bit of twisting, and this is what I came out with:

I'm really pleased with it. It adds just the right amount of oompf to the door and works really well with everything else (without being too matchy-matchy). The best part is that none of these additions are permanently attached so I can easily change them out to make the wreath look completely different. In fact, take the Christmas colours off, add some pinecones and snowflakes and bam! January, "wintery" wreath. Huzzah! Having a changeable wreath will definitely be both time and money saving in the long run!

Monday, November 21, 2011

easy christmas decorations

I thought I'd share some of my favourite DIY Christmas decor ideas that I've found so far. I really gravitated to most of these because they work so well for both Christmas and as general winter decorations. So you can put them up early or leave them up after Christmas and it won't look like you're going overboard in either direction.

{1 lace doily table runner} If you have a surplus of doilies (like I do) and even if you don't, this would be a really quick way to add a little winter to a room. It would definitely look cute out of season, but during the holidays, I think it looks like a little path of snowflakes.

{2 popsicle stick snowflakes} I already had these in mind for January, but they work for Christmas too. Instead of red, I'd paint them silver and gold and hang them from the curtain rods.

{3 urchin starburst sculptures} They may be called urchins, but they make me think of snowflakes (oh, recurring themes).

{4 painted pinecones} I'm not a big fan of the lime, pink, and electric blue colours, but pinecones (painted or not) in a clear vase are a super easy (and usually free) wintery decor item.

{5, 6, 7, & 8 wreathes} I don't know what it is with me and wreathes this year, but I'm kind of obsessed with them (I'm disgusted with myself, too). The rosemary wreath would be cute in a kitchen (if you had a spot) since it's made with fresh herbs. You could use any herb or a combination, and once it's tied on a form, it's going to dry so I don't see why you couldn't use it after the holidays are over (you paid your money for those herbs after all). The rest are examples of really simple wreathes that I just happen to really love. I don't think any of them would take more than an hour to finish and each one has an unexpected aspect about it that makes it a little more unique than a typical Christmas wreath (blue polka dots, bent branches without a form, and the deconstructed pinecone "wreath" which makes me think of bells).

{9 paper doily wall art} Another riff on the snowflake idea, these are simply cupcake liners and paper doilies thumbtacked to a wall to look like cascading flowers. You could cut the paper to look more snowflake-like, but I think if you used clear or white thumbtacks or even double-sided tape it would still give a wintery snow look without having to go through any extra trouble.

{10 paint chip garland} I know this is for easter eggs, but come on. There's got to be a Christmas tree hole punch in some craft store somewhere. Or just cut them out yourself. (Christmas trees aren't hard. They're just stacked triangles that get progressively larger.) I'd stay out of the candy colours and stick with deep greens, blues, and icy whites.

{11 origami tree} I love origami because it's so accessible. If you've got a piece of paper, you can make just about anything. If you made a tree in white or green, it could easily move into January and, in fact, it reminds me of my crocheted white tree that I (nerdily) dress up for Christmas and then leave naked for January (see it here). If you're nervous about origami, here's another example that's even easier.

{12 origami paper ball} I love these so much. They fit into winter because they look like large snowballs but they're so cool, I'd want to keep them out all year round.

Friday, November 18, 2011

friday fixations

{owl lover calendar} I spotted this calendar last year and (being the bird lover I am) swooned pretty hard over it. It's back again with more owl prints that you can pick and choose to make your own, customized calendar (for free!).

{thyme} I took a deep whiff of thyme the other day and thought, "I could smell this forever." Why has it taken me so long to get some? It's my new go-to for chicken.

{the branch bunch e-cards} These are just about the cutest most whimsical e-cards I've seen in a long time.

{free 3D letters} This font is great! Print it, cut it out, fold it, and you've got yourself some nifty 3D letters. There are so many possibilities you could use these for (birthdays come to mind), but I think I'm going to do something a little Christmas-y with it.

{kitten covers} Go see!

{rotisserizing} I love doing whole beef and pork roasts on the rotisserie now. They cook faster, the outside is crispy, and the flavour is amazing (I assume from the juices dripping all over). Now if only I could figure out how to get a chicken to stay on there, I'd probably never roast again. (Tying the legs and wings didn't work and the bird ended up flopping all over the place. Any suggestions?)

{posters at walmart} I finally got one of my pictures turned into a poster and I did it at Walmart! I've been wanting to hang one of my Greece pictures in our bedroom (this has been on my mind for way too long), so I thought I'd do a test run at the Mart. Things couldn't have been better. The picture looks amazing, it only took 45 minutes, and it only cost me $20 for a 20x30 print! Plus I didn't have to fiddle around with the clerks, telling them what to do and how to do it. All you have to do is use one of the photo kiosks. I could fiddle around with the sizes until I found the right one for the picture dimensions and I ordered it right there. Plus I didn't have to pay for it until I saw it, so I assume they'd redo it (or write it off) if you weren't happy. Wouldn't this be a great gift?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

black bean brownies with peanut butter chocolate chip "cookie dough"

I definitely don't make it a habit to trick Idle Husband into eating things he doesn't like (or says he doesn't like -- because there is a difference). Sometimes, I like to sneak that good stuff in. Spinach in chicken meatloaf, sweet potato "french fries", tomatoes and parsley in hamburgers, carrots in beef meatloaf. But I never lie about it. He knows it's there. He can see most of it. It's the fact that he can't taste it that's important.

And that's why this is my best food caper yet!

I never once mentioned that these brownies were made up almost entirely of black beans. Beans are one of his most hated food items.

We happily ate them for dessert for two weeks. And I happily discovered he was sneaking squares out at night, while I was asleep.

I didn't even have to disguise them with anything. I didn't put globs of icing on them. No whipped cream. No crumbled bacon. He himself didn't even add a blob of honey on top of each bite. They're just deliciously fudgey -- no. cakey! -- no. melt-in-your-mouth-y! They're just different in a really good way.

So except for the batch where I added a banana, I still haven't mentioned what makes up these brownies.

It was on the second batch where I thought I'd throw caution to the wind and test out a chocolate chip cookie dough dip that I'd had in my sights for a while. I thought it might work as a cute little topping. But like the black beans, chickpeas (another hated ingredient) were now going to substitute flour and butter.

The chocolate chip cookie dough experiment didn't go over as well with Idle Husband, but it went over well with me. I ate most of it with a spoon, straight out of the fridge.

Right now, I'm wishing I had another can of chickpeas just so I could have more in the fridge. It's so good. So. Good. It will frighten you how good it tastes. And how much like cookie chickpea becomes.

I think the only thing that kept Idle Husband from enjoying it was the name.

"But why eat cookie dough? Why not just bake it and eat cookies?"
"It's supposed to be like this. It's a cookie dough dip. It doesn't have eggs in it."

He couldn't get past it so that was the end of that conversation. I didn't want to tell him it was made from chickpeas and that I made it to go with the black bean brownies (and they go very well together) since I was still smug from successfully disguising beans and I wanted to sneak peas in, too.

It would have ruined it, you know? This surprise.

Oh yeah. Surprise!

{banana black bean brownies}
adapted from Amy Bites

1 (19 oz) can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
1 ripe banana
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp instant coffee (optional)
nuts and chocolate chips as desired

Puree all of the ingredients (except nuts and chocolate chips) in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender (I used my immersion blender). Blend thoroughly until well combined and smooth (gotta get the bean chunks).

Pour batter into a well greased baking dish. I used two different sizes. One 5x6" and the other 11x7". The smaller the dish, the more cakey the outcome. We preferred the larger dish.

Top with nuts and chocolate chips if desired (or mix them in).

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top is dry and slightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the dish. Toothpick test. Let cool; slice and enjoy. (Lasts exceptionally well covered at room temperature.)

{note} Please please also visit Amy Bites for the original version of this recipe which is just as good as the banana version. Idle Husband preferred the banana; I liked the original.

{peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough}

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, drained and rinsed (almost a full 19 oz can -- I should have just used the whole damn thing)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tblsp smooth peanut butter (I used Kraft Light)
2 tblsp (more or less) milk (I used almond)
2 1/2 tsp Splenda
chocolate chips

Puree the first 5 ingredients together in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Blend thoroughly until well combined and all of the chickpeas have been pureed (it would shatter the mystique if you found a little chickpea chunk in there). Add the milk a tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency (mine was a little more like dough than dip; add more milk if you want to dip into it). Add the sugar one teaspoon at a time until you reach your desired sweetness.

Mix in however many chocolate chips you desire (chopped chocolate would be nice, too). Enjoy! (Store in the fridge in a covered container.)

{note} Please please also visit Chocolate Covered Katie for more ideas on variations of the dip and sweeteners to use (she's also got a whole lot more sugar-free and gluten-free desserts. I really love her for that).