Wednesday, November 28, 2012

foodie christmas decoration

I know I said I was tired of wreathes, but somehow, the Christmas wreath still makes sense to me. Plus, as I was cleaning out my pantry, I had a great idea for my wreath decorations and I couldn't exactly ignore myself now could I?

I bought this plain wreath at the thrift store last year. It had nothing on it. Please see last year's post for the full story and to see what last year's decorations were.

Anyway, while cleaning up the pantry, I decided I should pull out my cookie cutters because I had thought to string them up on the tree and then I remembered that during the summer, I came across some small cooking utensils and fake vegetables. They were only a buck and I thought they'd look so cute on the Christmas tree as decorations. I still had the fancy dried corn out from fall decorations and many other prop ideas came to mind, hence the foodie wreath was born.

I attached everything with bits of floral wire which I got at the dollar store. I think that's the single most versatile purchase I've ever made there.

The only thing I bought was some pasta. First, the penne for a garland. I was going to dye them Christmas colours but decided I liked the natural pasta look better. There're some fake tiny tomatoes from my fake vegetables and you can see a tiny wooden bowl in the background.

Second, I bought a bag of bowtie pasta for little bows (obviously).

Fake beet! Oh the cuteness!

Fake carrot! And some cookie cutters. I liked these solid types for the wreath because they were a little easier to see than the usual cookie cutter types.

Tiny rolling pin and I added a medium sized pin that came with a ravioli making plate I have. Both of which I've never used. The red beads are a store-bought garland I already had. I thought they made nice "berries." An alternative could be some of those fake beaded necklaces you can find in abundance at thrift stores.

A real clove of garlic! Just push a piece of floral wire right through the whole bulb and tie it on. Those little green and yellow flowers and stems are sprigs of Greek mountain tea. Idle Husband's mom has sent me far more than I'll ever be able to drink in my lifetime (I have a huge peanut jar filled with the stuff plus three arm-sized bags of it). There's no need to wire them on, they'll stay if you just shove them in.

Some other items that were not pictured or hard to see: dried mushrooms (you can buy these literally anywhere and are really tasty once rehydrated, but I also attached wire to them and added them to the wreath), fake grapes, tiny cutting board, tiny mallet, tiny whisk... I just thought it might be nice to add some bay leaves or other herbs, candy canes or wrapped candies, gingerbread men... I mean, there're so many different ways you could go with this idea!

For the outside of the house, I wanted to do simple swags with the garland and lights this year, but I felt like there should be something at the top of each swag. Out came the mountain tea! I made little upside-down bouquets of the stuff, twisted it together with the floral wire, then added a cookie cutter (that I know I'll never use) to the top. I'm not 100% sure I like the cutters (they're kind of hard to see), but I really like the mountain tea bouquets (plus they smell so nice!).

To attach the swags, I used (you guessed it) floral wire! I just put two pieces together so I'd have a long enough wire to go around the railing. There was enough length left on the wire to also attach the mountain tea bouquets.

And that's how I've done up the front of the house this year. It's something a little different than the typical Christmas fodder, but it's still pretty Christmas (who's NOT cooking and baking at this time of year?) and it fulfills one of my main objectives for Christmas decor: It MUST look good during the day when the lights are off.

I hope that gives you some outside-of-the-box (and cheap!) ideas for decorating your home, wreath, or tree this year!

Friday, November 23, 2012

quick origami balloon advent calendar

I've noticed that there have been a lot of tutorials for origami water balloons this year, so when I finally decided to pick up a piece of paper and test out the folds, I had the idea to use them for a quick little advent calendar. You might think that making 25 origami balloons would be really difficult and time consuming, but this is one of the easiest origami figures I've ever made and I found the folds to be very basic. After you make two or three, you'll figure out the quickest way to make them. Generally, I would fold all of the creases for one side and then do the other (less flipping).

It took me one Saturday to complete the whole thing and would have gone quicker if I hadn't been trying different methods for the advent portion along the way. One hint I'll give you is to find yourself a thimble for your creasing thumb. Mine got awfully sore around halfway in!

Here's what I did:

Start with a piece of square paper (origami or otherwise) pretty side down (if it has one). Fold it corner to corner.

Then fold it again corner to corner.

You'll end up with this. A little triangle! Unfold it now. (How contrary.)

Using the lines you just folded as a guide, fold the paper into a sort of cross and flatten the sides together so you've got a triangle like this:

Flatten the whole thing down.

Next, follow these folds on both sides of the triangle:

Once both sides are folded as such, lift up one of the four flaps and fold up against the middle triangles.

Fold the edge that extends past the figure back in to make another little triangle.

Open one of the middle triangles (they're like little pockets) and tuck the triangle you just made into that pocket. Do this for all four flaps.

They should tuck inside pretty neatly.

You'll end up with a figure that's got a clear closed end and an obvious open end (well, it should be a tiny-ish hole). Don't blow them up yet (as tempting as it is!).

If you hate my instructions, I found these pretty helpful when I was first figuring it out and, as always, it's best to do a practice figure on a piece of scrap paper first!

This next part is kind of up to you. If you've got different colours of paper like I have, you might want to arrange them in a nice colour order so you don't just get a whole bunch of one colour for two weeks. Then you can number them if you like. The only thing you have to watch for is that the numbers are facing up with the closed point also pointing up. That's important or you'll get upside-down numbers when you go to hang them.

I decided to use a stamp for the numbers, but you could also hand write them or leave them blank. The smooth side of the balloon is another good place for a number if you want. You just have to fold the figure in half lengthwise. I debated for a while on how best to do this. I even thought to leave them blank and put the number on the little flag.

Next, ready the balloons for hanging. This is as easy as grabbing a needle and thread and pushing it through the top or closed part of the balloon and tying the ends to form a loop.

Now the fun part of the advent calendar! I decided to go with written notes and things to do this year instead of using actual candies and treats (some of the written ideas, though, are just for us to get candies or treats), and then I wrote them on a little flag. Just take a skinny rectangular piece of stock paper, fold it in half at a slight angle, and cut the corners to look like little paper ribbons. 

Write a fun thing to do on one side of the folded ribbon so you have a written side and a clean side.

You can now blow up your little balloons! Finally we're getting somewhere, right? How exciting! If you find any of them to be a little harder to inflate, gently ease the folds out with your fingers.

Now remember the corners that served as little pockets when you were folding? They're going to be little pockets again for your little paper ribbon. All you have to do is shove it in there with the writing facing in so you can't see it until you pull it out on that day.

I look at an actual calendar when I'm adding the flags. I don't want to have something like, "Go see a new movie" on a week day when Idle Husband's working. I try to pair things up with the dates so they make sense with what we'll be doing at the time.

I hung mine up on a piece of driftwood that I have hanging on the wall.  I also think that if you dedicated an entire mini tree to these, it would look really cute, too.

Another good thing to mention is that even though the balloons look really delicate, they're actually pretty tough, so when Christmas is over you'll be able to (carefully) flatten them back down and pack them up to reuse them again next year.

Friday, November 16, 2012

friday fixations

{my pf flyers} I found these awesome sneaks at the thrift store for $10 and didn't really think much of them except that I loved the colour (burgundy is my new favourite colour, fyi), they're leather (winter perfect!) and they're comfy as hell (plus the heel is a little lower, so I can leave them laced and still slip them on). And then, after many weeks, I finally got around to looking up the brand and discovered that I scored a major deal when I found them, so now I'm extra pleased with them (and myself). But I do have to say (again) how friggin' comfy they are. I wore a pair of my old shoes after wearing these for a week and my feet were killing me within an hour. How was I walking around without these?!

{spoonflower} I thought they were amazing for making your own fabric designs (not like I have, but I'm happy to know I could), but now they have design your own wallpaper and wall decals?! How great is that? Plus if you're not artistic, there are plenty of other handmade designs from artists to choose from that I guarantee you won't find anywhere else!

{pictures of claire danes crying} I knew I wasn't the only one who finds her crying disturbing.

{krisatomic's christmas gift guide} This is totally how gift guides are every. single. year! (That doesn't keep me from being obsessed with them, though.)

{dehydrating} I think I mentioned my dehydrator before, but I just have to mention it again. I made the most crispy apple chips in it the other day, and I dehydrated some tomatoes which, at first, I didn't think amounted to much, but after plumping them in hot water, I realized they were the most amazing concentrated tomato bits I had ever tasted and are p e r f e c t on pizza.  What I'm currently contemplating on drying is some kale (as in kale chips that are dried instead of baked) and I kinda wanna try making some pumpkin pie fruit leather with my pumpkin puree. Also mom spotted beet chips in a mag and went gaga for them which I immediately thought would be a great Christmas foodie gift. If you see a dehydrator on the cheap... you know, maybe you should get it.

{freaks and geeks} I just finished watching its ONE season and I'm so bummed it's over! It reminded me how awful high school is (and makes me wish I had done things differently) plus I kinda enjoyed seeing some of today's actors as their younger selves (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philips, Lizzy Caplan -- Ben Stiller cameo?!). I need a new Netflix series. Got any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

pumpkin raisin spice cookies

Now that I have a store of fresh pumpkin puree, I thought I should test it out in a baked good.

Enter the pumpkin spice cookie.

I adjusted the recipe a little to make these a tad healthier. What resulted is a very moist, cake-like cookie that takes most of its sweetness from the raisins.

Of course, if you wanted to add more sweetness, you could drizzle them with honey or spread on a spicy frosting (may I suggest cream cheese?), but for me, they're just perfect.

{pumpkin raisin spice cookies}
adapted from here
makes 2 dozen

1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup Splenda (or other sugar substitute or more white sugar if you prefer)
1/2 cup applesauce (or oil)
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
2 cups raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix together pumpkin, sugars, applesauce, and egg until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, spices and salt.

Dissolve the baking soda with the milk and add to the wet ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients until well blended. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Drop by spoonful onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes (depending on how large your cookies are). They should be golden and firm to the touch.

{hint} The cookies will stick to your baking sheet. You could grease the sheets or use parchment, but I opted for neither. They leave a scant bit of cookie crumb when you shovel them off, but it washes off really easily so you decide how fussy you want to get.

{also} Really be sure they're cooked all the way through. The touch test is essential.

{bonus} Don't have any pumpkin? Don't like pumpkin? Substitute 1 cup of mashed bananas (about 3 medium ripe bananas) for the pumpkin (I also decreased the raisins and increased the walnuts). What do you get? Delicious banana bread cookies!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

fresh pumpkin puree

Remember my pink pumpkins? Well, in a moment of zeal the other week, I found myself cutting up the smallest one so I could try cooking it up.

I don't know what came over me. It was already around 3 in the afternoon. I had begun the process of making a new bread recipe (three loaves of oatmeal raisin bread), finished another batch of tzatizki, and had cleaned all the bathrooms earlier in the day.

I think I thought that since the oven was going to be on anyway I might as well do a pumpkin and see how it goes. And then I figured I had to do the seeds at the same time (oven efficiency etc.) and it wasn't too long before I found myself without any counter-space or time left.

Slicing a pumpkin open is fairly dangerous and scary and is really the hardest part of this whole task. This one seemed to crack so once I got a line sliced, I hit it on the counter to separate the halves. I read that a serrated bread knife does a safer job, but I tried that on another pumpkin and I thought it was more difficult and messy.

As I scraped out all the seeds and stringy membrane, I realized that I've never seen such beautiful pumpkin seeds before. These were plump, white, and perfect.

The seeds became a drain on time, though. And definitely, if I've ever thought it about anything, a job for children. Standing in the kitchen, picking seeds from pumpkin membrane is so tedious and tiring. If I didn't have pumpkin bits strewn everywhere and slimy orange hands, I would have taken the bowl into the living room to work on it so I could sit comfortably with the tv on (I think I'm getting old). Also, my next house is going to have so much natural light in the kitchen, it's going to make visitors ooh and aww (and all my prep pictures won't look like they were taken inside a gas station bathroom).

So back to the pumpkin cooking (which is the point to this anyhow). Initially, I was going to use the oven because it had to be on for my bread, but after one singular google search, I found that steaming pumpkin is faster, so out came my steamer pot (really just a big pasta pot) and my stove was commissioned for steaming.

I ended up cutting the pumpkin into quarters so they'd fit in the pot better. Depending on the size of the quarter, they took around 45-60 minutes to cook. So this is not a job you should start at the end of your day.

Once done, I removed the segment with a ladle and a slotted spoon (cuz I didn't really have a better plan for getting the pumpkin out of the pot) and let it cool in a bowl until I could safely handle it.

The pumpkin meat scrapes out fairly easily, but the rind will also come off easily so just be sure not to get bits of skin in your pulp. All that's left is to puree it and, like magic and unicorns, you've made your own pumpkin puree! Wasn't that so much better than buying a can at the store?! Except now it's 7 and you've only got one more segment left to cook, and your back is aching and your feet are tired (because you really should've left the seeds for a separate project) and usually you're falling asleep in front of the tv around this time, so don't worry about that damn last pumpkin slice until tomorrow.

{pumpkin puree}

1 sugar pumpkin (jack-o-lantern pumpkins have barely any pulp inside -- you know, so you can cut a face out of them easily. Note the inside difference on mine -- and are apparently very watery so don't bother with them)

Carefully, slice the pumpkin in half and use a spoon (or ice cream scoop) to scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Cut the halves in half again (in quarters) so they can easily fit into a steamer pot. Add one quarter to the pot (or two if you can fit it) and fill the pot with enough water so it's about a quarter to half way up the side of the pumpkin slice and there's enough so the pot doesn't boil dry, then turn your heat to high. Once boiling, lower the heat to about medium low or just so the water continues steaming but isn't at a rolling boil.

Check on your pumpkin periodically with a fork (by that I mean to jab it). Once it's soft all the way through, remove the pumpkin from the pot and allow to cool to the touch. With a spoon, scoop the pulp from the skin, then puree the pulp with an immersion blender or regular blender (whichever works for you). The amount of puree you get varies with the pumpkin. Mine netted me the equivalent of 6 cans (and a bit) of pumpkin puree. You can use it for recipes right away or do what I did and measure it out (so you know how much to take out for future recipes) then freeze it in well-labeled freezer bags (I like using bags now because I can freeze things flat and it takes up a lot less space than jars or plastic tubs).

{note} All in all, it is more economical to make your own. I've since had the pleasure of figuring out if this whole venture was worth it and, had I bought the equivalent in cans, I would have spent around $16 (given the price at Superstore last week). So, minus the amount for the pumpkin itself, I saved $10. I've also been using pumpkin for just about everything lately. Recipes coming soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

november desktop


We are well past simple frosts now, but I had to give you something with a little colour and interest this month instead of what's actually going on outside my window. I think it would be fair to classify this as our first blizzard of the year. Yup.

This is a ninebark, 'diablo.' I think it has the best colour and supposedly it does really well in wet and poor soil conditions. I'll have to wait until next year to find out if that's true, so right now, I'm just hoping it at least survives the winter!

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